Six weeks ago, when Villanova was struggling to beat such teams as Providence and Seton Hall, Georgetown Coach John Thompson went out of his way to say the Wildcats "will create some serious problems for people" before the end of the college basketball season.
Now, on the eve of the season's final game -- the NCAA championship Monday at about 9:12 p.m. -- Thompson and his Hoyas have come face to face with that prophecy. The Wildcats are the only obstacle between Georgetown's winning consecutive championships and becoming one of the truly great college teams.
But Georgetown, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, will be the overwhelming 9 1/2-point favorite when the Big East schools take the court in Rupp Arena to decide the national title. It will be only the second time that two teams from the same conference have played for the title. Michigan and Indiana played in 1976.
The Hoyas believe that swing man Reggie Williams, their most versatile offensive player, has adequately recovered from a twisted ankle he reinjured in Saturday's semifinal victory over St. John's.
Thompson said today, "I haven't talked to Reggie yet. But I don't think it's bad or somebody would have told me."
When someone tells Thompson Georgetown should win, he says he is suspicious. "I've seen people who were supposed to be sure victors come away losers," he said today. "That's the exciting thing about sports. I heard a lot of people saying Villanova had no chance at beating Memphis State. But Villanova's still here. Somebody forgot to tell them they're not supposed to be here."
Villanova's season already has been a success. A team many thought would lose in the first round of this tournament has won five games against favored opponents. The Wildcats (24-10) have a smart, senior-dominated team and a clever coach in Rollie Massimino, who will make the most of well-disguised matchup zone defenses and a deliberate offense.
Those looking for an upset see in Villanova another North Carolina State, the seemingly overmatched underdog team that upset Houston to win the 1983 title.
Villanova, in many ways, can be compared with N.C. State. Georgetown (35-2 and winner of 17 straight) is in no way similar to Houston.
"They're playing with reckless abandon," Massimino said of Georgetown. "I've been saying all season, and I'll say it again: Pat Ewing is probably the best player I've ever seen in college basketball. This team is awesome. It's one of the best teams that's ever been assembled in the history of college basketball."
Thompson and his players have maintained throughout this tournament that they are not concerned with history.
But the fact is, a Georgetown victory will be historic, and not only because the Hoyas would become the first team since UCLA (1972-73) to win consecutive NCAA titles.
The very building that Thompson and his all-black team will be playing in is named for former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, who refused to recruit black players until 1970.
Even last week, Cliff Hagan, one of Rupp's former players who now is athletic director at Kentucky, said publicly that no blacks were candidates for the school's head coaching job because none had contacted him, so he wouldn't contact them.
Against this backdrop, Georgetown and Villanova, which also starts five black players, will compete for the title. It is an issue that has not been publicly discussed, but, considering the surroundings, it also is an issue that seems impossible to ignore.
Georgetown's success against the Wildcats also cannot be ignored. Georgetown won both regular-season meetings with Villanova during the Big East season. The Hoyas needed an overtime period to win, 52-50, in Philadelphia on Jan. 12, and took a 57-50 victory at Capital Centre on Feb. 11. In each game, Villanova jumped to an 11-2 lead.
Their offensive styles contrast greatly. Georgetown will try to run and set an up-tempo pace, with Ewing providing his usual defensive dominance. Villanova, which now doesn't have to worry about the intrusion of the Big East's 45-second shot clock, would like a slower pace.
"We made a commitment to do the things we do best," said Massimino, in his first title game. "We can't afford one-pass-and-shoot. We've won 90 percent of our games when (opponents) score under 60 points."
The Wildcats will make lots of extra passes, and Massimino hopes some of them will find the soft hands of Ed Pinckney, Villanova's 6-foot-10 senior center/forward who, as a sophomore, had 27 points and 22 rebounds to help beat Georgetown.
The Wildcats have two other seniors who must play well: forward Dwayne McClain, who made only six of 23 shots in the overtime loss to Georgetown, and point guard Gary McLain, who will have to be firm against the Hoyas' defensive assault.
But Pinckney, who averages 16 points (on 60 percent shooting) and nine rebounds, is the player Georgetown probably worries about most. He has been one of Thompson's favorite players the last four years.
And, of course, there is Massimino. Thompson, asked today why he predicted tournament success for Villanova, said, "I don't bet on the horses. I bet on the jockey."
Georgetown also has a fine jockey. Thompson's team has played with a fierce singlemindedness through five tournament games.
Like St. John's, which Georgetown beat for a third time Saturday, Villanova knows every resource the Hoyas have. And vice versa.
"We've played each other enough to know that surprises aren't the thing that cause you to win these ball games," Thompson said.