The postseason tournament battle lines were being drawn early. The NCAA, demonstrating unusual perspicacity, reached out to pluck the brightest prize among the nation's independents right from under the sensitive nose of the rival National Invitation Tournament. The earliest NCAA at-large invitation in history was immediately snapped up by enterprising St. Bonaventure, best in the East and perhaps the second-best basketball team in the country. If all goes well, the Bonnies hope to get another crack at still-undefeated Ohio State, so far the only team to beat them. Other early tournament selections: St. John's by the NCAA; Memphis State by the NIT.
St. Bonaventure's Ed Donovan is firmly convinced that his team can take anyone. And there are few who would dispute him after the Bonnies' hustling, sniping and tireless defense and quick, opportunistic offense smothered Bradley 75-61 before 15,497 in New York's Madison Square Garden. Bradley had the superior rebounders in Chet Walker and Tim Robinson and the Braves even used their once-fearsome zone press in the second half. But it didn't matter. Slick Whitey Martin and Orrie Jirele, who operate as audaciously as a pair of pickpockets at a bankers' convention, broke the press with lightninglike passes upcourt. And graceful Tom Stith, playing defense casually but offense conscientiously, did the rest, lofting his soft floaters through the hoops for 27 points.
Army, after beating Colgate 90-67 for its ninth straight and longest streak in 16 years, lost to Boston College 86-62. The top three:
1. ST. BONAVENTURE (16-1)
2. ST. JOHN'S (11-4)
3. ST. JOSEPH'S (12-4)
North Carolina's Frank McGuire knew he had to stop Art Heyman, Duke's brilliant sophomore, to win. So he ordered a nose-to-nose, man-to-man defense and assigned Doug Moe, his staunchest defender, to Heyman. But it didn't quite work. While the Blue Devils contained the Tar Heels' York Larese with a 1-3-1 zone, Heyman eventually forced Moe to foul out and scored 36 points before he was ejected for fighting (with nine seconds to go), and Duke won 81-77 to take over the ACC lead. North Carolina fell all the way to third place as rugged Len Chappell led Wake Forest past South Carolina 93-73 and Maryland 78-69. But it wasn't all roses for Wake Forest. Earlier, the Deacons lost to St. Joseph's 72-70 when the Hawks' Vince Kempton lofted in a short push shot in the final seconds.
Mississippi State, thanks to a 77-61 victory over LSU and an unexpected assist from Kentucky, stood alone at the top of the SEC. Kentucky, reduced to a spoiler's role when Georgia Tech's superb Roger Kaiser dropped in a leaping one-hander to give the Wildcats their fourth defeat 62-60, took out its petulance on ambitious Florida. The Wildcats flushed the Gators out of their zone defense, and Florida lost its first league game, 89-68.
West Virginia beat Furman 96-87 and VMI 102-91 to boost its Southern Conference lead, then trimmed North Carolina State 86-78. Unpredictable Virginia Tech trounced The Citadel 116-91, but lethargy set in again and the Gobblers lost to Richmond 81-79. Louisville, startled by Miami 71-69, recovered to beat Tampa 103-74, and Loyola (La.) 75-58. The top three:
1. DUKE (16-1)
2. NORTH CAROLINA (14-3)
3. LOUISVILLE (17-3)
When the season began, Missouri Valley buffs just about conceded the championship to powerful Bradley. Now they aren't so sure. Suddenly defending champion Cincinnati, even without Oscar Robertson, has become the team to beat. Oscar has been succeeded by Tom Thacker, a brilliant 6-foot-2 sophomore who moves swiftly, shoots skillfully, defends well and is equally at home in front court or backcourt. Last week Thacker scored 22 points, including the winning dunker with eight seconds to go, and Cincinnati upset first-place Bradley 73-72. Four days later burly Bob Wiesenhahn scored 25 points, led the Bearcats past Big Ten contender Iowa 77-60 for their 11th straight.
