For most of the nation's major-college teams the jousting for postseason tournament berths was over. The NCAA had 10 shiny new conference champions, two runners-up and nine at-large teams safely in the fold (see page 25) and waited patiently for decisions in the Big Eight, Missouri Valley, Southwest and Mid-Atlantic conferences. New York's NIT acquired Holy Cross (18-5) and the Skyline's third-place Colorado State U. (18-8) and hoped to fill out its 12-team field with the second best in the Missouri Valley (Bradley or Cincinnati) and Mid-Atlantic (Temple or St. Joseph's).
Around the Big Ten, Wisconsin Coach John Erickson is affectionately known as the "happy loser." Even when his Badgers finished deep in the second division the past two years, he was optimistic. This year his optimism was rewarded as Wisconsin won often enough to hang on to Ohio State's shirttails (until Minnesota upset the Badgers 92-90 last Monday) in the Big Ten race. Then, on Saturday, Erickson's cup overflowed. While 13,545 unbelieving fans in Madison roared appreciatively, Wisconsin soundly whipped Ohio State 86-67. It began like any other Ohio State game. Jerry Lucas scored OSU's first eight points, added three more and the Buckeyes led 15-14 after seven minutes. But Lucas didn't score again until the second half, and OSU never again had the lead. Tom Gwyn, a 6-foot-7 junior, covered Big Luke like a second jersey, and he picked up sagging support from his teammates when it was obvious that the Buckeyes were off target from long range. Meanwhile, the other Badgers were hustling their happy heads off. They survived OSU's vaunted defensive tricks—the pressing man-toman and even the all-court "rat" zone press—and harassed the Buckeyes with their own suddenly vigilant defense. They beat OSU off the boards when it mattered and ran merrily whenever they got the chance. But it was the long-distance popping of sophomore Don Hearden, who scored on 13 jumpers from outside, and Ken Siebel, who flipped in nine field goals from the corner, that ultimately beat the stunned Buckeyes. Hearden got 29 points, Siebel 22 and, for a change, Wisconsin's Erickson was a happy winner. Said he, "I'm still not sure it really happened. I believe in miracles, but this is almost too much." It was also too much for Ohio State's Fred Taylor. "We really got our dock cleaned," mourned Taylor, "but this isn't the end of the world. We'll just have to take our lumps and bounce back."
Despite its defeat, Ohio State was in the NCAA tournament as Big Ten representative. But defending champion Cincinnati still had some unfinished business before it could qualify. Bradley, after a bumbling start against St. Louis' aggressive half-court press, ran off 18 straight points in the second half and beat the Bills 58-47 to tie Cincinnati for the Missouri Valley title and set up a playoff March 12 in Evansville, Ind.
The Big Eight, too, appeared to be heading for a deadlock after Kansas State Coach Tex Winter found a way to thwart Colorado's big front line. He had guards Warren Brown and Dick Ewy press to disrupt Colorado's fast break and, when the Buffs did get through, the K-State defense retreated to jam the middle. The result: Colorado front-liners Ken Charlton, Jim Davis and Wilky Gilmore scored only 25 points, and Kansas State won 60-48. The top three:
1. OHIO STATE (22-1)
2. CINCINNATI (24-2)
3. KANSAS STATE (21-2)
After stumbling around for two-thirds of the season, Wake Forest was sitting on top of the ACC. But not before Clemson pulled off some astonishing upsets in the championship tournament in Raleigh. Clemson's Press Maravich came up with a combination zone that picked up individual opponents when they broke through, then switched off at the direction of the pivot man in the defense. Neither N.C. State nor Duke could solve it, and they both lost, State 67-46 and Duke 77-72. But Clemson's contrived combo wasn't nearly so effective against Wake Forest in the final. The Deacons, who had earlier beaten Virginia 81-58 and South Carolina 88-75, found a way to lick it. Play-maker Billy Packer pried apart the defense with his passes, big Len Chappell shot over it for 31 points and Wake won 77-66.
West Virginia was hurting badly when the Southern Conference tournament began in Richmond. Forward Paul Miller had quit with chronic foot trouble, Guard Jim McCormick was out with a calcium deposit on his thigh and Guard Dick Dubois was nursing a charley horse. But Rod Thorn was healthy enough and he led the Mountaineers past Richmond 97-75, George Washington 86-73 and jittery young Virginia Tech 88-72 for their seventh title in eight years.
Kentucky's Adolph Rupp didn't expect to win the SEC title. He knew that Mississippi State would wrap that up, and the Bulldogs did, by beating Tulane 83-62 and Mississippi 63-58. But Rupp also was aware of State's aversion to playing in the NCAA tournament, where it might have to mingle with Negroes. With this in mind, Rupp plotted carefully for his second-place battle with Auburn. Actually, all he really needed was Cotton Nash. The Tigers tried desperately to contain him, but each well-conceived and skillfully executed thrust at the basket by Auburn was nullified by a flip of Nash's wrist. He also put in 30 points, and Kentucky won 63-60. Then came what The Baron wanted so badly—an NCAA invitation. The top three: