The annual jockeying for choice independents for college basketball's two postseason tournaments is about to begin. When invitations go out on February 24 both the NCAA—already assured of 15 conference champions and with 10 at-large places to fill—and New York's NIT, which has 14 spots this year, can pick from a shiny list of contenders. The best: Providence (18-0), Villanova (17-3), Penn State (15-3), St. John's (14-5), Boston College (16-6) and NYU (11-5) in the East; DePaul (15-6), Dayton (15-6), Detroit (15-6) and Notre Dame (12-9) in the Midwest; Florida State (14-7) in the South; Houston (17-6), Oklahoma City (16-8) and Texas Western (13-8) in the Southwest; Seattle (15-6), Colorado State (12-6) and Portland (12-9) in the West.
THE TOP THREE:
1. PROVIDENCE (18-0)
2. ST. JOSEPH'S (21-1)
3. VILLANOVA (17-3)
Providence was still the only major unbeaten team in the land, but so far as Philadelphia's rabid basketball fans were concerned that was just temporary. They were sure Villanova would take the Friars when they meet in Philly February 23. The only thing they could not agree on was whether St. Joseph's (already beaten by Providence) or Villanova was the best in the East. But that will be settled, too, next Saturday when the two teams play at the Palestra.
And just to keep the pot boiling, all three were winning, PROVIDENCE rolled over St. Francis of Loretto 88-69, but Duquesne treated Coach Joe Mullaney's combination defense with unusual disdain, and the Friars had to go to a press to win their 18th straight 83-75. ST. JOSEPH'S battered Albright 92-71 and Temple 73-59, while VILLANOVA caught St. John's without ailing Bobby McIntyre and clipped the Redmen 52-43. The Wildcats also beat St. Bonaventure 77-64. ST. JOHN'S, however, got Bobby Mac back for Niagara, and he scored 26 points as the Redmen won 82-62.
Penn State was still surprising folks. Army tried a delay game against the Lions' zone, and it got the Cadets a 21-19 lead early in the second half. Then Coach John Egli put State into a half-court press. Army fell apart, Jim Reed and Carver Clinton led a 12-point burst, and the Lions won 59-44. NYU beat Holy Cross 84-73 and St. Francis of N.Y. 88-68, while BOSTON COLLEGE out-scored Boston U. 94-86 and Fordham 89-78.
Connecticut clinched a tie for the Yankee Conference title with a 70-63 win over Massachusetts and then beat Holy Cross 87-76. CORNELL thumped Brown 90-60 to hold its Ivy lead, while second-place PRINCETON swamped Harvard 76-55 and Dartmouth 103-64.
THE TOP THREE:
1. DAVIDSON (21-1)
2. DUKE (16-2)
3. TENNESSEE (17-2)
For years TENNESSEE'S pleasant Ray Mears has been confounding foes with something he calls his "ultimate defense," a vague version of a match-up zone, which he steadfastly refuses to explain. "It's a secret," Mears insists. "No coach can ever figure it out, and even our own players don't know the secret." Last Saturday at Knoxville Mears's secret was still inviolable. He shrewdly set his "picket fence" zone between Vanderbilt's 6-foot-9 Clyde Lee and the boards, and Lee got only four field goals and six rebounds. John Ed Miller, another Vandy hotshot, was held scoreless from the field. Meanwhile, Tennessee's outside shooters, A. (for Arvis) W. (for Watsel) Davis and Ron Widby, firing over screens that moved into place with the slick precision of a marching band, each scored 22 points and the Vols beat Vanderbilt 79-66 to take over the Southeastern Conference lead.
Vanderbilt's defeat, its first in the league this year, got at least one other SEC coach excited, too. KENTUCKY'S Adolph Rupp, whose third-place (8-3) team mashed Mississippi State 74-56 for its fifth in a row, mused out loud, "Everybody beats everybody else these days. This may be just the chance for a team like our 1958 'Fiddlin' Five' to come down the road and fiddle right into the throne room." Maybe so, but it sounds more like wishful thinking by The Baron.
