t is a team of two-part harmony: improvise and pulverize.
But before exploring the sweet music of Villanova, take a look at the charts: the Wildcats are ranked No. 4 in the nation, are 21-5 overall and have a first-place record of 12-3 in the Big East Conference.
A victory over No. 16 Georgetown Saturday at 1 p.m. at Capital Centre (WRC-TV-4) would guarantee the Wildcats their second straight Big East regular-season title, which isn't exactly a lyric for a sad song.
The coach is Rollie Massimino, who can be either cuddly or cranky, depending on whom you're rooting for. He is the improviser.
Like so: after the Blizzard of '83 made impossible a flight from Philadelphia to North Carolina, where the Wildcats were to play the No. 1 Tar Heels Feb. 13, Massimino chartered a bus to take his team several hours through the snow to Atlantic City, where a chartered plane then flew his Wildcats to Raleigh-Durham Airport.
On the subsequent bus ride to Chapel Hill, the team made a pit stop between a McDonald's and a Wendy's, where the players had a choice.
"I took Wendy's," said 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Ed Pinckney.
Finally, the team made it to its hotel at midnight. At 9 the next morning, the crafty Massimino had his team in the hotel parking lot, diagramming plays.
"We used the two yellow parking lines to represent the key. We used the car behind us as the other basket and we used a towel as the basketball," said Massimino.
"It was kind of strange," Pinckney said.
That afternoon, Villanova, a team that can win at any tempo, upset North Carolina, 56-53, before a sellout crowd and a national television audience. Villanova players say that was the point at which they knew they could play with anyone. Anytime, any day, anywhere.
Which brings us to the pulverizer. That is the Wildcats' center, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound creation who looks like a taller John Belushi. They call him "Bear."
"But I just like being called 'John,' " said senior John Pinone.
Pinone is from Hartford, Conn., and is one of those rip-and-tug guys in the lane. He is an aggressive sort who now leads Villanova in scoring for the fourth straight year (17-point average this season) and who confronts with vigor every big thing that steps in his way, except the huge, but hollow, mass of doubts about his ability.
Pinone says, "I let people say what they want. I'm not going to let that bother me. I've proven myself for four years. I let my numbers speak for themselves: three NCAA tournaments, probably four now. Almost 90 wins (actually 88) . . . I've been on some all-America teams, too. I must be doing something right."
Actually, Pinone is doing a lot right. True, he is aggressive underneath the basket against all those taller centers. But he has yet to foul out of a game this year. Further, Pinone has a rare knack for making clutch jumpers.
For instance: Villanova trailed St. John's by one point in the final seconds of overtime in a Big East game at the Spectrum Feb. 26.
That's when Pinone grabbed a defensive rebound off a missed free throw, threw the ball down court to guard Stewart Granger, who dribbled some, then passed back to Pinone, who made a 23-footer from out near the top of the key at the buzzer to beat the No. 8 Redmen, 71-70.
Anytime, any day, anywhere.
"I knew John would be in his spot, shooting spot five," said Granger, the senior guard who is averaging 13.1 point per game. "John always gets down the court fast. He always gets the job done."
Pinone is a menacing force in the key: "Everybody tries to intimidate. It's part of the game," he said. "I'm not going to back down and he's not going to back down from me. Everybody tries to establish control in the lane."
Some folks like to say Pinone is a blue-collar player. Of course, others like to say he's a ring-around-the-collar player. "I don't think he's dirty at all," said Pinckney, so graceful with his 13 points and 10 rebounds per game. "A lot of people say he pushes inside and gives a lot of elbows, but I don't think so."
Pinone is hard off the court, too. Hard to figure, that is. He was recently voted an academic all-America, what with a 3.2 grade-point average in economics. One of his hobbies is reading about the Kennedy assassination. Certainly he is smarter than the average bear.
"He has a wonderful heart. He's a very quiet, sophisticated person off the court," said Massimino. "He has a tremendous deep feeling for people. That's the John Pinone we don't see. He's hard to get to know."
Massimino, in his 10th season at Villanova (record: 181-113), likes to call his team "The Family," and not merely because his son, freshman guard Roland Massimino Jr., is on the team. "It's always been that way," the coach said.
In a sense, the improviser and the pulverizer are alike: furies on the court and downright amicable, regular folk off it.
Furthermore, both improviser and pulverizer say that the turning point of this wonderful season of theirs came early, back in December in the Cabrillo Classic in San Diego. The Wildcats had previously lost to Kentucky (93-79) and Pennsylvania (84-80).
"Three losses in December would have made it tough. But we beat Tulsa and San Diego State, and they were both ranked in the top 20 then," said Pinone.
"We had to reevaluate our priorities," said Massimino. "That's why we were 2-2, and have won 19 of of the last 22 since then."
Which isn't exactly a lyric for a sad song.