THE CHOICE...RHODE ISLAND
Now that RHODE ISLAND has broken Connecticut's 10-year stranglehold on the conference championship, others are getting similar ideas. For the first time in memory there is a genuine three-team race for the title. The Rams will have to deal with two remarkably tall challengers if they are to maintain their newly won status, but they have some sizable newcomers of their own to go with four of last year's starters. Daniel Nillson, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, will be the tallest in Coach Ernie Calverley's five-man weave, and next is 6-foot-5 senior Forward Gary Koenig. The other forward, 6-foot-3 Charlie Lee, averaged nearly 16 points last year as a sophomore. Seniors Dave Ricereto, a double-figure scorer, and Stu Schachter are set at the guards, completing a starting unit rich in shooting and experience and backed by several good sophomores.
Connecticut will be bidding for its 13th conference title in 15 years. Coach Hugh Greer has four starters back from the team that was shocked first by an unaccustomed third-place finish and then by the involvement of its captain in the scandals. The bright performances of several sophomores and the return to school of 6-foot-6 Forward Walt Griffin, who scored almost 10 points a game on the 1960 team, mean that all the veterans face battles for their jobs. Bob Haines, 6 feet 7, Gerard Manning, 6 feet 6, and Dave King, 6 feet 4, provide experienced height at forward, and the new UConn center undoubtedly will be a 6-foot-10 sophomore, Ed Slomcenski. This tall front line is backed by returning Guards Andy Czuchry, Len Carlson and Dale Comey, all of whom are being pressed by sophomores. The Huskies have no obvious weaknesses.
Massachusetts also has a towering front line. The conference's newest championship contenders bring back a forecourt that averages over 6 feet 6, and they have seven sophomores between 6 feet 3 and 6 feet 8. But for the third consecutive year Coach Matt Zunic badly needs some experienced guards. Inability to hold on to the ball in the backcourt last season caused Massachusetts to lose four games in the final two minutes of play. Pete Lark in saw reserve duty in the backcourt, but sophomores Jim Paint-en, 6 feet 4, and Dick Conlon, 6 feet 3, may move in as regulars. Up front are 6-foot-5 Forward Kirk Leslie, who averaged 14 points and 11 rebounds last season, 6-foot-8 Center Don Black and 6-foot-6 sophomore Roger Twitchell. Several of Twitchell's tall classmates are ready to fill in. The Redmen should have no problems in the rebound department anyway.
Maine made its strongest showing last year but fell short by two games and had to settle for a third consecutive consolation prize. The Black Bears were harder hit by graduation than any other team in the league, losing four starters, and can only hope to play a spoiler role rather than that of a contender. Coach Brian McCall has little height and few tested players, but he does have Tom (Skip) Chappelle, a first-team Little All-America guard, whose soft jump shot was worth 21 points a game last winter. Chappelle should get some scoring help from sophomore Forward John McGonagle and a few of the five returning reserves, but their good speed and able shooting are not enough to overcome the squad's over-all lack or experience.
Vermont was able to play on even terms in games with several leading teams last winter for the first 20 or 25 minutes. But after that the predominantly sophomore lineup began making those mistakes common to inexperienced players. Four of them are juniors now, including probably the only 6-foot-2 center who made an All-Conference team last winter. He is Benny Becton, and he seems to have enough spring to leap clear over the backboard. He had nearly 22 points and 18 rebounds a game as a sophomore, and is the big reason rivals seldom notice that Vermont's lineup averages only 6 feet 2. Double-figure scorers Jack Shabel and Dick Ader, Forward John Stahler and sophomore Dave Strassburg, the best of an undefeated freshman team (14-0), give Coach Fuzzy Evans more experience, speed, depth and potential than he has had the pleasure of working with in many years.
New Hampshire is better defensively but weaker offensively, and the only consolation Coach Bill Olson finds is that he may have a stronger last-place team this year than he did last year. Co-Captains Bob Bron and Vic Bartaglioli and sophomore Norm Higgins are sure starters on a team with good speed and height, but no depth. What little is available in the way of experience is mostly the kind that coaches prefer to forget.
EYES ON TARGET, Rhode Island Guard Dave Ricereto takes hand-off from Gary Koenig in post and drives for the basket.