For the first time in several years, there was no clear favorite for the NCAA tournament. Defending Champion Loyola of Chicago, on the rise lately, was hopeful of getting to Kansas City for the semifinals, but Duke, Michigan, Wichita and UCLA had the best chance to make it (see page 20).
The NIT, meanwhile, had a showy field of its own for the tournament that begins Thursday in New York's Madison Square Garden. The class is DePaul (21-3), seeded No. 1, followed by Bradley (20-6), Duquesne (16-6) and Western AC Co-champion New Mexico (21-5). The first-round pairings: Thursday—Miami (20-6) vs. St. Joseph's (17-9) and NYU (15-8) vs. Syracuse (17-7); Saturday afternoon—Army (16-6) vs. St. Bonaventure (16-7) and Drake (20-6) vs. Pitt (17-7).
The small colleges, too, were ready for their post-season exercises. Thirty-two teams converged on Kansas City for the six days that will decide the NAIA title, while the NCAA college division, down to eight teams after a series of regional playoffs, prepared to settle its championship in Evansville, Ind. The survivors: Evansville (23-3), Hofstra (23-5), Adelphi (18-5), Akron (21-6), North Carolina A&T (21-6), Southeast Missouri (20-5), State College of Iowa (22-2) and Cal Poly of Pomona (23-5).
THE TOP THREE:
1. VILLANOVA (22-3)
2. PROVIDENCE (20-5)
3. DUQUESNE (16-6)
NYU's wildly erratic Violets again were upset, this time by little RIDER 66-63, their first loss in 13 years (and 58 games) at their cozy Alumni gym. Then they barely beat Ford-ham 74-69. But it was ST. JOHN'S, a young team on the way up, that really wounded NYU's pride. The Redmen went at the Violets with an aggressive defense and a patient offense, and trounced them 71-51. "We're the best team in town," crowed Coach Joe Lapchick. It was an honest claim, too.
Two other NIT teams, St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph's, lost, CANISIUS shocked the Bonnies 87-74 and St. Joe's fell to DAYTON 78-74. But DUQUESNE and SYRACUSE won.
NCAA teams had better luck, PRINCETON beat Penn 76-66 for the Ivy title while PROVIDENCE whipped Utah State 85-75 and Brown 72-67. VILLANOVA routed Seton Hall 109-73, but Seton's Nick Werkman, the country's leading scorer last year, got 37 points and 70 in two wins over Upsala and Rider, and was second with a 33.5 average.
THE TOP THREE:
1. DUKE (23-4)
2. KENTUCKY (21-4)
3. DAVIDSON (22-4)
To run or not to run, that was the question that worried Wake Forest's Bones McKinney before his team faced DUKE in the Atlantic Coast tournament final at Raleigh, N.C. He decided to run. So Jeff Mullins shot his Deacons dizzy with 24 points, big Jay Buckley and Hack Tison gave them only one shot before they swept away rebounds, and Duke romped 80-59 to win an NCAA berth.
The first two times that Kentucky's Cotton Nash shot the ball, ST. LOUIS' 6-foot-10 Gil Beckemeier bashed it right back at him. That set the tone at Lexington. The bigger Billikens simply overwhelmed Adolph Rupp's little men and upset them, 67-60.
THE TOP THREE:
1. MICHIGAN (20-3)
2. WICHITA (22-5)
3. LOYOLA (20-5)
Ohio State finally ran out of miracles in the Big Ten. All the Bucks had to do was beat MICHIGAN STATE and they had a tie for their fifth straight title. But the Spartans spoiled everything. Pete Gent swished in a 20-foot jumper with 10 seconds to go, and Michigan State won 81-80. That left it up to MICHIGAN, and the Wolverines, despite some fretful moments when Iowa led by 12 points, came on like gangbusters to beat the Hawkeyes 69-61. The victory put them into the NCAA tournament.
Kansas State, which seems to delight in testing Coach Tex Winter's nervous system with overtime games, worried through another one with Oklahoma State before winning 63-59. It gave K-State the Big Eight title as KANSAS upset Colorado 73-71.
Wichita, a fast-breaking team, surprised Drake in the Missouri Valley playoff. The Shockers went to a stall for the last 10 minutes to combat Drake's zone and won the game 58-50. OHIO u., beaten by LOYOLA 103-87, took Toledo 82-76 for the MidAmerican championship. But the big news was BOWLING GREEN's Howie Komives, the nation's No. 1 scorer. He got 47 points as BG upset DePaul 89-80, 45 more in a 106-72 thrashing of Marshall to boost his average to 36.7, and ran his foul-shooting streak to 50 for an NCAA record.
