💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
March Madness runs through Philadelphia this year, with NCAA basketball games landing this weekend at the Wells Fargo Center.
In the Sweet 16 round Friday night, Purdue takes on surging underdog St. Peter’s at 7 p.m., followed by North Carolina against UCLA at 9:30 p.m. That’ll be followed up with an Elite Eight game at the South Philly sports complex on Sunday night.
Both women and men college teams in Philadelphia have provided some of the most unforgettable moments throughout the storied tenure of the NCAA Tournament (and the National Invitational Tournament, the concurrent playoff comprising schools left out of the championship bracket).
Iconic coaches such as Temple’s John Chaney, Cheyney’s C. Vivian Stringer, Villanova’s Rollie Massimino, and many others have been immortalized in the annals of collegiate basketball history because of their local contributions.
In celebration of this legacy, here’s a look back at Philly’s top 10 NCAA and NIT tournament moments.
1969: Temple men win NIT Championship
The Temple Owls have the distinction of winning the inaugural NIT title in 1938. They took home their second championship in 1969 by defeating Boston College 89-76. They were led by John Baum, a Temple and Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Famer, who scored 30 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the title game. But Boston College’s Terry Driscoll was selected as the MVP, as the crowd loudly booed.
1972: Immaculata becomes first-ever women’s national champ
On March 19, 1972, this Chester County university became the first to win a national women’s college basketball championship — hosted by the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women — by defeating regional rival West Chester University, 52-48. With their win, the Mighty Macs launched the first dynasty of women’s collegiate basketball. Their victory happened just a few months before the passage of Title IX, and the team was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
1978: Cheyney men win Division II tourney
The name thing is a bit confusing, but the achievement stands out: Before John Chaney became the legendary, Hall of Fame coach of the Owls, he led Cheyney University (then known as Cheyney State College) to a Division II championship. After going 24-1 during the regular season and eventually winning it all, Chaney was named NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year.
1979: Penn men make a run to the Final Four
Although the team didn’t capture the NCAA title this year, their run is still regarded as legendary in Philadelphia. One of the early “Cinderella” teams, the Quakers defeated Iona, North Carolina, Syracuse, and St. John’s before losing to the Magic Johnson-led Michigan State Spartans in the national semifinal. They remain the last Ivy League team to make it to the Final Four.
1982: Cheyney makes the inaugural women’s finals
Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer led the Lady Wolves to the inaugural NCAA women’s basketball championship game in 1982. The team had a 23-game winning streak that included wins over North Carolina State University, Kansas State University, University of Maryland, and Auburn University before being defeated by top-ranked Louisiana Tech. The Cheyney team remains the only HBCU to advance to a women’s or men’s NCAA Division I Final Four or National Championship Game and to feature an all-African American woman coaching staff.
1985: Villanova men win their first national championship
In what’s considered one of the greatest upsets in the history of the men’s Final Four, Rollie Massimino led the Wildcats to victory over the Hoyas. With future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing at center, along with four other players who would be drafted into the NBA, the Hoyas were heavily favored. But the Wildcats executed a flawless game plan, shooting an astounding 79% from the field, stunning Georgetown in one of the most unbelievable games in NCAA history.
1989: La Salle women make school history
With a 28-3 season record, the Lady Explorers earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. Under Coach John Miller and as a No. 9 seed in the East, the team captured their first-ever tournament victory by defeating the University of Connecticut. La Salle fell in the second round to the eventual national champion, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
2003: Villanova women end UConn’s 70-win streak
The University of Connecticut dominated women’s college basketball for much of the 2000s. But their record-breaking, 70-game win streak came to a screeching halt when they were defeated by the Villanova Lady Wildcats. The defeat also ended Connecticut’s bid to tie UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak set from 1971-74.
2013: Drexel women win the NIT
Following a 28-10 season, which set a school record for wins, the Lady Dragons made history by capturing the Women’s National Invitational Title in 2013, beating Utah. They were the first Philadelphia Division I women’s basketball team to win a postseason championship, and Lady Dragon Hollie Mershon was named tournament MVP.
2016: Kris Jenkins makes the greatest shot in NCAA history
Kris Jenkins became a Philadelphia legend when he nailed the 25-foot buzzer-beater to defeat North Carolina, 77-74. Jenkins’ shot cemented Villanova as one of the elite programs in Division I college basketball, as the Wildcats would go on to win two NCAA championships in three years. Without question, Jenkins made the greatest shot in the history of Philadelphia collegiate basketball.
Nova, of course, went on to win the whole thing again in 2018.