FIVE TO WATCH
Duke won as many games last season (14) as it had in any year since 1972. At one point the Blue Devils were 11-3, but then senior Guard Tate Armstrong was injured and Duke lost 10 of its last 13. That is not likely to happen again, what with two accomplished regulars on hand, as well as a freshman with uncommon ability and soaring ambitions. Mike Gminski, a 6'11" 247-pounder, averaged 15.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game and will be the best big man in the ACC. Guard Jim Spanarkel led the Blue Devils in scoring (19.3), assists and steals and is tall enough (6'5") to double as a forward. Then there is Eugene Banks, the ballyhooed Philadelphia high-schooler who does not want to be known merely for his slam dunks. "The people of America are looking for an idol," says Banks, a 6'6" power forward who feels he might be able to fill the bill. "I'd also like to be governor of Pennsylvania." In the meantime, Banks can concentrate on becoming ACC Rookie of the Year, a title bestowed on Gminski last season and Spanarkel the year before.
The man getting the headlines at Michigan State is 6'8" freshman Earvin Johnson, who played at Lansing Everett High five miles from the MSU campus. While finishing up a prep career in which he scored 54 points one night and had 16 assists the next, Johnson sifted through 300 college offers before narrowing his choices to Michigan and Michigan State. On the day he announced his decision, he stepped to a cluster of 15 microphones and said, "Michigan will be good with or without me. But Michigan State will be better with me." It sure will, because Johnson's teammates include the Big Ten's No. 3 and No. 4 returning scorers, Greg Kelser (21.7 points) and Bob Chapman (19.6).
Colorado is on the rise now that Bill Blair, late of VMI, is the coach. Blair grabbed a handful of high school All-Americas, including Dave Netherton, a graceful 6'10" center from Pueblo, Colo. Big Eight scoring leader Emmett Lewis (19.6 points) should keep his starting spot, but the four other holdovers' jobs are less safe. "We'll dunk it one time and kick it away the next," says Blair, "but we'll be exciting."
Iona vaulted into prominence when 6'10" Long Islander Jeff Ruland decided he would attend the small commuter school located in New Rochelle, N.Y.—only Forty-five Minutes from Broadway, as George M. Cohan wrote in his 1905 song about the town. Iona had already made a move toward the bright lights by signing Glenn Vickers (above), a blue-chip guard who as a freshman was the leading scorer (17.9) on last year's 15-10 team. One scouting service considered Ruland the best high school player in the country—ahead of Albert King, Banks and Johnson. He visited six high-powered colleges from North Carolina to Kentucky, but simply dropped in unannounced at Iona practices. Apparently he liked what he saw.
Instead of taking advantage of John Wooden's departure from UCLA in 1975, USC fell flat on its face. The Trojans have finished in the Pac-8 cellar twice in a row, losing 15 straight games at one point and finishing 6-20 last season. Against all odds, Coach Bob Boyd has weathered the storm and brought in almost every California prepster on UCLA's most-wanted list. Purvis Miller, Cliff Robinson and George Ratkovich are a few names to remember. It is a long way back from 6-20 and near unemployment, but the Trojans and Boyd appear to be on the track.
If North Carolina, Maryland and Duke get caught napping in the ACC, sleeper Virginia could give them a rude awakening. Cavalier newcomers Jeff Lamp, Lee Raker and Tommy Hicks join a nucleus led by 6'8" Marc Iavaroni. Coach Terry Holland recruited Lamp and Raker from Louisville's Ballard High. He also hired Richard Schmidt as an assistant. Guess which high school team Schmidt used to coach? To insure productivity from muscular Forward Rod Griffin, Wake Forest Coach Carl Tacy imported Fran (White Magic) McCaffery from Philly to pass Griffin the ball.
The Southern Conference is a toss-up among VMI, Furman and Appalachian State. Ron Carter of VMI is as good as they come, but the Keydets will miss the scoring and leadership of Will Bynum and John Krovic. Furman has a hot shooter in Bruce Grimm, who averaged 24 points last season, and a solid post combination in Jonathan Moore and Rick McKinney, both 6'8". Appalachian relies on Guards Walter Anderson and Darryl Robinson and the inside game of Tony Searcy and Mel Hubbard.
