The Duke basketball team went to College Park, Md. for the East regionals of the NCAA tournament last weekend in a big blue bus wrapped like Wonder Bread in the banner: "Handle with Care. Precious Cargo Aboard. Next NCAA Champions." What's more, the confidence of the Blue Devils went much deeper than the epidermis of their bus. "Jeff Mullins [a forward] has been going around for weeks like he had a sign on his chest: 'I'm going to Louisville!' " said Coach Vic Bubas. "And he's the serious type." Bubas himself was unequivocal. "I'm convinced," he said. "I don't doubt we'll be there."
By late Saturday night it was official: confident Duke was off to Louisville for the climax of the national championship tournament, and so were the winners of the other three NCAA regional titles—Loyola of Chicago, which can match Duke chest thump for chest thump in any comparative contest, Oregon State, a competitive blushing violet that has left a lot of shocked opponents to do the blushing and. finally, Cincinnati, Ed Jucker's team of champions that is going for a third straight national title.
It should be good theater when the four meet at Louisville's Freedom Hall, for great contrasts in basketball styles are involved. Duke and Loyola, considered with Cincinnati as the best college teams in the country, are matched in the first semifinal Friday night, and they bring racehorse basketball to the horse race country. Whichever survives, it will provide the antithesis to Cincy's easy-does-it way of playing the game, a system described by one coach as "boring you to death"—this assumes, of course, that the ever-winning Bearcats get that far.
There are no believers far outside of Corvallis, Ore. in Oregon State's chances against Cincinnati in the other semifinal, but it will be remembered (mostly in Corvallis) that Cincinnati itself was given short shrift two years ago before it knocked off Ohio State in the finals. In any case, the delicious prospect of Cincinnati trying to choke off the speed of either Duke or Loyola in the Saturday night final has surely entered the minds of the 18,000 lucky ticket holders.
Cincinnati is the type of basketball team that takes, as if by slow surgery, the joy of life from its opponents. The mere prospect of playing the Bearcats is often more painful than the experience itself. When his team arrived in Lawrence, Kans. last week for the Midwest regionals, Colorado Coach Sox Walseth said, "We're happy to be here. But we were happier before we got here." After the Buffaloes beat Oklahoma City University 78-72 on Friday, Walseth, who does not look on coaching as an arcane art, told assembled writers: "I don't have many ideas on how to play Cincinnati tomorrow, but if I don't come up with some I might as well spend tomorrow night playing handball. Any of you got any ideas?"
Cincinnati, meanwhile, had worried down Texas 73-68 after falling behind eight points in the first half, and if the showing was short of invincibility it was at least convincing enough for Bearcat fans quartered at the Hotel President in Kansas City. Colorado didn't worry them a bit. What did worry them were hotel reservations and ticket requirements for Louisville and say, honey, will you be there for our big victory celebration? A dress-shop owner was frantic. He needed two tickets for the Louisville final for his daughter, who was getting married March 22. "She hasn't missed seeing Cincinnati win the national title yet," he said. "If she can't see it this time, too, it'll spoil her honeymoon."
Walseth, unassisted by the idea-less press, didn't sleep much that night, but neither, as a matter of fact, did Cincinnati Coach Jucker. "In tournament play," he fretted, "anything can happen. And there's never a second chance."
In both 1961 and 1962 Jucker had been convinced that his team was entering tournament play at its seasonal peak. This year he frankly wasn't sure. He feared the Bearcats had become flat. "We can't take anything for granted," he said as he tightened the knot in his lucky red-and-black tie, that tattered old atrocity that has been hanging around his neck like a pennant for three years. "I'm ashamed of it," he said of the tie, "but as long as we keep winning I hate to change anything."
Colorado started auspiciously. It let Tony Yates and Larry Shingleton, Cincy's outside men, shoot, while keeping Center George Wilson and hot-hand Ron Bonham away from the basket. Yates hit only two of 10 shots in the first half, and with their own Eric Lee darting in for layups and Ken Charlton arching in soft hook shots, Colorado sped to a 21-12 lead. Charlton was courageous; he had scored 25 points the night before against OCU and at midnight Friday his ailing knee was drained. Walseth said the operation was so gruesome he couldn't stand to watch it. When Charlton left the Cincy game briefly, Cincinnati followers gave him a standing ovation.
