Breathing down the necks of the top 20 are five teams that may end up among them. Creighton is a for-instance; that's where Cyril Baptiste plays, and if you have not seen him lately, says a man who has, "You ain't seen nothing." It is hard to miss Baptiste, all 6'9", 230 pounds of him. After a full season under the Bluejays' personable young coach, Eddie Sutton, and a tour with the Olympic development team, Baptiste is quicker, smarter, more explosive inside and ready to dominate games the way Bob Gibson, once a fine Creighton basketball player, now controls rival batters. Sutton arrived on the small (2,600 undergraduates) Jesuit campus in Omaha from Southern Idaho College last season and impressed everybody with his first team, which wound up 16-10. Almost everyone is back, and the Blue-jays are already scaring people with their potential. Joe Bergman, 6'9", who was drafted by both pro leagues after last season but chose to stay around and play the first semester (19 games), and 6'6" Dennis Bresnahan will help with their excellent corner shooting while playmaker Mike Caruso and sophomore Al Lewis provide speed and savvy in the backcourt. Creighton missed a tournament bid on the final day last season by losing to Houston. It will not miss this year. A Baptiste among the Jesuits is too good a parlay.
In some ways Pacific comes into the new season with even better credentials than Creighton. It tied for the championship of the West Coast Athletic Conference but lost the playoff to Santa Clara, thus missing out on the NCAA Tournament. There was nothing for the frustrated Tigers to do with their 21-6 record but return to their quiet campus in Stockton, Calif. and sulk. Now they are cheerful again, mainly because of 6'10" hometown boy John Gianelli, who averaged 18.5 points and eight blocked shots a game as a sophomore. Coach Dick Edwards has back both starting guards, Bob Thomason and Robbie Sperring, and ample talent to fill the vacated forward spots. But Gianelli's presence alone should make Pacific's last campaign in the WCAC pleasant. Next year it switches to the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, where it is liable to be frustrated again, this time by Cal State Long Beach.
Teams on the University of Louisville's schedule had better be in shape. "We're going to run more than we ever have before," says Coach John Dromo and, for a club known for its fast breaks, that could be plenty. What hurt Louisville during the 1969-70 season was that dread disease known as sophomoritis. With four of the species in the lineup, the Cardinals made a whopping 481 turnovers. Says Dromo, ' "We'll have to cut that at least in half if we're going to have a championship club." The present team has the talent to cut down and then some. Guard Larry Carter is a deadeye outside shooter, and Forward Henry Bacon is a fine all-round player. Both are juniors, as are 6'9" Al Vilcheck and Jim Price. The fifth spot will be fought over by 6'6" JC transfers Ron Thomas and Ken Bradley, and John Studer and Mike Lawhon. "We should be improved," says Dromo, in something of an understatement.
Jarrett Durham—an ideal name for a Duke—led Duquesne in scoring the past two seasons and should do it again if the Nelson twins, Barry and Garry, continue their tag-team act underneath. Any math major knows that 6'10" and 240 pounds multiplied by two equals an infinite number of rebounds. Barry will be the center and Garry a forward, or is it Garry at center and Barry at forward? Usually, however, Coach Red Manning will start Barry and use Garry in relief unless he needs height, in which case opponents get both barrels. Mickey Davis, a 6'7" junior, finished behind Durham last year with a 15-point scoring rate. Manning has shooters and rebounders and 10 men to choose among as a replacement for playmaker Billy Zopf, a three-year starter who never tired of supplying Durham with the right ammunition.
University of Georgia students call it the North Avenue Trade School, but Georgia Tech could not care less as long as it has such tinkerers around as Rich Yunkus. At the top of his class in industrial management, the 6'10", 210-pound senior is programmed to score 30 points a game, but Coach Whack Hyder has one reservation about him. "Yunkus doesn't have the rebounding ability of Alcindor," he says. To make up for that drawback, adds Hyder, "Yunkus has quickness and an ability to get shots that some of the bigger ones don't have. He can shoot anywhere from 20 feet in."
Tech's strategy will be for its backcourt of Jim Thorne and John Hoggle to get the ball inside to Yunkus. Thorne, a senior, averaged 10.3 points last year and could be a factor if defenses collapse around Yunkus. Tommy Wilson will help with the rebounding, as should a good sophomore, Bruce Brown. Peanut Murphy, 6'2", will play in the frontcourt when more shooting is needed. The printout on this collection of trade schoolers should make lively reading by late winter.
