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Ncaa: 22 Teams After Alcindor

There is not much hope of an upset in the annual tournament, but the team that starts the most sophomores should win. Unfortunately for the others, big Lew is one of four rookies who will represent UCLA

The arrival of spring usually inspires a resurgence of hope all around, but this week 23 college basketball teams are conducting—in an atmosphere of semi-despair—the formal rites that should legitimatize UCLA as national champion. In its 29th tournament, the NCAA stands for No Chance Against Alcindor.

This theme is likely to continue for the next two years, but there is the sad additional note that many of the same young men must go down to frustrating defeat throughout the Alcindor Era. For while much has been made of the fact that UCLA is virtually an all-sophomore team (five of the first six; no senior at all), a less publicized truth is that sophomores abound in unusual numbers everywhere. At the same time, only a few teams feature seniors. There are exactly 11 senior starters on the top 10 teams.

Indeed, the figures suggest that the younger the team the better. The best team in the country is 80% sophomore. The five best are 48% sophomore. The 10 top teams are 36% sophomore, and all 23 in this year's tournament field are 31% sophomore. How good are they? Well, in the seven first-round games played last Saturday, the winners started twice as many sophomores as the losers. There have been tournaments before that starred sophomores and were notable for the absence of seniors—Indiana's 1953 champions played no seniors; Ohio State's 1960 winners were led by three sophomores—but none has been so overwhelmingly populated by rookies.

The presence of so much extreme youth is bound to produce surprises and unexpected play—good and bad—throughout the tournament. This has been the case all year, for even the best teams have gone through long, unexpected slumps and periods of uneven play that may be attributed to inexperience.

A classic example of how unpredictable sophomores can be occurred Saturday in the qualifying round at Lexington, Ky., where one of Virginia Tech's two starting rookies, Ken Talley, made 10 of 15 shots, had his best night ever with 24 points and led the Gobblers over Toledo and its three sophomore starters 82-76. The irony is that only the week before Toledo had routed Tech 90-71. Though they lost Saturday, the Rockets were helped considerably by sophomore Bob Miller, who came off the bench to score 19. That sixth-man position, traditionally, is supposed to be handled by a cagey veteran who can withstand the pressure and the burden of having to fire off the bench and stir up his club. But even this venerable role has been assumed by sophomores on many teams. The best, perhaps, is Bill Voight of SMU.

Virginia Tech will be joined at Evans-ton, Ill. in the Mideast Regional by Tennessee, Dayton—which qualified with a mild upset overtime win over Western Kentucky—and Indiana, the Big Ten co-champ. The Hoosiers scrambled to a 10-4 record, a complete turnaround from last year. They were led by Butch Joyner, a much-underrated player who averaged 19 points a game and who, together with Bill DeHeer—a sophomore, of course—gave the team the rebounding it lacked in 1966. Indiana tied with Michigan State over the regular season, but there was no playoff. An archaic Big Ten rule stipulates that in such cases, the team that more recently represented the conference must yield the NCAA berth. This is a generous gesture, but one hardly designed to produce the best team.

Still it ranks right up there with the Code of Hammurabi when compared to some of the NCAA dictums. One such rule cost Defending Champion Texas Western the services of senior Forward Nevil (Shadow) Shed. (Texas Western is now, officially, the University of Texas at El Paso, or UTEP.) It seems that Shed played on the varsity for North Carolina A&T when he was a freshman there in 1962-63. This was legal, approved by the NCAA. It was also permissible for Shed to play all this regular season for UTEP. But he was declared ineligible for the tournament. There is about as much logic in this as there would be in declaring that all children of a certain marriage were illegitimate if born on Tuesdays or Thursdays. To make the whole thing even sillier, it was decreed that if North Carolina A&T had had an enrollment of less than 751 males when the party of the first part played there, then it would all be hunky-dory and he would be eligible.

Thus, Shed was sitting in the press box Saturday night in Fort Collins, Colo. when UTEP beat Seattle to qualify for the Western Regionals against Pacific. However, with Shed ineligible and Bobby Joe Hill flunked out, Coach Don Haskins has been forced to use Fred Carr, a football linebacker, as a regular forward. Carr did not even suit up for Haskins until February 25.

His squad is so decimated that Haskins really would have preferred to have come to New York and the NIT—where it is still considered permissible to use players who have played all year long. The Miners felt, however, that they were obliged to at least attempt to defend their national crown. As a reward for this decision, the NCAA shifted UTEP to the Western Regional, which denied the school an opportunity to defend its Midwest Regional championship.

Utah State did choose the NIT over the NCAA because, as in the case of Shed, one of State's players was declared ineligible. He had attended junior college for a year, a normal occurrence in that area. However, the NCAA bans such a JC transfer from its tournament—though, of course, he may be used all season to get his team into the tournament. Utah State Athletic Director Frank Williams also joined a chorus of independents in claiming that the NCAA discriminated against them and in favor of conference teams.

