THE CHOICE...MOREHEAD STATE
Give any boy in this conference a football and he will wonder how you dribble it with the points on the end. Basketball is the only sport that matters, and schools play it as though nothing else on earth matters, MOREHEAD STATE, one of the dizziest, most dazzling teams in the NCAA tournament last season, has four returning starters. The best is Granville Williams, a peppery little guard from Dwarf, Ky. He epitomizes Coach Bob Laughlin's free-for-all offense, playing as if it is a rule you have to shoot at the basket as soon as you can see it. Since he has Ed Noe (6 feet 8), Norman Pokley (6 feet 9) and John Gibson (6 feet 6) snatching rebounds in the frontcourt, the quickshot strategy makes sense. William Thompson, another 5-foot-11 guard, will be the only new face on a very fast and accurate team whose sole weakness is an indifference to the niceties of defense. Playing nine of its first 10 games at home with its best material ever, Morehead should be a repeat winner in this always close and frantic league.
In his 39 years as a coach, WESTERN KENTUCKY'S Ed Diddle has won 732 games, nearly 100 more than any other active college coach. His present team, led by Bobby Rascoe, the highest scoring guard in the school's history, and 6-foot-7 Harry Todd, who is switching from forward to center, will add considerably to the Diddle victory total. Bobby Jackson, 6 feet 3, is back at forward along with Jim Dunn. A sophomore, 6-foot-3 Darel Carrier, joins Rascoe to give the Hilltoppers one of the biggest backcourts around. But replacing two starters has left Coach Diddle with a weak bench, and the switch of Todd to center is a risky move that must succeed.
Eastern Kentucky was the third team, along with Morehead and Western, to finish in the three-way tie for first last season, and Coach Paul McBrayer should have cashed in when he could. A starting guard and forward, Larry Parks and Ray Gardner, return, but there is hardly another man with playing time on this squad, which lost eight men. Rupert Stephens, a guard who was red-shirted, is being asked to run the fast-break offense, and an eager junior, 6-foot-7 Ronald Pickett, must develop as the center. The Maroons haven't lost at home in 34 games. It appears that they are about to.
Tennessee Tech Coach Johnny Oldham had a team with a 6-and-13 record last year that couldn't hit its hat. Now he doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, for the whole first string is back again. Guards Tom Rychener and Don Gorin will direct the give-and-go offense that makes use of the team's good ball handling and the post work of Center Rich Papes. Experience is a big plus. Tech will be surprisingly tough if its shooting improves and dismal again if it doesn't.
With a season of play behind him, Center Bennett Jent (6 feet 7) now qualifies as the able big man MIDDLE TENNESSEE has needed for several years. Three other starters, including Guards Paul Holland and Dwain Jones, are among those available on a squad that lost only three members. A rugged sophomore, 6-foot-4 Ken Peek, will add front-line height, but rebounding will still be weak.
Speed must counteract inexperience at MURRAY STATE where the first five graduated. Coach Cal Luther is teaching his rotating double post offense ("slip and roll," he calls it) to a quartet of starting sophomores, including 6-foot-7 Stan Walker and 6-foot-6 Jim Jennings, a schoolboy sensation from Dayton who transferred to Murray after leaving the University of Louisville. Guard Ron Greene, who played a little last year, is the only experienced man available to team with all those sophs.
The graduation of flashy Tom Chilton, whose 32.1 scoring average was second in the country last season, has left EAST TENNESSEE with a major offensive hole to fill. Six-foot-six Adrian Coulter and a raft of talent up from a good freshman team will help. With a 1-and-11 conference record last year, the Buccaneers surely won't be any worse.
*Won playoff for NCAA Tournament berth