But as has become their custom in this season of many close scrapes, the Bearcats found themselves a turning point. They began putting the pressure on the Colorado feeder rather than the ball receiver. Wilson, who was getting whipped soundly under the boards, began asserting himself. By half time the Colorado lead was cut to one point.
Charlton, who wound up with 23 points, and George Parsons got two quick goals to start the second half. But then Wilson, the only Bearcat who seems to play with emotion, combined with Bonham for 12 consecutive points and Cincinnati was ahead for good. The final score was 67-60. Coach Jucker was pleased—but not wildly. Last season Cincy had breezed through the Midwest regional. This time the going had been stormy—a possible portent of trouble ahead.
Unlike Cincinnati, with its frigid aplomb, Duke's Blue Devils have faith in pandemonium. They are children of the age, bred, as it were, to noise and action. Hence, the Bubas fast break. The day before the first game at College Park and his much anticipated showdown with NYU's Barry Kramer, Duke's great All-America, Art Heyman, came to Bubas and demanded a team scrimmage. "We need it, Coach, to relieve the tension," he said. So Bubas let them scrimmage. The night of their game with NYU, a phonograph played South Street—rock 'n' roll at its thundering best—at high volume in the Duke dressing room at the University of Maryland's beautiful (and sold-out) field house. Ah, this was their cup of tedium. The Blue Devils were relaxed.
The Heyman-Kramer duel never really materialized. The game more or less was Kramer vs. the field, and Duke's superior numbers won out. The coolly effective Mullins (Mr. Secretary of State, Bubas calls him) was the Duke sharpshooter, often from as far out as 25 feet. He scored 25. Heyman was off. He missed 15 of 21 shots, but his value is not measured in points alone. He continually led the Duke charge downcourt, his passes were superb and, with Center Jay Buckley, he controlled the backboards. Meanwhile, Guards Fred Schmidt and Ron Herbster hit eight out of eight between them at one point. Duke eventually squandered much of an 18-point lead but won, 81-76.
St. Joseph's was Duke's Saturday opponent. The Hawks earned the right by being accurate like no team has the right to be accurate in their game with West Virginia. They hit 24 of their first 35 shots and won 97-88.
"Against NYU," said Bubas. "we had to get the rebounds. Against St. Joe we'll have to get the good shots, not play helter-skelter basketball. St. Joe's is too smart. Coach [Jack] Ramsay does a terrific job." Even Ramsay couldn't coax another four-star run of marksmanship out of the Hawks, however, and though they were ahead early by 10-1, it was just a matter of time. Not many teams in the country can shoot with Duke, and not any of them have Bubas' bench strength. St. Joe's contended until only five minutes remained, then Duke pulled away to win 73-59. Heyman again was off—3 of 14 shots from the field—so pick-'em-up Mullins scored 24 and Schmidt 20. "And how much of their defense does Heyman suck up?" said Bubas afterward. "He goes in the middle, then passes to the guy wide open. There is no way to measure Hey-man's job there: no statistic."
Someone then mentioned Loyola. Said Bubas, "I make a prediction: that will be a basketball track meet."
At East Lansing, Mich. Loyola had a track meet of its own in the Midwest finals. It is possible, barely possible, that some team somewhere has played more disorganized basketball than Illinois did on Saturday night, but it would be hard to prove it to the 9,000 in Michigan State's field house. Illinois walked with the ball, palmed the ball and once even kicked the ball, a list of sins that totaled over 20.
Illinois had won the tap and immediately set the pattern by taking a quick, poorly aimed shot. There were times thereafter when as much as 10 seconds would go by without a shot being taken, but no longer. The strategies were simple: Loyola tried to get the ball to All-America Jerry Harkness for a shot. Illinois tried to get the ball to Dave Downey for a shot. Harkness is a better shot. He scored 33, Downey scored 20, and Loyola gleefully raced its way to a 79-64 win. After the game, Coach Harry Combes of Illinois sent his regrets to the waiting press and went into hiding.
