There is much deep thinking just now about which team will not win the NCAA basketball championship. Defending champion Loyola will not, of course, because it does not have Jerry Harkness and has proved it can lose without him. Texas Western will not, because it has Jim (Bad News) Barnes—no one else, just Bad News Barnes. UCLA will not, because only two teams in history have ever gone undefeated up to and through the tournament. (The odds against UCLA, therefore, are just enough to make a fool part with his money.) Michigan will not, because it has only one starting senior (inexperience is next to uncleanliness and ungodliness as a troublemaker). Kentucky and Duke will not, because they have only white boys on their teams, and every coach knows you need a Negro or two to achieve socio-athletic excellence and keep the pickets away.
In this definitely indefinite state, with many fine teams and no monoliths like the Cincinnati and Ohio State championship teams of recent years, the NCAA began regional playoffs this week. But if there was doubt that any entrant could make it all the way to the finals in Kansas City on March 21, there was also the excitement of the alternative: almost any entrant could.
And any entrant with half a nickel's chance was claiming that chance, or taking no chances. Wichita players who had bragged how they were going to walk right through the NIT just before they got bombed out in the first round last year, stopped talking altogether. Duke, less fatalistic, revved up for its Atlantic Coast Conference championship games—the Blue Devils won them all with breathtaking ease—by playing the pop favorite, "Going to Kansas City," nonstop at a blaring pitch in their locker room. Oregon State Coach Slats Gill firmly declined a newspaper's proposal to do a series on his career—"It might jinx us"—and slipped off to Los Angeles to get a bead on likely opponent UCLA, practically bumping clipboards with Seattle Coach Bob Boyd, who was there doing the same thing. Nell Wooden, wife of the UCLA coach, had the perfect antidote for sneak bite—two lucky acorns tucked permanently in her purse. Kansas State Coach Tex Winter, meanwhile, revealed that he had worn his lucky brown suit through nine straight victories and would not change now even if Kansas State got to the finals and found Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp was there in his lucky brown suit. It is an interesting prospect, but an awful lot to ask of brown.
In the final weeks of the season, no one was quite sure which team to worry about. Under Coach John Wooden's gentle care and with Guard Walt Hazzard's glittering craft, UCLA had beaten everything in sight, but the view is limited on the West Coast, where competition is not the keenest. Loyola came strong after a slump. Michigan experienced a dulling at the finish. San Francisco looked third-rate, losing four of its first eight games, then won 18 in a row and gave Coach Pete Peletta a first-rate ulcer. "This team," said Peletta, "is frustrating." At Lexington, Coach Rupp, uneasy in his living-room easy chair, leaned forward to ask of a traveling man: "Tell me the truth. How do we stack up against Michigan and UCLA and those people? Don't be afraid to hurt my feelings."
An unoptimistic appraisal might not hurt Baron Rupp's feelings nearly as much as the pairings hurt his chances for a fifth national championship. Kentucky is bracketed in the Mideast Regionals in Minneapolis—the one with Michigan and Loyola. Winning in Kansas City will be no greater achievement than surviving in Minneapolis. Defending champion Loyola, for example, might easily have this kind of defending to do: beat Michigan and Kentucky in Minneapolis, then beat Duke and UCLA in Kansas City. The soft spot in a schedule like that would appear to be in the head of the man who thinks he could complete it, but Loyola Coach George (The Man) Ireland is indomitable. Loyola's chances are not as good as last year, however, because Loyola is not, because no team will take the Ramblers for granted, and because beating Michigan, Kentucky, Duke and UCLA in succession is impossible. The Ramblers have gotten over the graduation of Jerry Harkness and there are no better leftovers in the game than Jack Egan, Ron Miller, Vic Rouse and Les Hunter. They win on speed and quick hands and what Ireland calls a "love affair with the basket," but they are not so sharp defensively—they have had to abandon the full-court press—and they miss Harkness' abilities on offense.
Ireland has been trying to get Michigan to come play in Chicago for 13 years. Now he must play Michigan in Minneapolis, and in those other 12 years Michigan would never have come out looking like the Green Bay Packers. In admiration of the new image, Michigan Coach Dave Strack says, "We used to dress up in our blazers on a trip and people thought we were the Michigan glee club. Now at least we look like a basketball team." Michigan looks like a winner, too, with its size and unequaled power. It has the deadliest one-two punch in college basketball in Jazzy Cazzie Russell and Center Bill Buntin. It has also played much of the season with a peculiar detachment, as though it were only looking ahead to the day it could get back at UCLA for the 18-point drubbing it took in Los Angeles last December. Michigan does not have a weakness worth calling a quorum about. But Captain Bob Cantrell, at 5 feet 10 the only normal-size man on the team, is the only starting senior. Sophomore Russell has, in his exuberance, been known to make a mistake or two. And the scoring, after Russell's 24.6 point average and Buntin's 23.8, drops abruptly to Oliver Darden, 10.1, and Larry Tregoning, 9.5. The more obvious facts are these, however: Buntin and Darden are 6 feet 7, Tregoning and Russell are 6 feet 5, and they all play rough.
