The jockeying for choice teams for the two major postseason tournaments was almost over. But the NCAA, strapped by a shortage of good at-large teams in the South and West, reluctantly cut its field from 25 to 23 and even then had to indulge in some gerrymandering to fill out the Mideast Regional. By the end of the week the NCAA had seven of its 15 conference champions and seven of its eight independents safely in the fold. Defending National Champion UCLA (AAWU), St. Joseph's (Mid-Atlantic), Princeton (Ivy), Connecticut (Yankee), West Virginia (Southern), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley) and San Francisco (West Coast) all clinched their league titles and were in the four regionals along with Providence (20-1), Penn State (19-3), Dayton (19-6), Colorado State (15-6), DePaul (16-7), Houston (18-8) and Oklahoma City (19-9).
New York's NIT, meanwhile, was busy assembling a 14-team field for the tournament that begins March 11 in Madison Square Garden. Already in: Villanova (19-4), New Mexico (19-5), Boston College (19-6), Army (18-7), Detroit (17-7), Texas Western (17-8), St. John's (16-8), La Salle (15-7), NYU (13-7), Manhattan (12-6), Fordham (12-11) and Ohio Valley runner-up Western Kentucky (16-8). Possibilities for the two remaining places: St. Bonaventure (15-6), Creighton (13-9), Notre Dame (14-11) and Missouri Valley runners-up St. Louis (17-7) and Bradley (16-8).
THE TOP THREE:
1. ST. JOSEPHS (24-1)
2. VILLANOVA (19-4)
3. PROVIDENCE (20-1)
Providence's Joe Mullaney, whose Friars were the nation's only unbeaten major-college team, hardly looked the part of the worried coach as he relaxed in his motel room before the VILLANOVA game. "No, our kids don't seem to feel any pressure, they're loose," he said. "If we play our normal game and shoot as well as we have been lately, we won't have any trouble." But there was trouble later in the noisy Villanova field house. The Friars shot a puny 39% against the Wildcats' zone defenses, which shifted imperceptibly from 2-3 to 3-2 to combination, and that was not good enough. Bill Melchionni, a deadeye Villanova guard, and Jim Washington, a tough 6-foot-7 rebounder, each shot in 21 points, and the Wildcats handed Providence its first loss, 71-57. Later the Friars bounced back to beat Holy Cross 75-64, while Villanova smashed Memphis State 91-58.
Villanova's big win was not the only excitement in Philadelphia last week. La Salle had the usual overflow crowd in the Palestra panting as little Curt Fromal brought the Explorers from 20 points behind to give ST. JOSEPH'S, the city's big team, a run for its glory. Fromal, throwing in amazing scoop shots and swishing 20-foot jumpers, scored 34 points and had La Salle only two points behind with 1:46 to go. Then Billy Oakes, Tom Duff and Marty Ford put in baskets and it was all over. St. Joe's won 93-85.
It was a dismal week for Cornell, St. John's and NYU. After leading the Ivy League for most of the season, Cornell fell apart all at once. PENN surprised the Big Red 79-70 last Friday night, and then PRINCETON, with Bill Bradley playing brilliantly as usual (below), trounced them 107-84 to win its third Ivy title in a row. St. John's ran into trouble in upstate New York. The Redmen lost to SYRACUSE 68-59 and CANISIUS 85-75. NYU'S troubles were purely local. The Violets looked solid enough as they beat Notre Dame 60-54 in Madison Square Garden. Then they came up against FORDHAM'S spoilers. The Rams bottled up the NYU shooters with their variable zone defenses, outfought them off the boards and beat them 58-52.
Penn state, getting ready for its first NCAA tournament since 1955, beat Bucknell 68-52 and Pitt 83-72, while ARMY, playing patiently against Navy's zone defense, celebrated Coach Tates Locke's 28th birthday by beating the Middies 62-52 at Annapolis for the first time in 20 years. CONNECTICUT took Manhattan 80-75 in overtime and then bombed New Hampshire 109-61 to clinch the Yankee championship. BOSTON COLLEGE edged Boston U. 90-85 in the opening round of the Beanpot tournament.