Admittedly, there are conference champions occasionally who earn an automatic bye into the NCAA despite poor overall records. For instance, Wyoming, only 15-12, upset Brigham Young Saturday in a playoff to win the Western Athletic Conference and gain the privilege of being the first victim for UCLA. But for every Wyoming there is also a Florida, which was 21-4 and got into no tournament, or a Vanderbilt, whose record was 22-4 last season and 21-5 this year—and missed out both times. Despite all the bleating of the independents, the truth is that among all 37 tournament teams (NCAA and NIT), the conference representatives had the better record, .794 to .775.

At any rate, Wyoming does not have the slightest chance against UCLA at Corvallis, Ore., and neither does the winner between UTEP and Pacific. Just as certain is the fact that UCLA will have a slowdown game thrown at it on both nights. Bill Strannigan, the Wyoming coach, was the first man to beat Wilt Chamberlain with a stall, when Strannigan coached at Iowa State.

Of course, no one admits to a "slowdown" or "control game" any more. Suddenly, this type of nonplay has more polite synonyms than being inebriated does. The latest addition: "tempo situation," which is what Connecticut's Fred Shabel called it after his team had held Boston College to a 14-13 first half. But aside from such extremes as this, it is obvious that the newest fad is at least a moderate control game. In the seven qualifying games Saturday the teams averaged a total of 122 points a game. Last year the figure was 149. First halves, particularly, are proceeding with all the dispatch of the Hundred Years' War. Except for the Tech-Toledo game, which was 46-43 at half time, the Saturday contests averaged a rousing 47 points at intermission: 26-21.

Boston College Coach Bob Cousy at first refused to comment on the stall. "Look," he said, "I'll be quoted everywhere as being against the college game." Then he went on to suggest that he was against this kind of college game, anyway. "I don't think either team did college basketball a bit of good tonight," he said. "Maybe we ought to go back to the peach baskets. I'm not completely against control tactics. I'd use them myself if I were in a similar situation. But there are degrees to everything. I think the difference tonight was that Connecticut didn't take the good shots even when they were presented with them. I believe in patient ball handling under these circumstances, but you should be working for the good shot. This was a farce."

Cousy's star that night, Steve Adelman, said it a bit differently. "It's a funny feeling after playing a game—not even sweating or being tired."

The exemplar of control ball or whatever it is that causes fewer points to be scored is Tennessee, which has played that style for years in the face of raging point battles all around it. "To say we hold the ball deliberately is simply an untruth," Coach Ray Mears says. "We try to score every opportunity we have. But we are not going to take a shot unless we get a good one, even if it takes 45 or 50 seconds." Mears did not expect his team to win the SEC this season, but neither did he expect to find players who virtually have to be prodded to shoot.

The team works with a sophomore, Billy Hann, at the point and then maneuvers endlessly to set up Ron Widby for a shot. Nobody else—Tom Boerwinkle, who is 7 feet, or sophomore Bill Justus or Tom Hendrix, a fine ball handler—shows much inclination to score. During the last few games Tennessee has gone to Widby even more than is normal, and with his fallaway jump—which appears, at first glance, to be taken off balance—he managed to lead the SEC in scoring while his team was last in offense.

The Vols should win this Regional, the weakest, without great difficulty, though Dayton, the Friday-night opponent, has an outside chance. The Flyers have improved since two starters from last year's NCAA team were replaced by younger men. But the key is still All-America Don May, a 6'4" forward who not only gets 20 points a game but ranks fifth in the nation—smack amid all the giants—with an average of 17 rebounds.

The two best Regionals are in the East and Midwest and in each three of the nation's top 10 will be in action. (All 10 made the tournament this year, a rare occurrence.) The favorites are Kansas, which should become the first Midwest team ever to win a Regional on its home court, and Boston College. The other two eastern contenders, North Carolina and Princeton, must face each other again, while BC gets St. John's on the opening night.

Princeton beat Carolina 91-81 at Chapel Hill in December. But Tar Heel Center Rusty Clark had a virus and saw only brief action, and Guard Bob Lewis was in early foul trouble. The latter player would seem to be the more important Carolina asset, but Coach Dean Smith likes to play to Clark underneath—even when that ploy is being trumped, as Duke managed to do Saturday in the Atlantic Coast finals. In that game Lewis and Larry Miller finally took over themselves and got the Tar Heels home. Miller made 13 of 14 shots and 32 points. Lewis made 26. Their efforts had been almost as heroic in pushing Carolina past N.C. State and Wake Forest in the earlier games. Clark and three other sophomores (the most ever on an ACC winner) added 23 to help L&M beat Duke. But Lewis and Miller must play outstanding games each night to bring the Tar Heels to Louisville.

