One sunday morning in the mid-1930s a startled nation of comic strip readers, nurtured on the gentle antics of Little Orphan Annie and Andy Gump and Moon Mullins and as yet untoughened by the machinations of Al Capp, awoke to discover a character of terrifying mien named Alice the Goon. Alice, a product of the whimsical imagination of E. C. (Popeye) Segar, was a creature of immense height who came equipped with long skinny legs, long dangling arms and hands like a pair of young steam shovels. Withal a pleasant, rather harmless creature, the goon was just too huge and too clumsy to last; eventually, outliving her usefulness, she was returned by Segar to the strange planet from whence she came. No such recourse, unfortunately, has ever been open to basketball coaches; they have had to live with their goons for years.
The problem of the goon—the big player who is just tall, as opposed to the big player who can run and shoot and pass like anyone else and is therefore not a goon at all but a real basketball player—has long been a headache for the sport. Last March, however, the college coaches decided it was time to act. Their solution: a new rule widening the free-throw lane to 12 feet, inside which an offensive player may remain for only three seconds. It was designed to move the big man out where he could no longer stand limply around and bat in everything that came his way. Last week the reports began to come in: the thing was working.
"On a good, active center it has no effect whatsoever," says Coach Jack Gardner of Utah. "But it hurts the man who is just big, period. He can't maneuver and he really gets murdered on offense. I opposed the rule when it was first brought up. Now I think it's all to the good. Makes for a speedier game." Says Stan Watts of Brigham Young: "It has equalized the big man." Adds Ed Hickey of St. Louis: "It has curbed the cheap basket—the automatic tip-in."
Whether the new rule was responsible or not, something was causing the college basketball ranking system to quiver and quake. Kentucky's defeat a week earlier seemed to trigger a startling chain reaction and last week three of the nation's top six teams lost their first game of the season—and two of them lost twice.
The Midwest. Not that there was anything startling about No. 1 San Francisco. Well rested after three warmup victories in home territory, the NCAA champions moved into Chicago and won the De Paul Tournament, beating ambitious Marquette 65-58 and De Paul 82-59. All-America Bill Russell didn't score much but displayed his usual genius both on defense and while gathering in rebounds and was named the tournament's outstanding player. But Duquesne couldn't live up to its No. 6 ranking. The Dukes lost to De Paul 68-64 in the opening round and went down badly before Marquette in the consolation game 83-59 as 6-foot-9 Terry Rand outscored Sihugo Green 43 points to 24.
Iowa, which went into the week unbeaten and ranked No. 4, lost to Colorado 60-57. Independent Dayton strengthened its national ranking with an easy 93-56 victory over Idaho and then beat strong Cincinnati 66-57. But once again individual honors went to Ohio State's 5-foot-11 sharpshooter, Robin Freeman. As the Big Ten team beat Oklahoma 89-68 and then ended St. Louis' unbeaten streak 89-83, Freeman scored 40 and 39 points, ran his total to 186 in five games.
The West. With San Francisco on the road and none of the other coast teams displaying anything resembling championship basketball, attention in the Far West centered on the state of Utah. The University of Utah dressed up in Gay Nineties costume for a gag photo to celebrate its 90-point scoring average, then went out and scored only 69 against Idaho State's slow-down ball-control tactics. The Utes won anyway, by 16 points, and the next night got back on the track with a gay 91-56 victory over Washington State. Brigham Young, chiding Utah over its "soft schedule," twice breezed past Colorado, conqueror of mighty Iowa. The scores were 70-53 and 84-53, and most of the havoc was caused by 5-foot-8 Terry Tebbs and 6-foot-7 Herschel (Soup Bone) Pedersen, who together contributed over half the points.
The South. Another state was ready to challenge Utah for supremacy—North Carolina. Success had long been predicted for North Carolina State and the undefeated Wolfpack continued to live it up. They beat Clemson 100-83, South Carolina 90-66 and W. Virginia 92-71. But young North Carolina appeared to be arriving ahead of schedule. They ruined unbeaten and fifth-ranked Alabama 99-77 and then won over Maryland 68-62; the Tar Heel from The Bronx, Lennie Rosenbluth, scored a two-game total of 51 points. It was really a bad week all around for Alabama; three nights later they lost to St. John's of Brooklyn 87-79 before 12,595 in Madison Square Garden.
But all the good basketball in the South wasn't being played in North Carolina. Kentucky bounced back to win three straight, including last-minute victories over De Paul (71-69) and Maryland (62-61), and then prepared to find the answer to the big question: how far back? Coming into town for the annual Kentucky Invitational Tournament were Utah, Dayton and Minnesota. Little George Washington, which doesn't even have a field house to call its own, knocked over West Virginia 94-79 despite Hot Rod Hundley's 40 points, Washington & Lee 86-70 and VMI 106-54. And The Citadel beat College of Charleston 56-52, which may not be so much but how would you feel if you hadn't won a basketball game since Feb. 13, 1954?
The East. Even St. John's victory over Alabama failed to take the sting out of Duquesne's double defeat. However, the East could still glory in Holy Cross. The Crusaders made it 5-0 for the year by coasting past St. Michael's of Vermont 85-65 and NYU 85-50, Tom Heinsohn scoring 29 and 30 points. Temple, the team which stopped Kentucky the week before, also won its fifth straight, not without trouble, an 83-80 squeaker past Princeton.
The Southwest. SMU seemed intent upon personally regaining the honor and prestige of the Southwest. Setting out to prove its only loss, to Iowa, was a mistake, and its victory over strong Minnesota was no fluke, SMU bounced another Big Ten team, Wisconsin, 75-62, then moved over to the Big Seven to defeat Kansas 81-61. Rice refused to slow down either, beating LSU 85-60 for victory No. 6 as prize Sophomore Temple Tucker scored 27 points. And Texas, led by the shooting of Raymond Downs, came from nowhere to win the Blue-Gray Tournament with victories over two unbeaten teams—Auburn and Mississippi.