FIVE TO WATCH
There are innumerable teams from coast to coast, and beyond, that are just a left-handed guard, a rebounding forward or a good team doctor away from the Top 20. With a few breaks and a lot of hard work, any of them could move up among the best. The five that seem most likely to turn such a trick are LaSalle, Southern Illinois, Auburn, Seattle and Hawaii.
•LaSalle's hopes depend on whether it can adequately replace rugged Center Joe DiCocco, the only starter lost from last year's 18-10 team. Sweet-shooting Joe (Jelly Bean) Bryant will try, but he could be a case of willing spirit and weak flesh. He must add muscle to his 6'10", 200-pound frame and learn to throw it around underneath.
Elsewhere LaSalle is solid, particularly at forward where 20-point scorer Bill Taylor has missed double figures only twice in 53 games. A demanding schedule could keep the Explorers unranked, but they should win the new East Coast Conference and get to the NCAA playoffs. By that time, Bryant may be strong enough for Coach and Shakespearean scholar Paul Westhead to say, "It is not madness.... Bring me to the test."
•The forecast for Southern Illinois is Meri-weather. That would be 6'11" senior Joe Meriweather, a 21-point and 15-rebound per game center who, Coach Paul Lambert claims, has never been outplayed. And it is risky to disagree. Lambert was so upset by the NIT's rejection of his 19-7 Salukis last season that he threw pillows at the TV while the invitees played.
With Meriweather underneath and sophomore Mike Glenn at guard, Southern Illinois should be going places this season. SIU alumnus Walt Frazier says, "Glenn will make the people forget about me." Glenn is also a dean's list student who works with deaf children when he is not averaging 15 points per game.
•Quicker than you can say "War Eagle," Auburn has become an SEC contender. Rookie Coach Bob Davis nurtured the once lifeless Tigers to a semi-healthy 10-16 record last season, largely by recruiting Guard Eddie Johnson and Center Pepto Bolden. Johnson became the SEC's leading scorer (22 per game) and Bolden the top rebounder (12). This year's freshman class is even better.
The most impressive newcomer is 6'8" Mike Mitchell, who had 28-point and 23-rebound averages in high school. Junior Glen Moon will start at center, sending Bolden to forward to compete with Gary Redding, a proved returnee. It could end up making Pepto's life a-Bismol.
Joining Johnson in the backcourt is Wayne Bracy, Alabama's top high school player last season. One of Indiana's best, Jim Krivacs, must wait in line. It is getting to be a long one.
•Frank Oleynick is encouraging Seattle fans to recall the Elgin Baylor glory days. Baby-faced Frank can go from fiat to flat out in a twitch, an ability that earned him 25 points per game last season. Of course it helped to have Buck O'Brien, the league's top assists man, around—and it will help to have him back.
Two new players will hold down front court positions, 6'8" redshirt Jerry (Horse) Lee and 6'7½" Keith Harrell, a homegrown freshman. Reggie Green moves from center to forward.
With less talent, Seattle was 15-11 last season and things should be even rosier this time around.
•Few teams have been as predictable as Hawaii the last few seasons. The Rainbows were unbeatable at home, but once they came to the mainland, they played like a bunch of wahines. This year could be an exception. One reason is seven-footer Tommy Barker, who averaged 22 points and 18 rebounds a game last year at Southern Idaho Junior College. Teammate Ron Fryson, a guard, made the trip with him. Waiting to greet them was a third former Southern Idaho star, Victor Kelly. He stands only 5'6", but is no small potato when it comes to ability.
Jimmie Baker has transferred from Nevada-Las Vegas and will start at forward alongside Melton Werts, back from last year's 19-9 team. On the bench is enough depth to staff a fair-sized luau.
Over the past 10 seasons Providence has won 202 games and lost 71, the seventh-best major-college record in the country. During that span PC has gone to seven postseason tournaments. At last the Friars could be headed for a slump, but only a mild one. With Marvin Barnes and Kevin Stacom gone from last year's team, the future lies with sophomore Guard Joe Hassett and freshmen frontcourters Bill Eason, Bruce Campbell and Bob Misevicius. Nine of the team's first 11 games are at home and PC should extend its Civic Center win streak of 34 even while its youngsters mature. The Friars may win fewer than 20 games for the first time in five years, but that is about the worst that is apt to happen, particularly under the excellent coaching of Dave Gavitt.
Another rough court for visitors is Manley Field House, where Syracuse University has compiled a 12-year 112-24 record, thanks to quality teams, foe-baiting fans and a unique raised hardwood floor. Now there is a less frightening down-to-earth Tartan surface, but an easy home schedule could lead to another prolonged Manley winning streak. On the road, things will be tougher for the Orange. Six-foot-nine Rudy Hackett, the only returning big man, needs help up front from 6'9" sophomore Earnie Seibert for Syracuse to be invited to its fifth straight postseason tournament. That is asking a lot of a man who did not appear in a varsity game last year.
A third notable arena, Tallahassee's Tully Gym, sometimes warms up to 100° for Florida State home games. And the Seminoles have the speed to put on some heat of their own. Led by Forward Larry Warren, they should equal their last two 18-8 seasons. One team that will not match its 20-10 record of a year ago is Jacksonville. The Dolphins' 6'9" Center Shawn Leftwich and explosive Forward Henry Williams have been declared ineligible by the NCAA. Canisius' most famous basketball alumnus, John McCarthy, returns to his alma mater as coach. If he can inculcate some teamwork, Mel Montgomery. Charley Jordan and leading major-college scorer (33.4) Larry Fogle might reward him with more than just a Little Three title.
Six-foot-nine Clyde Mayes will lead Furman to another Southern Conference title, and Tree Rollins, a seven-footer, gives Clemson an outside chance to take the ACC's second berth in the expanded NCAA tournament. St. John's with Mel Utley and Fordham with Darryl Brown also have high hopes. If Temple again plays good defense—the Owls allowed only 57.2 points per game last season—LaSalle might have trouble in the East Coast Conference.
Among the Ivies, only Brown has a chance to beat Penn. At home and on a hot night. The Bruins do have an experienced enough team, led by seniors Phil Brown and Eddie Morris, to create another winning streak at the Providence Civic Center. Harvard's coaching (Satch Sanders) and Princeton's top guard (Armond Hill) will be worth some victories, but the other four Ivies may not even match their forgettable failures of last season, when Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Yale compiled a combined record of only 20 victories and 81 defeats.
Look for Connecticut and Massachusetts to fight for the Yankee Conference title. Phil Sellers, a 23.2-point scorer, will continue to rewrite Rutgers' record book, and teammates Mike Dabney and Ed Jordan could help him improve an 18-8 team.
Finally, there is a new unofficial conference with no name. It is composed of eight teams: Pitt, West Virginia, St. Francis of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, George Washington, Villanova, Duquesne and Navy. The four with the best records will meet in a playoff at the end of the season to determine which of them goes to the NCAAs. Since none of the eight seems likely to field a powerhouse, the edge could go to playoff host West Virginia.
Notre Dame was once a logical choice for this year's preseason No. 1 ranking, but without Center John Shumate and Guard Gary Brokaw, who signed pro contracts even though they had eligibility remaining, the 26-3 Irish will be fortunate to survive a schedule worthy of a national champion. Their list of opponents includes Kansas, Indiana, UCLA (twice), Kentucky, Maryland, Marquette, South Carolina, LaSalle and DePaul. Coach Digger Phelps has small guards, no tall man he is satisfied with in the middle and only two proven forwards, 6'5" sophomores Adrian Dantley and Billy Paterno. Dantley must take over if the Irish are to make the NCAA tournament. He averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds a game last season and made a nice steal against UCLA on national TV. But he tended to pad his statistics against weaker opponents and sometimes was a nonentity in big games. That occurred, for example, when Notre Dame was upset by Michigan in the Mideast Regionals.
The Wolverines, who won the Big Ten title in a playoff with Indiana and then beat Notre Dame 77-68, were also victims of the pro draft. Forward Campanella Russell is now a Cleveland Cavalier, and Michigan does not seem to have enough depth behind its four returning starters to make another run at the league championship. Michigan State's Lindsay Hairston, who pulled down 14.2 rebounds per game last season, should again lead the Big Ten and should not be far from the top in scoring, either. He averaged 17.7 a season ago.
