THE CHOICE...WEST VIRGINIA
If anyone in the league can stop WEST VIRGINIA this time around, it will be an immense achievement. The Mountaineers have five players 6 feet 8 or taller, understandably leading Coach George King to consider some double-pivot plays in his offense. Dave Shuck and sophomore Tom Lowry are the best of the skyscrapers, while 6-foot-6 Paul Miller and 6-foot-4 Kenny Ward supply experienced strength at forward. But all this is frosting, from the opposition's point of view. The cake is 6-foot-4 Rod Thorn in the backcourt. Thorn averaged more than 18 points and 12 rebounds before he became ill at the end of last season. He's healthy again, and he and Jim McCormick form one of the nation's most potent guard combinations.
That asterisk to the right of GEORGE WASHINGTON in the standings (see box) is not a misprint. The Colonials really did win the championship, and they did go to the NCAA Tournament, where they were duly slaughtered by Princeton in their first game. This was all possible because the Southern Conference (and the ACC) believes that regular season games don't mean a thing—the real champ is the one who does best in the three-day playoff held just before the NCAA. Actually, GW will do better this year because three starters are back, including Jon Feldman, a brilliant 5-foot-9 guard who averaged over 20 points. The others, Forwards Gar Schweickardt and Don Ardell, will be joined by sophomore Guard David Sparks and Feldman's twin brother Jeff, who missed a year because of scholastic troubles. Nevertheless, Coach Bill Reinhart, a veteran and skillful manipulator, will have a rough time repeating his conference coup without a rebounder.
Coach Mel Thompson guided THE CITADEL to a surprising 17-8 record in his first year. He could do as well this time with more speed at his command and the return of Gary Daniels, whose 23.2 scoring average was second-best in the conference last year. Kieth Stowers, 6 feet 6, is at center, and junior Charlie Madrazo is likely to start at guard with either of two sophomores, Mike West or Larry Hitchcock.
Furman is the only other team with any chance against West Virginia. The Paladins combine the good outside shooting of All-Conference Guard Jerry Smith (22.6 points per game) with a forecourt which averages 6 feet 6—Gerald Glur, John Vickers and sophomore John Lemmond. Coach Lyles Alley has added the shuffle offense to his single-pivot and fast-break styles, so it doesn't matter much who plays where. He has a 10-point scorer in Guard Bobby Pinson, another returning starter in Forward Randy Blackwell and plenty of depth.
No team can lose a center like Chris Smith with impunity, so VIRGINIA TECH, which dedicates a shiny new 10,000-seat field house this week against Kentucky, will have to step down—but possibly not for long. Foxy Coach Chuck Noe has an even taller center, 6-foot-8 Barry Benfield, and a 30-point forward, Howard Pardue, from the freshmen. They join Forward Bucky Keller (17.8 average) and the starting guards, Leland Melear (10.6) and Bob Quesinberry, on a fast, high-scoring unit. The newcomers should learn enough to make Tech at least a spoiler by tournament time.
VMI should be improved, with more height and a stronger bench. Norm Halberstadt has a soft jump shot that is good for nearly 23 points a game. Three other returning starters, Gene Lazaroff, Weldon Eddins and John Yurachek, will be helped by sophomores Bob Watson (6 feet 7) and Bill Blair.
William and Mary was hit by the loss of Jeff Cohen and Bev Vaughan, and Coach Bill Chambers has no one to replace them. Regulars Kirk Gooding, a forward, and Guards Ken Roberts, Roger Bergey and Dave Hunter will lead a single-post offense. Chambers hopes to take advantage of the driving of the guards, who have fine speed.
Richmond lacks height. A pair of sophomore forwards, John Telepo and Bill Burton, join Center George Grodzicki (6 feet 5) and Guards Danny Higgins (16.3 average) and Ronnie Floyd to give Coach Les Hooker some good shooting but little rebounding.
Davidson Coach Charles Driesell lost enough squeakers last year to expect a more generous fate this time. He has speed, a 15.3 scorer in Bill Jarman and two big sophomores in Terry Holland and Bill Beerman. Another surprise victory over Wake Forest may be too much to hope for, however.
KNEELING MOUNTAINEERS, listening attentively to Coach George King, will do very little bowing to anybody else this year. West Virginia is one of the nation's strongest teams.