On the Pacific Coast, where seven of the last 14 NCAA champions have been produced, a number of schools are gearing up for the joyous day next June when Lew Alcindor finally leaves UCLA. Their good sophomores and juniors are poised to strike in 1969-70, but their impact will be felt this season, too. Cal and Santa Clara are already good enough for the top 20—and University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. is not far behind.
Pacific is nearly two deep at every position and could upset Santa Clara for the West Coast Athletic Conference title. Tom Jones, a 6'9" junior center, was team MVP as a sophomore, and he is smarter and less spindly now. He hooks well with either hand. Coach Dick Edwards also has the nation's third-best free thrower, Guard Fred Carpenter, just a junior; 6'5½" Forward Pat Foley, a rugged defender and rebounder; and lots more. Edwards is greedy, though. He wishes he could use his Stockton-bred freshman, 6'9½" John Gianelli, on the varsity. Another possible upsetter in the WCAC is San Jose State, led by 6'10" Coby Dietrick.
In the Pacific-8, Coach Bob Boyd is building a solid program at USC, a constant winner in practically every other sport but for years second fiddle to crosstown-rival UCLA in basketball. The Trojans have a very strong freshman team, loaded with high school players-of-the-year, and the varsity is not bad, either. Boyd has no one to replace Forward Bill Hewitt, drafted first by the L.A. Lakers, but he does have an improved, Alcindor-sized center in Ron Taylor, 7'1", and a 6'9" sub, Ivan Browning, plus four good guards, led by Steve Jennings and Mack Calvin.
December 2, 1968
Hopes at Oregon State were punctured when hot-shooting Guard Vince Fritz hurt his back while working out last summer. Doctors have prescribed complete rest, which means he very likely will sit out all of this season and return post-Alcindor, when 7' Vic Bartolome and 6'9" Gary Freeman also will be seniors.
A few years ago nobody considered Texas at El Paso for the preseason top 20, and the Miners proceeded to sweep out of the desert like the Mohammedan hordes and win the NCAA title. They will be tough this time out, too, but not of championship caliber—mainly because of lack of height. Coach Don Haskins' best player is 6' Guard Nate Archibald, another in a long line of UTEP imports from New York City, who led the team in scoring last season as a sophomore (15.8 points per game). Where are the David Lattins and Bad News Barneses to sweep the boards? Unfortunately, not in El Paso for UTEP's first season as a full-fledged Western Athletic Conference club. "I can't really fault this bunch," says Haskins, one of the best defensive coaches in the country (he learned his basketball under Hank Iba at Oklahoma State). "They try hard. They want to have a good team. However, we are so small that we'll have to have 6'4" and 6'5" guys covering some who will be 6'8", 6'9" or, in many cases, 6'10"." UTEP's best newcomer is Pies Vann, a 6'4" Tulsa product who went to junior college in Idaho. He is a solid defensive player and fairly good scorer. There are three good red-shirts, too, but not one of them is over 6'5".
Wyoming has the same problem, plenty of good players but all of them built too close to the court. Still, the WAC coaches, after jinxing New Mexico with the favorite's role, picked the Cowboys to finish second. The best reason is 6'2" Guard Harry Hall, who comes from a little town in Illinois not too far from the home town of ex-Wyoming star Flynn Robinson. Hall averaged 20.4 points last season in Coach Bill Strannigan's shuffle offense.
Also returning is 6'7" Center Carl Ashley, who was first-team All-WAC with Hall and just behind him in scoring, and 6'6" junior Forward Steve Popovich, who has gained 20 badly needed pounds with a weight-lifting program. Strannigan thinks his other cornerman, 6'5" junior Stan Dodds, is the best prospect to come out of Wyoming since Kenny Sailors in the '40s. Dodds missed playing in the NIT last season because of a broken ankle. He is from Green River, Wyo., which is not far from Mountain View and Rock Springs but is a long way from anyplace else, including Louisville and New York, this year's tournament sites.
