FIVE TO WATCH
Much has been written about the New South this year, but little about the basketball prowess at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, who have been Southeastern Conference patsies for a long, long time, have a shot at the SEC crown. Things have really changed around Starkville. In 1957 Mississippi State was scheduled to play a game in Indiana against Evansville College, but was recalled by the president of the university when it was learned Evansville was starting a black player. Kermit Davis was on the Mississippi State team that season; now he is the Bulldog coach and he will start five blacks.
State showed signs of brilliance at the end of last year, when it played well on the road and nearly beat Kentucky a second time. Now Davis adds freshman standout Ricky Brown (6'10", 215 pounds) at center to the cast that includes super soph Ray White (6'5", 18.3 points a game) at guard, sophomores Wiley Peck and Gary Hooker in the corners and Al Perry, who set a school record in assists, at the other guard. Brown, who averaged 28.9 points and 19.8 rebounds a game in Atlanta and was considered the premier high school big man in the country last year, has dreams of returning to his old stomping grounds in Atlanta—site of the NCAA finals.
Arkansas may be a year away from having its best team ever, but the Razorbacks will fare well with Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer. Thanks largely to Moncrief, Arkansas was second in the nation in field-goal percentage last season. A 6'4" sophomore forward who can soar, Moncrief shot .665 from the floor last year, tops in the country, and word out of Fayetteville is that Sidney went home this summer and took 500 shots a day to improve his marksmanship. Brewer and Delph are also 6'4" and tremendous leapers, but the Razorbacks could get cut up at center if 6'11" sophomore Steve Schall or 6'9" JC transfer Ken Gehring don't develop quickly.
Last season North Texas State Coach Bill Blakeley put a sign on the back of his chair at courtside that read DON'T EXPECT MIRACLES. Blakeley then proceeded to take a team that was 6-20 in 1975, went 22-4 and averaged 96 points a game—second highest in the nation. But the Eagles weren't invited to either the NCAA tournament or the NIT, so Blakeley is beefing up his schedule by dropping all non-Division I teams. The Eagles can fly; there is not a player on the team who can't dunk. Junior-college transfer Charles McMillian, a 6'3" forward with a 22.5-point average, can perform a 42-inch vertical jump.
Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference last year, but then someone discovered the course of the Missouri River just couldn't keep up with the MVC's membership changes and the league has been renamed the Valley Conference. Whatever they call it, Wichita State should win the championship. Center Robert Elmore, a 6'10", 245-pound senior, and Lynbert (Cheese) Johnson, a 6'5" sophomore forward who has a nodding acquaintance with the top of the backboard, will lead the Shockers' sky-high attack. The Cheese smiles at his opponents on the court, probably because he knows something they don't.
Until last year VMI had never won more than 13 games. Then the short-haired Keydets posted a 22-10 record with victories over Tennessee and DePaul in the NCAA tournament. Senior Guard John Krovic, senior Forward Will Bynum and junior Swingman Ron Carter all can break the school's career scoring record this season. At 6'7", Center Dave Montgomery is the tallest returning starter, so the Keydets can't afford to miss many shots against teams with big men. Sophomore Jeryl Salmond, who paid to stay in school last year while waiting out a year of ineligibility, could turn out to be the best player in VMI history.
Last spring the forecast for Pepperdine called for sunny skies. The Waves had finished on top of the West Coast Athletic Conference with their best record (22-6) in 24 years. Then the clouds rolled in. League MVP Marcus Leite dropped out to play in Italy, and high-scoring Guard Dennis Johnson went to the SuperSonics as a hardship case. Seattle University could surprise the WCAC's strongman, San Francisco, with its two freshmen, seven-foot Jawaan Oldham and Guard Carl Ervin. The local pair played together six years, helping to win the state high school title the last two. They join 6'3" leaper Clint Richardson, the Chieftains' leading scorer and last year's conference Freshman of the Year, to give Coach Bill O'Connor a young, highly talented contender.
