Tournament berths were disappearing as fast as ice cream at a kindergarten birthday party as both the NCAA and NIT reached out with grasping hands. Conference champions already in the NCAA were Michigan State (Big Ten), TCU (Southwest), West Virginia (Southern), Kansas State (Big Eight), St. Joseph's (Mid-Atlantic), St. Mary's (West Coast), Idaho State (Rocky Mountain) and Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), while Marquette, DePaul, Portland, Louisville and Navy were tapped for at-large bids. Defending champion Kentucky, tied with banned Auburn for second place, was selected to represent the Southeastern after first-place Mississippi State decided that it could not compete against Negroes (see below). California (Pacific Coast), Utah (Skyline), Cincinnati (Missouri Valley) and Connecticut (Yankee) also moved within reaching distance.
The NIT, forced to forage among the nation's independents and some conference also-rans, locked up St. John's, Villanova, Oklahoma City, Providence, St. Bonaventure, Butler, Fordham, NYU and Manhattan and was impatiently waiting for St. Louis and Bradley to be eliminated in the Missouri Valley.
Once-beaten Mississippi State, making the most of Tennessee's 56-55 upset of Auburn, trampled Tulane 65-51 as Bailey Howell raised his conference total to 2,004 points to break Bob Pettit's record, then patiently waited out stalling Mississippi 23-16 to win its first SEC crown. But before the Maroons could rejoice came the decision that everyone expected. Ruled President Ben Hilbun: State could not go to the NCAA tournament because it was contrary to state policy and custom "to participate in tournaments in which integrated teams are entered."
March 9, 1959
If State was chagrined by the news, Kentucky, pushed into the NCAA through the back door, hailed it as an extraordinary piece of good fortune. Meanwhile, Kentucky's Adolph Rupp, incensed at Alabama's slowdown tactics in a game which the Wildcats won 39-32, took dead aim at the Crimson Tide's Gene Lambert. Cracked Rupp: "That kind of basketball will empty coliseums faster than good coaches can fill them." Replied Lambert: "I'm tired of being badgered by Rupp because we don't play his type of game. Any time Rupp can't put on a show, he feels that he is being mistreated."
West Virginia overpowered Davidson, 100-65, William and Mary 85-82 and The Citadel 85-66 to win its fifth straight Southern Conference tournament. But North Carolina and North Carolina State, warming up for the Atlantic Coast playoffs, ran into trouble. The Tar Heels were upset by Virginia 69-68; State succumbed to fired-up Eastern Kentucky 71-69.
Michigan State's rollicking rebounders never lost their poise or their control as they nudged aside taller Indiana 86-82 at Bloomington to win their first undisputed Big Ten title. Limber-legged Johnny Green, the biggest 6-foot-5 player in the conference, outleaped 6-foot-10 Walt Bellamy off the boards, held the giant Hoosier to 13 points and put away 20 himself to share scoring honors with Bob Anderegg.
Cincinnati, growing stronger as it began to pick up the NCAA scent, rumbled over Tulsa 92-69, Duquesne 88-69 and Houston 78-66, and the roughest Bearcat of them all was marvelous Oscar Robertson, who flipped in 113 points and moved closer to his second major-college scoring championship. But Cincinnati, not quite out of the woods in the Missouri Valley, still had to beat Bradley or St. Louis. Big Eight champion Kansas State flogged old rival Kansas 87-77 before 17,000 at Lawrence.
The Ivy League title, as well as an NCAA invitation, was still in doubt after Princeton lured front-running Dartmouth into its jampacked Dillon Gym and took the Indians apart 83-67 to force a tie for first place. The Dartmouth 2-3 zone, so effective at Hanover a week earlier, failed to stop rugged Carl Belz, who drove through it in the first half, and hot-handed Jim Brangan, who shot over it in the second half. The smaller but determined Tigers outgrabbed Dartmouth's talented Rudy LaRusso underneath to sweep the boards clean, finally broke the game wide open midway in the second half and left it up to deft Ball Handler Artie Klein to control a late freeze. Next night, Princeton outlasted Harvard 73-65 and Dartmouth put down Penn 69-63 as the two teams, barring upsets in their final games, headed for a playoff.
Navy used a shifting zone to contain Army's Darryle Kouns and Lee Sager and shook lanky Jay Metzler loose for 22 points to beat the Cadets 69-52. St. Joseph's skipped past Drexel Tech 82-59 and Georgetown 98-80 for 10 straight; Manhattan's intricate patterns outslicked St. John's 70-65 in overtime; NYU, looking more and more like the best in New York, outshot Fordham 69-59.
The race was over in the SWC, but there were still some kicks left for the runners-up. SMU, beaten twice by TCU, entertained the champion Frogs at home and took them down a peg 72-71 on Bobby James's two foul shots with two seconds to play. Rice's dead-panned Tom Robitaille, bustling around underneath the basket, put up 36 points as the Owls smothered Baylor 94-64 and added 42 more as Texas A&M fell 74-67.
California's towel-chomping Coach Pete Newell was in typical form (see above) while his Bears were outdefensing Oregon State 57-40, USC 70-64 and Washington State 65-45 to clinch at least a share of the last PCC title. Washington clobbered Idaho 74-51 to stay alive, but the Bears can win it all by beating Oregon State.
Skyline leader Utah was having its troubles staying ahead of Denver. Big Pearl Pollard gathered in 20 rebounds and scored 27 points, including a last-second tip-in in overtime, to squeeze the Utes past Brig-ham Young 76-74. Two nights later, Utah got wound up in another gasper, finally downed Utah State 66-63. Baby-faced Bobby Dold flipped in three baskets in overtime to give St. Mary's a 58-57 win over COP and the West Coast championship.
THE NATION'S BEST
1. St. Joseph's (20-3)
2. Navy (16-5)
3. NYU (11-6)
1. Kentucky (23-2)
2. Mississippi State (24-1)
3. North Carolina (18-3)
1. TCU (18-5)
2. Oklahoma City (19-5)
3. SMU (15-8)
1. Kansas State (22-1)
2. Cincinnati (21-2)
3. Michigan State (16-3)
1. California (20-4)
2. St. Mary's (17-4)
3. Utah (19-5)