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At least eight schools in the Midwest's biggest conference are good enough to play with the best in the country. But the sleeper may be the Fighting Illini, who can't get to the NCAA but can cause trouble

The winds came, and even in Columbus football suddenly was no longer news. Across the Midwest last week, citizens were moving indoors to thaw out and check on such weighty matters as Rick Mount's new hair style, Rudy Tomjanovich's aching back and Northwestern's toy bulldog.

It is pleasant to report that Mount indeed sports a new look, with the blond curl that once bisected his forehead now combed to the side so that he currently looks like a stockbroker in shorts. It is even pleasanter to report that the Purdue junior is otherwise the same old Rocket, tossing in 30-foot jump shots while falling out of bounds or standing on his head.

Michigan's new coach, John Orr, was publicly distraught not long ago about his ailing star, Tomjanovich. But the poor lad has managed to stay out of traction long enough to be averaging 27.2 points a game (Mount has 32.3). As for the bulldog, Northwestern stations it on the scorer's table at each of its games; to implement this sorcery the Wildcats also carry around the leg bone of a cow. Minnesota came up with a less delicate totem. It practiced in a parking lot of the San Diego airport one morning several weeks ago using, instead of a ball, a roll of toilet paper with the weight of an official basketball clearly printed on its side.

If all this seems to add up to nothing, one other fact may help clarify matters. The Big Ten has been winning quite a few games recently. Wisconsin beat both Kansas and Kentucky and lost by only one point to Notre Dame. Minnesota, with a new coach, Bill Fitch, and two of George Mikan's sons playing, knocked off nationally ranked Marquette and Detroit. Ohio State gave UCLA its toughest game of the season and Iowa is a respected dark horse. But in many ways the most impressive team of all is Illinois. Wrecked by a slush fund scandal only two years ago and still not eligible for the NCAA tournament, the Illini have run up an impressive 11-1 record, including an 82-77 overtime victory at Northwestern last Saturday in the Big Ten's TV game of the week.

One of the important reasons for the Illini's success is Harv Schmidt, a skinny alumnus who stepped into the coaching job following the scandal and did not waste a minute before getting to work. Hired, he was introduced to the press in Champaign on a Wednesday, was on a bumpy flight to Albuquerque (he had been an assistant at New Mexico) Wednesday night, took one day to settle his affairs and was back in Illinois the next day to attend the high school all-state banquet and meet a load of potential recruits. He has been scouring the state from Kankakee (where he played in high school) to Moline (where he coached) ever since.

Schmidt's success last season and this came as no surprise to his old boss at New Mexico, Bob King. "I told those people back there at Illinois that he'd get the job done," said King. "He's very intent about what he does. The two of us would be there on the bench chewing Mylanta antacid pills by the pack. If he was chewing them as an assistant coach, he must be really putting them away now."

The Illini, led by a big, mobile forward, Dave Scholz, "the six-eighter from Decatur," went through their first nine games unbeaten, then opened their Big Ten season with an impressive 80-58 win over Minnesota at home. In the middle of last week it was pass-the-pills time again for Schmidt because his team had to travel to Purdue's big roundhouse and play the Rocket and his friends, favorites to win the championship. Yet Schmidt did not sound as though he were worried.

"I can tell they are sky high for the game," he said. "I have never seen them sharper. I think it'll be hellish close."

It turned out to be merely hellish. Purdue zipped to an early 14-point lead, let Illinois get back into contention, then moved ahead for good with a fast-breaking offense and a pressing, man-to-man defense that exposed Illinois' lack of good ball handlers. Mount, playing the middle in a 1-3-1 formation cooked up by Coach George King, made 16 of 24 shots, mostly long jumpers, and 37 points. But the clue to Purdue's strength is that Mount was not the only Boilermaker hero in this game. Illinois had as much trouble containing stocky, 5'10½" Guard Bill Keller, who would wow everybody with his outside shooting on any team that did not have Mount. Sophomore George Faerber, 6'5", got down the floor quickly and drove in for baskets even with men hanging all over him. And at the other end of the floor he did a good defensive job on Scholz.

The performance of 7-foot Center Chuck Bavis, however, was the most pleasing for Purdue. Bavis is so slow that King normally does not start him against smaller pivotmen—he did not even play against Wisconsin. But, to offset Illinois' husky, 6'8" sophomore Greg Jackson, Bavis started and the results were sensational. He was seven for seven from the floor, while Jackson was zero for five and sat out much of the game. "Bavis ate our kid alive," said Schmidt afterward. "He took him right out of the game."

The dejected Jackson sat on a rubbing table after the 98-84 loss staring at the floor. "We couldn't score inside—me, I couldn't score," he said. "That's why we got beat, the only reason it happened."

In another part of the gym, as a circle of admirers looked on, nattily dressed Rick Mount, the great gunner, was talking about team play, of all things. Mount, it seems, spent a good part of the summer working on defense and passing, while of course not neglecting to take his customary 200 jump shots a day.

"This is the thing, this teamwork," he said. "It's fabulous. We help each other on defense. I think my own defense has improved."

Illinois, having suffered its first loss after 10 straight wins, was in a perfect position to fold. The team's next game, four days later, would be against Northwestern, in the Wildcats' roomy McGaw Hall. Physically rugged Northwestern had not lost a game there all last season. Even worse, the Illini had away games with Notre Dame and Ohio State to follow and not even the incentive of a shot at UCLA in the NCAA tourney to look forward to. So what did they do? They won, and did it the way Illinois teams are supposed to win, fighting. The game, in fact, was a brawl—35 turnovers, 57 personal fouls and three technical fouls—but then Northwestern Coach Larry Glass had been telling people all week they could expect something of the sort.

"Normally when Illinois and Northwestern get together, the word you don't think of is 'smooth,' " he said. "Anyone who expects a ballet will be disappointed."

Some might have thought Illinois should have been the favorite. After all, Northwestern has not won a Big Ten basketball title since 1933, and last season, when Scholz was playing center, he scored 42 and 38 points against the Wildcats. But Glass, a bright young coach himself, has recruited well and brought Northwestern into the league's first division three years in a row. This season, after losing the opener to Stanford, the Wildcats reeled off nine straight victories, three short of the school record for one season. The victims were not all top-drawer but they did include Colorado and Boston College.

"We are not a great team, but we're more sound than any team I've had," said Glass. "Our defense has been consistently good and our offensive selection has been much better in running plays, making the right pass and knowing when to take the good shot. Our opponents' shooting has been about 38% to 39%—not many teams have been able to get over 40%. I like to think we're partly responsible."

Northwestern's big problem last season was winning on the road; it lost six out of seven Big Ten away games and lived for those good games in McGaw. "It isn't what the crowd does to the visiting team—it very seldom does anything to affect the play—it's what it does for its own team," Glass said. "I don't think our crowd will affect Illinois an ounce or a single point, but I sure hope it affects us."

Greg Jackson's first varsity appearance in McGaw added a little spice to the natural state rivalry. His older brother was captain of the Wildcats a few seasons ago and the younger Jackson spent a lot of time hanging around the campus before he ended up downstate with Schmidt.

Despite a bad case of flu, Schmidt made it to Evanston for the game, as did the TV cameras and about 8,500 spectators, few of them devotees of Swan Lake.

Northwestern, working hard on the offensive board to get second and third shots, had the lead most of the first half. It helped considerably that Scholz, who had made only six of 23 shots against Purdue, was having a terrible time against the Wildcats' 6'6" Don Adams, a junior from Georgia who is called by some the school's best basketball player in at least 20 years. Scholz got just one basket in the first half and Northwestern led 39-36.

The tough defense worked both ways, though. Illinois' Mike Price was doing a good job on Northwestern's leading scorer, Dale Kelley, and the referees were doing a super job on everybody.

Scholz woke up a bit in the second half, perhaps because Adams was in foul trouble, but neither team could get a lead of more than three or four points. With about four minutes left, the Illini's Jodie Harrison got an easy layup off a slick play to put his team ahead 69-67, but Adams tied the score just before fouling out (with 19 points and 12 rebounds). Northwestern had possession with 1:06 left, and Guard Terry Gamber, a good ball handler, proceeded to kill time with his dribbling, waiting for a last-second shot. He never got it as he was called for traveling with four seconds left. Overtime.

Soon after play resumed, Harrison, put Illinois ahead 74-71 with a three-point play, made another free throw shortly after, and, with Gamber, Adams and Center Jim Sarno all fouled out of the game for Northwestern, Illinois held on for its win. Scholz finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds and Greg Jackson, though not a sensation, improved considerably over the Purdue debacle with 14 points and eight rebounds. Harrison, who transferred to Illinois from Alabama without an athletic grant-in-aid, scored 20. Coach Schmidt said he has a grant now.

"We didn't do anything different than at Purdue," said Schmidt. "Purdue just got away from us. It's an emotional game. We had a hell of a lot more people up here yelling for us than we had at Purdue and that helps."

What it amounts to is the same old unpredictable Big Ten as last year. Purdue seems a good bet because it does not have to play at Illinois and has four out of its last five games at home. Michigan is 2-1 in the league and Tomjanovich's back seems to be holding up. Northwestern is 9-2 for the season, which is not bad, and strong teams from Ohio State and Iowa are very much a threat, which is bad if you are Harv Schmidt or living and dying with Purdue or Wisconsin or Minnesota or any of the others. Keep the pills handy, Harv.



Illinois' big rebounder, Dave Scholz, strains for ball before Jodie Harrison (far right) lays up shot to assure win over Northwestern.



Waiting to pull in rebound, high scorer Rick Mount (10) gets set for side shot he hit repeatedly during Purdue victory over Illinois.