Here is Southern Stereotype No. 1,861: lanky youth standing tall under a magnolia tree with a cool drink (mint julep?) in hand. Now, if the truth were known, bolted to the other side of that tree is a basketball hoop and 6'7" Beauregard is gulping Gatorade. Basketball-rich Dixie again has a wealth of talent—some of it so fresh that Kentucky, South Carolina and Davidson are no longer sure winners on the tournament Scrabble board. In the Southeastern Conference, for instance, Tennessee and Vanderbilt look especially capable and Mississippi has a player who not only can score like Pete Maravich, but, gasp, he plays defense. The lad's name is John Neumann and last year he averaged 38.4 points per game on the best freshman team in the conference.
The optimism at Tennessee springs from Coach Ray Mears' plan to speed up his cautious possession game with some old-fashioned run-and-gun. Freshmen scoring aces Mike Edwards and Greg Hawkins join two returning starters in the new-look attack. Vanderbilt's best is 6'7" Thorpe Weber, a 15.7 scorer who would do better if only ever-growing Steve Turner, the nation's tallest collegian, catches up with his 7'4" rebounding potential. Conference sleeper Alabama, with its top six men returning, will feature talented Wendell Hudson, the school's first black athlete. Auburn has 6'2" John Mengelt, the SEC's most offensive returnee. He averaged 26.8 points a game in 1969-70. Without Maravich, LSU will count nothing more than the days to Mardi Gras.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, North Carolina Coach Dean Smith predicts a "six-way battle for third place." It probably would be more accurate to expect the prime challengers—after South Carolina and Duke—to be Smith's Tar Heels, North Carolina State and Maryland. With Charlie Scott gone, Bill Chamberlain, Dennis Wuycik and two other former high school All-Americas will have more room to roam at North Carolina. State, which upset South Carolina in last year's tournament, also had a key loss in Vann Williford, but juniors Ed Leftwich and Paul Coder are good in their own ways. While freshman Tom McMillen wows the preliminary game crowds, Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell will build around newcomers like Jim O'Brien, whose 30-point average topped all ACC freshmen last year, and Barry Yates, a 24-year-old sophomore who will captain the team. A veteran of four years in the Coast Guard, Yates was due for promotion anyway.
The best player in the ACC—north of Columbia, S.C., at least—is at Wake Forest. "The skinny kid will be playing as badly as ever," deadpans Coach Jack McCloskey of Charlie Davis, who scored 25.5 points a game last season. At the ACC tournament in 1969, University of Virginia players tried unsuccessfully to secure the ouster of Coach Bill Gibson. Twenty months later Gibson has, possibly, his best talent ever. Tall Scott McCandlish and Bill Gerry return to form an imposing double post, two-year starter Mike Wilkes is back after choosing to sit out last year and Barry Parkhill moves up from the freshman team where he averaged over 26 points a game. Basketball fortunes, which seem to grow worse at Clemson, can only improve under new Coach Tates Locke.
"Davidson is human again," says William & Mary Coach and former Wildcat assistant, Warren Mitchell, and that clarifies the Southern Conference picture. With three three-year starters gone, Davidson's Bryan Adrian will have to score all night—after he recovers from minor knee surgery. East Carolina, the league's tallest front line, offers a stiff challenge to the Wildcats, and who can be sure about Furman, where Joe Williams unpacks after rousing success at Jacksonville? Williams will try to start fast with some appealing junior college players.
"Essentially, this is the year of the sophomore in the Big Ten," says Ohio State Coach Fred Taylor. "I believe 31 of the top 40 scorers last year have completed their eligibility, so the conference title will be won by the team that can get the whole thing together the quickest." The one team well could be his Buckeyes, who have their best sophomores since the Lucas gang. The new faces feature 6'11½" Luke Witte and Guard Allan Hornyak, who scored 86 and 61 in successive high school games. Best of the Bucks, however, will be senior Guard Jim Cleamons, who averaged 21.6 points last season and, according to Taylor, "is the someone to solidify things."
Minnesota, too, has new people, happily most of them talented. To put things in their proper sequence, first there is 6'8" Forward Jim Brewer, and then there is new Coach George Hanson. Brewer has caused almost as much talk around the Midwest as Indiana's George McGinnis or Illinois' Nick Weatherspoon. Purdue lost scoring-machine Rick Mount and must get consistent guard play from previously erratic Larry Weatherford, but there is good talent left over, notably aggressive Forwards George Faerber and Bob Ford.
Independent Dayton could have a better record than its 19-8 of last season, when the Flyers lost at the Midwest Regional in Houston. Top rebounder George Jackson returns at center and top scorer Kenny May (Don's brother) comes back, too. Coach Don Donoher seems to have his teams right around the 20-victory mark every year no matter what his material or schedule looks like.