Duke had the regular-season Atlantic Coast title all wrapped up. The eager Blue Devils, after winning a 78-67 overtime squeaker from North Carolina State on the late shooting of Jack Marin and sophomore Bob Verga, trampled poor Virginia nearly to death 136-72 for a new ACC scoring record, and then recovered from a half-time tie to whip Wake Forest 93-80 as Marin got 26 points to finish the week with 78 in three games. But Duke must still win its silly postseason league tournament to get to the NCAA tournament. And Coach Vic Bubas worries about NORTH CAROLINA, the only ACC team to beat his Blue Devils. The Tar Heels, with Billy Cunningham and sophomore Bobby Lewis each putting in 35 points, racked up Wake Forest 107-91.
Davidson also clinched the Southern Conference title and top seeding in its league tournament, but not before the Wildcats had some nervous moments. West Virginia was easy for Davidson, going down 103-80 as Fred Hetzel scored 34 points. Ninth-place Furman, however, played a dawdling game, and it almost caught the Wildcats. Hetzel went out on fouls with 16 minutes to go and Davidson barely won 55-50. Then Davidson beat Richmond 83-73 for its 20th straight.
Miami's superb Rick Barry, the country's No. 1 scorer (37.3 per game), got 51 in a 141-110 clobbering of Tampa and 28 more as the Hurricanes trounced Loyola of New Orleans 115-86. MEMPHIS STATE surprised Dayton 77-71, and EASTERN KENTUCKY, a 103-73 winner over Murray State, took over the Ohio Valley lead when MOREHEAD upset Western Kentucky 66-55.
THE TOP THREE:
1. MICHIGAN (15-2)
2. INDIANA (15-2)
3. MINNESOTA (14-3)
Life at the top of the Big Ten was not at all simple for MICHIGAN. In fact, some critics thought they detected an occasional air of boredom lately among the talented Wolverines, because they do have an annoying habit of playing la-di-da basketball until they are stung. Last week Iowa got ahead of them 20-15, but then Cazzie Russell and his friends went after the Hawkeyes with a half-court press and it all but blew the astonished visitors off the court. Michigan ran off 19 straight points and went on to win easily 81-66. Michigan State had the Wolverines 43-38 at half time, and that inspired Coach Dave Strack to some tongue-lashing in the locker room. He berated big Bill Buntin for his ineffectiveness under the boards and told Russell to shoot more. Both reacted. Buntin took charge of the boards, Russell shot in 32 points and Michigan won 98-83.
Meanwhile, the chase continued. Second-place MINNESOTA belted Illinois 105-90 on the 29-point shooting of Lou Hudson; third-place Iowa recovered to edge Ohio State 82-81 on Chris Pervall's short jumper with six seconds to play; INDIANA, tied with Illinois for fourth, bombed Michigan State 112-94 and took Northwestern 86-76.
About all that was left in the Missouri Valley was second prize. WICHITA STATE, despite a shocking 75-72 defeat by DUQUESNE in Pittsburgh, was unbeatable in the conference. The Shockers thoroughly confused Cincinnati with a variety of defenses and whipped the Bearcats 76-64 The fight for second was closer, LOUISVILLE held the upper hand after beating Bradley 80-78 on John Reuther's 20-footer with four seconds to go, but ST. LOUIS was in it, too. The Bills beat North Texas State 83-60 and Tulsa 66-59.
Last-place NEBRASKA, SO badly under-manned that Coach Joe Cipriano suited up Student Manager Jim Sullivan to give his Huskers some kind of a bench, was busy giving the Big Eight a new look. Nebraska beat Kansas State 62-57 for the first time in 22 years at Manhattan, then it parlayed a full-court press and a judicious mixture of fast break and ball control into a 66-59 win over Colorado. KANSAS was also coming on strong, but the only difference was that the Jayhawks had a chance to catch front-running OKLAHOMA STATE. With 6-foot-11 Walt Wesley throwing in 72 points, Kansas beat Missouri 71-60 and Oklahoma 74-57. Oklahoma State, with Coach Hank Iba nervously gulping pills, also took Kansas State 52-49, the first time ever for the Cowboys at Manhattan.