Both Loyola and Kentucky have more experience and handle the ball better than Michigan. Kentucky Coach Rupp also has the great Cotton Nash and his new fun favorites, the Katzenjammer Kids, Tommy Kron and Larry Conley, plus a workable 1-3-1 zone. But, ominously, Kentucky was done in by a height disadvantage in a late loss to St. Louis. Rupp will not say this is the equal of his 1958 championship team—"you do not compare a horse with a Derby winner"—though he is obviously fond of it. And there is always the possibility, as Adolph would be unwilling to deny, that a Kentucky opponent will get outcoached. ("When you see a man on top of the mountain," says The Baron, "you know he just didn't light there.")
Michigan is the most likely to escape Minneapolis and make the semifinals in Kansas City. There it will probably have to face up to Duke, a team with the same kind of hunger for Michigan that Michigan has for UCLA. Duke was slammed by Michigan 83-67 in December, and Coach Vic Bubas thinks there is more than just three months' improvement in his team since then. "We are good enough," he said last week in a final note of confidence, "to win the national championship." The Blue Devils don't have Art Heyman any more, and Heyman led them to the semifinals last year. But his leaving has served to uninhibit Jeff Mullins, the All-America forward who averages 23.5 points a game, leads the team in rebounds and presides over the senior class. Duke is also playing some real defense this year, and there is no more compelling sight than the biggest Devils of them all on the court at one time: 6-foot-10 Jay Buckley and 6-foot-10 Hack Tison. The Blue Devils average close to 50% from the field, and Buckley, the most improved, leads with 58.1. Bubas says it is there in the three Bs—board strength, balance and a bench. Duke will have three too many in Raleigh for Villanova and wonderful Wally Jones, its only real threat in the regionals.
Wichita must make it through the Midwest Regionals without Ernie Moore, a 17.4 scorer ruled ineligible for the tournament. The Shockers still come on strong, with Dave (The Rave) Stallworth scoring 26.3 a game, and with good size, good speed and a good bit of stick-to-it on defense. But they do not have a bench. Creighton, meanwhile, has 240-pound Paul Silas, the best rebounder in the country; Chuck Officer, who once made a game-tying basket from a kneeling position; and 5-foot-9, 145-pound Charlie Brown, whose uniform hangs on him like a flag. Creighton Coach Red McManus takes his defeats home and then to bed with him, but erratic Creighton will spare him that in the first round, if Brown does not get lost in the folds of his shirt. In Wichita, against Wichita, Creighton will lose.
Texas Western has a fine record (23-2) and Bad News Barnes, who is averaging 30.2 points and 20 rebounds a game. Coach Don Haskins says the "biggest bunch of malarkey" he has ever seen was the omission of Barnes from All-America teams. But Kansas State's Tex Winter will figure out a way to stop Barnes, and then it will be State—a strong finisher—versus Wichita for the right to go to Kansas City. There is much feeling between these two. None of it is tender. Though neighbors, they never play in the regular season (Wichita Coach Ralph Miller says State will not schedule him). In a match of Stallworth vs. K-State's Murrell the edge will be to Stallworth—and Wichita.
UCLA's first regional opponent could be its toughest: Oregon State, provided State beats Seattle. It is Coach Gill's valediction after 36 years at Corvallis. If that isn't sentiment enough to bring a tear and glint to the eyes of the Beavers, there is also the farewell of Center Mel Counts, whom one coach has called "the best seven-footer since Chamberlain." The Beavers, however, are erratic—they routed Idaho with a press and almost lost to Oregon with one. They lost to Cincinnati playing ball control, then demolished Cincinnati with a fast break. Against UCLA, Gill will have the advantage of being at home, at Corvallis. But it will not help against UCLA, which seems to have it all—guards, forwards, character, impetus and acorns. If Oregon State cannot stop the Bruins, San Francisco won't either, not even if Pete Peletta threatens to develop another ulcer.
UCLA Coach Wooden is not given to idle boasts, but there was nothing idle about what he was given to say last week. His is "a great team—a truly great team," he said. The prospect of a rematch with Michigan—in the finals in Kansas City—obviously does not frighten Wooden. Certainly it would delight Strack. If that is to be the dream match, it is, after all, what Kansas City is there for.