In the Ivy League, Penn or Columbia could surpass Princeton. Steady Keven McDonald and New Yorkers Tony Price and Bobby Willis lead Penn, and fast-improving Columbia (8-17 in 1974-75, 16-10 last season) has 5'8" Alton Byrd to get the ball to Forwards Ricky Free and Juan Mitchell. Rutgers won the Eastern Athletic Association's Eastern Division title last year (when the conference was known as the ECBL) only to be upset by Massachusetts in the playoffs. The Scarlet Knights lack backcourt consistency, but the front line is major league with Jammin' James Bailey, Hollis Copeland and Abdel Anderson. Villanova should be Rutgers' toughest rival in the division as senior Keith Herron is joined by freshman stickout Alex Bradley. Duquesne, last year's EAA tournament winner, will not triumph again now that Norm Nixon is a pro. Maurice Robinson makes West Virginia a contender.
In the East Coast Conference, Lafayette lost its coach, Dr. Tom Davis, to Boston College, but his successor, Dr. Roy Chipman, has enough veterans to win the West Division. With Hofstra unlikely to repeat as East champ, Temple, La Salle and St. Joseph's will contend for the title.
St. John's should be the region's best independent by tournament time, but could be out of contention for an NCAA spot long before that because playmaker Reggie Carter, a transfer from Hawaii, must sit out the first 14 games. George Johnson is a multitalented fixture at forward, but Coach Lou Carnesecca says of highly recruited Center Wayne McKoy, "He's not going to change the world—yet."
Georgetown (19-9), Rhode Island (13-13) and South Carolina (14-12) will try to recover from last year's disappointments. The Hoyas will be better if Craig (Big Sky) Shelton is sound and the backcourt of Derrick Jackson and John Duren plays up to potential. Neither little nor talent-poor, Rhody could finally get it together with Jiggy Williamson, Sly Williams and freshman Phil Kydd. Can Jackie Gilloon, the mini-Maravich, live up to his billing in his final season at South Carolina? He has 6'9" Jim Graziano to get him the ball and to receive it from him. New Coach Larry Gillman faces a brutal schedule at East Carolina and will need instant help from J.C. transfer Oliver Mack and freshman Walter Moseley, both guards. Surprising Old Dominion (25-4) hopes Ronnie Valentine continues to score as well as he did as a freshman (22.4), and NIT champ St. Bonaventure must rely on Greg Sanders for almost all of its points, now that Essie Hollis has departed. At Providence, Coach Dave Gavitt has come up with an unusual pair of forwards: Rick Hunger played for the Canadian Junior team and Mladen Filipan is from Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
Can anyone match Purdue and Michigan State in the Big Ten? It's as much a question of individuals as it is of teams. Michigan seemed a possibility until Center Phil Hubbard was lost, probably for the season, with a sore knee. Minnesota, whose equally valuable center, Mychal Thompson, has been declared ineligible for the first seven games, should be a spoiler once conference play begins. Unfortunately for Gopher fans, that is all their team can aspire to because Minnesota is on probation and cannot participate in the NCAAs. Elsewhere, freshmen will determine how high their teams can go. Wisconsin was supposed to have a find in 6'9" Larry Petty, but he is overweight. Indiana did some sharp recruiting, snagging, among others, the state's prep Mr. Basketball, 6'9" Ray Tolbert. Ohio State has an even better freshman crop, perhaps the nation's best, including another local sensation, Columbus' 6'11" Herb Williams.
The Ernie and Bernie Show has turned pro, so count Tennessee out of the Southeastern Conference race. But Alabama and Kentucky will not go unchallenged. For one, LSU has four starters back from a 15-12 team. Guard Kenny Higgs is already the school's third leading career scorer behind Pete Maravich and Bob Pettit, and 6'1" Durand Macklin was the top rebounding freshman in the country. Another potential SEC contender is Florida, which hopes to improve its 17-9 record with the addition of high school All-America Center Reggie Hannah.
