The annual scurrying for postseason tournament invitations was almost over. The NCAA, with a lock on the major conference champions, already had signed up Arizona State (Border), Bowling Green (Mid-American), Western Kentucky (Ohio Valley) and independents NYU (15-3), Oregon State (18-4), Creighton (17-4), Butler (20-5), Air Force (15-5), Villanova (17-6), Memphis State (15-6), Seattle (16-8) and Detroit (15-8). Ohio State (Big Ten), UCLA (Big Five) and Yale (Ivy) were almost certain to make it, but the situation was still unsettled in the Atlantic Coast and Southern (where championship tournaments begin Thursday), the Southeastern, Missouri Valley, Big Eight, Yankee, Mid-Atlantic, Southwestern, Skyline and West Coast.
Meanwhile, New York's National Invitation Tournament was busy lining up an impressive field of independents. Loyola of Chicago (18-2), St. John's (16-4), Houston (21-5), Duquesne (18-5), Providence (18-5), Dayton (17-6), Navy (13-7) and Missouri Valley's Wichita (17-7) were already in, and three spots were reserved for runners-up in the Missouri Valley (Bradley or Cincinnati), Skyline (Colorado State U. or Utah State) and Mid-Atlantic (St. Joseph's or Temple). Other NIT possibilities: Holy Cross (17-4), Niagara (13-8), Boston College (14-5).
Most years the formula is simple in the SEC. The team that beats Kentucky usually wins the championship and a place in the NCAA tournament—except when that team is Mississippi State. When the Bulldogs win, they have to beg off because state policy does not permit them to compete in integrated competition. Last week, after victories over Georgia 83-74 and LSU 58-48 and with only Tulane and Mississippi ahead, Mississippi State appeared likely to finish first for the third time in the last four years and, if this happens, will elect to stay at home again. However, old Adolph Rupp was ready and eager to take his Kentucky team into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats, who were heading for a showdown Monday with third-place Auburn, stumbled a little but still beat Vanderbilt 87-80 and Alabama 73-65 as Cotton Nash scored 68 points. Meanwhile, Auburn, relying on a fast break almost as much as its accustomed shuffle, got by Tulane 81-64 and Tennessee 60-51.
Wake Forest, which flip-flopped around in the ACC until big Len Chappell hit his Stride, polished off North Carolina State 69-62 and South Carolina 97-85 to finish a full game ahead of Duke in the regular-season standings. N.C. State gave the Deacons some uncomfortable moments, but only until Chappell tore up the Wolfpack's three-man inside zone in the second half. Chappell was even more devastating against South Carolina as he powered his way through the Gamecocks for 45 points. But now Chappell and Wake will have to do it all over again in the championship tournament at Raleigh.
Southern Conference leader West Virginia also was faced with the prospect of battling through a risky tournament at Richmond. With backcourt stars Rod Thorn and Jim McCormick healthy again, the free-running Mountaineers raced past independent Penn State 79-60 and Furman 101-86, but they can expect sterner competition from streaking Virginia Tech, which trounced George Washington 91-75 for its eighth straight. It was all over in the Ohio Valley, where Western Kentucky trounced Morehead 77-51 to clinch the title. The top three:
1. MISSISSIPPI STATE (22-1)
2. KENTUCKY (19-2)
3. DUKE (19-4)
For weeks Cincinnati's Ed Jucker had been brooding over his team's only two losses, to Bradley and Wichita. Last week, he got even with both at Cincinnati. Without 6-foot-8 Joe Strawder to man the middle, Bradley had to give the job to Chet Walker, and he spent most of the night trying to elude the Bearcats' collapsing defense. Cincy sophomores Ron Bonham and George Wilson fired away for 36 points from inside, Tony Yates shot over the scattered Braves for 14 more from outside and the Bearcats won easily, 72-57. Five nights later, Cincinnati trounced Wichita 84-63 to clinch a tie for the Missouri Valley title. Now Cincy can win it all if St. Louis beats Bradley Saturday. Ohio State's Fred Taylor was more annoyed than worried when OSU recently showed signs of wear and tear. Last Saturday, however, the Buckeyes were their old impeccable selves. John Havlicek was bombing again (for 19 points), and State ran over Illinois 102-79. "We haven't burned any baskets the last couple of games," confessed Taylor, "but I think we got the juice back in the offense now." This 26th straight Big Ten win shook everybody but obstinate Wisconsin off OSU's heels. The second-place Badgers stayed alive by edging Illinois 103-101 and Northwestern 65-64.
