On Wednesday night, the No. 1 Villanova Wildcats will take on the No. 5 Xavier Musketeers in Cincinnati in a Top 5 showdown set to bring all sorts of excitement to fans of BIG EAST hoops and the like.
Top 5 matchups are no stranger to the BIG EAST Conference. While there have been none since the conference's 'rebrand,' they still occurred sporadically during the heyday of the best conference in the land.
Fourteen times, to be precise.
So before Villanova and Xavier tangle tonight, let's look back at every Top 5 BIG EAST encounter.
January 26, 1985 - #1 Georgetown vs. #2 St. John's
The first of FOUR Georgetown/St. John's matchups in 1985, this was the first Top 5 matchup in BIG EAST history. It's a rarity that you get 1 vs. 2 more than once in the season, but these two teams faced off three times ranked as the top two teams, and then met again in the Final Four.
John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca. Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. These guys would have classic matchups throughout the season, but this was the one that started it all. This game certainly lived up to the hype, with St. John's pulling off the 66-65 victory.
February 27, 1985 - #1 St. John's vs. #2 Georgetown
'THE SWEATER GAME'
At the time of this game, college basketball had been played at Madison Square Garden for the better part of five decades. This was the first time the building had ever seen 1 vs. 2. The Red Storm hopped the Hoyas after defeating them a couple weeks earlier, and they were hungry to hold on to the spot.
When Lou Carnesecca and John Thompson met on the sidelines pregame, Thompson opened his suit jacket to reveal a sweater akin to the one Carnesecca had made famous all season.
The wardrobe change worked for Thompson, as the Hoyas knocked off the Red Storm, 85-69, to get their #1 ranking back. A little over a week later, the rubber match would transpire...
March 9, 1985 - #1 Georgetown vs. #2 St. John's
The hotly anticipated rubber match saw the Hoyas back on top after their previous victory. The rubber match was a bit of a foregone conclusion, with both teams winning their two other BET games by at least nine points on each occasion.
The game was memorable for many reasons, one of which was Lou Carnesecca getting some Sweater Game revenge by coming out in a shirt and tie a la John Thompson, before changing back into his sweater.
On the court, though, it was Thompson's bunch getting the better of Carnesecca's, winning 92-80. The Hoyas would get the better of St. John's once again, in the Final Four, before falling to Villanova in the National Championship.
March 30, 1985 - #1 Georgetown vs. #2 St. John's
These two teams met for the fourth time in a 1/2 fashion in the Final Four. The Hoyas would again come out on top 77-59 and move on to the National Championship, a game they would infamously lose to the No. 8 seeded Villanova Wildcats.
March 12, 1989 - #3 Georgetown vs. #5 Syracuse
A week before, we came close to having another Top 5 matchup.
The Hoyas were ranked No. 2, but the Orangemen were just on the outside looking in, ranked No. 6 in the country. Derrick Coleman and Syracuse emerged victorious that day in front of the largest crowd in NCAA history.
One week later the attention turned to Madison Square Garden. And the biggest rivalry in the conference took center stage in the Tournament final.
And the Hoyas got their revenge as they would win 88-79 to emerge as BIG EAST Tournament champs in the last of four Top 5 encounters in the 1980s.
February 25, 1996 - #3 UConn vs. #4 Villanova
The lone Top 5 matchup in the 1990s featured two teams who weren't Georgetown, Syracuse, or St. John's. Instead, it was a meeting between two programs who were emerging, or had already emerged as top-flight programs in the conference.
On February 25, the No. 3 ranked Huskies took on the No. 4 ranked Wildcats at The Pavilion. In the previous matchup back on January 9, Ray Allen took aim at Kerry Kittles, and vice versa, and with Sean McDonough and Dick Vitale on the call, the Huskies took down the Wildcats at Gampel Pavilion 81-73, this after a blizzard had struck and forced Steve Lappas' club to wait a day to hit the court.
February 25th's matchup was not much different as the Huskies would go on to win 70-59. Those Huskies would go on to win the BIG EAST Tournament after a memorable meeting between the Huskies and the Georgetown Hoyas, headlined by Allen and a guard by the name of Allen Iverson.
February 15, 2004 - #4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 UConn
The '04 UConn Huskies, energized by the play of Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor would go on to win the National Championship this season, but before that, they ran into some trouble in western Pennsylvania.
In the first-ever meeting between two Top 5 teams on the campus of The University of Pittsburgh, the Huskies and Panthers took part in a physical encounter that many BIG EAST fans, young and old, would take to their liking. And in this meeting, it was Pitt who came out on top over the eventual National Champion Huskies 75-68. The victory helped push the Panthers to a 40-0 winning streak at home and, at the time, made them 34-0 at Petersen Events Center.
The star of the night was Jaron Brown who picked up 17 points on the night, 13 during the second half. Mark McCarroll, Carl Krauser, and Julius Page had 15, 13 and 11 on a memorable night in the Steel City, and one that Husky fans found familiar in these Top 5 encounters, as they would soon see.
February 13, 2006 - #1 UConn vs. #4 Villanova
The second Top 5 matchup of the new millennium was a rematch of their previous encounter back in 1996. The Huskies and Wildcats battled in the venue then known as the Wachovia Center, which was pretty fitting.
Why? Future NBA hoopers were all over the place in this game held inside the home of the Philadelphia 76ers. Rudy Gay, Randy Foye, and Kyle Lowry were the stars to watch, alongside fellow talented players like Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, and the great Allan Ray among others.