Arizona State has lots of experience and the excellent guard, Seabern Hill, and Brigham Young has a much-sought-after big man, Paul Ruffner from Cerritos JC in California, but the Western school with the really big names is Weber State in Ogden, Utah, the defending champion of the Big Sky Conference. The Wildcats have Justus Thigpen, Willard Sojourner and Sessions Harlan.
Thigpen was a substitute early last season and came off the bench to win the MVP trophy in the Golden Spike Tournament. He finally won a starting job and averaged 16.4 points. Sojourner, a 6'8" center who somehow sojourned his way to Utah from Philadelphia, has only been playing the game for 2½ years; before that his sport was swimming. Harlan is a quick guard from Detroit. Coach Dick Motta left to work for the Chicago Bulls and turned over the reins and the wild names to his assistant, Phil Johnson. Phil Johnson is a name?
Not since Gone With the Wind has a show captivated the South the way Pete Maravich did last season. But now a new act—and some sweet compassion—has been introduced into the life of Louisiana State's mop-headed, bug-eyed, spindly-legged wonder. "We're older and smarter," says Pete's father-coach, Press, "and we're hoping to let somebody else worry about the scoring and let Pete develop his other talents." This does not mean that Pistol Pete will stop pulling the trigger. Shooting is a relative thing, and when Pete cuts down, it will be to something merely mortal, like maybe 30 points a game or so. "He doesn't even have to average that many," says his dad. "If we can win and Pete can increase his assists, I'll be happy."
Happiest of all should be Pete himself, who nearly found his record-smashing 43.8 sophomore scoring average too much to carry. By the season's end he looked like a man with a double Excedrin headache. He was exhausted mentally from the mobs of newsmen trying to look inside his head, and beaten physically by the best selection of elbows and hips and trick defenses this side of a fraternity hazing. "If he's not the nation's highest scorer," reasons Press, "maybe they won't be after him as much."
What makes Maravich's plan meaningful is that it signals that LSU finally has come up with some other players who can score and maybe even play with Maravich without danger of being smacked broadside by his brilliant passes. Back from last season's team, which won 14 of 26 games for LSU's first winning record in six years, are three starters besides Maravich: 6' Jeff Tribbett, 6' Rich Hickman and 6'3" Ralph Jukkola. Height will be added at center by either 6'8" Chuck Legler, 6'8" Dan Hester or 6'7" Dave Ramsden. "We have good potential," says Press Maravich, "but you never know until they hit the big leagues." If balance does not do the trick this season, Pete is keeping his shooting eye sharp, just in case. He scored 55 points—making 24 of 40 shots from the field—in a preseason squad game.
While the eyes of Dixie are on Maravich, the eyes of the pro scouts will be watching Florida's 6'11" Neal Walk, who may go second to Lew Alcindor in the draft. The Miami franchise in the ABA would love to bring Walk back home—he's from Miami Beach—but what pro team could not use a man of Walk's size, agility and shooting touch, inside and out? As a junior, Walk averaged 26.5 points and 19.8 rebounds, and his presence alone will make the Gators a threat to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the SEC. Forward Andy Owens, 6'5", will take some of the defensive pressure off Walk, while Mike Leatherwood, 5'11", is back to run Coach Tommy Bartlett's disciplined 1-3-1 offense. "We're looking for a good year," says Bartlett. "How good depends on the play of our newcomers and our shooting consistency."
