Three of the nation's 10 best teams last year came from this conference of eight hard-running, high-scoring rivals, and all eight are even stronger this season. CINCINNATI is apparently headed for its third championship in three years of conference membership. The addition of a 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore named Paul Hogue brings rebounding power to a roster already overflowing with offensive ability, and even Coach George Smith is obliged to concede that "we should be better this year." Smith has Oscar Robertson back to pursue an unprecedented third national scoring crown, plus Ralph Davis at guard with his 15.5 average. He also welcomes the return of Forward Bob Wiesenhahn to the starting five, which is completed by the promotion of Carl Bouldin. A 6-foot-8 junior center, Mel Landfried, adds depth and experience, as does 6-foot-6 Forward Larry Willey. Two sophomores, 6-foot-6 Forward Sandy Pomerantz and Guard Jim Calhoun, will play often, BRADLEY'S NIT runners-up are the team to deny Cincy if anyone can. Despite the impending midyear graduation of all-conference Guard Bobby Joe Mason and the knee injury of high-scoring Guard Mike Owens, Coach Chuck Orsborn is optimistic because of "the best prospect Bradley has ever had," 6-foot-6 sophomore Chester Walker. If Owens' knee weakens, veteran Al Saunders will move from forward to guard, and when Mason graduates his spot will be filled by an aggressive freshman who moves up with the midyear class, 6-foot-5 Mack Herndon. Starter Dan Smith is sure to be at forward again. Ed Wodka and Lee Edwards bolster the front line and classmates Ray Hack, Chuck Sash and Mickey Tiemann back up the already solid guard positions, ST. LOUIS has lost Center Bob Ferry, who was the only senior on the all-conference team, but four other Billiken starters are back. A 6-foot-10, 270-pound junior, Bob Nordmann, will move into Ferry's post position as the heart of a front line that includes veterans George Burkel (6 feet 7) and 6-foot-5 Pete McCaffrey, one of the very best in this circuit. Starting guards will again be Jim Dailey and Glen Mankowski, giving Coach John Bennington a big, experienced first five, though one that is shy of speed. Reserves are Tom Smith, Art Hambric, Dick Sanders and Tom Kieffer at guard, and Gordon Hartweger at forward, WICHITA is also loaded. All the starters return, but a pair of big sophomores may force some of them to the bench. Al Tate is all-star caliber at forward, pairing with Ron Heller or John Gales. Elbert Urban, 6 feet 8, will be helped at center by 6-foot-9 sophomore Gene Wiley, whose 6-foot-6 classmate, Wayne Durham, looks promising at forward. Starting Guards Lanny Van Eman and Virgil Brady, both juniors, should stay ahead of lettermen Phil Hayden and Dick Casidy. Tom Mallot and Bob Glascock bolster the lanky forwards. HOUSTON'S brilliant Gary Phillips was the conference's best sophomore and Ted Luckenbill the runner-up last year. Center Bill Hathaway, 6 feet 11, and Forward Pete Markle also return to a starting lineup that averages 6 feet 5. The chances of rising into the conference's first division are brightened most by a strong bench. Guards Bryan Schisler and Jim Lemmon, Forward Dick Molchany and 6-foot-10 Carl Raleigh are joined by high-scoring sophomores Dan Palombizio and Tom Thomson. At DRAKE Coach Maurice John must juggle three veteran starters, three sophomores and five transfer students. Jim Guydon will drive the pattern offense from the backcourt, while Dave Terre, 6 feet 11, and Roger Prescott provide experience up front. Tallest of the transfers are sophomores Bruce Bremner, 6 feet 6, and Bob Mueller, 6 feet 5, who join Larry Waddell as potential starters. Lee Bowman and Lee Mc-Knight are also back on the school's tallest-ever team, NORTH TEXAS STATE has five starters back, including an outstanding center in 6-foot-7 Jim Mudd. Tom Grissom, Bill McLaughlin, Darrell Reitzel and Rod Byrd will also start but new Coach Chuck Johnson still needs height and a capable bench, TULSA'S Coach Clarence Iba has lost his top two scorers and lacks reserve strength. He'll have to rely on better defense to compensate for reduced scoring ability. A tall first five is paced by Bobby Good-all, Gene Estes and Dave Voss, with Jim Weaver and Ray Gross up from the reserves. Sophs Floyd Huffines, Bill Lucas and Don Morris are the better newcomers.
SINK OR SWIM with Chester Walker is likely prospect for Bradley. Walker, practicing jumper above, is league's top rookie prospect. He averaged 23 points with frosh.