It was still Ohio State against the field, such as it is, in the Big Ten. The competent Buckeyes hardly worked up a sweat beating Wisconsin 100-68 and Michigan 80-58 to run their winning streak to 21, then sat back to await Monday night's game with challenger Indiana. But the Hoosiers were having troubles. Minnesota's collapsing defense successfully choked off feeds to 6-foot-11 Walt Bellamy, held him to 15 points and the Gophers won 66-58. However, Northwestern was unable to thwart the agile Mr. Bellamy. He broke out with 34 points and Indiana beat the Wildcats 90-78.
Kansas State was back in the Big Eight lead, but only barely ahead of Kansas, which contented itself with a 78-52 victory over independent Air Force. K-State slipped past Iowa State 72-70 on Al Peithman's 25-foot jumper, then needed a sharpshooting barrage by Larry Comley and Cedric Price to break through Oklahoma's sagging defenders 71-63. Toledo trounced Ohio U. 95-68 to trim the Bobcats' Mid-American Conference lead to a half game. Notre Dame gave St. John's a typically deafening Irish reception at South Bend, engaged the Redmen in a roughhouse that looked more like the Golden Gloves than a basketball game, and beat them 64-63 when Armand Reo tipped in a rebound with 12 seconds to play. The top three:
1. OHIO STATE (16-0)
2. CINCINNATI (16-3)
3. BRADLEY (14-3)
The changeable Southwest Conference had a new leader. Newcomer Texas Tech, blooming into a surprising contender on the hook shots of 6-foot-9 Harold Hudgens and the left-handed loopers of 5-foot-10 Del Ray Mounts, moved precariously into first place after beating TCU 89-75 and Baylor 65-59. But the Red Raiders needed a helping hand, and they got it from Rice. The talent-poor Owls, who usually succumb to their more affluent SWC neighbors, baffled Texas with the fine shooting of Ollie Shipley and Roger McQueary and knocked the Longhorns out of the lead 63-59. Meanwhile Arkansas and Texas A&M moved up to tie Texas for second place. The Razorbacks beat Baylor 74-58, then used Pat Foster's outside jumpers (for 29 points) and Tommy Boyer's corner set shots (for 21 points) to break the TCU zone and beat the Frogs 88-75; the Aggies got safely past SMU 80-66 when Carroll Broussard eluded the Mustangs' Jan Loudermilk often enough to score 17 points.
Houston, thriving on its new role as an independent, was still winning. The Cougars whipped U. of Pacific 101-66 and Tulsa 88-73. Oklahoma City beat North Texas State easily enough, 88-64, but St. Louis slowed down the Chiefs to a mere trot, held them to 48 shots and won 77-57. The top three:
1. HOUSTON (13-6)
2. TEXAS TECH (10-6)
3. TEXAS (10-6)
The Big Five was no nearer decision, even after USC and UCLA mauled each other in a pair of games at Los Angeles. USC won the first 78-63; UCLA took the second 86-83 (see page 20).
The battle was just as grim in the defense-happy West Coast AC. Loyola beat San Francisco 64-57 and San Jose State 54-45, ball-hawked Santa Clara to near distraction while Eddie Bento and Tom Ryan hogged the boards, and the Lions won 68-58. But challenging St. Mary's, which won three in a row over Humboldt State 57-56, Pepperdine 74-58 and San Diego State 81-58, may yet give Loyola a run for the title. Up north, Oregon was optimistically contemplating an NCAA at-large bid after putting down Oregon State twice, 58-55 on sub Leon Hayes's three foul shots in overtime, and 71-58 as Charlie Warren scored 27 points.
"If we can get a two-point lead with 18 minutes to play," plotted Colorado State U. Coach Jim Williams, "Utah may never see the ball again." As things turned out, the Rams were 11 points behind with 18 minutes to go and they didn't have the ball often enough to hide it. Utah paid attention to defense, Billy McGill and Jim Rhead each flipped in 20 points, and the Redskins won 69-58 to regain the Skyline lead. Then the Utes coasted past Wyoming 83-71 while Montana further deflated the Rams 67-60. The top three:
1. USC (15-3)
2. UCLA (13-4)
3. UTAH (12-5)