This was an encounter between the two clubs who were picked No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason BIG EAST standings, but it was the Wildcats who were the preseason favorites, not the Huskies. UConn wasn't expected to be a slouch, and how could they with all their talent?
In a game that headlined 'Big Monday' with the super-hydra commentating crew of Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery, 'Nova and Connecticut squared off in a memorable matchup. And no, not because Karl Hess was calling the game.
The two teams traded blows and exchanged leads but with 16:52 left in the second half it appeared the No. 1 ranked Huskies looked ready to pull away. Rudy Gay pulled up from 3-point land and sunk a shot from the corner after Craig Austrie made an absolutely ridiculous play to save the ball from going out of bounds.
But all that would do is engage one heck of a comeback for the Wildcats. On the backs of Ray and Mike Nardi, Villanova used the perimeter to their advantage scoring three consecutive 3-pointers on three straight possessions midway through the second half, including some from NBA range. This would fuel 'Nova the rest of the way as the Huskies could never regain the lead, and moreover, never got closer than within one point of the 'Cats.
It would be Foye who would deliver the knockout shot with three minutes to play, a 3-pointer right by the Villanova bench. Wachovia Center came unglued after Foye's NBA-range trey and it would be Villanova who would come out on top, 69-64 in front of 20,859 people, the largest attendance for a college basketball game in the city of Philadelphia at the time.
February 26, 2006 - #2 Villanova vs. #3 UConn
13 days after their first encounter, these two teams would square off again at Gampel Pavilion. And the Huskies got their revenge in the form of an 89-75 victory up in Storrs. Denham Brown went off for 23 points and five rebounds on 8-of-13 shooting while Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone each went 4-for-4 from the field to finish with a combined 18 points. The Wildcats were held down in a big way as Kyle Lowry shot just 3-for-11 that day at Gampel and Randy Foye shot just 6-for-18.
February 2, 2009 - #1 UConn vs. #5 Louisville
The No. 1 ranked Huskies went to Freedom Hall on February 2 to take on the No. 5 ranked Louisville Cardinals. The Cards were on the cusp of something big as Terrance Williams & Co. would later go on to win the BIG EAST Tournament and net the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. But first they had to take care of a loaded Huskies team that would soon go on to make the Final Four.
Turns out, the Huskies would prevail on the back of a big performance by Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet who scored 32 combined points to push the Huskies over the Cardinals 68-51 in a dominant defensive effort.
February 16, 2009 - #1 UConn vs. #4 Pittsburgh
Our second game featuring a No. 1 UConn team went about as well as the first one did for Jim Calhoun and the Huskies.
Hosting the Pittsburgh Panthers, whom had never beaten a No. 1 ranked team in their program's history, A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet and a 6-1, 172-pound youngster by the name of Kemba Walker had climbed up the polls with just one loss through mid-February.
But Levance Fields and the Panthers would not be denied that night. Fields scored 10 points in the final three minutes of action to lift Pitt to their first-ever win over a No. 1 ranked team in program history. DeJuan Blair complemented Fields' effort with a huge game, netting 22 points and 23 rebounds while Sam Young dropped 25 of his own.
March 7, 2009 - #1 UConn vs. #3 Pittsburgh
The second of two Top 5 encounters in 2009, the Huskies and Panthers this time battled at the Petersen Events Center. And like the first time around, it was Pitt who came out victorious, and like our previous two encounters, the Huskies were on the losing end.
31 points from Sam Young as well as 22 points and 23 boards chipped in by DeJuan Blair were the difference against the top-ranked Huskies on that Saturday afternoon as the Panthers completed a season sweep of UConn. Impressively, this was the second time they knocked the Huskies down that year when they were ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.
February 8, 2010 - #4 Villanova vs. #5 West Virginia
Before their run to the BIG EAST Tournament championship and the Final Four, the West Virginia Mountaineers had a major task in front of them in early February 2010. They welcomed Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and the No. 4 ranked Villanova Wildcats to Morgantown in a Top 5 showdown.
The environment heading into this matchup was a major storyline. As you may remember, Mountaineer fans were the subject matter as they had behaved controversially in a prior matchup vs. Pittsburgh in which an assistant coach was struck by a flying object.
Nothing wound up occurring from a fan perspective, but the game was played and played well. In the end, it was the road team who took down the home squad, as the Wildcats, behind a 21-point performance by Reynolds, defeated the Mountaineers 82-75.
January 17, 2011 - #3 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Syracuse
The most recent Top 5 matchup between BIG EAST foes occurred four years ago between two former conference rivals in the form of Pitt and Syracuse. This game is best remembered not for how it ended, but for how it started.
Nasir Robinson and the Panthers jumped out to a 19-0 lead - yes, a 19-0 lead! - as 'Cuse had absolutely no answer at the start of the game.
The run was finally stopped after Scoop Jardine knocked down a 3-pointer that was then followed by future NBA lottery pick Dion Waiters making a layup. Then C.J. Fair netted a layup, and then he did again, and then Brandon Triche followed... all the way to making it 19-17 at 6:08 after a Rick Jackson layup!
The Panthers would go on to get an eight-point victory despite taking just a four-point lead into the half after jumping out to their ridiculous lead. Ridiculous, also, is another way to describe how this game started, and if tonight's encounter is anything like this, we're in for a treat.