It is hard to imagine a closer race than the one here last year, when four teams were in contention with only two games to play. Once again four squads are of championship caliber, with LOYOLA likely the strongest. The Lions tied for the title last year with a group of sophomores, and are determined to prove it was no fluke. Coach Bill Donovan will start four men—juniors Ed Bento, Jerry Grote and Tony Krallman and senior Tom Ryan—who were double-figure scorers in this ball-control, deliberate-offense league. Grote was chosen most valuable player in the conference, and Ryan set a school record of 362 rebounds. They will be joined by Bill Wagner, an all-conference center in 1958-59, out last year with a bad knee. Sophomore Brian Quinn and reserves Bernard Bowler and Jim Senske are the nucleus of a talented but shallow bench, ST. MARY'S is always strong, and this year is no exception despite the recent loss of 6-foot-9 Center Al Claiborne because of a shoulder injury. The Gaels have two outstanding starters in 6-foot-6 Forward Tom Meschery and Guard Gene Womack. Up from a freshman team with an 18-1 record are high-scoring Steve Gray, who will start at forward, and Guards Vurdell Newsome and Tom Sheridan, one of whom will start alongside Womack. Plenty of depth at guard is provided by Greg Johnston and Jerry Corker, but Hamilton Holmes is the only adequate reserve at forward. Coach Jim Weaver's main worries are a recurrence of Meschery's injuries, finding a substitute for Claiborne and the fact that St. Mary's plays no league games at home, SANTA CLARA has lost eight seniors, but gains a towering group of sophomores, who won 20 of 22 games as freshmen. Available for the front line in Coach Bob Feerick's five-man weave offense are sophomores Gene Shields, 6 feet 8, Joe Weiss, 6 feet 7, and Leroy Jackson, 6 feet 6, who join the team's only returning starter, Ron McGee, a mere 6 feet 5. Barry Christina and Pete Lillevand were active reserves at guard, but help will be needed here from the sophomores, SAN FRANCISCO was understandably disorganized after the unexpected departure of star Fred LaCour and Coach Phil Woolpert at the start of last season. Two fine shooters, Guard Bob Gaillard and Forward Bob Ralls, plus clever Forward Charley Range and Guard Frank Nolan, give new Coach Pete Peletta four returning starters. Tall reserves, Bill Gallagher and Hal Urban, return at forward, as do Guards Glen Wilson and Bill Connolly. Peletta's one big need is a tall center, PEPPERDINE graduated three of four top scorers, yet may develop into a better team than the one which lost the title in the last game of the season. Starting Guards Bobby Blue and Rex Hughes, with sophomores Lee Tinsley and Noel Smith, form a fast, accurate-shooting nucleus but one which lacks size. Coach Duck Dowell will again employ the only fast-break offense in the conference. He has tall reserves in Tim Tift, Bob Hultz and sophomore Dick Leroy, while reserves Dave Hancock and Gary Dixon return at guard, SAN JOSE STATE'S new Coach Stu Inman plans to install a new set of patterns, and must test them with last year's reserves, since Guard Gary Ryan is the only returning starter. The other guard, 5-foot-ll Vance Barnes, has high-jumped 6 feet 10 inches, while a 6-foot-7 USC transfer, Joe Braun, should be a happy solution to the center problem. Reserves Art Dalbey, Vic Corl and Norm Bostock, and sophomores Bill Robertson, Rolf Dahl and Bill Yonge all have a chance to start, COLLEGE OF THE PACIFIC Coach Van Sweet has no illusions—inadequate speed, defense and rebounding ability cannot all be overcome by good shooting, the one asset the squad does possess. One of the best scorers in the area will be Ken Stanley, and the other gunners are veterans Sandy Bleer and Lew Leonard and sophs Ivar Kent and Rollo Parsons. There is no one to take the place of two-time national champion rebounder Leroy Wright, and the two big men, 6-foot-8 Brent Leonard and 6-foot-6 John Nicholls, are very inexperienced. Guard Gary Brinck and reserve Forward Sam Cardinale add limited depth.
PASSING DRILL at Loyola is directed by Coach Bill Donovan, who finished in tie for first with green team last year, should win title with the same bunch this time.