With the two top spots in the Pac-8 ticketed for UCLA and Washington State, there is a mad scramble for third. Oregon State, which had to forfeit 15 games it won with ABA signee Lonnie Shelton in the lineup, turns to 6'10" freshman Steve Johnson and junior-college transfer Alonzo Campbell to get itself back on track. Washington's 6'1" Chester Dorsey, the Pac-8 runner-up in assists, will look inside for seven-foot James Edwards as Coach Marv Harshman regroups after losing seven players from a 22-6 squad. Oregon Coach Dick Harter says, "This is my first season since 1971-72 when we're going in not expecting to improve." The Ducks lost their best guard, Ron Lee, to the pros, and knee surgery on two key players, 6'6" Stu Jackson and 6'10" Dan Hartshorne, may put too great a burden on conference scoring leader Greg Ballard.
Long Beach State doesn't want to share top billing in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association with anyone, and there's no reason why the 49ers should. Last season's co-champ, Fullerton State, lacks a center, so will be hard-pressed to stop the 49ers—especially now that Long Beach Forward Richard Johnson's right wrist is healed and redshirted Lloyd McMillian (Jim's brother) is eligible to play. Also, Coach Dwight Jones has five starters returning.
Arizona State's fast-breaking, high-scoring offense must integrate two new players in order to give chase to defending champion Arizona in the Western Athletic Conference. The pair of Californians, junior Mark Landsberger—once a junior college Player of the Year—and freshman Johnny Nash from Long Beach, who bypassed UCLA for the Sun Devils, seem tailored to Coach Ned Wulk's game. WAC runners-up UTEP and Utah must suffer with inexperienced front lines. The Miners rely on backcourt men Jake Poole and Ron Jones. Utah compensates with top WAC scorer Jeff Judkins (19 p.p.g.) and Guard Jeff Jonas, who owns the Ute season-assist record of 223.
Idaho State's seven-foot Steve Hayes is the big man in the Big Sky, but Boise State has three starters returning to defend its title.
Among the independents, Utah State should improve its 12-14 record, Air Force appears ready to better its best record (16-9) since 1962 and Denver—sixth in the nation on offense—retains its top five point-getters. At Portland State, junior Guard Freeman Williams, the nation's No. 2 scorer with a 30.9 average, heads an exciting offense.
Creighton and Oral Roberts, two independent powers, are suffering from the same symptoms, but neither is looking for a cure. Both teams have a rash of returning starters. Creighton has six of its top seven players back from a 19-7 season, including Coach Tom Apke's younger brother Rick, who averaged 16.8 points. Oral Roberts, 20-6 last year, lost only its center and will try to fill that void from among four giant freshmen, including John Hollinden, the tallest player in the country at 7'5". (Steady, sports fans, he's a Popsicle stick at 215 pounds.) Anthony Roberts (no relation to Oral) and Arnold Dugger will handle the scoring; they combined for 41 points a game last year. Both Creighton and Oral Roberts have tough early road schedules.
There should be plenty of healthy competition for defending champion Missouri in the Big Eight. Kansas and Kansas State are sure to press the Tigers now that Willie Smith, their team leader and 25-point scorer, is gone. Kansas has four starters back from a 13-13 team that lost six conference games by four points or less. Paul Mokeski's pulled hamstring, which held the seven-foot center to 10 points a game last season, is healed. Kansas State lacks the Jayhawks' height but has quickness in 6'1" Mike Evans, the Big Eight's top offensive guard, and faith in two highly touted freshmen from Brooklyn's Canarsie High, 6'2" Tyrone Ladson and 6'5" Curtis Redding. (Also included in the package was Canarsie Coach Mark Reiner, now a Kansas State assistant.)
The Metro Six was the nation's only conference to place half its members—Louisville, Cincinnati and Memphis State—in postseason tournaments. Now a seventh team, Florida State, comes aboard in the Metro's second year, hoping to receive its first NCAA bid since 1972. Memphis State Guard Dexter Reed and Center-Forward John Gunn, who provided the 21-9 Tigers with 25 points a game, are the best of Coach Wayne Yates' returning lettermen.