KEY FACTS ABOUT 10 OF THE BEST
LOYOLA OF CHICAGO
Independent W 20 L 5
Coach: George Ireland
More casual on defense these days, the defending champions still like to run, with Jack Egan, a deft playmaker, leading the charge. They also set up around 6-foot-7 Les Hunter in the pivot and frequently use a double post. The two-way attack led by Miller, a superb 6-foot-2 leaper and shooter, averages 90.2 points. But the bench is weak and the rebounding too often erratic.
Big Ten W 20 L 4
Coach: Dave Strack
Big, bold and young, Michigan makes mistakes but has the muscle to command the boards and the aggressive swiftness to overpower opponents. Sophomore Guard Russell is the take-charge guy. He passes deftly, shoots long jumpers and even drives the baseline. Six-foot-7 Bill Buntin and Oliver Darden are strong rebounders. A tough Big Ten schedule has been good seasoning.
Big Six W 26 L 0
Coach: Johnny Wooden
Unbeaten and ranked No. 1 most of the season, UCLA has used a simple formula for success. Lacking size up front, the quick Bruins just harass their opponents with a ball-grabbing zone press and run over them with a withering fast break. Hazzard, who passes with the touch of a faro dealer, and Gail Goodrich do the scoring. Some weak rivals may have inspired overconfidence.
Atlantic Coast W 23 L 4
Coach: Vic Bubas
Duke's strength is threefold: domination of the boards, scoring balance and strong bench. Jay Buckley and Hack Tison, both 6 feet 10, and Mullins, only 6 feet 4 but a fine jumper, snap up rebounds voraciously, and all three can score. Mullins averages 23.5 points. The Blue Devils prefer to run but are not disturbed by a slowdown. They defend well, with a pressing man-to-man.
Southeastern W 21 L 4
Coach: Adolph Rupp
Although Rupp has spent most of his coaching life ridiculing the zone defense, he won with it this year. His kind, a scrambling 1-3-1 with fast-handed Tommy Kron at the point and All-America Nash in the middle, has been devastating. Kentucky runs when it can, otherwise prods opponents off balance with split-second screens. But a tall team could bother the Wildcats.
Independent W 25 L 3
Coach: Slats Gill
Because of weak-shooting forwards, State's controlled attack narrows down to Counts, an agile 7-foot inside wheeler-dealer who averages 26.7 points and 16.5 rebounds, and Guards Jim Jarvis and Frank Peters, who shoot from way out. The Beavers excel on defense—they gave up only 58.5 points per game—and lately have used a double-teaming full-court press with their man-to-man.
West Coast W 22 L 4
Coach: Pete Peletta
The Dons like to control the offensive tempo, and the slower the better. On defense they play a pressure game. Johnson, at 6 feet 8, is a good rebounder and accurate shooter, but he has a tendency to pass off when he should shoot. Guards Jim Brovelli and Joe Ellis can move the ball and score, too, but the team too often loses its poise and fails to press an advantage.
Missouri Valley W 22 L 5
Coach: Ralph Miller
Blessed with a tall front line, led by 6-foot-10 Nate Bowman, the Shockers rebound smartly and shoot accurately. They apply early pressure with a full-court zone press that falls back to a 2-3 defense. The offense is basically a fast break, with Stallworth, a quick, hot-shooting forward, the key man. The squad lacks depth, however, is often careless and must start sophomore guards.
Big Eight W 20 L 5
Coach: Tex Winter
The Wildcats, although rarely impressive, make a practice of winning the close ones. Murrell, fast, elusive and a 22.3 shooter, supplies the scoring punch, while 7-foot Roger Suttner, more aggressive now but still no scorer, has toughened up the middle of a 1-3-1 zone. State has two serious weaknesses: it is vulnerable to a good press and does not defend well against a fast break.
Independent W 22 L 3
Coach: Jack Kraft
Without the height to overwhelm anybody, Villanova relics on its "ball" defense—really a zone, except that the man on the ball stays with it until the pass-off—to keep teams away from the basket. The offense, quarterbacked by Jones, a smooth ball handler but reluctant shooter, is based on screens to set up Forward Richie Moore and big man (6 feet 7) Jim Washington.
NCAA Championship Pairings
Raleigh, N.C., March 14
Raleigh. N.C., March 13
Minneapolis, March 14
Minneapolis, March 13
Wichita, Kons., March 14
TEXAS A & M
Wichita, Kans., March 13
Corvallis, Ore., March 14
Corvallis, Ore., March 13