Tulsa has 6'10" Dana Lewis, the New Jersey lad who transferred from nearby Oral Roberts when he tired of such Bible-school discipline as "demerits for being in your room on Sunday morning." Lewis averaged 21.3 points last season. Additional scoring power should come from Guard Steve Bracey, who somehow found his way from Brooklyn to Kilgore (Texas) Junior College to Tulsa. He led all the juco players in the nation in scoring last year. Bradley will have a truly veteran team with Guard Al Smith back after two years in the Army. He averaged 16.7 and 17.8 points a game before departing and played close to 100 games in the service. The Braves also feature "the world's shortest college starter," 5'4" Frank Sylvester. Cincinnati, 21-6 last season, is no longer in the Missouri Valley Conference and probably would not be in contention if it were. The Bearcats lost their three top scorers, two through graduation. The third, excellent shooter John Fraley, decided to transfer to Georgia. "We emphasize pattern play, defense and distribution in shooting," said Coach Tay Baker. "I suppose this is not his type of basketball."
In the Big Eight, defending champion Kansas State has a new coach, Jack Hartman, who built a fine record at Southern Illinois. The Wildcats also have six good men but barely enough manpower after that to hold a scrimmage. Guard Eddie Smith and Forward David Hall are talented players back from last season and 6'10" sophomore Steve Mitchell "has tremendous potential." Colorado lost playmaker Gordon Tope, yet nobody is crying for the poor Buffaloes. Any team with Cliff Meely and Jim Creighton has to be a title contender.
The Mid-American Conference should belong to Toledo, which has 7' Doug Hess back and two other starters, plus a good sophomore crop. Defending champion Ohio U., always well coached by Jim Snyder, will not be far behind with Center Craig Love. Fifteen minutes by El from Chicago Stadium, De Paul has a poor enough team to convince Coach Ray Meyer that it is time for his retirement. Loyola has 6'9" LaRue Martin. He is skinny and he tends to foul out, but he is counted on heavily in the face of the team's extremely difficult schedule. What possibly could hurt Coach George Ireland is that he has fewer than his usual quota of New York imports. Yes, he agrees, but then he lights up when he thinks of Guard Ron Black of Brooklyn. "He's sort of sensational," says Ireland.
When Barry Goldwater ran for President six years ago his campaign featured a television commercial in which the Eastern Seaboard was last seen floating out into the Atlantic Ocean. In 1970, with so many good Eastern basketball teams around (all of them, it seems, with a player named James Brown), a lot of coaches would be happy to see the effete East disappear. Reason enough is to be found in the Ivy League, where Harvard and Dartmouth, who between them have had only one winning season since Goldwater's little jest, are suddenly brimming with talent.
The Crimson has three starters returning, but better yet, it has last year's freshman team, which won 17 games and lost only two (each by two points) while averaging 105 points a game. It was led by James Brown. Coach Bob Harrison promises to insure Brown's professional value by playing the 6'6" sophomore at guard. Another sure-starting soph is Floyd Lewis, a powerful rebounder. Harvard could make the nation's top 20, if not this year, surely next.
Dartmouth also has a James Brown. This one averaged 28.7 points for a 16-3 freshman team (the Indians split two games with Harvard), and will fill one of three varsity vacancies. No less certain of a job is veteran Forward Paul Erland, who carries a 21.8 scoring average. There is no James Brown at Princeton but there is a Brian Taylor, who led the freshmen to a 17-0 record with a 28.6 average—and that is quite enough to please even Coach Pete Carril.
Graduation losses were especially heavy—but not necessarily painful—among a number of Eastern independents. St. John's is missing four starters and Coach Lou Carnesecca, but the Jamaica Redmen, like the Ivies, had a superb freshman team. It was led by Mel Davis, who years ago forsook the Bedford-Stuyvesant tradition of Lenny Wilkens and Connie Hawkins and said he'd rather be a swimmer. He plays basketball now, real basketball, and so does Bill Schaeffer, another excellent sophomore. But St. John's will not have New York City all to itself. Backcourtmen Henry Seawright and Brian Mahoney, who both averaged in double figures for Manhattan last year, could again lead the Jaspers back into the NIT. Long Island will start four sophomores who played on a 17-1 freshman team. Army also suffered heavy graduation losses, but it does not take much talent to hold the ball, which is what the Cadets mostly do.
With the Bob Lanier era over at St. Bonaventure, lithe Matt Gantt will try to hold things together in a new attack that features a faster-paced offense and a man-to-man defense. Gone also is Calvin Murphy from Niagara, so who else should come along but his half-brother, Robert Miller, who was high scorer on a 20-2 freshman team. Among the other top independents, Holy Cross has five returnees led by Center Bob Kissane (22 points, 12 rebounds) and Providence has four starters back. Friar Coach Dave Gavitt now must do something with freshman star Ernie DiGregorio (27.9).
