It was all over for most of the nation's major college teams, but for those that had made it to the postseason tournaments it was really just beginning.
The NCAA, after waiting patiently for conference races to be decided, filled out its field with Kentucky (18-8), Loyola (19-6), Utah (21-6), Xavier (17-9), More-head State (18-10), Arizona State (21-5), Seattle (18-7) and Oregon (15-11), and prepared to open its traveling road show in New York, Louisville, Houston and Portland.
The embattled NIT, although shaken by Bradley's totally unexpected decision not to defend its title, regrouped quickly, replaced the reluctant Braves with St. Louis (18-8), and seeded Skyline runner-up Colorado State U. (17-8), Dayton (19-7), Memphis State (20-2) and Niagara (16-4) for the tournament, which begins Thursday in New York's Madison Square Garden. However, the favorites were far from a shoo-in even in the early rounds. They faced serious competition from De-Paul (17-7), Providence (20-5), Detroit (18-8), Army (17-6), Miami (19-6), Temple (19-7), Holy Cross (18-4) and St. Louis.
March 20, 1961
Meanwhile, the small colleges were already involved in their own postseason affairs. Favored Prairie View and Southern Illinois fell, but Austin Peay, Mount St. Mary's (Md.), Williams, Wittenberg, Chicago, Southeast Missouri, South Dakota State and California (at Santa Barbara) survived regional playoffs and moved on to Evansville to fight it out for the NCAA small-college championship. Equally enthusiastic—and no less hopeful—were the 32 NAIA district champions which gathered in Kansas City, where they will spend the next week eliminating each other on the way to Saturday's final.
Kentucky's crusty Adolph Rupp was beaming again. Grumpy and petulant when his Wildcats all but tumbled out of the SEC race back in January, the old Baron had the last chuckle. Last week in a playoff at Knoxville for second place and an NCAA berth, Kentucky smothered Vanderbilt with a tenacious defense while Larry Pursiful and Roger Newman flooded the baskets with eye-catching jumpers and layups, and the Wildcats beat Vandy 88-67 for their 10th in a row. "They buried us," chortled Rupp as he contemplated his 12th NCAA tournament. "We had to come back from the cemetery." Two days later, Kentucky reverted to its early-season mistakes and lost to Marquette 88-72.
The Ohio Valley finally had a champion. Morehead State squeezed past Eastern Kentucky 55-54, overtook Western Kentucky 80-72 in overtime to win a three-way playoff. The top three:
1. NORTH CAROLINA (19-4)
2. DUKE (22-6)
3. KENTUCKY (18-8)
"The best team I ever coached," was Coach Joe Lapchick's appraisal after his St. John's team, rebounding smartly and shooting superbly, outclassed NYU 76-64. Greatly improved Leroy Ellis and smooth Tony Jackson gave the slick Redmen the boards, then fired in 44 points between them to kill off the game Violets. St. Joseph's Jack Ramsay wasn't claiming the same honor for his Hawks, but they were just as impressive as they beat Temple 72-62 for their 13th straight.
Princeton's shiny new Ivy title was slightly tarnished when second-place Penn, suddenly alive and competent after a struggling start, caught the Tigers with their defenses lagging, hit them with the accurate shooting of Sid Amira (23 points) and Bob Mlkvy (21 points) and whipped them soundly, 88-63. Three nights later, Penn surprised Villanova 82-80 on Bob Purdy's two foul shots with three seconds to go. The top three:
1. ST. BONAVENTURE (22-3)
2. ST. JOHN'S (20-4)
3. ST. JOSEPH'S (22-4)
Arizona State, forced into a tie for the Border Conference crown when New Mexico State beat Hardin-Simmons 88-72, took matters into its own hands in a playoff at Tempe. Led by Larry Armstrong's 24 points, the alert Sun Devils whipped the Aggies 86-72 to earn an NCAA spot. The top three:
1. HOUSTON (16-9)
2. TEXAS TECH (14-9)
3. ARIZONA STATE (21-5)
Ohio State, operating with its usual patient, skillful probing, started slowly but soon had Illinois trying hard to hang on. Jerry Lucas, Mel Nowell and other talented Buckeyes ran and shot with their expected efficiency, the Illini crumbled 95-66, and OSU became the first unbeaten Big Ten champion in 42 years.
Perhaps it didn't occur to Missouri—which seemed more intent on beating Kansas for its own satisfaction in a rough-house, brawling battle at Columbia—but when the Tigers upset the Jayhawks 79-76 they clinched the Big Eight title for Kansas State. Later, K-State kept Colorado off balance with a sniping full-court press and overwhelmed the Buffs 82-65. The top three:
1. OHIO STATE (24-0)
2. CINCINNATI (23-3)
3. KANSAS STATE (21-4)
Beaten off the boards, caught up in Colorado State U.'s agonizing slowdown, and trailing 44-33 with 10 minutes to go, Utah seemed a sure loser in the Skyline playoff at Provo. Then Coach Jack Gardner ordered his Redskins into a press. Flashy Guards Joe Morton and Bo Crane harassed the Rams with their ball-stealing, Utah caught up at 51-51, went on to win 55-51 on Billy McGill's dunk and Jim Rhead's two foul shots.
USC, floundering without ailing John Rudometkin (who pulled a muscle while running the 440 in a gym class), lost to California 69-57, barely beat Stanford 54-53. Loyola trounced Pepperdine 82-64 to win the WCAC title. The top three:
1. UTAH (21-6)
2. USC (20-6)
3. LOYOLA (19-6)