With holiday tournament jousting behind them, the nation's college basketball teams tucked away the tinsel and hoopla for another day and got down to the risky business of conference warfare. Some, like Cincinnati, were nursing bruises after unexpected setbacks, while others, like North Carolina State and St. John's, were riding cloud-high.
Resourceful North Carolina State emerged from the Dixie Classic as the team to beat in the Atlantic Coast Conference. After barely squeaking by bumptious Louisville 67-61 in overtime, the Wolf-pack set a double-teaming trap for Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson, snapped it closed by having Dan Englehardt hawk "The Big O" from the front while John Richter brought up the rear and tamed the unbeaten Bearcats 69-60. Next came undefeated Michigan State, a 75-58 winner over North Carolina, but Coach Ev Case had still another defensive ace up his sleeve, combining a zone with Lou Pucillo's shotmaking to beat the Spartans 70-61 for the title. Meanwhile, North Carolina, pointing for a Jan. 14 showdown with the Wolfpack, came back to edge Cincinnati 90-88 and thump Notre Dame 69-54 on national TV.
Kentucky, never quite looking great but almost always adequate, ran over Navy 82-69, squirmed past Illinois 76-75 before 18,274 at Louisville—largest crowd ever to see a regular-season game in the South—and eased by Georgia Tech 72-62 to run its undefeated string to 11. But Coach Adolph Rupp was already worrying about Auburn, a band of fast-breaking country boys who owned the nation's longest winning streak—19 straight. The Tigers beat Florida State 69-62, then persuaded travel-weary Mississippi State to play its running game and rewarded the Maroons with their first loss, 97-66, in an SEC opener. Moaned State's Coach Babe McCarthy: "We just don't play like that. We couldn't handle their shuffle. I guess somebody can, but I'm not the man to think up a way. They just whipped our fanny."
West Virginia, ahead of the pack in the Southern Conference, rebounded from two stunning defeats to beat Tennessee 76-72 and Yale 80-72.
New Yorkers, quick to praise visiting heroes, drooled over one of their own after Tony Jackson (see right), a limber-legged, 6-foot 3-inch sophomore, scored 33 points and picked off 22 rebounds to lead St. John's to a 90-79 victory over St. Joseph's (Pa.) in the Holiday Festival final, and then helped the Redmen hold off Temple 81-76.
Unbeaten St. Francis (Pa.) plucked the brass ring in the Carrousel Classic at Charlotte, N.C., holding on grimly in the face of a gallant Fordham rally to win 74-71. The Rams found things no easier back home in the East, losing to Connecticut 74-63. Dartmouth, a 72-69 winner over Canisius in the Queen City tournament, was thumped by Holy Cross 83-66.
The Big Ten, long a jungle for favorites, got off the mark in its usual unpredictable fashion. Purdue was the first to feel the wrath of an underdog, losing to Michigan 82-75, while Michigan State and Illinois just did manage to survive. A jump shot by State's Horace Walker squelched Indiana 79-77; Illinois' Lou Landt pilfered a throw-in and scored to beat Ohio State 81-80. Northwestern held on long enough to edge rallying Iowa 80-77, and Minnesota drubbed Wisconsin 79-66.