While most of the nation's major college teams disappointedly packed away their shattered dreams, the fortunate few made ready to engage in the annual battle for national honors in the NCAA and NIT tournaments.
The NCAA, after waiting patiently for conference races to be decided, assembled the newly crowned champions and moved toward this weekend's four regional finals—at Charlotte, N.C., Manhattan, Kans., Louisville and Seattle (see page 39).
But not all of the nation's top teams were in the NCAA. Many of them were headed for New York's Madison Square Garden, where the NIT had ambitiously accumulated a shiny field of 12 good teams for its postseason show. Bradley (24-2), which finished a mere gasp behind Cincinnati in the Missouri Valley, was given top seeding, followed by Skyline runner-up Utah State (22-4), St. Louis (18-7) and defending champion St. John's (17-7). However, the favorites could expect serious competition from Temple (17-8), Providence (21-4), St. Bonaventure (19-3), Villanova (19-5), Holy Cross (20-5), Dayton (20-6), Detroit (20-6) and Memphis State (18-4).
The small colleges, too, were making a pitch for fame and glory. Evansville (Ind.), last year's champion, St. Michael's (Vt.), Kentucky Wesleyan, American U., Wheaton, Chapman, Cornell (Iowa) and Northeast Missouri survived district playoffs and prepared to fight it out for the NCAA college-division title at Evansville. Things were even more hectic in Kansas City, where 32 teams, including three-time winner Tennessee A & I, were diligently engaged in eliminating each other on the way to Saturday's NAIA final.
Trounced five times by North Carolina and Wake Forest and no better than fourth in the regular-season standings, Duke suddenly came alive in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at Raleigh and upset its most persistent tormentors on successive nights to win the title and an NCAA berth.
After beating South Carolina 82-69, the running Blue Devils wrapped up North Carolina in a 1-3-1 hawking zone defense and edged the unsuspecting Tar Heels 71-69. Next night, Wake Forest, which had reached the final by routing Clemson 74-59 and outfighting North Carolina State 71-66, tried to crash the zone and was moderately effective as long as big Len Chappell was hitting with his favorite jumpers and picking off rebounds. But Duke cleverly dropped back defensive swingman Jack Mullen to clog the middle, and shut off Chappell with five points in the second half. Offensively, Doug Kistler pressured the desperate Deacons with his outside shooting (for 22 points), and John Frye calmly dropped in four foul shots in the final minute to give the hustling Blue Devils a 63-59 victory and 32-year-old Vic Bubas a championship in his first year as a head coach.
Kentucky ended its season by whipping Pitt 73-66. Any other coach but Adolph Rupp would have been satisfied with an 18-7 record, but The Baron, audibly piqued because Kentucky wasn't tournament-bound for the first time in seven years, took occasion to blame his troubles on 1) the school band, which stopped tooting for the Wildcats after midyear exams left most of its members on probation; 2) student fans, who were absent in droves for the final game; 3) the lack of a more intensive recruiting program.
However, the Bluegrass State did have one representative in the NCAA showdown. Western Kentucky beat East Tennessee 83-69 for the Ohio Valley crown. The top three:
1. WEST VIRGINIA (24-4)
2. AUBURN (19-3)
3. GEORGIA TECH (21-5)
It was like old times in New York's Madison Square Garden as 15,373 hardy souls braved a severe March snowstorm to watch poised NYU smother St. John's with an old-fashioned, clinging man-to-man defense and beat the Redmen 74-67. Although NYU's Tom (Satch) Sanders, an agile pivotman with all the elegant moves of a Globetrotter, spun around befuddled Leroy Ellis for 26 points, the hero's laurels were reserved for shy Al Barden, who held St. John's Tony Jackson to five field goals.
