When the basketball
season began four months ago the essential question was, "Can anyone beat
Ohio State?" This week, as 24 of the country's best teams get set for the
NCAA championship, the question is all but answered. No one has beaten the
Buckeyes yet, and it will be surprising if Ohio State doesn't win its second
straight national championship at Kansas City with the same ease that it went
through the entire regular season.
Ohio State is the
best college basketball team of all time. There is no better college center
than methodical, deadpan Jerry Lucas. He was an All-America as a sophomore, was
a standout on the U.S. Olympic team and has improved since then. He handles a
basketball casually and confidently, as if it were no bigger than a grape, and
goes about his own court business with the emotionless majesty of a Supreme
John Havlicek is a
ferocious defensive player whose forte is stopping the opposition's offensive
stars. He revels in such personal combat. In a timeout at a recent game a
trainer tried to wipe away the blood streaming from a cut on Havlicek's knee.
"Leave it there," said Havlicek. "It's good luck."
playmaker is Larry Siegfried. He is a big guard (6 feet 4 inches), adept at
spotting weaknesses and capable of capitalizing on them. He has an excellent
outside shot and likes to drive around any opponent who guards him closely.
Coached by Fred
Taylor, a demanding perfectionist, Ohio State is' above all confident and
smart. In winning 23 straight games this year it has faced teams that tried to
run it to death, and ran over them instead; has met slow creep-and-crawl
attacks, and showed it could creep and crawl much better. Against all
opposition the team shooting average is magnificent: Lucas .614, Havlicek .558,
Siegfried .462, Mel Nowell .479, Richie Hoyt .456.
In a season that
included one or more games against such top teams as Iowa, Purdue, Indiana, St.
Louis, Detroit and St. Bonaventure, OSU had only two close calls, a two-point
win over the Bonnies in New York and a one point defeat of Iowa at Iowa.
significant game, as far as opponents in the NCAA are concerned, was the 100-65
defeat of Indiana. There, with a variety of personal grudges involved, Ohio
State showed how it plays when it wants desperately to win. Without displaying
a flicker of excitement, it calculatingly crushed Indiana. OSU could be
expected to play the same way in the last two rounds of the NCAA.
If Ohio State is to
be beaten, the defeat almost certainly has to come in these last two rounds. As
the NCAA draw (right) shows, Ohio State should have a relatively easy time of
it until March 24 at Kansas City. Ohio University, the Ohio Valley Champion
( Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky will hold a playoff) and
the at-large team, which is yet to be picked, are all outclassed. Louisville
recently lost four of five, and neither Kentucky nor Vanderbilt, which will
hold a playoff for the Southeastern Conference spot, should bother OSU.
But the eastern
team which Ohio State must face in the Kansas City semifinals will be no patsy.
Unfortunately, the pairings in the East, the strongest single division of the
tournament, are preposterous. Three of the weakest teams, Princeton, George
Washington and St. Joseph's, are in one bracket, while three strong ones, St.
Bonaventure, St. John's and Wake Forest, are in the other. Only one of the
strong trio will even reach the quarter-finals, where it ought to win easily
and go to Kansas City. But which of the three? Logic dictates that it should be
St. Bonaventure. With lean and languid Tom Stith, the All-America who averages
30 points a game, and the highest-scoring offense in the country, the Bonnies
have ranked second nationally for weeks. But their fast-break offense and
frantic, pressing defense may have left this team too tired for a tournament
Wake Forest is a
surprising and strong entry from the Atlantic Coast Conference. When its two
little 5-foot 11-inch guards, Billy Packer and Alley Hart, are hitting from
outside to help huge (6 feet 8, 240 pounds) Len Chappell, this team looks very
good. But it must beat both St. Bona-venture and St. John's to stay in the
tournament. St. John's has been winning impressively of late (eight in a row).
It plays Wake Forest at Madison Square Garden, its home court, and could carry
the impetus of a win there down to Charlotte. St. John's does not play its best
on the road, however, and is severely hampered if Tony Jackson, its
high-scoring jump shot, is closely guarded.