Georgia, once the original Weak Sister U., has a big boy, too, in 6'11" junior Bob Lienhard, who led the Bulldogs out of obscurity last season to a 17-8 record and a tie for fourth in the SEC, their loftiest perch in years. Tennessee has back clever Guards Bill Hann and Billy Justus, but will have trouble replacing 7' Tom Boerwinkle, now with the Chicago Bulls, and Tom Hendrix, who made Coach Ray Mears's 1-3-1 trap defense work. Auburn returns four starters, plus one of the league's best sophomores in John Mengelt, a 6'2" guard who averaged 27.4 as a freshman. Alabama, with a new coach, C. M. Newton, and its new 15,000-seat gym, is beginning the long climb up.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, persuasive Frank McGuire has been working out of a trailer while South Carolina's new 12,000-seat gym is being finished, but this is only a temporary hang-up in his madcap campaign to break up the championship volley between Duke and North Carolina. McGuire served warning last season, beating Duke twice and North Carolina once, but lost his stars, Gary Gregor and Skip Harlicka, to the pros. This may be a throwaway season for the Gamecocks, but McGuire has a 6'10" freshman named Tom Riker, called by one Southeastern Conference coach "the best prospect in the country." With his new gym fortifying his already ample selling powers, McGuire may have the Gamecocks up there quicker than you can say "Vic Bubas."
An ACC alumnus, former Duke Assistant Bucky Waters, has his best freshman team in three years at West Virginia, but little more on the varsity than leaping Carey Bailey. Most dramatic improvement in the Southern Conference should come at George Washington, which could well vacate the cellar behind the talented Tallent brothers, Mike and Bob. Mike averaged 29.7 for the freshmen, a school record; Bob started at Kentucky as a junior two years ago but was dismissed after a run-in with an assistant coach.
If Western Kentucky's sophomores falter in their bid to win the Ohio Valley Conference, Eastern Kentucky and Morehead are waiting like vultures. Eastern, coached by volatile Guy Strong, has back multitalented Bobby Washington, plus Carl Greenfield, a husky 6'7" transfer from South Carolina State. Morehead again will depend on Guard Jerry Conley, 6'7" Hobo Jackson and 6'6" Lamar Green.
Best of the independents may be Florida State, with 6'9" Dave Cowens, but, no matter how well Cowens' plays, Coach Hugh Durham's Seminoles will not win a second straight at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. The NCAA itself took care of that by putting Florida State on probation for alleged recruiting violations. Miami's Hurricanes have three starters back from last season's 17-11 outfit, but do not seem ready to improve on that record.
Three Ohio teams, Dayton, Toledo and Ohio State, could conceivably join or replace Cincinnati in the top-20 listings four months from now. Dayton, a year away from opening a handsome 13,500-seat arena, has lost the two finest players from its 1967-68 NIT championship unit, Forward Donnie May and Guard Bobby Hooper. That is probably too much talent to replace immediately, but Coach Don (Mickey) Donoher hates to sit home when those big March tournaments are going on. and chances are the Flyers will sneak into one.
Actually, there is a May around. This one is younger brother Ken, a 6'5" forward who averaged 22 points for the freshmen and can dribble and drive better than Don, although he is not yet in the same class as a shooter or re-bounder. Good as his credentials and bloodline are, May might not start. Donoher also has 6'8" George Janky, a Chicago product who studied up on calories between seasons and lost 25 pounds of lard, and 6'6" senior defensive ace Dan Sadlier for the forwards, and 6'10" Dan Obrovac in the pivot. Obrovac is stronger defensively than offensively, but he scored 30 points in one NIT game and made 20 of 22 free throws in the tourney. The Dayton back-court is not spectacular. Donoher probably will start the homebred Gottschall twins, Jim and Jerry, neither of whom is a Hooper.
Toledo was a disappointing third in the Mid-American Conference, but the Rockets have their best men back and defending champion Bowling Green lost everybody, including Coach Bill Fitch to Minnesota. Toledo's top scorer has been 6'6" home-town bruiser Steve Mix, 21.8 points as a junior, 23 as a sophomore, who might be moved from center to forward this season to make room for 7' Doug Hess, an awkward junior from East Detroit. The trouble is that Mix likes to mix it under the hoop and makes most of his points there.
The frontcourt would be strengthened if 6'4" John Brisker would give up catching passes for the football team and get out to basketball practice. Coach Bobby Nichols is not counting on him. Quick Guard John Rudley, an honored first lieutenant in the ROTC, was the team's MVP last season over Mix.
