Starting its 14th year of organized competition with only one charter member (Ohio U.) still in residence, this frisky band of seven steadily improving teams saw some drastic changes in an old pattern last year when Bowling Green deprived Miami of its third straight NCAA berth by beating the Redskins in a playoff after losing to them in both regular-season games. This time no less than four teams are potential titlists, with the Bee Gees a slight favorite. Veteran Coach Harold Anderson starts his 18th season at BOWLING GREEN with four returning starters and a half dozen untested sophomores. Husky All-America candidate Jimmy Darrow, 5-foot-11 senior guard who has scored 1,035 points in two seasons, will share the main burden with springy Rex Leach, who gets the rebounds. Senior Center Ron Parsons is tall enough at 6 feet 8 to enable the Falcon offense to blend single-pivot plays with its fast break, while Jim Routson, who has played both center and forward, will settle down at the latter. A fifth starter will emerge from a trio comprised of letterman Dick Kuzma and sophs Dennis Reed and Tommy Falantano. A newcomer to the title chase after an uninterrupted climb from the 1956-57 cellar is KENT STATE, where Coach Bill Bertka begins his third year with seven veterans, seven big sophomores and a starting lineup averaging 6 feet 4. The league's best defensive club last year, Kent will employ a controlled fast-break offense led by all-conference Forward Oliver Wallace, who is ineligible for the first quarter of the season but who will be available for all conference games. Another junior, Charlie Boykin, averaged 14.7 per game, while several others capable of double-figure production are Jack Moore, Denny Bayer and soph Chet Thomas. Jerry McGinty, Pete Baltic and Jim Maddox are back to provide the best depth in years, while newcomers Fred Brown and Paul Walker will also press for starting assignments. It is also time for a patient rebuilding program to bear fruit at TOLEDO, whose climb has paralleled that of Kent. Coach Ed Melvin has all his starters back, plus enough depth and speed. George Patterson is the most talked-about center in the league. Forwards John Papcun, Willie Newson and Ned Miklovic are all skilled veterans, while the backcourt includes last year's top scorers, Bob Pawlak and Jerry Galicki, as well as Ron Oranski. An inexperienced front line places MIAMI in the unaccustomed role of contender rather than favorite. High-scoring Guards Jim Hamilton and Dave Zeller back up a tall but green forward wall that averages 6 feet 5. Five sophomores, led by Dave Mack and LeVern Benson, add to Miami's good depth and speed, giving Dick Shrider an outside chance to win his third conference title in his three years as coach. One of the shootingest, runningest teams in this fast-break league has always been MARSHALL, and the Big Green will be at it again despite the loss of All-America Leo Byrd, No. 2 scorer in the nation last year. John Milhoan, a 6-foot-4 guard who hit 49% of his 316 shots last year, will fill the scoring gap left by Byrd, but running mate Lou Mott is the only starter back to help him make this the 24th straight season Marshall has played .500 ball or better. An inexperienced forward line includes 6-foot-8 soph Bob Burgess, Jim Gallion and either Chuck Gordon or Starling Miller. Welcome news for Coach Jule Rivlin is the return of" rebounder Herm Conner, out last year with a bad knee. Reserve Center Bruce Moody and four more big sophs round out the squad. Extreme speed and the enthusiasm of four sophomore starters must compensate for inexperience at WESTERN MICHIGAN. Peppery junior Guard Sam Key is joined by a fresh foursome of Bob James, Ron Robinson, Ron Emerick and Tom Woodruff to compete in a league that is seldom fun for neophytes. Coach Don Boven will relegate three of last year's regulars to reserve ranking, including Bob Bolton, Ernie Scott and Steve Holmes. The tall sophs should alleviate last season's critical lack of rebounding and help patch the holes in a very porous defense. At OHIO juniors Bunk Adams, Howard Jolliff and Larry Kruger, fine front-court performers, team with Guard Dale Bandy to do what they can to preserve something of last year's status, despite the graduation of four of the team's five top scorers. Reserves Bruce Johnson, Verlynn Witte and Bob Gaunt, plus soph Bill Whaley all need experience, and they'll probably get it quickly.
FLYING LAYUP by Jimmy Darrow is typical of this fine guard's aggressive play, which makes Bowling Green the favorite to win the title it shared last season with Miami.