Southern Illinois Coach Paul Lambert is a most happy fella, and there are 10 good reasons why. His top eight Saluki scorers and rebounders are joined by two potential starting freshmen to challenge Wichita State for the Valley title. "One thing is certain," Lambert says, "there will be an Abrams at the point." Senior Corky Abrams, a 6'8" guard, owns the league field-goal percentage record of .767, but he may move to forward if his freshman brother Wayne moves in. The Salukis run a high-post offense, which means "get the ball to Mike Glenn," the 6'3" guard who once beat alumnus Walt Frazier one-on-one and had a 19.4-point average. West Texas State and New Mexico State both get back a splendid pair of guards; the Buffaloes' set of 6'1" Maurice Cheeks and 6'4" Melvin Jones is the league's best.
The Southwest Conference will have as many new faces as next year's White House, and the results are as tough to predict. Texas Tech, which won the league tournament, and regular-season champ Texas A&M have fallen on hard times. The Aggies have lost every starter, including leading-scorer Sonny Parker, while the Red Raiders must compete without alltime career-scorer Rick Bullock. Baylor has the best shot at the title with incumbent frontline strength and two junior college transfers, Russ Oliver and Larry Rogowski, both of whom can hit from outside. Houston senior Otis Birdsong, top SWC scorer with a 26.8 average, will try to lead the Cougars to the championship in their second year of eligibility. Texas Coach Abe Lemons, who inherited little to joke about at Texas, says, "All I have right now is a roster."
Pan American not only lost Lemons to Texas but also four starters, including the nation's No. 1 scorer, Marshall Rogers. Their four returning lettermen averaged fewer than 12 points collectively on a team whose 95.6-point offense ranked third in the nation.
"Leon Douglas made a great coach out of me for four years," says Alabama's modest C.M. Newton, who had an 89-22 record over that span. With Douglas gone to the pros, Newton visited with such coaches as Bob Boyd, Dean Smith and Bobby Knight, and decided to switch to a passing and motion offense. "We've been piddlin' and messin' with it," he says. Starting Guards Anthony Murray and T.R. Dunn will play their usual tenacious defense, and Reggie King, Rickey Brown and Keith McCord will make opponents work for everything inside. The biggest problem is replacing Douglas, who averaged 20.6 points and 12.6 rebounds last season. Auburn, behind Guard Eddie Johnson, could make a strong run in the well-balanced SEC. In Mike Mitchell, Myles Patrick and Cedric Hordges, the Tigers have the muscle to keep the championship in the state. As always, Florida will upset one of the favorites at Gainesville. "Playing in Gator Alley," claims Gary Hooker of Mississippi State, "is like playing on a back street in New York City."
Among the independents, Notre Dame faces another killer schedule. Coach Digger Phelps lost Adrian Dantley to the pros and Bill Laimbeer to the textbooks but has four solid returning frontliners in Bill Paterno, Bruce Flowers, Dave Batton and Toby Knight. Duck Williams will do the scoring and either Ray Martin or California freshman Rich Branning will direct the offense. Detroit Coach Dick Vitale has high-scorers John Long and Terry Tyler returning, and offered a scholarship to Tiger Pitcher Mark (the Bird) Fidrych, who declined.
Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin will all be playing under new coaches. Jud Heathcote starts out at Michigan State with 6'9" transfer Jim Coutre and three returning starters. Eldon Miller, who comes to Ohio State after winning at Western Michigan, will depend upon freshman Kelvin Ransey, who reminds some people of Michigan's Rickey Green. The first black basketball coach in the Big Ten, Wisconsin's Bill Cofield, brought in 6'7" Joe Chrnelich, 6'4" Arnold Gaines and 6'8" James Gregory, and all three are likely to start. Northwestern's Billy McKinney, Illinois freshman Levi Cobb and Iowa's Bruce (Sky) King are ready to move their teams up if the favorites falter. Minnesota has the talent to play with anyone, but a three-year NCAA probation will keep Center Mike Thompson (25.9 points and 12.5 rebounds per game) and the rest of the Gophers from competing in postseason play.
