Even this early in the season there are signs that eastern basketball will be formidable enough to retrieve some of the prestige it has lost in recent years. Although St. John's had its national image bruised at Manhattan, Kans., unbeaten Providence, NYU, Villanova and Duquesne continued to nurture winning streaks and St. Bonaventure acquired new respect by winning the Blue-grass Invitational at Louisville.
The most impressive victory was scored by Duquesne, which upset Duke 66-61 in the opening round of the Steel Bowl at Pittsburgh. Clyde Arnold and Mike Rice held Duke's Art Heyman to 20 points and their hustling teammates did the rest. Next night Duquesne beat Pitt 73-70 for the title.
St. Bonaventure showed its traditional hustle in the Bluegrass Invitational. While talented sophomore Miles Aiken bombed away for 22 points, the Bonnies swarmed all over Western Kentucky on defense and finally edged the Hilltoppers 66-65 on two one-handers by Ed Petrovick and a pair of foul shots by Orrie Jirele. Then Louisville got the same treatment. Despite a chipped bone in his left wrist, Aiken pushed in 36 points and Jirele dropped in two more free throws in the closing seconds for a 73-72 victory.
Auburn picked the Birmingham Classic for an unexpected show of strength. Attacking diligently and methodically from their shuffle offense, the Tigers repeatedly maneuvered 6-foot-7 Layton Johns and Billy Tinker into position for good shots and beat LSU 67-50 and Virginia Tech 77-63. However, SEC favorite Kentucky wasn't worried—yet. Cotton Nash was both spectacular and effective as he scored 53 points to lead the Wildcats past St. Louis 86-77 and Baylor 90-64.
Meanwhile, some top ACC teams were running into trouble. North Carolina was beaten by Indiana 76-70 and Wake Forest was having far more trouble than preseason ratings indicated. The Deacons lost to Florida 71-65, beat Virginia 84-65, then faltered against Maryland. Len Chappell scored 18 points in the first half, but the Terps' Jerry Greenspan held him to eight in the second half and Maryland won 79-62.
For a while it appeared that Cincinnati's winning streak would go down the drain in Des Moines. With five minutes to go, the Bearcats trailed Drake 52-42 and Coach Ed Jucker's overexuberance had cost them two points on technical fouls. Then Cincinnati began to press. Drake fell apart and Paul Hogue's four foul shots in the final minute put the Bearcats ahead 60-59. Jucker was more relaxed five nights later back home in Cincinnati, when his team whomped Marshall 77-49 for its 27th straight.
St. John's played one Big Eight team too many. After beating Oklahoma 68-49 at home and Kansas 64-59 at Lawrence, the Redmen were overwhelmed by Kansas State's manpower and lost 63-50.