In the Mid-American Conference, Miami of Ohio, Central Michigan and Toledo each won 18 or more games, and all could do at least as well again. Miami has four starters back, including 57% shooter Archie Aldridge, but Redskin Center Bill Lake is short on stamina. Toledo will have its 19th straight winning season if its defense, second best in the country last season, holds true to form. Central Michigan lost its two top scorers, but if Coach Dick Parfitt comes up with a center, his team will challenge.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, darlings of the NCAA tournament, lost the sensational Cornbread Maxwell to the Boston Celtics. Still, Kevin King, Chad Kinch and Lew Massey, who this season will replace Maxwell as leading scorer in the school's brief history, are back. The 49ers should win the Sun Belt Conference, but don't overlook New Orleans. The Privateers lost to UNCC by one point in last spring's conference finals, and new Coach Butch van Breda Kolff has 6'10" Wayne Cooper, 6'11" Ardith Wearren and Guard Nate Mills, an excellent outside shooter. With two junior-college All-Americas, Ron Anthony and Flenoil Crook, Jacksonville could also contend.
Look for Middle Tennessee to win the little conference the big powers fear, the Ohio Valley. Blue Raider Guard Claude (Sleepy) Taylor, who averaged 15.5 points as a freshman, is back in form after two seasons of knee trouble.
Don Donoher, coach of independent Dayton, says that 6'5" Jim Paxson is the school's best player since Don May. As usual, DePaul is an enigma. Why did the talented Blue Demons play such mediocre (15-12) basketball last year? With almost everyone back, will they improve or succumb to a tough schedule? And what are we to make of Center Dave Corzine? He averaged 19 points and 13 rebounds a game last season, but some scouts feel he should be doing far better than that.
North Texas State must have unsightly dandruff. Why else was the Mean Green, which had a 43-10 record the past two seasons, ignored by the NCAA and NIT selection committees? North Texas may absolutely force a postseason invitation this year, however, because it has four starters back to work with Jon Manning, a high-scoring transfer from Oklahoma City. Somebody has to notice.
Another well-kept secret is Pan American, which defeated North Texas twice last year in an up-and-down 17-9 season. The Broncs also have four regulars available from that team. All averaged in double figures. Pan Am makes the going great at home, but it crashed too often on the road last season. Oral Roberts hasn't a prayer of having a ninth straight 20-win year, although new Coach Lake Kelly worked a few miracles while at Austin Peay.
Georgia Tech will march to a different drummer as it pursues Metro Seven favorites Louisville and Cincinnati. Setting the beat is Sammy Drummer, the Junior College Player of the Year while at nearby DeKalb South. Tico Brown is the best of the holdovers. Florida State had a bad record—for it—last season, winning only 16 games. But with the three good freshmen of a year ago having matured and with leading scorer David Thompson sure to be more consistent, the Seminoles should get their customary 20 wins again. Memphis State is rebuilding around James Bradley, the Tigers' No. 2 scorer and rebounder last season who, Coach Wayne Yates says, is "great sometimes and—well—awful other times." Playmaking Guard Alvin Wright will continue to feed him the ball in either case.
Don't be surprised if another newcomer, Creighton, claims second place in the Missouri Valley behind Indiana State. The Blue Jays were 21-7 as an independent, and star Forward Rick Apke (19.8 points a game) is back. Wichita State and Bradley will lead the charge by the Valley old-timers. The Braves feature league MVP Robert Phegley, who came to school on a baseball scholarship but stars at every position on the basketball court.
Every day could be Feb. 14 at Kansas this season because the Big Eight Jayhawks landed sensational Guard Darnell Valentine. It will take some rearranging to get Valentine, who pumped in 26.1 a game in high school, into the lineup; John Douglas, the team's leading scorer last year, is a backcourt man who takes a back seat to no one. Oklahoma also recruited well, even though it needed to replace only one starter from an 18-10 team.
