For unrelenting excitement, there is little in sport to equal a major college basketball game, with its noisy, partisan crowds which so closely encircle the action on the floor that they themselves become an integral part of the game. There is nothing in college basketball itself to compare with an NCAA championship playoff. The winners of all major athletic conferences in the country, plus the best independents, make up a 25-team field that is reduced by regional competition until just four are left. It is these four who will come to Louisville's Freedom Hall next week to resolve which is the best of the best (see cover).
There are no games a basketball follower would rather see. Freedom Hall's 18,000 seats were on sale only one day before applications were cut off with guillotine finality. Ticket requests totaled more than 35,000, and by game time $5 seats will sell for $50. Those who do get in have bought the right to share the hope and anguish of the teams they follow at a time when a national title hangs on the shot made and the shot missed. As a player like Cincinnati's Tony Yates (right) turns to head downcourt the drone of keyed-up spectators will rise to a full-throated roar, and scenes like those on the following pages, which occurred in the NCAA championship a year ago in Louisville, will be dramatically reenacted.
Cheerleaders and bands are supposed to whip up the basketball frenzy but nobody's enthusiasm gets any higher than that of the whippers-up themselves. At right: an Ohio State booster soars off the floor with a leap worthy of a rebounding center, while UCLA's musicians are so busy with their whooping that they forget their tooting.
Like the standards of a Roman legion raised high in a victorious salute, the pompons of Cincinnati wave a tribute to the defending champions as they march along the route to victory and a second national championship.
When the final buzzer sounds, the winners boost up one player to cut the net from the basket. Though it droops in unregal fashion, as it did last year over Cincinnati's Larry Shingleton, how sweet a thing it is to wear a crown.
JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN