St. Joseph's? "An aspirin company," thought Hawk star Boo Williams when he was first recruited. "Joe Bag o' Doughnuts" is how Recruiter Brad Greenberg characterizes the school. But such deprecation is quite out of place this year on Hawk Hill, and Williams and Greenberg are two of the main reasons. Greenberg helped St. Joe's pluck the two finest players out of Philadelphia high schools. One of them, last season's 6'10" Public League MVP Tony Costner, will let the 6'8" Williams, the Hawks' leading scorer and rebounder last season, move to power forward. The other, 6'5" Lonnie McFarlan, was Catholic League MVP and strengthens a backcourt already featuring Bryan Warrick, who won three games with last-second shots last year, and Jeffery Clark, who sat out last season to concentrate on his studies. Grant the Hawks, who were 21-9 last season, the East Coast Conference regular-season and Big Five titles, but don't be surprised if they take more.
In nine of the 12 games Wichita State lost last season, the Shockers were within a point of the opposition with a minute or less to play. They still managed to win 17, developing five underclass starters and a spate of colorful nicknames in the process. Back are the so-called Bookend Forwards, Cliff (Good News) Levingston and Antoine (Dr. Dunkenstein) Carr, who combined for 16 rebounds and nearly 31 points a game. "In the heat of a game I sometimes can't tell 'em apart myself," says Coach Gene Smithson, who was known as Radar Gene with a Built-In Screen during his playing days. Smithson will turn ball-handling chores over to his son, Sonar Randy, and Casper (Wyo.) junior-college transfer Tony Martin.
"People haven't respected us in recent years and they've been surprised," says Illinois star Eddie Johnson. "Louisville didn't last year and we blew them out." True enough. But it's hard to respect the Illini when they have the habit of starting seasons 15-0 and 11-3, only to end up 19-11 and 22-13, as they have in the last two seasons, respectively. Such schizophrenia of the past two years could be laid to inconsistent backcourt play, a shortcoming Coach Lou Henson hopes to have corrected by adding two guards, Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College transfer Craig Tucker and take-charge freshman Derek Harper. The frontcourt of the 1980 NIT semifinalists remains one of the nation's most potent, with Johnson, who averaged 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds a game last season, and Mark Smith (15.3 and 6.1).
Arizona State could use some respect, too. If the national polls are correct about Oregon State and UCLA, the Sun Devils won't finish second in their conference, which is what they did last year when they were 22-7 overall. All Pac-10 Forward Kurt Nimphius is gone, so Coach Ned Wulk is doing some adjusting. Former sixth-man Johnny Nash will start at small forward and Sam Williams moves over to strong forward. Others figuring in Wulk's front-court plans are Swingman Paul Williams and newcomers Warren Everett—a more-than-respectable product of Dangerfield (Texas) High—and Walt Stone. Anchoring the middle will be seven-foot Alton Lister, more agile, aggressive and confident now that academic problems and a summer with the Olympic team are behind him. Guard Byron Scott, with a 13.6-point average last season, is the leading returning scorer.
"An NCAA berth would keep us right on schedule," says third-year Penn State Coach Dick Harter, who has four of five starters back from the 18-10 NIT team that led the nation in field-goal percentage defense. The Nittany Lions also picked up two Pennsylvania all-staters—the first time in 16 years that Penn State has lured any of that species. The new kids are Guard Brian Dean and Forward Dick Mumma. The willowy 6'10" Mumma will start alongside 6'8" Mike Lang and Center Frank Brickowski, whose touch belies his surname. This will give Penn State a big if somewhat slow lineup, but, Harter says, "For a change we'll have depth. We'll be able to go nine or 10 deep without any appreciable loss in talent."
Texas-El Paso Coach Don Haskins says the Miners' guard situation is so bad that "the buzzards are circling every day at practice." But Haskins, that noted doomsayer, is keeping uncharacteristically quiet about the Miners' burly front line, which helped UTEP go 20-8 and rank 10th in the nation in rebounding last season, and about how his backcourt shortcomings may be ameliorated by the arrival of prize recruit Anthony Bailey.
BYU, led by conference Player of the Year Danny Ainge, remains the WAC favorite despite the loss of three starters, including Forward Devin Durrant, who left school to do Mormon missionary work in Spain. But Wyoming, coming off its best season (18-10) in a decade, welcomes back Guard Charles (Tub) Bradley and has filled its biggest need with 7-foot Center Chris Engler, a transfer from Minnesota. The 6'5" Bradley, a 19.1-point-per-game scorer last season and younger brother of the Indiana Pacers' Dudley, is merely the Cowboys' best player ever. "Danny Vranes is the most consistent performer in the WAC, but Charles is the most explosive," says Wyoming Coach Jim Brandenburgh. Vranes, who had 15.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season, is part of Utah's powerful front line. He and Karl Bankowski flank 6'10" Center Tom Chambers, who scored 17.2 points a game. Bankowski averaged 12.6 points and sank the winning basket in the Utes' 71-69 upset of Louisville. Bringing up the rear in the WAC will be scandal-scarred New Mexico, despite the presence of Kenny Page, the nation's fourth-leading scorer, with a 28.0-point average in 1979-80, and new inductee Air Force, which, alas, has a 6'8" height limit for cadets.
After Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State, the Pac-10 is a scramble. Washington's 7'2" Icelandic center, Petur Gudmundsson, skipped to Argentina to play pro ball, leaving the Huskies short—literally. To compensate, they will press from end line to end line and go to a running game on offense. Although UCLA Coach Larry Brown says "Cal's a real sleeper," the rest of the conference looks to be just plain sleepy. The Golden Bears have Kevin Singleton, a 16.1-average scorer in 1978-79 and a redshirt last season.
Perennial Big Sky titlist Weber State will be lucky to crack the top three after saying goodby to all but one of its starters. Four regulars apiece return at Montana and Idaho, a pair of teams known for close-to-the-vest offense and tight defense. Either one of them or Montana State, strong in the frontcourt, should be Weber's successor. Idaho is looking up after finishing 17-10 in 1979-80, the Vandals' first .500-plus record in nine seasons. In predicting the WCAC race, Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick says, "You start with USF. Second place should be a turkey shoot." Harrick's own team could be the best of the turkeys, thanks to a handful of good recruits that will ease the loss of Ricardo Brown and Tony Fuller, who averaged 19.5 points each last season. However, they won't be a match for San Francisco and 7-foot, 245-pound Wallace Bryant. Last season Bryant scored 13.3 points and grabbed 10.4 rebounds per game, and Guard Quintin Dailey added 13.6 points as the Dons won their fourth straight WCAC title. San Francisco missed the NCAA tournament, however, because it was on probation. Although that probationary period is over, the Dons are on probation again because of new violations the university discovered last spring. The school acted by replacing Coach Dan Belluomini with Peter Barry. Despite this new probation, USF is eligible for the NCAA title.
Fresno State has the talent to win the PCAA title because its two 6'7" forwards, Bobby Davis and Rod Higgins, are among the league's best. Close behind will be defending-champ Utah State and Long Beach State. The Aggies have 20.6-points-per-game Forward Brian Jackson. The 49ers will miss Michael Wiley and Francois Wise, their career leaders in points and rebounds, respectively.
Everywhere you turn there will be powerhouses dominating conference play—Missouri in the Big Eight, Louisville in the Metro, Texas A&M in the Southwest, Centenary in the Trans America. So can anybody else out there play this game?
Well, yes and no. It seems unlikely that the favorites will falter against relatively inferior competition, but there could be some interesting battles for second place. In the Big Eight, however, Missouri suddenly became vulnerable when it lost two key players during the preseason, and Kansas State appears to have a good chance to make that race close. The Wildcats have three starters back from a team that went 22-9 last year and lost to eventual NCAA champion Louisville by only two points in the Midwest Regional. Guard Rolando Blackman is the Big Eight's best player. Both Kansas and Nebraska have a chance to be good, too, but the Jayhawks must overcome the disarray that led to last year's 15-14 record. Like Darnell Valentine at Kansas. Guard Jo Jo Hunter will make Colorado click, but the only hope for Oklahoma and Iowa State is the future, which now rests in the capable hands of new coaches Billy Tubbs and Johnny Orr, respectively.