With all its schools avidly pursuing black players, the Southeast Conference had its best recruiting year and should be stronger than ever. Georgia and Florida will be most improved, but Kentucky, which found 6'10" Rick Robey in New Orleans, should be the chief rival of favored Alabama and dark horse Auburn. Wildcat Coach Joe Hall has four returning starters from a 13-13 team. One of them is the SEC's leading scorer (21.9 points per game), Kevin Grevey. Tennessee has two New York City bruisers, Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. Though Grunfeld will miss some early games with a broken wrist, they should make the Vols tough despite the loss of seven-foot Len Kosmalski.
Bowling Green would probably have won the Mid-American crown last year if it had fit the head of 6'7" Cornelius Cash. Cash's cranium was not the only part of his body that was oversized. He was 20 pounds overweight and slipped from eighth to unranked in the nation in rebounding. Cash is now back in shape and the Falcons are again the favorite, but the Central Michigan Chippewas are a threat in only their second year in the conference.
No one is even half-certain who will win the Ohio Valley Conference because the NCAA recently suspended athletes from as many conference schools as it could locate, and the OVC's best player, Austin Peay's Fly Williams, has gone to the pros. Those who choose Middle Tennessee State because it was least penalized are only guessing.
Besides Notre Dame, Illinois State and Cincinnati will be the region's top independents. The Redbirds have two flashy guards in Bubbles Hawkins, who hit 58 points in one game last year, and Rick Whitlow, who led the team in scoring with a 21.8 average. Roger Powell and Calvin Harper return up front and Will Robinson, who recruits better than he coaches, has brought in Jeff Wilkins, a seven-foot JC transfer, and two high school All-Americas, 6'6" Billy Lewis and 6'10" Cyrus Mann. Cincinnati lost its two high scorers, but Bearcat Coach Gale Catlett also knows the name of the game is recruiting. He brought in six talented freshmen, including 6'10" Robert Miller who played for the Kentucky state prep champions.
Except for Bradley of the Missouri Valley Conference, the best unranked teams in the region are independents. One of them is Houston, which gets back 22-point scorer Louis Dunbar and has superb freshman Guard Tony Smith to run the show. To make their outlook even brighter, the Cougars have scheduled 18 games at friendly Hofheinz Pavilion, where they have lost only twice in four years. Oral Roberts and Creighton have new coaches, but the old itch to return to the NCAA tournament. Titan boss Jerry Hale hopes to install the more disciplined style that made him a big winner at Southern Idaho Junior College. If run-and-gunners Duane Fox and Anthony Roberts slow down long enough to listen to him, it just might work. Creighton's Tom Apke will no doubt find room on his front line for Cincinnati's top high school player, his younger brother Rick.
Centenary remains on NCAA probation, but 7'1½" Center Robert Parish makes it bearable. Pan American University and Oklahoma City have lost outstanding players, but the Broncs still have Coach Abe Lemons to keep them laughing. Newly independent St. Louis University and its rookie Coach Randy Albrecht will not find winning any easier outside the Missouri Valley Conference, despite a veteran lineup that features 6'8" Bill Morris.
Last season's MVC Coach of the Year, Joe Stowell of Bradley, retains star Center Greg Smith and Guard Jim Carruthers from his 20-8 team. The Braves could win even more this season. North Texas State lost its best player when Bobby Iverson unexpectedly left school. Tulsa and New Mexico State will feel the departure of two all-league players, Willie Biles and Tree Grant. Center Reg Ramey heads an experienced West Texas State lineup, which could pull some upsets. Wichita State needs the kind of divine intervention Drake's new coach, Bob Ortegel, might provide the Bulldogs. Fulton Sheen's TV fans may remember Ortegel as the cherub who wiped the bishop's blackboard clean. Off camera, Bob no doubt was scribbling X's and O's.
Kansas seems two laps ahead of its Big Eight competition. Maybe three since Oklahoma has the league's best player in seven-foot Center Alvan Adams, but not much support for him. Nebraska has a veteran team; alas, only Guard Jerry Fort knows how to score. Among Oklahoma State's four returnees is Andy Hopson, the Big Eight's leading re-bounder the past two seasons. Jack Hart-man faces a severe challenge at Kansas State, where four starters graduated and the other, Dean Harris, was killed in an automobile accident. Hartman, however, is anything but a loser. Neither is Iowa State's new coach, Ken Trickey, who worked miracles at Oral Roberts. Even with Hercle (Poison) Ivy at guard, however, Trickey soon may have to learn how defeat feels.
The weak Southwest Conference might compete better against non-league opponents by pooling its resources. Arkansas' Rickey Medlock, Texas Tech's Rick Bullock and A&M's John Thornton would form an imposing nucleus, but few other players seem as qualified. New Coaches Eddie Sutton of Arkansas and Bob Polk of Rice may have the know-how to pick things up in the future. They are fresh from successes at Creighton and St. Louis. If something does not happen quickly, Houston will trample the rest of the conference when it begins playing for the SWC title in 1976.
Every year it is the same in the Pacific Eight: speculation abounds in November about beating UCLA; anxiety arrives in December as the Bruins glide through their non-conference schedule unbeaten; then aggravation takes hold in January, when John Wooden begins whittling another conference title. By February USC is a sure second and everybody else is trying to win the Pacific Six championship. Last year's vagabond king was Oregon, which upset UCLA in February and found it did not matter. Coach Dick Harter has all his starters back, including 6'4" Guard Ron Lee, who led the entire conference in scoring. But he still needs strength under the boards. Marv Harshman has three players over 6'10" at Washington, plus a pair of 16-point scorers in Forward Larry Pounds and Guard Clarence Ramsey. Freshman Forward Kim Stewart is also an offensive threat. The Ducks and Huskies are as tough as the UCLA-USC opposition gets. Oregon State, which also upset the Bruins in Corvallis, is solid enough to better .500 this year and too stolid to do much better. Stanford's seven-foot Rich Kelley is a scorer (18.4), but none of the Cardinals' big men can jump or defend very well. Washington State's 6'11½", 225-pound Steve Puidokas can. He was one of the outstanding freshmen in the country by the end of last season, averaging almost 17 points per game. California Coach Dick Edwards went all the way to New Jersey for 6'9" Jerome Young and 6'4" Connie White of Mercer County Community College, the national junior college champion. On the way home he picked up 6'8" juco All-America Carl Bird from Arizona Western and added 6'11" Mark Dickey from nearby Menlo JC. When Edwards started, all he had was 6'3" Guard Rickie Hawthorne. Now he has a real team to go with him.
New Mexico Coach Norm Ellenberger sent an assistant coach to Petersburg, Va. five or six times last spring; hoping to persuade Moses Malone to forget about the University of Maryland and come out West to play basketball. Well, Malone did go West, anyway. Bill Hagins, at 6'7", obviously is not the center Malone would have been, and the WAC's defending champs will not be what they were last year—22-7. Four starters departed and Ellenberger has merely moved up reserves to fill the vacancies. Even in the unlikely event that Colorado State and UTEP are unable to stay in the conference race with Arizona and Arizona State, fans all over the WAC will still find it exciting to watch the shooting of Utah's deadeye Ticky Burden, perhaps the best "pure shooter" in college this year.
Nevada-Las Vegas could win the West Coast Athletic Conference championship, despite the presence of Seattle. The Rebels finished 20-6 last year, but weren't asked out to any tournaments. In case the trouble was his mild schedule, Jerry Tarkanian has added road games at Arizona and Oregon along with a trip to the Bluebonnet Classic, where the competition includes Hawaii, Houston and Texas A&M.
San Diego State has three valuable transfer students and the Aztecs should win the Pacific Coast Athletic Association title despite a 7-19 record last year, the worst in the school's history. Montana's best team in 24 years (18-8) won 12 straight before falling to Idaho State in a playoff for the 1974 Big Sky title. This season the roles should be reversed. The problem at independent Utah State—14-0 at home and 2-10 away—is fairly obvious and second-year Coach Dutch Belnap is working on it.