Barely waiting for football to vacate the premises, college basketball shoved a foot inside the door and proceeded to turn loose the latest crop of sure-sighted shooters, stratospheric rebounders and doughty defenders. Baskets rattled vibrantly from coast to coast as most preseason favorites managed to survive the early firing, but a few teams were already seeking out the comeback trail.
New Yorkers got another look at Cincinnati's fabulous Oscar Robertson, and 14,587, the largest Madison Square Garden crowd to watch a regular-season college double-header in almost six years, were enthralled. Fresh from a 41-point performance in a 93-64 victory over Indiana State, Robertson eluded NYU's double-teaming box defense for 45 points. "The Big O" made full use of his expansive skills, feinting and rebounding (see right) to put the Bearcats in front 88-67. On the same bill, St. John's took the wraps off touted Sophomore Tony Jackson, a jump-shooter of rare excellence, who lived up to his advance billing as the Redmen overcame Providence 73-55.
Pitt opened with a loss to Michigan, but Don Hennon, a little man (5 feet 8½ inches) with a big talent, perked up the Panthers against Ohio State, outhustling the Buckeyes for 41 points in a 73-70 triumph.
December 15, 1958
Temple, last year's eastern leader, was upset by Lehigh but then pushed Kentucky to the limit before losing 76-71. St. Bonaventure, Niagara, St. Joseph's, Dartmouth and Navy were among those still unbeaten at the end of the first week.
Lou Pucillo, hustling little North Carolina State marksman who spent last summer practicing an arcing set shot so he could shoot over the heads of taller players, reaped the first dividend from his off-season pursuit. Pucillo looped in a soft one-hander with two seconds to play to beat Maryland 55-53, but the Wolf-pack had to prowl through two overtimes before slinking past Wake Forest 56-52, lending strength to predictions that the Atlantic Coast race will be a dog (or, possibly, wolf) fight. North Carolina served notice that it, too, will be heard from, moving comfortably by Clemson 83-67.
West Virginia, gunning for national honors and a fifth straight Southern Conference title, had a cumbersome time of it before overcoming Furman 76-67 and VMI 82-71 to stretch its league winning streak to 38.
Kentucky, its newcomers blending efficiently with veteran Johnny Cox under the magic hand of Coach Adolph Rupp, lit into Florida State 91-68 before heading east to beat Temple, but the Wildcats may hear more from SEC challengers before too many weeks pass. Tennessee, after edging Wyoming 72-71, moved westward to beat Michigan 80-66 and Wyoming again 90-69 in the Midwestern Invitational Tournament at Kent, Ohio; Alabama scored its biggest strike, handing the fabled Phillips Oilers their first loss to a college team since 1953 39-38; Mississippi State tuned up on three lesser rivals. Even Georgia began to show muscles, muzzling Florida's Gators 66-63 and Clemson 76-59.
Southwest Conference teams, involved for the most part in intersectional play, found a few slips showing but finally emerged with some prizes. TCU, Texas Tech and Texas A&M came through unscathed while SMU and Rice, beaten by Oklahoma City and Kansas, respectively, found their solace in Big Ten opposition. The Mustangs ran over Iowa 65-55 and the Owls overwhelmed Wisconsin 78-37, holding the Badgers to three field goals in the second half.
Touring New Mexico A&M, generally regarded as the team to beat in the Border Conference, couldn't wait to get back home after dropping four straight to Washington of St. Louis 61-50, Bradley 86-54, Murray State 66-51 and Western Kentucky 79-60.
Hopeful of achieving Mid-American Conference honors, unhappy Bowling Green was the victim of some early bubble-bursting by Miami of Ohio and went down before last year's champions 59-58.
Missouri Valley contender St. Louis began to get the hang of new Coach John Benington's patterns and used a four-man weave to run Ohio State ragged 77-68. The Billikens will get their big test against Kentucky in next Saturday's TV game of the week.
Bob Boozer picked up where he left off last year, jamming home 45 points as Kansas State mauled Purdue 96-83 and 28 more before he fouled out in the Wildcats' 82-79 overtime decision over Indiana. Kansas, without Wilt Chamberlain for first time in three years, got the kick it needed from Ron Loneski and bowled over Rice 65-49 and Canisius 75-54.
Washington U. of St. Louis, after disposing of New Mexico A&M, matched deliberate offenses with Texas Western and lost 56-48. Coach Eddie Hickey, in his first year at Marquette, derived pleasure from watching his Warriors fast break their way past Wisconsin 76-47 and Illinois 69-53.
St. Mary's, led by sophomore Tom Meschery and Laroy Doss, a skinny beanpole with a Yul Brynner skin-do, looked more and more like the class of the West Coast after outlasting UCLA 62-59 in overtime and plastering Stanford 63-45.
San Francisco, its big names gone, dedicated its new 6,000-seat gymnasium and gave Seattle a fright before bowing 60-58. The Dons also lost to California 50-43, while Seattle, hardly missing Elgin Baylor, romped over COP 91-53.
Colorado surprised PCC standout Washington 70-63, then came back the next night to prove it was no fluke, downing the Huskies once more 69-51.
Oregon State, beaten by Utah 70-41 in the first of a two-game series, retired to a hotel dance floor, where Coach Slats Gill drilled his troops in a slow-motion game intended to contain the fast-breaking Utes. Gill had the right idea but Utah failed to cooperate and the Beavers lost again 62-38. Observed Gill glumly: "It was the only strategy that could give us much of a chance. If I were from Utah, I would be happy this year."