With holiday tournaments over, most of the nation's major-college teams got down to more provincial business, the battle for conference championships. One team, Auburn, lost its undefeated standing in its very first Southeastern Conference game, but Bradley (12-0), Ohio State (10-0) and Vanderbilt (10-0)—along with independents Louisville (13-0) and DePaul (9-0)—were still unbeaten.
It was already apparent that there were a flock of contenders for the Southeastern Conference title. In 15 straight games Auburn had confounded opponents with its cautious, shuffling offense. The Tigers moved the ball dexterously, played for the good shot and usually made it. But last Saturday, convinced that ball control was the only way to beat Auburn, Mississippi State Coach Babe McCarthy shrewdly sent his team into a frustrating stall. He put agile 6-foot-6 Jerry Graves (who scored 24 points) on the high post, and the Maroons ended the Tigers' 36-game home-winning streak 56-48.
Kentucky, in a rare departure from Coach Adolph Rupp's standpat basketball philosophy, used a new approach to whip Georgia Tech 89-79. Not even The Baron was able to dream up a way to stop Tech's deft Roger Kaiser, who scored 38 points, but the Wildcats destroyed the Jackets' pesky zone press with a 3-2 offense which left shooting room in the corners. With this accomplished, Billy Ray Lickert, Ned Jennings and Paul Newman shot over the harried defenders for a total of 62 points as Rupp chortled gleefully on the sidelines. Vanderbilt, too, was looking more and more like a full-fledged challenger after a 68-66 victory over Tennessee.
Wake Forest easily defeated Clemson 81-59 and Virginia 88-61 to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the Deacons were worrying about Duke and North Carolina. The Blue Devils, with sophomore Art Heyman scoring 28 points, rallied to overhaul Navy 78-63, then beat North Carolina State 81-67 as Heyman got 27 more. Meanwhile, North Carolina had its troubles against Notre Dame. Behind 70-64 with three minutes to play, the Tar Heels barely made it past the Irish, 73-71, on Jim Hudock's last-second tap-in.
Big Chris Smith picked off 26 rebounds and scored 19 points as Virginia Tech beat The Citadel 73-63 (before losing to Alabama 74-56) to take the Southern Conference lead. But West Virginia wasn't far behind. The Mountaineers, led by sophomore Jim McCormick and Rod Thorn, perked up their fast break to run down VMI 87-72 and Furman 105-90.
Louisville, on the verge of losing for the first time, finally slipped past Eastern Kentucky 70-69 on Ron Rubenstein's corner shot in the final second. However, the Cardinals had things easier in Milwaukee, where Marquette couldn't cope with John Turner's shooting and succumbed 84-63. The top three:
1. LOUISVILLE (13-0)
2. NORTH CAROLINA (8-2)
3. DUKE (11-1)
Coach Joe Lapchick, hardly a stoic, was particularly upset as he watched his St. John's team flounder against Temple's zone defense, miss easy shots and give up the ball to the smaller Owls. But, finally, the Redmen began to throw their height around, and Temple found it too much to overcome. Six-foot-9 LeRoy Ellis and 6-foot-5 Tony Jackson each scored 27 points, and St. John's won 81-60. St. Bonaventure experienced some of the same difficulty against little Belmont Abbey. The Bonnies stumbled and bumbled for a while, but a super second-half performance by graceful Tom Stith (who scored 35 points in all) enabled them to win 75-63 for their 96th straight at their home court in Olean. A 32-point splurge by sophomore Fred Crawford then helped them beat Duquesne 89-78.