Literally out of hiding to play Loyola the night before had come Mississippi State, the team that saddened the hearts of segregationists everywhere by agreeing—eagerly—to participate in a tournament open to Negroes. On the eve of his team's departure from Starkville, Coach Babe McCarthy got word that a sheriff was out with a court order that could keep the team in Mississippi. Like Little Eva skipping across the ice ahead of the bloodhounds, McCarthy skipped into Tennessee. University President Dr. D. W. Colvard vanished, too. Early Thursday morning an assistant coach verified that the coast was clear at the airport, hustled the team into a plane and away it flew on a modern underground railroad in reverse.
What effect the intrigue and the previous weeks of anguish had on the Maroons' performance is hard to assess, but before the game Babe McCarthy was in high spirits. "I'm happy my boys could come, just to see a team like Loyola play," he said. Loyola Coach George Ireland wasn't overwhelmed by the compliment. He said he knew nothing about State either. His scouts had been watching Georgia Tech on the assumption State couldn't escape Starkville.
The pregame drama was not consistent with the game itself, which tailed off in excitement after the opening minutes. The two captains, Loyola's Harkness, one of four Negroes on the starting team, and State's Joe Dan Gold, shook hands as a battery of photographers recorded the moment. A bruising, but exceptionally clean, game followed. The Maroons, in their methodical way, took a 7-0 lead. Loyola, a team that had averaged 94 points a game, was scoreless after nearly six minutes. The sound of cowbells, stamped with Confederate flags and wielded by a knot of State students who had driven north for the tournament, filled the field house. Then Loyola began to hit and, more important, tightened its defense. It pulled ahead 26-19 by the half and won convincingly, 61-51.
"They showed they're good boys," said George Ireland after the game. "Just like ours."
The West regional of the NCAA was played in the Brigham Young field house in Provo, Utah, where on Friday night 9,704 people watched Arizona State pulverize UCLA 93-79. Not a man jack there would have given a cup of warm milk for Oregon State's chances on Saturday. The question was not whether the Sun Devils would beat OSU, but would they beat Cincinnati in Louisville? Oregon State Coach Slats Gill had permitted his Beavers to see the first half of the UCLA-Arizona State game following their 65-61 opening-round victory over San Francisco. "I don't usually allow it," he told his team, "but I'm delighted the way you played." The Beavers sat through the first half, open-mouthed at ASU's awesome show of power. Slats, abashed, bade them goodnight and sent them to their motel. Said Terry Baker, the All-America football quarterback and the basketball team's quarterback, too, "I was scared. They looked awful tough."
Gill stayed on for the lopsided finish and drew this conclusion: no team could be that good two nights in a row. Arizona State wasn't. The next night, 7-foot Mel Counts controlled the tip for Oregon State, Forward Steve Pauly dribbled to the corner and popped in a field goal. The Beavers were ahead 2-0, a lead they were never to lose. Counts headquartered near the key and Pauly stayed in the right corner while Playmaker Baker consistently picked them out with his neat passes. Pauly, meanwhile, put a clamper on Arizona State's 6-foot-6 Joe Caldwell. Oregon State's lead crept out to eight points, 10, 12, then 16. Finally it was apparent: there would be no Arizona State explosion. It had been spent the night before. Never really pressed, Oregon State won by the hardly believable score of 83-65.
What chance does this give Oregon State against Cincinnati? Not a good one, really. No team can figure on Cincinnati having an off night offensively because you can barely tell when the Cincinnati offense is "on" anyway. It is defense the Bearcats play, and though Texas gave them heartburn and Colorado made them hustle, they should handle Oregon State, Baker notwithstanding. A Saturday night championship game between Cincinnati and Duke would match the best two teams in the country and is (like last year's Cincinnati-Ohio State final) the classic pairing of Defense vs. Offense. However, Loyola, for all its undisciplined, madcap ways, has looked hatter than anybody in the regionals, and should it make the finals it would provide a Defense vs. Offense pairing, too. Either way, a couple of gunners are loose in Louisville, and Cincy is their target.