Greatest NCAA tournament moments
We rank the 30 most memorable moments in the Big Dance, including Bryce Drew's 1998 buzzer-beater.
In his mind, Ed Pinckney spent 12 memory-filled seasons playing ball in the NBA.
To start, there was the honor of being drafted in the top 10 of the 1985 NBA draft. Things only got better years later when the Boston Celtics called on Pinckney to do the dirty work inside for their "Big Three" — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Then there was the brief but equally impacting time Pinckney spent alongside Alonzo Mourning with the Miami Heat in the late '90s.
But the time, the moment that Pinckney is still best remembered came on April 1, 1985, when he led a 10-loss Villanova team to the most improbable win in NCAA Final Four history. The images remain clear of a young Pinckney, beaming, with a piece of the net around his neck after the eighth-seeded Wildcats upset top-seeded Georgetown that night.
“I’ve played with and against some Hall of Fame basketball players, so that ranks pretty high,” recalled Pinckney, whose alma mater returns to the Final Four 24 years later on Saturday. “But the pinnacle for me, obviously, was 1985."
That night the Wildcats put an exclamation point on their Final Four run. It was the night the 6-foot-9 Pinckney went from a pretty nice post player to a household name; it was the night he took home the tournament's Most Outstanding Player honors after scoring 16 points and grabbing six rebounds against Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas.
“Ed Pinckney was the major catalyst in that run, because he loved to play against Patrick Ewing,” former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino said. “He was actually sick for that final game but responded extremely well.”
Pinckney joins a short line of players who delivered defining moments under college basketball’s brightest spotlight. You have freshman Michael Jordan hitting the winning jumper for North Carolina; Anderson Hunt leading an insanely talented UNLV team in back-to-back Final Fours in 1990 and '91; Keith Smart’s gutsy shot to propel Indiana over Syracuse in the '87 title game; and then Miles Simon's incredible performance that launched Arizona into the championship stratosphere a year ahead of time to just name a few.
“Reputations and careers have been made in the Final Four,” said Jay Bilas, the longtime college basketball analyst for CBS and ESPN. “When you think about it, you can’t ask for a greater stage.”
Once on that stage, it’s about seizing the moment. Pinckney and his Wildcats did in '85. Never had a team been so efficient in the big game. The Wildcats shot better than 70 percent to stymie the Hoyas, the defending national champions.
It’s a time that still brings a smile to Pinckney’s face and a rise in his voice.
“Individually, as a player, as a team and as a coach, you always want to be associated with a great game and/or great season,” said Pinckney, an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves who spent several years on the Villanova bench where he recruited several players on this year’s Final Four squad. “We were able to accomplish that in 1985.
"I think when you go back — it’s 24 years later now — but it’s always kind of fun to go back when you get together with your group of guys that played on that team and reminisce about the games, the experiences you had in the games and the final game. It’s fun."
The game changed his life, Pinckney said.
"I had a great experience in college basketball that no one can take away," he said. "I was able to share it with some great coaches and some great players.”
In 1997, Simon, who became Arizona’s poster boy, led the Wildcats to an 84-79 overtime win over Kentucky in the title game as a No. 4 seed. Arizona had a couple of future lottery picks on the floor in guards Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, but Simon was the player who seemed to nail every big shot in wins against North Carolina and Kentucky during the Final Four in Indianapolis.
The phrases Milestone Victory and Simon Says Championship were born.
“For a college basketball player, that was the ultimate,” Simon said. “It was the best time of my playing career. It was an unbelievable thing. It was so magnified, but you don’t really know at the time how many people are watching you. There were millions of people on TV.
"Especially this time of the year, it’s brought up to me all the time.”
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
Men's NCAA tournament
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