It was a battle for Jesuit supremacy when Marquette and Xavier met in the West Regional Final of the NCAAs last week. Marquette and Xavier are two of the 28 Jesuit universities in the United States, many of whom boast a proud and rich basketball heritage.
Jesuit schools have fared well in the tournament, winning six championships since the NCAAs began in 1939. In fact, five of the previous six Jesuit entrants in the Final Four wound up winning titles. The University of San Francisco, centered by Bill Russell, above, took back-to-back championships in 1955 and 1956. Holy Cross won in 1947, Loyola of Chicago in 1963, Marquette in 1977 and Georgetown in 1984. Santa Clara made the tournament in 1952, but failed to reach the finals.
Gonzaga became the seventh Jesuit Final Four entry by beating Xavier, and could become the first Jesuit school to win the championship in 23 years.
The list of outstanding Jesuit college basketball players, many of whom went on to win the NCAAs, would stack up well against any competition.
All-Time Jesuit All-Star Five:
C – Bill Russell, San Francisco
F – Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
F – Elgin Baylor, Seatle
G – Bob Cousy, Holy Cross
G – John Stockton, Gonzaga
C – Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown
C – Dikembe Mutombo, Georgetown
F – Tommy Heinsohn, Holy Cross
F – Maurice Lucas, Marquette
F – David West, Xavier
G – Allen Iverson, Georgetown
G – KC Jones, San Francisco
G – Dwayne Wade, Marquette
G – Sleepy Floyd, Georgetown
G – Dana Barros, Boston College
Is the Big East primed for one last NCAA dance, a final run for old time’s sake?
The powerhouse Big East, which was founded in 1979, has produced six NCAA Championships — three by UConn and one apiece from Georgetown, Villanova and Syracuse. Big East teams have made 16 Final Four appearances since 1980, including a tour de force in 1985 when eventual champion Villanova, runner-up Georgetown and St. John’s all made it, the only time that’s occurred in the tournament.
Of the league’s current members, only South Florida has failed to make the Final Four, although Marquette, DePaul, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Pitt all made it before they became Big East members.
Only the ACC with 10 titles — Duke and North Carolina with four each, and NC State and Maryland with one apiece — has won more NCAA Championships since 1980. And no conference has sent more different teams to the Final Four during that span. That’s parity.
When the late Dave Gavitt, former Providence coach, founded the Big East in 1979, it consisted of seven charter members — Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, Villanova, Syracuse, Boston College and Connecticut. The first four along with Seton Hall, DePaul and Marquette will form their own BCS basketball league, taking the Big East name with them. But it won’t be the Big East as we know it.
The Beast of the East. What memories. Great coaches like Jim Boheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, Rick Pitino. P.J. Carlesimo and Rollie Massimino. Great players like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Ray Allen, Mark Jackson, Kemba Walker, Walter Berry and Dwayne “Pearl” Washington. And so many great rivalries and games, arguably none better than “Six in the City” — the six overtime classic between Syracuse and UConn in the 2009 Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Maybe the Big East can do it again. Louisville is the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Georgetown, a #2 seed, is playing in the year of the Jesuit, as is third-seed Marquette. And perennials like Syracuse and Notre Dame are in the mix. Once more, for old time’s sake.