That nonpareil of basketball strategists, KENTUCKY'S Adolph Rupp, has a way of snatching the SEC championship if given the slightest chance. He has only one starter back from last year's team and he is without a big man (the tallest are 6 feet 5). But he has a stunning sophomore with the deceptively benign southern name of Cotton Nash, and that may be all he needs. Rupp calls the blond, powerful Nash (6 feet 5, a solid 220 pounds and a springtime discus thrower) his best sophomore prospect in 25 years. An aggressive player with a deadly 20-foot jump shot, Nash can be used at any position but is needed most as a forward or center, and will probably start as the latter. Other likely starters are Allen Feldhaus, Carroll Burchett, Scotty Baesler and the lone returning first-stringer, Guard Larry Pursiful. By the time conference play begins, Rupp's young team will have conquered its inexperience and, with a favorable home-game schedule, may become the surprise new champion of the SEC.
It would be no surprise, however, if MISSISSIPPI STATE won its second consecutive conference title for Babe McCarthy. Four of last year's starters have returned, the sole loss being one of the South's top stars, Jerry Graves, who was involved in the basketball scandal. Two strong forwards, Joe Dan Gold and Leland Mitchell, who are both 6 feet 4 and weigh 200 pounds, lead a fast offense that is expected to run more than the usual McCarthy team, which traditionally prefers to get ahead and then stall. W. D. Stroud, one of the best guards in the conference in spite of his fence-rail build, and Jack Berkshire are the experienced backcourt, with 6-foot-7 Bob Shows and Gene Chatham available for the fifth position. With plenty of depth, State has the favorite's role in spite of having to take a rugged northern tour against tough teams that it played in its own cozy field house last season.
Vanderbilt, which finished only a game behind Mississippi State last year, is still looking for its first SEC title and is still about a game away. Roy Skinner, who replaces retiring Bob Polk as coach, has inherited seven returning lettermen, including one big man, 6-foot-8 Ron Griffiths, and a little one, Team Captain Bobby Bland, 5 feet 10. Bland and John Russel give Vandy a pair of short but highly proficient guards. Lack of both height and depth will put a strain on the starters, but if not hampered by injuries, which have plagued them before, the Commodores will threaten the best.
Fast-breaking TULANE has fine shooting and rare depth that will enable it to run many foes ragged. Five lettermen return, led by 6-foot-9 Center Jack Ardon and Guards Rex Krider and Jim Kerwin, who was third-leading scorer in the conference as a sophomore last year. A red shirt, Larry Getts, and two other newcomers, Mike Milholland and Bob Davidson, could break into the starting lineup on Coach Cliff Wells' nicely balanced squad. The main weakness will probably be defense.
Improving LOUISIANA STATE should continue moving up. Among four returning starters are All-SEC Guard George Nattin, a deft dribbler, 6-foot-10 Tom Conklin at center and junior Forward Maury Drummond (6 feet 7), who could now help the team's weak rebounding. Best newcomer on an experienced squad is red-shirted sophomore Bob McLoughlin. For the first time in five years Coach Jay McCreary has a squad with good depth and balance.
Also for the first time in years, Joel Eaves will be working his famous AUBURN shuffle (see page 77) with a big team. Center Layton Johns, 6 feet 7 and the only starter left from last season, will get high-level help from Mack Kirkland and Billy Ingram, two 6-foot-6 transfer students, at forward. A sophomore guard, Larry Chapman, is a possible starter, as are Bill Ross and Billy Tinker. None are under 6 feet, but the added inches won't make up for poor shooting and lack of experience. The latter is especially damaging, for any complicated pattern offense such as the shuffle suffers doubly from inexperience. It looks like a building year for the Tigers.
Norm Sloan was SEC Coach of the Year in his first season at FLORIDA, and his galloping Gators are stronger now. A running game with lots of shooting off screens by very accurate (.453 average) All-SEC Guard Lou Merchant will be the basis of attack, with Center Cliff Luyk expected to get his 13 rebounds per game again. Six-foot-four Taylor Stokes, a sophomore, has developed into a promising forward. Florida will be rugged under the boards and a test for any foe.
Georgia Tech has no outstanding player, and may end up using two sophomores as starters, Charles Spooner and John Herbert. With 600-point-man Roger Kaiser gone, Tech will break fast, then work carefully for the very high percentage shot if the break fails, in the hope of getting some scoring out of all players. Alan Nass and Keith Weekly are the sole starters back with five other experienced men on an essentially untried team.
Six-foot-ten Orb Bowling is the only sure regular on a TENNESSEE team that has good rebounding but lacks overall speed to cash in on this asset. Four sophomores, most notably 6-foot-7 Forward Sid Elliott, and three transfer students join Coach John Sines's large squad, which includes John Martin at forward and two sub-6-foot guards, Tom Wilson and Bill Booth.
Mississippi has two solid ballplayers, Center Sterling Ainsworth and Forward Bill White, and those rhymed Edmonds boys (Mel and El) are back at-the guard spots with a season's experience. But with no highly touted newcomers, defensive weaknesses will still plague Ole Miss.
Coach Hay den Riley has bolstered the ALABAMA defense by getting both height and bench strength from eight sophomores, the biggest being 6-foot-7 Holland Floyd. As many as four sophomores may start, with Guards Hinton Butler and Darrell Estes the top returning first-stringers. The offense is bound to be weak.
Georgia must look to untried sophs John Mathews and Charles Bagby to help out a team that finished last a season ago. The Bulldogs' high scorer, Allen Johnson, should lead the squad again, but Coach Harbin Lawson can find little to cheer about at Athens.
BIG MEN on Kentucky's campus are Coach Adolph Rupp and his latest in a long line of outstanding players, Cotton Nash.