If the reports are true that Bill Walton has left UCLA, Moses Malone has skipped Maryland and the pros have drafted every hardship case except Billy Jack, it all means just one thing. The cinch winner of the NCAA championship will be Louisville. Maybe.
To proclaim that the coming season may be the most wide-open and interesting since the 1950s assumes more than the simple reality that North Carolina State's tumbling of the UCLA dynasty opened the gates for everybody else. The mad scramble in 1974-75 also will be the result of competition among better athletes, more varied and intricate coaching techniques, intense and sometimes unfortunate recruiting methods, further collapse of racial barriers and a renewed fanaticism for the college game in every section of the country.
Basketball fans should be grateful for all these things and more. We need to thank old Mr. Walton for graduating; he would have made it the Year of Revenge, if it isn't that anyway at UCLA. Thanks to young Mr. Moses, who would have taken Maryland all the way to the promised land. And thanks also to Mr. Tommy Barker, who chose the hot sands of Hawaii over the cool hands of David Thompson at North Carolina State. Barker, a seven-foot customer of merit, would have made the Wolfpack altogether impossible to control.
As it is, these teams are just three for the show now, and there are others almost anywhere one cares to look. Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Memphis State, Arizona, Detroit. All can be legitimate contenders for the national championship if certain things fall right. In fact, New York, that wasteland of campus disinterest, even has a team, Manhattan College, that can, as they say, win it all.
There are other schools whose chances are bright if they overcome handicaps uniquely their own. DePaul, another sidewalk campus within the urban core, is back again with Chicago-like size and Ray Meyer still coaching. If the Blue Demons get by their initial scrape with UCLA free of any psychological tremors, they may go a long way.
Southern Illinois has the second best big man in the land in Joe C. Meriweather. (The best is seven-foot Marvin "The Eraser" Webster, who plays for Morgan State in NCAA Division II—whatever that means.) But the Salukis for some reason still have a small-college image, even though they have been big time ever since Walt Frazier led them to the NIT championship in 1967.
Marquette's Al McGuire will try to camouflage his troops in uniforms of way-out design. As if the Warriors' old ones were not outlandish enough, what with circles, stripes and zigzags signaling ultimate chaos, McGuire has announced a splendid change. He will break out the new duds against South Carolina on national TV, and the shirts will be worn outside the pants. (Since when has anybody at Marquette been accused of tucking his shirt inside?) McGuire's new line is to be called "Sand-Bo" after Sand-Knits, the manufacturing firm of which McGuire is a vice-president, and after Bo Ellis, the sensational sophomore.
With the NCAA enlarging its tournament to 32 teams, including some league runners-up, the championship becomes more accessible than ever. Under the new arrangement Maryland, which might have been the country's strongest team last season, yet did not get to compete in the NCAAs because it lost perhaps the best-played game all year to N.C. State in the ACC tournament, would have been eligible for the big prize. And might have played the Wolfpack again. And might have won.
Such a development augurs irony this season for Purdue, North Carolina and Southern Cal, which may well win their respective Big Ten, ACC and Pacific Eight conferences in upsets, and then have to face the preseason league favorites once again in the tournament.
All of which makes for so much confusion that Coach Ted Owens of Kansas was heard to comment even before preseason practice was under way, "People didn't expect from us everything we achieved last year. Obviously, that will not be the case this year." That's what he said.
The street guys down on the corner have a word for a team that is strong, tough, loaded. They say it is "a house." Sometimes, even, "a bomb."
Sample conversation: "How you goin' to be this year?"
"We be a house."
"Too bad. We be a bomb and explode all over your house."
Unless the galaxies act up or Adolph Rupp wanders over from Lexington with a hatchet to personally prevent his beloved Kentucky Wildcats from being embarrassed on their own turf, Louisville should have the big house this season. A house not always being home, however, it will be interesting to watch how the Cardinals fare during the first five games—four of them on the road—of what is the most difficult early schedule in the country.
In addition, an observer might watch for the following this season: underrated players Bruce Parkinson of Purdue, Charles Russell of Alabama, Tim Hall of Colorado State, Bob Carrington of Boston College and Glenn Hansen of LSU. Playground menageries at Canisius and Illinois State. The Designated Dunker of the Year, Nate Davis of South Carolina. Turkey schedules at Penn, Detroit, Boston College and Memphis State, which, despite road games at UCLA and Louisville, take on so many gobblers that State ought to serve cranberry sauce at the concession stands.
And finally, the Game of the Year: Hawaii vs. Las Vegas. Now that UCLA has been beaten, all we need before dying happy is a game between the Rainbows and the Dice-men. If you hadn't heard yet, Hawaii and, Vegas brightened up the off-season by negotiating what is believed to be the first player trade in college basketball history. Vegas sent Jimmie Baker to Hawaii for Boyd (Bad Back) Batts. Straight up. No cash. No probation to be named later. No questions asked.
The best part of this is that both teams are in the Blue-bonnet Classic in Houston. It will be interesting to see if it was a trade that ruined both sides.
IN THIS SPECIAL SECTION
Basketball previews continue for the next 39 pages, with drawings by Tom Allen, a look at the wackiest conference and scouting reports on the 20 top teams, plus the best of the rest, by Curry Kirkpatrick, Barry McDermott, Herman Weiskopf, Jim Kaplan, Larry Keith and Kent Hannon. A sun-, sand- and star-spangled junior college is the centerpiece of an analysis of the top small college teams.