Creighton may be the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference with a chance of overcoming the dominance of Bradley and Wichita State. The Blue Jays have four regulars back, the best of whom is Forward Kevin McKenna. Creighton will rely on a front line that averages 6'8", and for the first time Coach Tom Apke will forsake his no-post offense for a double-post formation. "Intellectually, we know we're doing the right thing, but emotionally we wonder if we've sold out," says Apke. Drake will once again have the services of the best player in the conference, senior Forward Lewis Lloyd, who finished second in scoring (30.2 points a game) and rebounding (15.0) nationally last season. Lloyd broke his right leg in the off-season, but he should not miss any games. The big surprise in the Valley this year could be Tulsa, whose new coach, Nolan Richardson, won the junior-college national championship at Western Texas last season and brought four of his starters along with him. Florida State is the only team in the Metro with the size to test Louisville, but shooting and ball handling could be problems for the Seminoles. Elvis (Rocken) Rolle is 6'10" and hard to stop in the low post; joining him will be State's top recruit, 6'9" Oren Gilmore, the younger brother of NBA star Artis.
Arkansas will be the best of the rest in the Southwest, but the Razorbacks will count on speed and cunning instead of size—of which they have precious little. "This is the smallest team I've ever had," says Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton. "We're almost fragile-looking." The Hogs will rely almost solely on Scott Hastings underneath, but that's not so bad since the 6'10" junior scored 16.2 points a game last season and made the all-conference team. Texas will be big up front, where it has one of the league's top freshmen in Mike Wacker. Baylor has junior Terry Teagle, a 23-point scorer, and not much else.
Not only does Centenary have the Trans America Conference's best inside player and three other starters back from a team that won 12 of its last 13, but the Gents also have the best names. Center Cherokee Rhone averaged 20 points and 10.3 rebounds a game and shot 66.6%, and he'll again be joined by Napoleon Byrdsong and Lorin George. Lamar should continue its hegemony over the Southland, with B.B. Davis handling the chores underneath and Mike Olliver doing the outside work.
The Big Ten will be as strong as last season. That scarcely seems possible, because seven of its teams went to postseason tournaments last spring, but with 35 of 50 starters, 18 of the top 25 scorers and eight of the 12 leading rebounders all back, it's true.
Michigan, which had the conference's best recruiting season, is a threat to Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa and Illinois. Promising freshmen Tim McCormick, Dean Hopson and John Antonides join a roster that includes four returning starters, one of whom, Forward Mike McGee, needs 458 points to break Cazzie Russell's school scoring record. Another plus: Bill Frieder, a master strategist for seven seasons as Johnny Orr's assistant, is the new coach.
Sophomore Randy Breuer, freshman Jim Peterson and junior-college transfer John Wiley overshadow—and at 7'2", 6'10" and 6'7", respectively, their shadows are long indeed—the loss of Minnesota's star Center Kevin McHale. If Coach Jim Dutcher finds comparable strength in his backcourt, the 1980-81 Gophers could surpass last season's team, which went 21-11 and finished second in the NIT. Purdue is without last season's star, Joe Barry Carroll, but new Coach Gene Keady has added the best high school big man in Chicago, 6'10" Russell Cross.
In the Southeastern Conference only Georgia figures to threaten Kentucky and LSU. The Bulldogs, who start two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior and lack a good center, are just puppies, really. But if they get the expected performances from Forward Dominique Wilkins and Guard Eric (Sky Dog) Marbury, they'll have plenty of bite. Alabama also seems destined for a winning conference record, with four starters back and a new coach, Wimp Sanderson, who doesn't deserve all the jokes about his name.
Lee Rose, who took Sun Belt Conference member UNC Charlotte and then Purdue to the NCAA final four, returns to the Sun Belt, at South Florida. Rose, a big winner elsewhere, should be a big loser this season, but a reported five-year, $90,000-per-annum contract and the opening of the school's Sun Dome will ease the suffering.
Loyola of Chicago will improve its 19-10 record and win the title in the Midwestern City Conference behind Guard Darius Clemons, the best all-round player in the league. But the Ramblers will get competition aplenty from Evansville's Purple Aces, whose trump card is a well-scouted freshman, 7'1" Emir Turan of Istanbul. "We didn't take him cold turkey," says Coach Dick Walters.
Toledo should surrender the Mid-American crown to either Bowling Green or Northern Illinois. Heading the best Bowling Green team in 18 seasons is Forward Colin Irish, the team's most valuable player as a freshman. Northern Illinois has a wondrous center in MAC Player of the Year Allen Rayhorn.