In the Yankee Conference only two starters are left from Massachusetts' outstanding 1969-70 team, but one of them is 6'6" Julius Erving, who averaged 26 points and 21 rebounds, second best in the nation, and could be enough to hold off Connecticut. In the Middle Atlantic Conference defending champion Temple has only its top scorer missing. The emphasis there will be on a strong array of varying defenses. LaSalle, which lost Coach Tom Gola to Philadelphia's city hall, would have been even worse off had 6'7" Center Ken Durrett accepted a professional bid. Durrett is back, however, and should hang up his third straight year as a 10-rebound and 20-point-per-game man. St. Joseph's, meanwhile, will depend on sophomores up from a 21-2 freshman team.
And, oh, yes, Rutgers has a center—name of James Brown.
New Mexico State trying for a fifth straight NCAA tournament bid, probably will have to settle for second-best among Aggies of the cactus-and-mountain country, behind Utah State. But the beep-beeps from New Mexico Aggie fans are going to drive opponents nuts as little Milton (Road-runner) Horne moves up to a starting position. And Coach Lou Henson is going back to a high-post offense built around 6'8" Jeff Smith, the only returning starter. As usual, Henson has a sensational sophomore, JC transfer Harry Ward. Not as usual, Ward is from right there in Gila-monster country—Hobbs, N. Mex.
WAC seems more appropriate as an acronym than ever. About the only predictable things in the Western Athletic Conference are the entrance requirements. New Mexico has a 6'8" center, Willie Long, to lead a team that includes 5'7" Petie Gibson, grandson of the famed black baseball star, Josh Gibson. Brigham Young has not given up on Finns but will try a 6'10" Yugoslav Olympian at center. If the Cougars can survive further anticipated anti-Mormon demonstrations, they could do well. Texas at E1 Paso has no individual standout, which might make it easier for Don Haskins to install his feared team defense. Arizona must overcome disciplinary and racial problems, which plagued it last year. The Wildcats lost good guard Mickey Foster but they have size, depth and experience. Wyoming Coach Bill Strannigan is so used to handling midgets he does not know quite what to do with transfers Jerry Brucks (6'10") and Sam Ballard (6'7") and sophomore Rod Penner (6'10"). He will think of something.
Weber State is the Big Sky favorite, mainly because Willard Sojourner is back for his senior year. Sojourner, a big Pennsylvanian, is admired by the pros. Idaho State has Willie Humes, who averaged 30.5 points a game last season and is admired, too.
In the Southwest Conference, defending champion Rice will be hard put to beat off the challenges of Texas Tech, Texas and Texas A & M. The league seems to be no factor in postseason play, but at least it has balance. SMU has the best player in sharp-shooting Gene Phillips, who should break all SWC scoring records by the time his varsity career ends in the spring.
The misnamed player of the year could be Oregon's Stan Love. A 6'9" blond, he led the Pacific Eight in scoring last season (20.8), was known to spit at opponents and helped the Ducks beat UCLA at Eugene, 78-65. Coach Steve Belko says he loves Love again after putting the agile center on probation for some off-court, off-season scrapes. Oregon has three other starters back, plus good sophomores and three players who were red-shirted last season. At Oregon State it will be a long year while Ralph Miller, fresh from an undefeated Big Ten season at Iowa, instills his go-go "pressure" ideas in the onetime slowdown Beavers. Fans in Corvallis will think they are watching a new sport.
California plays only nine home games, which is a good thing for the four big Bears who might as well get used to life on the road. They are future pros: 6'9" Ansley Truitt, Arkansas-import Jackie Ridgle (a fine offensive player who is finally learning there is another half of the court), Phil Chenier and quick Charlie Johnson. So why aren't the Bears favored to win everything? Because they are small overall and have no bench. Graduation hurt Washington more than the other Pacific Eight contenders, but 6'10" Center Steve Hawes returns. As a sophomore he led the team in scoring and rebounding despite missing seven games because of a broken bone in his leg. The question is, how can Coach Tex Winter play Hawes and 6'10½" sophomore Mike Fink at the same time?
Santa Clara lost Dennis Awtrey and Ralph Ogden and Coach Dick Garibaldi, who went into shoe sales, but the Broncos could surprise in the WCAC. Their sophomore center, Mike Stewart, was a red shirt last year and worked every day in practice against Awtrey, which would toughen up anybody. Pepperdine's Waves will make their nickname more apropos in 1972 when they move from seedy South Los Angeles to glamorous Malibu. For now, the students at the little liberal arts school will have to make do with the present campus and hope to make waves with their basketball team. Coach Gary Colson has recruited players from as far away as Kentucky, Indiana and Georgia and should be in the fight for second place. And the University of San Francisco has a good new pivotman named Mike Quick. He has heard all the jokes.