Although the books were closed for most of the nation's teams, the ball was still bouncing merrily in all directions for some as they set out for bigger game in the NCAA and NIT tournaments.
The NCAA picked up its normal complement of conference champions, some making it the hard way, and moved toward this weekend's regional finals at Charlotte, N.C., Evanston, Ill., Lawrence, Kans. and San Francisco (see page 49). Meanwhile, the NIT prepared to open in New York's Madison Square Garden Thursday with a field composed of Fordham (17-7), Butler (18-8), St. John's (16-6), Villanova (18-5), Manhattan (15-5), Providence (18-5), NYU (12-7), Denver (14-9), St. Bonaventure (20-2), St. Louis (20-4), Oklahoma City (20-6) and either Bradley (23-3) or Cincinnati (22-3).
The small colleges were also having their innings. Evansville (Ind.), Los Angeles State, Southwest Missouri State, Hope, South Dakota State, St. Michael's (Vt.), American U. and North Carolina A&T survived district playoffs to fight it out for the NCAA college division title at Evansville. Tennessee A&I, the defending champion, and 31 other teams invaded Kansas City and were busy eliminating each other in the NAIA competition.
All season long Dartmouth and Princeton were as close as two peas in a pod. And things were no different when they met in a playoff at Yale's Payne Whitney Gym last Saturday night. The Indians, operating out of a tight 3-2 zone and with agile 6-foot 7-inch Rudy LaRusso controlling the boards, stormed ahead early in the game, then found themselves scrambling for their very lives as Carl Belz and his Tiger teammates fought back. With three seconds to go, Dartmouth set up an out-of-bounds play and got the ball to LaRusso, who drove in for the layup which gave Coach Doggie Julian's boys a 69-68 victory, the Ivy League title and an NCAA berth.
Slumping Connecticut picked itself up in time to beat Rhode Island 87-63 for its 11th Yankee crown in 12 years. St. John's recovered its early-season poise and slickness and overhauled NYU 57-55 on Sophomore Tony Jackson's jump shot; Boston U. trounced NIT-bound Providence 64-48 to earn an NCAA bid; scrappy Manhattan cut Fordham down to size 73-64; St. Francis (Pa.), uninvited and squawking, took out its disappointment on Duquesne 75-63 for a 20-5 record.
Cincinnati suddenly found its path to the Missouri Valley title filled with speculation. The Bearcats visited Peoria, where practically no one beats Bradley, and lost 84-66. The Braves, trailing 37-29 at half time, switched from zone to man-to-man, blanketed every Bearcat but Oscar Robertson (who scored 25) and got some hot shooting from Mike Owens and Dan Smith to thrash bewildered Cincinnati.
Bowling Green backed into a tie for Mid-American honors when Miami went sour and lost to Marshall 90-79, then ran fast and often to scalp the weary Redskins 76-63 for an NCAA invitation.
Michigan State's corner on class was painfully obvious to the seven teams snarling for second place in the Big Ten. The Spartans ran over Wisconsin 93-73 and Iowa 84-74 while Northwestern, Purdue and Michigan deadlocked for second.
Utah's hustle and muscle men, short on finesse but long on physique, lumbered past hapless Wyoming 85-73 to clinch their third Skyline crown in six years under milk-swigging Coach Jack Gardner, then put the final frosting on a 13-1 league record by holding off stubborn Colorado State 68-61. Pearl Pollard, whose height (6 feet 8 inches) is no greater asset than his bulk (240 pounds), was the Redskin hardest to contain, bulldozing his way to 39 points in the two games. Denver, close on the Utes' heels down to the final week, faded badly in the stretch, falling before both Brigham Young 72-67 and Utah State 88-71, and finished in a tie for second with the Aggies. Denver caused more furor off the court than on by accepting an NIT bid while it still had a Skyline chance for the NCAA. But Coach Hoyt Brawner proved he was a realist—a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.
California sat idly by while UCLA upset Washington 56-55 to give Bears the PCC championship. However, the Bears really didn't need the help. They sharpened up their claws on Oregon State 55-52 for a three-game spread over Washington. Santa Clara caught up to West Coast Champion St. Mary's, handing the Gaels their only conference loss 67-66. De Paul knocked Portland out of the NCAA 57-56.
The Atlantic Coast tournament—loaded with excitement as North Carolina soundly trounced Clemson 93-69 and stopped rallying Duke 74-71, and North Carolina State edged South Carolina 75-72 and Virginia 66-63—tailed off in the final game. With State on probation and North Carolina safely in the NCAA, Coach Frank McGuire benched his regulars early, made it easy for the Wolfpack to beat his Tar Heels 80-56.
SMU outshot Texas A&M 70-66 to finish second behind TCU in the Southwest Conference, but the Mustangs' joy quickly turned to grief when they learned that Bobby James, brilliant junior forward, had died in a fire while visiting his family in Ruston, La.
New Mexico State, in a three-way tie with Texas Western and Arizona State for the Border Conference crown, whipped Texas Western 65-48 and got ready to fight it out with Arizona State in a second playoff game for an NCAA spot.
Mid-Atlantic—St. Joseph's (7-0)
Southeastern—Mississippi State (13-1)
Atlantic Coast—N.C. State (12-2)**
Southern—West Virginia (11-0)**
Ohio Valley—Eastern Kentucky (10-2)
Big Ten—Michigan State (12-2)
Big Eight—Kansas State (13-0)
Mid-American—Bowling Green* and Miami (9-3)
Border—Texas Western, New Mexico State and Arizona State (7-3)
Pacific Coast—California (14-2)
West Coast—St. Mary's (11-1)
Rocky Mountain—Idaho State (9-1)
* Won playoff
** Won conference tournament