THE TOP THREE:
1. VANDERBILT (20-3)
2. DUKE (18-4)
3. DAVIDSON (24-2)
All season long Davidson had fought off its Southern Conference rivals in what amounted to a race to nowhere. Despite a 12-0 league record and a 22-game winning streak, the Wildcats still had to win the annual conference tournament in Charlotte to get to the NCAA regionals. So WEST VIRGINIA, which finished third in the regular season, knocked out Davidson 74-72 in overtime in the semifinals (page 32). Then the wheed-up Mountaineers tumbled William and Mary, a sixth-place team, 70-67 in double overtime in the final. That put West Virginia, now 14-14 for the year, in the East Regional in Philadelphia on March 8.
The Atlantic Coast, the only other conference that persists in choosing its NCAA representative with a tournament, was ready to start that showdown Thursday in Raleigh with first-place Duke a nervous target. But the Blue Devils have been forewarned. In fact, South Carolina's Frank McGuire, a canny judge of basketball talent even though he does not have much this season, has been saying all year that Duke would have to worry about Maryland and North Carolina in the tournament. Last week Duke's Vic Bubas had to believe him. Duke lost to both of them.
Maryland, led by sophomore Jay McMillen, a wispy jump-shooter who scored 32 points, had Duke down by 18 at half time. A full-court press shook up the young Terps for a while, but they recovered in time to hang on for an 85-82 victory, Maryland's first over the Blue Devils in five years. NORTH CAROLINA caught Duke, too, for the second time. A clinging man-to-man defense cut the Blue Devils' usual fast break down to a meaningless stroll, Billy Cunningham and Bobby Lewis fired in 45 points between them, and Carolina won 71-66. NORTH CAROLINA STATE, meanwhile, beat Wake Forest 87-81 to finish in a tie with Maryland and North Carolina, just a game behind Duke in the final standings. No wonder the Blue Devils were nervous.
It has been a long season for KENTUCKY'S Adolph Rupp. Most of the time his Wildcats had looked like harmless tabbies as they muddled to 10 losses to give The Baron his worst record in 35 years of coaching. It was enough to make a man think of retiring. But last week Rupp was as bouncy as ever. His Wildcats, surprisingly, out-clawed Tennessee on defense—no mean feat this year—and Louis Dampier dropped in two foul shots with 57 seconds to go. Kentucky thus beat the Vols 61-60. That just about ended Tennessee's chances of catching VANDERBILT for the Southeastern Conference title. Vandy smothered Georgia 98-72 and Alabama 75-54 to lead the Vols by two games with three to go.
Eastern Kentucky breezed past Tennessee Tech 99-81 and Morehead 100-85 to win the Ohio Valley title, but there was some solace for second-place WESTERN KENTUCKY. The Hilltoppers, who finished last two years in a row, wound up in the NIT after bombing Austin Peay 116-77 and losing to MURRAY STATE 103-91. Against Rollins, MIAMI'S Rick Barry had his best night yet. He scored 59 points (for a 37.96 average) as the Hurricanes won 148-79.
THE TOP THREE:
1. MICHIGAN (19-2)
2. MINNESOTA (17-4)
3. ILLINOIS (16-5)
Even MICHIGAN'S ebullient Dave Strack was amazed by his team. "I probably lose my poise more often than they do," he said last week, "and when they do, they always come back with the gut shot." That was just about the size of it, too, as the muscular Wolverines shook off two more challengers in the Big Ten. Minnesota looked good until big Bill Buntin began grabbing rebounds and Cazzie Russell, bouncing around like a rubber ball, got his shooting eye. Then Michigan won easily 91-78. Illinois was tougher. It had the Big Ten leaders down by eight points with only 7:50 to go, but the Wolverines dug in and caught up, Russell got five points in the last 33 seconds and Michigan pulled it out 80-79 for its 11th straight. "It'll take a miracle to stop us now," predicted Captain Larry Tregoning. But Coach Strack was wary. "Remember the Phillies," he warned.
The pressures of the tough Missouri Valley were beginning to get to teams and coaches. Wichita State, once considered a wrap-up for the title, was having its troubles. The Shockers succumbed to BRADLEY'S quick, long-passing game 77-73, and now ST. LOUIS had a slim chance again. The second-place Bills, who were surprised by CINCINNATI 69-60 earlier, beat Louisville 78-65. Cincy's Ed Jucker, who found losing hard to take, revealed he was quitting at the end of the season. "Mentally and physically, I'm a wreck," he admitted. "I feel I've lost the touch."