Ohio State surprised people and won the Big Ten title last season and then shocked people by beating Kentucky at Lexington and getting into the NCAA tournament finals. The Buckeyes have graduated leading scorer-rebounder Bill Hosket, yet it is difficult to count out a team coached by Fred Taylor and a school with all the basketball tradition of Ohio State. There are other impressive assets. Center Dave Sorenson, only 6'7", is a fine shooter and smooth maneuverer, and 6'5" Forward Steve Howell averaged 17.5 points a game behind Hosket. Howell is fairly quick and agile despite looking like one of the Buckeyes' defensive tackles.
There is every indication that the Big Ten will be just as messed up as last time, when Iowa was nipped at the wire and three or four other schools were in the running until practically the last buzzer. Iowa lost Sam Williams but has 6'7" JC transfer John Johnson (eased away from Utah State recruiters) and 6'7" service returnee Ben Mc-Gilmer, plus all four men who started with Williams. Michigan won its last four league games and returns 6'7" Rudy Tomjanovich, who scored 19.5 points a game and had the second-best rebounding average in the Big Ten. His trouble is fouling too much when guarding a good big man. The Wolverines have a new coach this year, Johnny Orr, and a new assistant, Fred Snowden, a Negro from Detroit whose job it will be to mine all that raw talent in the Motor City and keep Michigan State away from it. Snowden's coaching record at Northeastern High was an arresting 162-7.
A fine defensive player and a fine scorer, both from Indiana, make Drake the best bet to challenge Cincinnati in the Missouri Valley. Guard Willie McCarter is the scorer and, according to Coach Maurice John, "the best guard in the country." He averaged 23.2 points last season. The defender is 6'5" Forward Dolph Pulliam.
"He's usually assigned to the other team's top scorer," said John. "He will cut the effectiveness of a good forward or guard in half, he's that quick and strong."
Plenty of other teams in the Midwest have outstanding individuals. Two top players who left Illinois after the athletic-fund scandal will improve their new teams. Bradley got 6'8" Steve Kuberski, who should at least partly make up for the loss of high-scoring Center Joe Allen. Coach Moe Iba at Memphis State got Illinois' 6'7" Rich Jones, and he was considered better than Kuberski.
Louisville, which averaged crowds of 12,842 at home last season with All-America Center Westley Unseld as the big attraction, has lost both Unseld and Guard Fred Holden. Coach John Dromo, in his second season as head man after succeeding his longtime boss, Peck Hickman, must rebuild around speedy Butch Beard. He also has 6'9" Center Mike Grosso, but the highly touted New Jersey giant underwent a second knee operation recently (he had his first while attending South Carolina) and he probably will never live up to his promise. This is his last season of eligibility and he has hardly played any varsity ball.
Behind Kansas in the Big Eight, Kansas State, Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma State all have outside chances. Best sophomore in the league might be O State's 6'7" Amos Thomas, who averaged 30.9 points and 12.5 rebounds as a freshman. His duels with Robisch of Kansas the next three years should be something to see.
Since ripping through its 22-game regular-season schedule last year without a loss, some awful things have happened to St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies were badly beaten in their two games at the NCAA Eastern Regionals, their three best cornermen were lost through graduation or serious injury and, in October, when Coach Larry Weise began trying to piece together what was left, the NCAA slapped Bonaventure with a year's probation. Still, the Bonnies should be anything but bad, mostly because of the return of Bob Lanier, the 6'11", 265-pound center who wears size-19 sneakers. Last year Lanier scored 26.2 points a game, shot 58% from the floor and grabbed 390 rebounds. Returning backcourt starters Jim Satalin and Bill Kalbaugh must score more to balance the loss of Forwards Bill Butler and John Hayes, who combined for 36 points a game, but a repeat of their strong defense and ball handling of last season will give the Bonnies a solid pair of guards.