Notre Dame gave DePaul Coach Ray Meyer, a distinguished alumnus, a plaque and a rocking chair at half time, and then all kinds of strange things happened to Meyer and his team. Playmaker Jim Murphy was told by a kindly official, "You better get used to being hit on the arm when you shoot." With 1:21 left in the game and DePaul behind 57-55, Notre Dame called a time-out. When play resumed, there was only 1:14 showing on the clock. Oh yes, the Irish won 62-59. Notre Dame also beat Ohio U. 94-86, at South Bend.
Miami of Ohio, bracing for its Mid-American showdown with Ohio Wednesday at Athens, walloped Xavier 97-68 and Western Michigan 93-68.
THE TOP THREE:
1. HOUSTON (17-6)
2. TEXAS TECH (12-5)
3. TEXAS (12-6)
It was a trying but, in the end, a most pleasurable week on the road for TEXAS TECH'S Southwest Conference leaders. First the Raiders had to struggle to hold off Texas A&M 82-76 in overtime at College Station. Then Tech ran smack into a sticky SMU zone defense in Dallas, the same kind that had beaten Baylor 76-74. The SMU zone pinched off little Playmaker Dub Malaise, the Raiders flounced around like lost kittens and SMU led 44-41 at the half. But Coach Gene Gibson moved Malaise closer to the sidelines and he began to score and hit his shooters with accurate passes. SMU came out of its zone and Tech quickly made a shambles of the Ponies' man-to-man. Malaise scored 25 points and Tech won 82-72.
But the Raiders were not yet out of the woods. TEXAS, a johnny-come-lately, was waiting for them, all alone in second place after getting past Arkansas 81-65 and Rice 75-72. The two teams were scheduled to play Tuesday in Lubbock. BAYLOR, too, was still alive after surviving a 43-point spree by Texas A&M's John Beasley to beat the Aggies 84-77.
Houston's Guy Lewis, meanwhile, was delighted with his Cougars. They ran like Thoroughbreds, shot like demons and routed Trinity 139-87 and Centenary 95-84. Lewis is now convinced that his team will make a postseason tournament.
THE TOP THREE:
1. UCLA (18-2)
2. SAN FRANCISCO (17-3)
3. NEW MEXICO (18-2)
The field house at Utah State University in Logan was dark Saturday night. The sorrowing Aggies just did not have the heart to play Texas Western without Wayne Estes, their star and the nation's No. 2 scorer with 33.7 points a game. Estes, after scoring 48 points as his team beat Denver 91-62 Monday night, accidentally walked into a high-voltage wire on campus and was killed.
Washington's Huskies, who had scared the powder-blue pants off UCLA'S Bruins a week earlier, worked long and diligently against a press as they prepared for a rematch in Seattle's Edmundson Pavilion. For 20 minutes the Huskies' efforts paid off. They were tied with UCLA 34-34 at half time. Then the quick Bruins put on the pressure. They stole the ball repeatedly, sophomore Edgar Lacey and Keith Erickson threw in 13 quick points and UCLA went on to win 83-73. But the next night at Pullman, Washington State, beaten by 52 points the week before, almost got the Bruins. This time surprised UCLA barely made it 70-68.
The Western AC had a new leader—NEW MEXICO, which destroyed Brigham Young 89-70 (page 52). SAN FRANCISCO took Pepperdine 92-69 and Loyola of Los Angeles 82-68 to hold its lead in the West Coast AC. SEATTLE, rolling on to a tournament berth, routed Hawaii 98-62 and Idaho 97-76, but Colorado State suffered a setback The slowdown Rams lost to DENVER 65-60.