A rise in spectator interest and the fall of some favorites in holiday tournaments marked the final week of shakedowns before the start of college conference races. The list of unbeaten major schools was down to four—Ohio State, Villanova, Mississippi State and Seton Hall—with the Buckeyes and once-beaten Cincinnati moving away from the field as the class teams of the year.
Cincinnati's Bearcats mopped up New York's Holiday Festival with preliminary wins over St. John's and LaSalle and then beat an undermanned but spirited Wisconsin team 101-71 in the finals. NIT champion Providence lost games and prestige in the tournament when the Friars' two post men, Jim Hadnot and John Thompson, got their combined 164 inches of muscle tangled under the boards and slowed the team's attack. St. Bonaventure moved up by knocking De Paul from the unbeatens 70-60, with talented sophomore Miles Aiken on the bench. Aiken was grounded by Bonnie Coach Larry Weise for reporting late after the Christmas break. Villanova advanced to a 10-0 mark with a convincing victory over nationally third-ranked Duquesne as senior Hubie White and sophomore George Leftwich combined for 43 points. Temple's fiery Bruce Drysdale collected 28 points and a most-valuable-player award in leading the Owls to an 85—67 victory over Miami of Florida and the championship of the Hurricane Classic.
Before a packed house in Atlanta, Charlie Lee of Rhode Island made history. The Negro Ram star competed in the first non-segregated collegiate athletic contest in Georgia, possibly opening the way for the acceptance of Negro players on southern teams. Oglethorpe, the host team, beat the Yankee Conference champions 64-47. Kentucky breezed past Yale 79-58 and began to look like another Adolph Rupp powerhouse. W. D. Stroud's jump shot, with three seconds to go, saved SEC titlist Mississippi State in the Sugar Bowl as the Bulldogs edged Maryland 64-62. Sophomore whiz Bucky Keller scored 30 points to lead VPI to a 78-69 win over Florida for the Gator Bowl crown. Using as many as four sophomores as starters, Duke passed Wake Forest as ACC leader Art Heyman shuttled between front court and backcourt, combined with newcomer Jeff Mullins to give the Blue Devils two potent (average: 46.9) weapons.
Big Ten teams, emulating their football brethren, collected laurels all over the country. Wisconsin's Badgers, led by the whirling figure of Ron Jackson, beat Dayton's pro-sized Flyers 105-93 in New York. Ohio State in general, and Jerry Lucas in particular, captured the Los Angeles Classic. Illinois beat Manhattan 61-56 behind Center Bill Burwell's clutch baskets in Chicago, and Iowa whipped Ivy contender Perm 72-64 in Philadelphia. Northwestern stayed at home, was pushed to an overtime by Princeton, but won on Ralph Wells's goal in the last five seconds. The Big Eight did not do so well. Kansas State looked shaky in the KC competition before beating inept Missouri 62-57. The Tigers tamed Hank Iba's Oklahoma State team 60-44 before bowing to K-State. In the oddball game of the week, St. Louis broke a four-game losing streak with a 60-foul triumph over Notre Dame, 81-72. John Benington's Billikens used a full-court press because, Benington said, "The kids don't have time to think and tighten up when they press." The refs hit Benington with a technical foul for calling one of their decisions "chintzy," and Center Garry Garrison with another "for stepping on an Irish player." Said losing ND Coach Johnny Jordan: "The game set basketball back 50 years."
In the oldest of the holiday scrambles, Bowling Green played Jack the Giant Killer with an upset of fifth-ranked Wichita at the 26th annual All-College Tournament at Oklahoma City. The Falcons then played an ultra-conservative game in the finals, came back from a seven-point deficit at the half and beat Houston 47-45. Texas Western coasted to the Sun Carnival title at El Paso with an easy defensive win, 73-55, over New Mexico. At Lubbock, Texas, in a preview of the Cotton Bowl football match-up, Texas beat Mississippi 87-71, then overwhelmed William and Mary 84-71. Making it an SWC sweep, Texas Tech beat W&M 91-70 and Ole Miss 93-70, with 6-foot-10 Harold Hudgens getting 28 points and 20 rebounds in 26 minutes of action. Arkansas beat Clemson for its seventh straight, and SMU took St. Louis 63-53. Said Mustang Coach Doc Hayes of the now-popular pressing defenses: "You've got to have plenty of speed for that sort of thing. I'm wondering who vaccinated those teams with that needle."
With an improved Billy McGill shooting at a 38-point clip and the four other players serving as ammunition carriers, Utah may be the best in the Rockies. The Redskins took third place in the Los Angeles Classic by beating UCLA 88-79. Utah State gets its chance Saturday in a family feud with Utah as the Skyline race opens for both teams. In one of their four meetings Montana Stopped Montana State College 69-61, with pint-sized Guard Ray Lucien scoring 18 for the Grizzlies. Traveling California teams had a terrible Christmas season, a road record of three wins and 23 defeats and endless complaints about "hometown referees." Said John Arndt, Loyola athletic director: "I guess the way to beat the officials on the road is to take a hometown hero with you. We had Ed Bento [from Honolulu] with us when we went to Hawaii, and the referees were asking him if the officiating suited him." Loyola beat the University of Hawaii three times.