Having leapfrogged the league in one season, from last to first place, EASTERN KENTUCKY may have serious trouble maintaining that top position this year. Four of their first six men, including the two top scorers, are gone, and the upcoming sophomores will suffer from the fact that their schedule as freshmen last year was cancelled because of illness and injuries on the squad. Veterans Carl Cole and Jack Upchurch will start in the backcourt, with soph Ralph Richardson in the pivot and former reserves Roland Wierwille and Bruce Springate at the forwards. The average height is a good 6 feet 4, the shooting and rebounding are strong, the speed only fair. Cole, an exceptional shooter and driver, is also an outstanding student, averaging a shade under straight A his first two years. A good bench includes Larry Redmond and Phil Estepp, guards; Rex English and Ray Gardner, forwards. The choice to succeed Eastern is WESTERN KENTUCKY, loaded with returning starters and a very promising bunch of sophomores. The veterans are led by Center Charles Osborne, Guards Panny Sarakatsannis and Don Parsons and Forward Albert Ellison. Two of the newcomers almost certain to start are Harry Todd and Bobby Rascoe, but other candidates are Hugh Wilhite, Doug Smith, Roland McDaniel, Brentley Barnard and 6-foot-9 Don Crosley. This squad is at least two deep all over, can run all night or set up around Todd in a high post. Likeliest contender is TENNESSEE TECH, led by the 6-foot-10 pivotman Jim Hagan, third-highest scorer (28.8 average) in the nation last year. The backcourt is solid, with veterans Jackie Pearson, Denny Vaughn and Buster Bush, transfer student Dave Eakins and sophomores Tony Carman, Ken Jolly and Don Gorin. But the frontcourt probably will be manned by Tom McKinney and Rich Papes, both up from the freshmen. They're big boys and helped set a fine frosh team record (12-1), but there's no substitute for varsity experience. Sadly, there is no real speed here to take advantage of Hagan's boardwork. MURRAY STATE probably will post another good defensive record this season but again will lack a real scoring punch. Of the three returning starters—Ken Peterson, Mike O'Riordan and Harold Wilkins—none was able to hit in double figures last year. Peterson has grown 2½ inches since last fall, is now a shade under 7 feet; much depends on whether he will learn to use his height on the boards. Up from the freshmen are Guards Billy Ricks and Ron Greene and Forward Len Ma-honey; junior college graduate Larry Bale and transfer student Jarrell Graham also will be competing for the open spots. Veteran reserves include John West, Larry Henson and Frank Smikoski. At MOREHEAD STATE, where Coach Bob Laughlin had his first losing season last year, two speedy, hot-shooting guards, Herbie Triplett and Granville Williams, will carry the burden if Williams can make an early recovery from an attack of hepatitis. Respectively, they averaged 16 and 15 points a year ago and they'll have to do at least that well again; the veteran frontcourt performers, Arthur Cole, Tom Hamilton and Jim Harrison, have yet to demonstrate real scoring ability, even though their height matches the best in the league. Help is expected from Ed Noe and Acie Hall, the only two sophomores likely to play, and from transfer student Mickey Morgan and reserve Henderson Thompson, who round out a slim squad, EAST TENNESSEE came into the league last year with no experience and little height and surprised many by finishing fourth. Height is again the big problem this time, but there are a number of experienced performers, including Tom Wright, Jim Brown and all-conference Forward Tom Chilton. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers have to play a sophomore, Adrain Coulter, in the pivot, a tough spot for a newcomer. Another soph, Dennis Crumley, also may start; Charles Webb, Jim Williams, Ken Cole and Pete Danko are veteran reserves. As is customary for a team without real size, East Tennessee will try to compensate for lack of height with outside shooting and speed, though speed is small consolation without board control. Much the same situation exists at MIDDLE TENNESSEE, where Bob Burden, Don Smith and Ralph Bryant are back and the shooting and speed are at least adequate. The backcourt will be strengthened by transfer Mike Young and the bench by Ray Hammers and Ray Burden. Rookie Paul Holland may start.
BLOCKING OUT for the rebound in practice session, Eastern Kentucky's first five displays perfect form. If they can do it in games, they may repeat as Valley champion.