Murray State took a great leap forward last year from 4-22 to 23-8. In his third season, Coach Ron Greene might do even better, because he has Lamont Sleets, a 5'10" court magician who dunks with the best. Only Western Kentucky, under new Coach Clem Haskins, can bring Sleets—and Murray State—back to earth.
Hank Raymonds overcame a poor recruiting year and injuries to two starters to coach Marquette to an NCAA bid and 18 wins. Now that Forward Oliver Lee and Center Dean Marquardt are healthy and the squad is so deep that blue-chip freshman Guard Glenn Rivers will have to come off the bench, 20 victories should be a cinch. Led by Guard Frank Edwards, a 25.5-point scorer last year, Cleveland State is expecting its first 20-win season.
North Carolina is counting on two freshmen, three screws and a rod. No one would be able to nurture yearlings Sam Perkins and Matt Doherty better than Coach Dean Smith will, but UNC's fortunes may hinge on the hardware holding together Forward James Worthy's right ankle. Worthy was playing very well when he broke it last season; this preseason he'd practice for two days and then join the other infirm Tar Heels—Center Pete Budko and Guard Jimmy Black—on the sidelines for the third. Call them the Achilles' Heels.
For fans used to simple names like (Norm) Sloan and (Bill) Foster, the new coaches in Raleigh and Durham sound downright newfangled. Jim Valvano (that's val-VANN-o) comes to North Carolina State from Iona, Mike Krzyzewski (kruh-SHEF-skee) to Duke via Army, and both are outgoing, big-city types. The Wolfpack will have some depth but no stars, the Blue Devils a star in Forward Gene Banks but little depth. Wake Forest could outstrip both of these perennial powers. A Deacon frontcourt worth almost 37 points a game is back, and a welcome addition is the cool-headedness of Guard Frank Johnson, whose injured left foot kept him out of action all last season when Wake lost five conference games by a total of 19 points.
"Loaded?" quips a Rutgers assistant. "Sure, we start off every morning with Irish coffee." Around the Eastern Eight no one else is smiling. When Kelvin Troy, a defensive ace who scored 18.9 points and had 8.3 rebounds per game in 1979-80, teams with 6'7" former Kentucky Wildcat Clarence Tillman, who'll be eligible Dec. 20, Rutgers may do more than just stagger to the league title. Syracuse gets back the made-for-each-other backcourt of Eddie (D) Moss and Marty (O) Headd for its first season in the cavernous Carrier Dome. But without aircraft carrier Roosevelt Bouie patrolling the middle, the Orangemen will be pushed by Big East rival Connecticut. Like Rutgers, UConn picked up a disaffected Kentucky player in 6'11" Chuck Aleksinas. He'll allow 6'8" Corny Thompson to move to power forward where he belongs. In the ECAC North, Holy Cross has an R. Guerin at guard, Boston University a J. Twyman at forward—they're Richie and Jay, freshman sons of the ex-NBA standouts. Northeastern's blood, though not so blue, is tested: all five starters from the Huskies' 19-8 team return, including a 20.8-scorer in Guard Pete Harris.
Iona's new coach, Pat Kennedy, lost Center Jeff Ruland to the enticements of an agent but inherits recruiting catch Gary Springer and two transfers, 6'10" Mike Ice and 6'9" Ted O'Gorman. Wagner comes off a truly Wagnerian season that took the Seahawks from the heights of Die Meistersinger (a 7-0 start) to the depths of G‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√átterd‚Äö√†√∂¬¨√ümmerung (a 7-13 finish). When the curtain goes up, 6'7" Center Howard Thompkins (18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game) will play a leading role again.
St. Joe's will get a challenge from Temple in the ECC if the Owls learn their vowels—nine players were getting private tutoring to remain eligible during the fall—and two recruits manage to shore up a weak bench. In the ECAC South region, Old Dominion loses only one starter from last year's 25-5 NCAA tourney team, with Forward Ronnie McAdoo the reigning Monarch. Among the Ivies, look for the resurrection of the Route 1 Axis, as Penn, Princeton and Columbia finish 1-2-3. Those three teams have 14 of 15 starters back, with Penn the deepest. Furman has a good shot at repeating as Southern Conference champions. Coach Eddie Holbrook got new blood up front where he needed it, and his sharpshooting guard, Mel Daniel, should profit from the league's new three-point field-goal rule.