Tournament berths were disappearing as fast as ice cream at a kindergarten birthday party as both the NCAA and NIT reached out with grasping hands. Conference champions already in the NCAA were Michigan State ( Big Ten), TCU (Southwest), West Virginia (Southern), Kansas State (Big Eight), St. Joseph's (Mid-Atlantic), St. Mary's (West Coast), Idaho State (Rocky Mountain) and Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley), while Marquette, DePaul, Portland, Louisville and Navy were tapped for at-large bids. Defending champion Kentucky, tied with banned Auburn for second place, was selected to represent the Southeastern after first-place Mississippi State decided that it could not compete against Negroes (see below). California (Pacific Coast), Utah (Skyline), Cincinnati (Missouri Valley) and Connecticut (Yankee) also moved within reaching distance.
The NIT, forced to forage among the nation's independents and some conference also-rans, locked up St. John's, Villanova, Oklahoma City, Providence, St. Bonaventure, Butler, Fordham, NYU and Manhattan and was impatiently waiting for St. Louis and Bradley to be eliminated in the Missouri Valley.
Once-beaten Mississippi State, making the most of Tennessee's 56-55 upset of Auburn, trampled Tulane 65-51 as Bailey Howell raised his conference total to 2,004 points to break Bob Pettit's record, then patiently waited out stalling Mississippi 23-16 to win its first SEC crown. But before the Maroons could rejoice came the decision that everyone expected. Ruled President Ben Hilbun: State could not go to the NCAA tournament because it was contrary to state policy and custom "to participate in tournaments in which integrated teams are entered."
If State was chagrined by the news, Kentucky, pushed into the NCAA through the back door, hailed it as an extraordinary piece of good fortune. Meanwhile, Kentucky's Adolph Rupp, incensed at Alabama's slowdown tactics in a game which the Wildcats won 39-32, took dead aim at the Crimson Tide's Gene Lambert. Cracked Rupp: "That kind of basketball will empty coliseums faster than good coaches can fill them." Replied Lambert: "I'm tired of being badgered by Rupp because we don't play his type of game. Any time Rupp can't put on a show, he feels that he is being mistreated."
West Virginia overpowered Davidson, 100-65, William and Mary 85-82 and The Citadel 85-66 to win its fifth straight Southern Conference tournament. But North Carolina and North Carolina State, warming up for the Atlantic Coast playoffs, ran into trouble. The Tar Heels were upset by Virginia 69-68; State succumbed to fired-up Eastern Kentucky 71-69.
Michigan State's rollicking rebounders never lost their poise or their control as they nudged aside taller Indiana 86-82 at Bloomington to win their first undisputed Big Ten title. Limber-legged Johnny Green, the biggest 6-foot-5 player in the conference, outleaped 6-foot-10 Walt Bellamy off the boards, held the giant Hoosier to 13 points and put away 20 himself to share scoring honors with Bob Anderegg.
Cincinnati, growing stronger as it began to pick up the NCAA scent, rumbled over Tulsa 92-69, Duquesne 88-69 and Houston 78-66, and the roughest Bearcat of them all was marvelous Oscar Robertson, who flipped in 113 points and moved closer to his second major-college scoring championship. But Cincinnati, not quite out of the woods in the Missouri Valley, still had to beat Bradley or St. Louis. Big Eight champion Kansas State flogged old rival Kansas 87-77 before 17,000 at Lawrence.