Kansas State's resourceful Tex Winter, with four straight losses behind him, had a new gambit ready for Colorado. He started four guards and a center against the Buffs, and they shot Colorado out of the Big Eight race 65-50. OKLAHOMA STATE, the leader, put down Oklahoma 65-54 and now the Cowboys are only worried about KANSAS, a 71-62 winner over Nebraska.
Southern Illinois, in a tizzy ever since it lost a one-pointer to unbeaten EVANSVILLE back in January, got another shot at the slick Aces, this time in Carbondale, and 10,300 turned out to watch the fun. The lead changed hands 18 times, the score was tied nine times, but in the end Jerry Sloan, Larry Humes and their talented friends prevailed. Evansville won 68-67 for its 24th of the season and 30th in a row.
Miami of Ohio got ailing Charlie Dinkins back, and the Redskins beat Toledo 78-64 to finish with an 11-1 record in the MidAmerican. But OHIO U., which trimmed Loyola of Chicago 84-76 and Kent State 95-75, can still force a playoff by beating Toledo next Saturday. DAYTON celebrated its NIT invitation by taking Louisville 75-70 and St. Francis (Pa.) 80-43. DETROIT, another NIT team, edged Bowling Green 75-73, while NOTRE DAME, still hoping to hear from New York, routed DePaul 83-67.
THE TOP THREE:
1. OKLAHOMA CITY (19-9)
2. HOUSTON (18-8)
3. TEXAS TECH (15-6)
A funny thing happened to Texas Tech on its way to the Southwest Conference championship. It got upset by some very shoddy bookkeeping. Dr. J. William Davis, the school's faculty representative, belatedly discovered that junior Forward Norman Reuther, one of Tech's long-haired shooting stars, was ineligible—and had been all season. Reuther failed to pass the required number of hours (10) last semester. Texas Tech promptly withdrew from all championship consideration. The Raiders, who still led the SWC by a full game despite an 88-86 loss to BAYLOR earlier in the week, were stunned by the news. "We just wanted to sit down and have a good cry," said one player.
With Texas Tech out, the race was between second-place SMU and third-place TEXAS. The Ponies, switching from full-court presses to variations of the zone, baffled Baylor frequently enough to pull out an 80-70 victory as sophomore Charlie Beasley threw in 22 points. Texas found Texas A&M's slick John Beasley hard to stop—he got 40 points—but the other Aggies were easy, and the Longhorns won 86-71.
Oklahoma city finally got even with an old tormentor. Houston had beaten the tall Chiefs 10 straight times, and even Coach Abe Lemons was beginning to think his team was whammied. But Jimmy Ware, a 6-foot-8 jumping jack who answers to the nickname of Weasel, snatched away almost every rebound he could reach, 27 in all, and Oklahoma City took the game 93-79. TEXAS WESTERN, a NIT team, also closed out its season on a happy note. The Miners trounced New Mexico State 107-51.
THE TOP THREE:
1. UCLA (22-2)
2. SAN FRANCISCO (21-4)
3. BRIGHAM YOUNG (19-5)
Just about the only argument left in the AAWU was whether UCLA is as good as last year. As far as Stanford is concerned that is hardly a moot question. The Bruins thoroughly disorganized the Indians in the first five minutes with their paralyzing zone press and perfect shooting. They hit their first nine shots, tipped in the 10th and, almost before startled Stanford knew it, UCLA had a 20-5 lead. Gail Goodrich scored 24 points, and the Bruins won 83-68. The next night Goodrich got 22 more, sub Mike Lynn pitched in 18 and UCLA clobbered California 87-71.
San Francisco, while winning its third straight West Coast AC title, was not quite so devastating. The Dons even lost a game—their first in the league in two years—to PACIFIC 67-65 and then fiddled around listlessly for a half before they beat St. Mary's 65-52.
It was a two-team race in the Western AC—BRIGHAM YOUNG and New Mexico—after WYOMING upset the Lobos 83-65, and the two meet in Provo next Friday. But not many teams beat BYU at home these days. Arizona failed 92-88. Arizona State's Ned Wulk thought he had a way. "What we've got to do," he confided, "is contain them for maybe three or four minutes. Then they might not score enough points to beat us." The Sun Devils did hold Brigham Young scoreless for precisely four minutes. But the Cougars got away. John Fairchild, who had scored 40 points against Arizona, flipped in 22 as BYU won 104-91.