Colorado and Kansas State displayed their assets as they headed for their definitive Big Eight game at Manhattan Saturday. Colorado's big front line carried the Buffs past Iowa State 74-69; K-State overwhelmed Oklahoma with its bench strength and won 89-57. The top three:
1. OHIO STATE (21-0)
2. CINCINNATI (23-2)
3. KANSAS STATE (19-2)
While tournament selectees sharpened their games, the "little fellows" in the East were getting in their last licks. Despite an 84-80 loss to NYU in New York, Holy Cross was still pushing hard for an NIT bid. Jack Foley, a slim 6-foot-5 jump shooter, fired in 39 points against Boston U. with excellent results. He became the first Crusader to score 2,000 points, raised his average to 33.5 and Holy Cross won 97-66. Army held Navy scoreless for the last five minutes while it ran off 10 straight points, the last two by sub Bob Loupe with 13 seconds to go, and the Cadets upset the Middies 47-46.
Yale, after surviving a couple of squeakers with Cornell (48-47) and Columbia (65-60 in overtime), was on the verge of winning its first Ivy League title since 1957. Lafayette, St. Joseph's and Temple were all in the running in the Mid-Atlantic while Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut had a chance in the Yankee. The top three:
1. ST. JOHN'S (16-4)
2. VILLANOVA (17-6)
3. NYU (15-3)
It was still anybody's race in the SWC—SMU and Texas Tech were tied for first and Texas A&M was a game behind—but the best bet was SMU. The frisky Mustangs refused to panic even when Texas went ahead seven times at Austin. Instead, they plopped in 22 straight fouls, got the ball in to lumbering Jan Loudermilk often enough for him to score 21 points and put down the Longhorns 69-64. Against TCU, Loudermilk rolled off the pivot for seven field goals, added 22 on foul shots and SMU won 96-86.
But some of the biggest noise in Texas was made at Houston, where the tough-defending Cougars harassed USC's John Rudometkin with a man-to-man, wrapped the other Trojans in their stifling zone press and won twice, 56-51 and 76-68. The top three:
1. ARIZONA STATE (21-3)
2. HOUSTON (21-5)
3. SMU (16-6)
It was quite a week for Utah and fancy-shooting Billy McGill. First, the Redskins pushed pretender Utah State aside 78-76 to secure their hold on the Skyline Conference lead, then McGill shot Brigham Young popeyed. When the frantic Cougars jammed the post, McGill sashayed outside and sank long one-handers; when they moved after him he slithered in and out, dropping in hooks, dunkers and even backhanders until he had 60 points and Utah a 106-101 victory.
UCLA proved to be as adaptable as it is adept. The Bruins beat California at its own pattern game, 68-62, then matched Stanford shot for shot until the Indians wilted and fell 75-65. "UCLA's too good," declared Stanford's Howie Dallmar. "We defensed them real well, cut off their patterns and still they shot us down."
In the West Coast AC, Pepperdine was behaving like an eventual winner. The Waves beat St. Mary's 77-51 to move 1½ games ahead of the Gaels. Up north, Seattle ran over Washington State 98-74, but Oregon State split a pair with Idaho, losing 52-51 and winning 65-50 (see page 66). The top three:
1. UTAH (21-3)
2. OREGON STATE (18-4)
3. UCLA (14-8)