Princeton, only a faint threat for the championship in early February, clawed Columbia 90-59 and Cornell 83-73 to lead Dartmouth home in the Ivy League. In the Yankee Conference Maine faltered twice against Massachusetts and lost 73-60, 79-71, leaving the path clear for Connecticut, which beat Rhode Island 95-79, to win its 10th straight title. St. Joseph's defeated Lafayette 78-66 to finish on top in the Mid-Atlantic. The top three:
1. NYU (19-3)
2. ST. JOHN'S (17-7)
3. ST. BONAVENTURE (19-3)
Ohio State's bubble burst, but it took a good Indiana team to force the issue. Equipped with the zone defense which Coach Branch McCracken finds so abhorrent—and so effective—the quick Hoosiers successfully muffled the Buckeye shooters while lanky, 6-foot 10½-inch Walt Bellamy matched State's Jerry Lucas off the boards, almost equaled him in points (24 to Lucas' 27); Indiana won 99-83, to hand the new champions their only Big Ten loss. Then the second-place Hoosiers subdued Michigan State 86-80 to stretch their winning streak to 13, and Ohio State squiggled by Minnesota 75-66. Purdue lost to Wisconsin 89-80, but brilliant sophomore Terry Dischinger scored 32 points, took the Big Ten scoring title with 384.
Kansas State, making the most of Mike Wroblewski's inside scoring punch, struggled past Oklahoma State 74-65 and Nebraska 83-74 to clinch a Big Eight tie. The Wildcats faced the prospect of sharing the title with Kansas. The Jayhawkers pushed back Oklahoma 65-52, needed a win over Nebraska Monday night to equal K-State's 10-4 conference record.
Cincinnati stood all alone at the top of the Missouri Valley after clobbering Tulsa 110-64 and Drake 71-56. Bradley, finding it more difficult to win these days, held off Wichita 85-80 and St. Louis 81-71. The top three:
1. CINCINNATI (24-1)
2. OHIO STATE (21-3)
3. BRADLEY (24-2)
Helped along by Texas Tech, which surprisingly eliminated SMU 71-69, improved Texas completed its amazing vault from bottom to top in the Southwest Conference by bowling over last-place Rice 86-62, before losing to TCU 81-73. Behind the Longhorns' sudden success was a first-class coaching job by Harold Bradley, who left talent-loaded Duke to accept the challenge at Texas. Bradley prodded phlegmatic 6-foot 8-inch Albert Almanza into an adept re-bounder and scorer, built a harassing man-to-man defense around Jay Arnette and Donnie Lasiter and was rewarded with a championship in his first year.
With the race settled, Texas A&M recovered from a severe late-season case of the stumbles to beat TCU 64-56 and Baylor 77-63, tied SMU, a 93-82 winner over Arkansas, for second place.
New Mexico State's Border champions swept past Arizona 76-46, finished a full game ahead of Arizona State and West Texas State. The top three:
1. TEXAS (18-6)
2. TEXAS A&M (19-5)
3. SMU (17-7)
Utah finally nailed down the Skyline title, but not until pesky Colorado State U.'s Chuck Newcomb and Larry Hoffner nearly threw the race into a tie on closing night. The Utes trailed 42-38 at half time and it took a red-hot second half to overcome State 83-73. Runner-up Utah State had just as much trouble with Denver before eventually winning 76-71.
With only 2:20 to go Santa Clara trailed St. Mary's 65-69, and Loyola, which beat Pepperdine 76-60 earlier in the week, had one nervous hand on the West Coast championship. However, Santa Clara's Ron McGee and Jim Russi took charge, pulled the Broncs to a 67-66 victory and a first-place tie with Loyola.
California took the news that Coach Pete Newell would retire to the athletic director's office next July (his replacement: Assistant Coach Rene Herrerias) calmly, then trimmed Stanford 51-42, 70-51, looked ahead to the NCAA. USC beat UCLA 91-71, lost to the Bruins 72-70, but was picked for the NCAA; Oregon got the same reward after splitting a pair with Oregon State, 45-53 and 67-63. The top three:
1. CALIFORNIA (24-1)
2. UTAH (24-2)
3. UTAH STATE (22-4)