This conference is 13 years old, and no one has yet convinced the membership that there really are other sports besides basketball. At WESTERN KENTUCKY almost everyone is back from the team that gave national champion Ohio State real trouble in the NCAA tournament, yet the Hill-toppers are only shadow-thin favorites to retain their title. Three lettermen who accounted for over 47 points a game last year are the reasons why Coach Ed Diddle may continue as the winningest coach in basketball. Center Charlie Osborne, whose .512 field-goal average earned him all-conference recognition, returns with 6-foot-8 Forward Harry Todd and Guard Bobby Rascoe. Guard Panny Sarakatsannis hopes to regain the starting position he held two years ago. Sophomores Bobby Jackson (28-point average on the freshman team) and Jimmy Dunn will also start. Diddle's only worry is that his entire reserve group consists of sophomores, the best of whom are 6-foot-7 Warner Caines and 22-point-scorer Larry Castle. Like most teams in this offense-minded league, EASTERN KENTUCKY has a lot of old hands on hand—including four starters. Best of the lot is speedy Guard Carl Cole, the most highly regarded player in the conference. Other double-figure scorers are Guard Phil Estepp, Center Ralph Richardson and Forward Jack Upchurch. Forward Roland Wierwille is another returning starter. Two experienced juniors, Ray Gardner and Larry Parks, are the key reserves. Coach Paul McBrayer's team possesses exceptional speed and shooting and balanced rebounding strength, but is uniformly shorter than its chief opponents. MURRAY STATE returns all six starters, including alternating senior Guards Larry Bale and Harold Wilkins. Coach Cal Luther's "double rolling post" has also been mastered by high-scoring seniors Gene Herndon and Mike O'Riordan, who play inside, Guard Jarrell Graham and Forward Ron Greene, the only junior starter. One sophomore, Dick Masters, has a chance to start. Other veterans are Forwards Frank Smikoski and John West and a 6-foot-11 center, Ken Peterson, MOREHEAD STATE may be an unexpected giant. With three starters back from last year's injury-jinxed team, Coach Bob Laughlin should get full value from his every-man-for-himself fast-break offense. Center Ed Noe, 6 feet 9, will be flanked by sophomores Norman Pokley, 6 feet 8, and Doug Cundiff, 6 feet 6. Guards Henderson Thompson and Mickey Morgan had a combined average of 31 points last year, but must beat out talented junior Granville Williams, who is back after a year of recuperation from hepatitis. Two soph guards who score consistently in the 20s are Bert Greene and Junior Thompson. Four forwards over 6 feet 5 complete a squad with good size, speed and scoring potential. Things are not so cheery at TENNESSEE TECH, where the graduation of 6-foot-10 Jim Hagan left Coach Johnny Oldham with two starters and nine sophomores. Guard Ken Jolly and Forward Tom McKinley will start with promising newcomers Tom Rychener, Roy Davenport and Frank Cardwell. Juniors Don Gorin, Dave Eakins, Rich Papes and a cluster of tall sophomores provide a well-filled bench and lots of speed, but the Eagles still need a dependable rebounder. MIDDLE TENNESSEE is one big reason why the league's top-to-bottom balance is tighter than ever. Coach Ed Diddle Jr. starts his fifth year with three tall regulars, Forwards Ralph Bryant and Bob Burden and Guard Paul Holland. Sophomores Bennett Jent, 6 feet 7, and Dwain Tones, 6 feet 3, complete the starting five. Reserves Ray Burden, Paul Dailey, Ed Newton and Jack McCauley, plus more tall sophomores, complete a squad with plenty of size and speed but only fair shooting ability. At EAST TENNESSEE Coach Madison Brooks has the nation's 11th-highest scorer, forward Tom Chilton, and his 25-point average. Guard Mike Morrison and Darrell Range join Chilton is starters. Reserves Adrian Coulter, Ralph McQueary and Dennis Crumley also return.
FAST-BREAK FINISH at Tennessee Tech practice session sets up Guard Don Gorin (left) for shot. A flock of tall Tech sophomores are bidding for varsity jobs.