Columbia, which throttled Bonaventure by 20 points in the regionals and finished as both the Ivy champs and the best team in the East, probably cannot successfully defend its league title against Princeton now that 7' Center Dave Newmark has moved up to the pros. Newmark's absence will hurt the Lions most on defense. To fill the void, Coach Jack Rohan plans to use full-court pressure. Extra-quick junior Guard Heyward Dotson will key the defense and help Forwards Roger Walaszek and All-America Jim McMillian in an offense that should be a step faster without Newmark. McMillian, easily the best and most exciting Ivy player since Bill Bradley, is a bullish, 6'5", 235-pounder who can score with long jumpers and also use his strength to drive underneath. He topped the Lions in both points (22.3 per game) and rebounding last year. While Princeton and Columbia are battling each other, Cornell could sneak around the back door and take the Ivy title. Whether it does depends on how well new Coach Jerry Lace is able to mold a team out of a talented group of experienced individualists led by Hank South and Walt Esdaile.
In New England all three top teams will come from Massachusetts. The best should be Holy Cross, where Coach Jack Donahue has his tallest club ever. Senior Ed Siudut, who has scored 1,045 points in two seasons, heads a forecourt roster that lists five players at 6'7" or taller. The other four big men are all sophomores, and two of them may start even though Gerry Foley, a regular forward last season, is still available. The best big newcomer is Bob Kissane, who averaged 16.4 points for the freshmen and blocked six shots a game. Another sophomore, Jack Admas—a slick ball handler and a 22.3 scorer as a freshman—will open in the backcourt.
"This will be the first time since I've been coaching that we'll face Holy Cross as the underdog," says Boston College Coach (and Holy Cross alumnus) Bob Cousy. True, Cooz must do some building after losing seven seniors, but he has a solid foundation in 6'7" Center Terry Driscoll, ball-handling Guard Billy Evans and junior Forward Bob Dukiet. Five sophomores will try for the other starting spots, with Frank Fitzgerald, a cornerman who averaged 20.2 for the freshmen, and swift ball handler Jim O'Brien the best of the bunch.
Massachusetts has the edge on Rhode Island in the Yankee Conference, but the Rams should be more intriguing to watch when 5'5" sophomore Ed (The Flea) Molloy gets into the lineup. There is no chance that Molloy will be the East's biggest, or even most exciting, little man because Calvin Murphy is still at Niagara. While everything collapsed around him last year—defenses, team morale, the school administration and his very mediocre teammates—5'10" Murphy pumped in 38.2 points a game, handled the ball a good part of the time, made an occasional steal on defense and even twirled the baton at football games. This year he will be even busier. The Purple Eagles will be weaker overall and Murphy will have to outdo his performance of 1967-68 in everything but twirling if Niagara is to match last year's .500 record.
A .500 record is something that Coach Lou Carnesecca of St. John's has never had. Since taking over the Red-men from Joe Lapchick three years ago, he has always done better. His disciplined teams have appeared in three postseason tournaments—once in the NIT and twice as at-large representatives in the NCAA Eastern Regionals. With only one starter missing from last year's 19-8 team, Carnesecca has a strong chance of making it four for four. St. John's will have the same problem it had a year ago, getting a good game out of a big man. Starting Center Dan Cornelius (6'9") scored just 6.7 points and averaged only 5.2 rebounds a game. If he fails to improve this season he may lose his spot to 6'10" junior college transfer Bill Paultz. Otherwise, the Redmen are set with returning starters Joe DePre and Carmine Calzonetti at guard and the leading scorer (15.7 points a game), senior John Warren, at forward.
Columbia and St. John's will not go it alone in the battle to decide which is New York City's best because Brooklyn-based Long Island University has returned to major-college status for the first time since the basketball scandals of the early '50s. Little All-America Guard Larry Newbold, who led the Blackbirds to a 22-2 record and a No. 1 small-college ranking last season, is gone, but 6'7" Center Luther Green, an outstanding rebounder and a 17.1 scorer, is back.