Four teams—BRADLEY, ST. LOUIS, CINCINNATI, WICHITA—have the talent to win the Valley title. Whichever does win would have a good chance of becoming the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the nation at the NCAA tournament in Louisville next March, except for one thing. The Valley champion meets the Big Eight champion—probably Kansas State—in their first game, and the losing team here might be the nation's second best and never receive that recognition because of the luck of the draw. All of which indicates the kind of a season of scrapping in view in this always tough league. The loss of Oklahoma A&M and Detroit is balanced by the addition of Cincinnati and NORTH TEXAS STATE—simply a fair exchange of two contenders and two also-rans. In the race itself, Bradley has an edge, with its full NIT championship squad returning except for one unimportant substitute. There is also that priceless ingredient: a superstar who inspires his teammates and always has the opposition worrying and concentrating on him—nearly everyone's All America candidate, 6-foot-7 Barney Cable. Across the front with Cable are Shellie McMillon and Gene Morse, all three strong rebounders and scorers. In the backcourt are the smart ball handler, Bobby Joe Mason, and Chuck Sedgwick, only starter who is a mere 6 feet. The depth, as noted, is beyond wishing. Coach Orsborn's only problem, it appears, is staving off the Asian flu. All of St. Louis Coach Hickey's real problems also involve how to use his good players, not the lack of same. He can put 6-foot-8 Bob Ferry in the pivot; 6-foot-8 George Burkel and 6-foot-5 Cal Burnett up front; and 6-foot-4 Jack Mimlitz and 6-foot-3 Rich Rogers in the backcourt. This gives 6-foot-6 Pete McCaffrey and 6-foot-7 Fred Leiding time to rest and grow a little so they can make the team. Seriously, this height is a just bonus for Hickey, whose teams have won nationwide fame for speed and ball handling. It is worth noting that only two squad members are seniors; if this isn't the Billikens' best year, it's bound to be next. Cincinnati enters the Valley this year with a sparkling record and two great assets: the tallest center in the conference in 6-foot-9½ Connie Dierking, and the most highly-touted collegian since Wilt Chamberlain in Oscar Robertson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore who averaged 33 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists per game last year for the Cincinnati frosh. And to help send Coach Smith off to a flying start, the three returning regulars all averaged in double figures last season, while the freshmen were the best in Cincinnati's memorable basketball history. The veterans: Dierking, Wayne Stevens and Mike Mendenhall; the sophs: Robertson, Ralph Davis, Gary Hornsby, Ron Dykes, Larry Willey and Max Messner. The Bearcats may well win the race in their first attempt. There is a tendency to concede Wichita an All-America berth for the brilliant Joe Stevens and little else, a dangerous notion. Stevens does overshadow the squad, but it is still a sound one: 6-foot-9 Ev Wessel and Don Woodworth up front; scrappy Don Lock in the backcourt with Stevens; two tall hook-shooting sophomores in Al Tate and Elbert Urban. There is considerably more depth and plenty of speed. The only reasonable prediction about the other four teams is that newcomer North Texas State will have to settle for the cellar this year. Against much weaker competition in the Gulf Coast last season, Coach Shands' Eagles showed poorly. They have three starters back in Stan Airington, Ken Hinkle and Jim King, and height coming up in Ken Ward, Don Cummins and Ed McClelen. But it's a shallow, inexperienced squad out of its depth—and will be for a few years, TULSA has the big post man that Coach Iba has been looking for in 6-foot-8 Bobby Lee Goodall and three other sophomores who are 6 feet 6 or better—Ed Scruggs, Jerry Anderson, Charles Marlen. But only two veterans, Clester Harrington and Jack Pontious, were double-figure scorers last season. The size is good, the scoring ability improved; the final standing will be about the same as above because of lack of experience. HOUSTON can field a team whose members are all between 6 feet 5 and 6 feet 7; Russell Boone, Jack Crawford and Ray Patoprsty up front, and Ray Butler and Jerry Clayton in the backcourt. The rebounding and shooting might make up for lack of speed but, once again, lack of experience cannot be balanced out. DRAKE has one of the Valley's top marksmen in Red Murrell, and a well-balanced squad that includes veterans Bill Linke and Marlow Eckhoff, and Sophomores Lee Bowman and Jim Westcott. But Coach Benington is still building and is at least another year away. The conference is noteworthy for its continued reliance on the switching man-to-man defense and wide variety of running and pattern offenses—all of which makes for exciting basketball.
Man to watch: CINCINNATI'S OSCAR ROBERTSON