THE TOP THREE:
1. TEXAS WESTERN (23-2)
2. TEXAS A&M (18-6)
3. TEXAS TECH (16-7)
Texas A&M, on the verge of winning its first outright Southwest Conference title in 41 years, suddenly was embarrassed by last-place TCU. It took the Aggies two overtime periods to put down the surprisingly bellicose Frogs 70-66. Said Coach Shelby Metcalf, sputtering happily after being tossed, fully clothed, into an icy shower, "Tonight we played the greatest last-place team in America." Two nights later Metcalf was just sputtering. Texas held his Aggies to the final seconds before losing, 65-63.
THE TOP THREE:
1. UCLA (26-0)
2. OREGON STATE (25-3)
3. SAN FRANCISCO (22-4)
Californians making NCAA talk were naturally bullish on unbeaten UCLA, which raced past California 87-57 and then resisted a USC rally to win 91-81. Even when the Trojans came from 10 points behind to a 63-63 tie, the Bruins never panicked. They merely played their normal hot hand, and UCLA won its 26th straight.
San Francisco had a streak going, too. Scoring in bunches, the Dons beat Santa Clara 60-47, Pepperdine 80-58 and Loyola of Los Angeles 60-46 for 18 in a row.
While Utah fumbled itself right out of contention, ARIZONA STATE and NEW MEXICO finished in a tie for the Western AC title. The Sun Devils go to the NCAA; New Mexico accepted an invitation to the NIT.
In one season, the hottest NBA rivalry has become Boston vs. Cincinnati. The Royals will finish second to the Celtics in their division but, for the first time, the Celtics were running scared down the stretch.
Cincinnati fumbled early in the season when Jerry Lucas was still finding his pro legs and Jack Twyman, Adrian Smith and Tom Hawkins were out with injuries. But for the last four months the Royals have been the best team in the NBA, and much of the credit must go to Coach Jack McMahon.
The Royals, McMahon reasoned, could not beat Boston as long as Bill Russell clogged the middle all night, blocking shots. Also, Lucas was learning a strange position after a college career as a center. So McMahon devised an offense just for Boston. Wayne Embry, the regular pivot man, took position in the corner, with the specific job of luring Russell from under the basket. Lucas stationed himself on the other side—in the offensive pivot area he knew so well—and the Royals either worked the ball to him or opened the middle for Oscar Robertson's drives. Normally, Russell would accept the challenge of a driving Robertson and pick up the brilliant Cincinnati guard when he got by a Boston defender. But Oscar, with his peripheral vision, has no peer at hitting the open man. And the Royals have the good quick jump shooters—Twyman, Smith, Embry and, in the last month, Lucas himself. Russell found that when he did get to Robertson, Oscar would pass off. When he did not get to him, the Big O went all the way. Immediately, the Royals started beating the Celtics, Robertson's point totals soared and the Royals won six of eight from Boston. Meanwhile, too, Lucas became a scoring threat in addition to rebounding superbly.
Thus the Celtics knew what to expect, and so did the Royals when they met in Boston last week. Through the first 15 minutes, probably the best basketball played in the NBA this season, the game was close. Then Robertson got into foul trouble and had to be benched. The Royals tied the score at 84-84, then went ahead 90-85 in the early moments of the final period. But Oscar picked up a fifth foul, and the tide swung again. Boston went on to win 112-108.
Boston sportswriters quoted Tom Heinsohn as saying about Lucas—"He hasn't learned to adjust to being a cornerman. He doesn't know the moves."
"Lucas weak link in Royals' defense," said the Boston papers.
Lucas did not learn of Heinsohn's remarks until the next night in Cincinnati, as the Royals prepared for a final meeting with the Celtics. "Oh, is that what he said?" Lucas noted. Two hours later Lucas had scored 22 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and, on one occasion, had caught one of Heinsohn's shots and jammed it back on him. The Royals beat the Celtics 111-101, and won the season's series, seven games to five.
Meanwhile, in the Western Division, San Francisco and St. Louis were still battling for first place. But neither will find it easy to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, whose Elgin Baylor and Jerry West seem to be healthy again, in the playoffs.