Although Arkansas is expected to dominate the Southwest Conference, there is a glimmer of hope for the rest of the league. Texas Tech Coach Gerald Myers reminds everyone that "Arkansas never fouled out a player or had an injury in a conference game last year. You can't expect that to happen two years in a row." Well, at least Myers can hope it won't happen. His Red Raiders have won 20 games each of the last two seasons, but failed to win an SWC title. That pattern could continue behind the power play of Center Mike Russell. Texas A&M also could be a spoiler, with four starters from last season and two others from the 1976 league champions on its squad. The SWC team of the future is Texas, or as A&M Coach Shelby Metcalf calls the Longhorns, "The University of California at Austin." Coach Abe Lemons brought in three more California high schoolers to go with Ron Baxter, who averaged nine rebounds and 17 points a game as a freshman. "When you get a foot in the door," says Lemons, "you keep on going back."
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas might have been the logical choice to take the NCAA jackpot this year, except for three things. One, its topflight center, Larry Moffett, decided to forgo his senior season to turn pro. Two, the NCAA, charging UNLV with recruiting violations, has barred Las Vegas from postseason play. And, three, the Rebels have a road schedule that includes Kentucky, Louisville, Marquette and Maryland.
Nonetheless, Las Vegas will win often, mainly because of the presence of 6'7" swing man Reggie Theus, who is accomplished at all phases of the game, and Guard Tony Smith, a deadly outside shooter. But whether the Rebels can break into the rankings will depend on how quickly Moffett's replacement, Earl Evans, blends in, and how soon Forward Jackie Robinson, who missed last season because of an ankle injury, regains his jumping ability. In preseason practices, Robinson was not soaring high enough to give UNLV the lift it needs.
There is another good team in Nevada. The older branch of the state university, in Reno, has an excellent center from New Jersey named Edgar Jones. The Wolf Pack, 15-12 last season and 7-7 in the West Coast Athletic Conference, doesn't figure to unseat USF, but the matchups between the 6'10" Jones (23.7 points and 13.1 rebounds a game) and USF's Bill Cartwright should be spectacular.
Santa Clara, San Francisco's archrival, twice came close to beating the Dons last season and is much improved. Coach Carroll Williams signed 6'10" Center Mark McNamara, who had more than 150 scholarship offers, and 6'8" Steve Wallace, who claims to have perfected nine types of dunks while starring for the Vintage High Crushers in Napa, Calif. The Broncos also have some good holdovers, notably All-WCAC Guard Eddie Joe Chavez, Forward Kurt Rambis and Guard Londale Theus. Seattle has an imposing center, too, in 7-foot Jawann Oldham to go with its all-round star, Clint Richardson.
With Utah clearly the class of the conference, the race for second in the WAC could be a four-team tussle. Arizona lost All-WAC Center Bob Elliott and All-WAC Guard Herman Harris, the team's two high scorers, but Phil Taylor, a 6'8" center, will try to take up the slack. Colorado State will be led by all-league Forward Alan Cunningham and a hefty Floridian, 6'9" pivotman Larry Paige. New Mexico tied for third in the WAC last year and has four starters back, including Guard Michael Cooper (15.1). Wyoming was the surprise of the conference with a 17-10 record under new Coach Don DeVoe, and the Cowboys have added some promising freshmen and junior-college transfers. However, they will sorely miss leading scorer Joe Fazekas, who did not return to school.
Cal finished strong in the Pac-8 last season and could surprise UCLA, Washington State and USC this time around. Gene Ransom, the Bears' best backcourt man since Phil Chenier, is a dazzling ball handler who has managed to dribble his way out of some academic problems. Center Tom Schneiderjohn, a 6'11" string bean, and Forward Doug True are back, too.
With the addition of 6'9" Larry Gray, a transfer from New Mexico, Long Beach State, which was 21-8 last season, should have its best team since the recruiting scandals of 1973. The 49ers lost in the first round of last spring's NCAA regionals to Big Sky champ Idaho State, which has a new coach, Lynn Archibald, but needs a new center to replace 7-foot Steve Hayes. Without him, the Bengals may find it tough to beat out Boise State and Montana.