Princeton has much better balance, but the scoring responsibility has lately fallen more and more upon juniors Joe Heiser and John Haarlow. Haarlow suffered an ankle injury in the last seconds against West Virginia. How well he recovers by Friday may determine the outcome of this Regional.

Off the boards, Boston College may be no tougher than the Tigers, but Cousy's men are less prone to foul trouble. He can field four big men at a time, moving Steve Adelman, 6'6", out front on the zone. Princeton will not be able to shoot over this array as easily as it did against West Virginia. If Carolina plays BC, Miller will have to go to the boards more than he usually does, for the same reason. With little sophomore Billy-Evans directing, BC is much more unified this year than last, when much of the play was aimed at setting up high scorer John Austin. The balance is excellent. Cousy's defense—man to man or the 2-3 zone—is the most effective he has developed in his four years of coaching. St. John's plays an honestly deliberate game backed by another fine defense. But Center Sonny Dove will have to come up with an exemplary performance for the Redmen to match BC on offense.

There is irony in the Midwest match-ups. Louisville, generally conceded to be the team with the best chance of beating UCLA, would face the Bruins on its home court at Freedom Hall in the semifinals. But to do so it must get by Kansas on the Jayhawks' home court. Even before that, Louisville must play an unusually good Southwest Conference team, Southern Methodist, and the Cardinals must go on the court after three full weeks of inactivity.

SMU offers—surprise—four starting seniors, and Louisville's reputation should not frighten them. "I've always secretly felt,' " says Mustang Coach Doc Hayes, "that we had a chance to win any game we've been in this season. I wouldn't state it publicly before, but now we're too far along for me to be coy."' Kansas, on the other hand, should have no difficulty with a Houston team that just managed to get past the little New Mexico State Aggies by one point.

A Kansas-Louisville Regional final would present two superb young stars, Jo Jo White of Kansas and Butch Beard, though it is unlikely that they will face off against each other unless Beard is forced to move into the backcourt. In the pivot Kansas has little chance of containing Louisville's Westley Unseld man to man. The Jayhawk center, sophomore Vernon Vanoy, is a hustling big man, but he fouls out of two-thirds of his games. Instead, Kansas must depend on a devastating team defense—the zone trap at its best. Since Kansas is playing at home, that defense should be at peak efficiency, insure a narrow win and send the Jayhawks to Freedom Hall.

Interest has never been higher in the NCAA, either despite or because of Alcindor. The finals will be televised nationally and Regional telecasts are becoming routine. Live attendance will also set a record. (In 1962 the figure was padded to an impossible 187,000. This year's true count will be 175,000.) That's quite an audience for sophomores to play before and for coaches to annoy with their slowdowns. But even grander things are in store. Coach Johnny Dee of Notre Dame suggests that the tournament format be changed to include every NCAA team in the country—all 600 of them, or however many will have joined up. They would start off playing in 64 sectionals and work down from there. Dee figures that would bring $5 million in gate receipts even before the final round and before TV pays a penny. How about that for restoring a little of the old hope all around?

PHOTO The player who carries St. John's offense, rangy Sonny Dove, lays one up against Temple.
PHOTO Passing through West Virginia's press, as Gary Walters does here, helped Princeton advance.
ILLUSTRATION

1967 NCAA Title Draw

EAST REGIONALS

WEST VIRGINIA
Blacksburg, Va., March 11
PRINCETON

CONNECTICUT
Kingston, R.I., March 11
BOSTON COLLEGE

TEMPLE
Blacksburg, Va., March 11
ST. JOHN'S

PRINCETON
College Park, Md., March 17
NORTH CAROLINA

BOSTON COLLEGE
College Park, Md., March 17
ST. JOHN'S

College Park, Md., March 18

MIDEAST REGIONALS

WESTERN KENTUCKY
Lexington, Ky., March 11
DAYTON

TOLEDO
Lexington, Ky., March 11
VIRGINIA TECH

DAYTON
Evanston, III., March 17
TENNESSEE

VIRGINIA TECH
Evanston, III., March 17
INDIANA

Evanston, III., March 18

MIDWEST REGIONALS

HOUSTON
Fort Collins, Colo., March 11
NEW MEXICO STATE

SMU
Lawrence, Kans., March 17
LOUISVILLE

HOUSTON
Lawrence, Kans., March 17
KANSAS

Lawrence, Kans., March 18

WEST REGIONALS

TEXAS WESTERN
Fort Collins, Colo., March 11
SEATTLE

WYOMING
Corvallis, Ore., March 17
UCLA

PACIFIC
Corvailis, Ore., March 17
TEXAS WESTERN

Corvallis. Ore., March 18

SEMIFINALS
Louisville, March 24

THIRD PLACE
Louisville, March 25

SEMIFINALS
Louisville, March 24

FINALS
Louisville, March 25

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