There are four new coaches in the Mid-American Conference, including Ray Scott, the former Detroit Piston coach who takes over at Eastern Michigan. Miami of Ohio is the heavy favorite with four solid starters returning from last year's 18-8 team that counted seven of its losses to tournament teams. Northern Illinois' Matt Hicks (25 p.p.g.) is among the league's better players, as is Tom Cutter of Western Michigan. In the Ohio Valley, Austin Peay is the favorite, despite the loss of leading scorer Sammy Drummer, who transferred to a junior college. Otis Howard and Ralph Garner are tough underneath, and Calvin Garrett and Dennis Pagan are deadly shooters.
After winning 127 of his last 170 games at Syracuse and accepting six consecutive postseason bids, Coach Roy Dan-forth did a curious thing. He resigned and went to Tulane, leaving new Coach Jim Boeheim with four NCAA-seasoned starters. Aided by his ex-teammate Dave Bing, Boeheim then recruited a trio of blue-chippers, including 6'11" Roosevelt Bouie. "I plan no changes," Boeheim says. Not on offense, defense or postseason travel.
Virginia defends its first ACC title in history but, alas, Wally Walker, the tourney MVP, is no longer on hand. To win it, the Cavs upended three Top 20 foes—N.C. State, Maryland and North Carolina—in a span of 55 hours, an invaluable experience for its nine returning lettermen, among them Billy Langloh (14.1 p.p.g.) and Marc Iavaroni (12.7). N.C. State Coach Norm Sloan has been low-key about his Wolfpack team, but he landed three splendid recruits—Clyde (the Glide) Austin, Hawkeye Whitney and Brian Walker—to take pressure off Olympian Kenny Carr, the ACC's top scorer. Clemson won a school-record 18 games in 1975, and Coach Bill Foster welcomes back Forward Stan Rome, who quit football to help his indoor game, and 7'1" Tree Rollins, who thinks he belonged in the Olympics, too. Like Clemson, Duke has a coach named Bill Foster and a seven-footer in Mike Gminski. But unlike the Tigers, it hasn't had a winning season since 1971-72. Wake Forest has Guard Skip Brown (21 p.p.g.) and a penchant for midseason fizzles.
Even with Phil Sellers and Mike Dabney gone, Rutgers outclasses Villanova, Massachusetts and George Washington in the East Division of the newly formed Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League. Hollis Copeland and Ed Jordan will have to score more, but Jim Bailey and Abdel Anderson can only improve as sophs. The Wildcats will unite Reggie Herron, a 6'5" frosh, with his brothers Keith (16.1 p.p.g.) and Larry (13.8). Massachusetts still has Jim Town, named the top player in New England, but it will miss those pairs of games against Yankee Conference foes. In the West Division, Pittsburgh's second-year Coach Tim Grgurich will unleash a trio of highly touted recruits, most notably 6'11" Ed Scheuermann, the most highly sought schoolboy in the state.
Princeton Coach Pete Carril seems hard-pressed to threaten Penn in the Ivy League now that Armond Hill, Barnes Hauptfuhrer and Mickey Steuerer have graduated. Columbia fans who used to leave Francis Levien Gym after the freshman game last year will be sticking around now to cheer on such sophomore stick-outs as Ricky Free, Alton Byrd and Juan Mitchell. Next year, watch out!
Lafayette's 6'9" frosh Charlie Naddaff, who wears size 19½ shoes, wrote Piston Bob Lanier, a size 19 himself, to locate a sneaker manufacturer. Lanier turned him on to a company in West Germany and, noting that an order takes six months to fill, sent along two pairs of his own shoes. Shod with pro sneaks, Naddaff joins 12 returnees, including Phil (Loch) Ness, a 58% shooter. Welcoming back four starters from its 18-12 season, Hofstra is the East Coast Conference team to beat.
Providence will struggle to run its string of 20-win seasons to seven. The backcourt is solid with Joey (Sonar) Hassett, a 17-point scorer, but academic woes have benched frontcourtmen Bill Eason and Bob Misevicius, at least for part of the year. South Carolina needs 6'9" freshman center Jim Graziano to be ready right from the start. His reputation indicates that he might be. Seton Hall has a rebounding terror in Glenn Mosley (13.8 a game), but St. John's, with a revamped lineup, will still rule the New York area. With a star in 6'6" Essie Hollis, a potential superstar in 6'6" Greg Sanders and two seasoned guards, St. Bonaventure is the Eastern sleeper.