Last week, however, President D. W. Colvard of Mississippi State dramatically announced NCAA travel plans for the Maroon squad—and State, written off and virtually an unknown quantity, became a real threat in the Mideast. The Maroons are, in fact, a good bet to pull the first major upset of the tournament. They will likely face Loyola—a team, incidentally, that has four Negro starters—and though all good Loyola fans know that Coach George Ireland's Ramblers and their mad-dash, 94-points-a-game offense will play Cincinnati for the national championship, they should also know more about Mississippi State. The Maroons haven't lost a "big" game in three years. Their slow, screening, give-and-go offense is just as tantalizing as Cincinnati's and just as deadly. "No team in the nation can make driving layups under pressure like Mississippi State," says Auburn Coach Joel Eaves, who ought to know. In addition, Maroon Forward W. D. (Red) Stroud is a very good medium-range jump shot. State's offense functions only against a man-to-man defense, but in three years not a single team has been able to stay in a zone defense against the Maroons. State holds the ball until the defense comes out to challenge. The team lacks only size. Its biggest starter is 6 feet 7.
Loyola Coach Ireland, meanwhile, is convinced there is no team in recent years to compare with his Ramblers. "The idea in basketball is to score as many points as possible, and that's what we do—we don't slow down at all. We are a matter-of-fact, unexcitable bunch that never gets upset." The Ramblers never play defense, either, and against Mississippi State this could hurt them.
Mississippi State would be a handful in the quarter-finals for the Big Ten entrant—Ohio State or Illinois. This presumes, of course, that the Big Ten team beats the Bowling Green-Notre Dame winner, which does take a bit of presuming since Bowling Green has been acting very tough lately.
A new OSU
Illinois is a strangely unbalanced mixture of great offense and poor defense (not unlike Loyola) that gets the ball airborne whenever there is daylight, leads its league in shots per game (77) and, happily for Coach Harry Combes, also leads inaccuracy (.464). It is a team quite different from Ohio State, and Ohio State, paradoxically, is quite different from the Ohio State teams that lost in the NCAA finals to Cincinnati the last two years. Coach Fred Taylor has gone conservative. No more run-and-shoot. State has become the Big Ten's best defensive club and, as never before, its offense is built around a single man. This is 6-foot-8 junior Gary Bradds, who has averaged 27.9 points a game, is more than one-third of the Buckeye attack and is the country's best center. Everybody knows he is the OSU offense, nobody has been able to do anything about it, not with zones, chasers or even picket lines outside the gymnasium. The Buckeyes are not, however, a fast team and there are grave inconsistencies in the play of their forwards, who only manage to score once a week or so.
An Ohio State-Mississippi State quarter-final would be a dandy, with the edge to Ohio State. Mississippi State, on the other hand, has too much defense for flighty Illinois. In any case, the survivor would figure to lose in the semifinals to Duke, which does more things better than any of them. Projecting the favorites in the upper bracket, Duke should defeat NYU (hot shots Barry Kramer and Happy Hairston notwithstanding) in the second round and then repeat over West Virginia in the quarterfinals at College Park. West Virginia has a history of early failure in the tournament. The Mountaineers have entered seven times since 1955 and lost five times in the first round. What is more, they lost to Duke by 40 points earlier this year. Rod Thorn has regained his best form for the Mountaineers, but probably not 40 points' worth.
Who would win a Duke- Cincinnati final? Duke is strong where Cincinnati is not—on the offense. Four of Duke's five starters hit better than 50% of their shots, and the fifth, the brilliant ex-bad boy, Art Heyman, averages 48.3, is the team high scorer (25.3 points a game) and the Associated Press' Player of the Year as well. Besides that, he doesn't lose his temper anymore. "I have," he says, "become humble." Conversely, only one of Cincinnati's five starters averages 50% (from the floor. Duke also has superior height, with the irrepressible Heyman (6 feet 5), Jay Buckley (6 feet 10), Jeff Mullins (6 feet 4) and the sixth man, Hack Tison (6 feet 10). Cincinnati's Thacker and Duke's Heyman would wage a war at the one forward spot. The awesome Thacker hasn't faced Heyman's equal before and, with all his brilliance, Thacker was punished for 46 points by Wichita's Dave Stallworth. Against the pressing Cincinnati defense, Heyman would bring the ball down-court, though he is actually a forward. Coach Vic Bubas knows his team has shortcomings at guard and that Heyman is his best dribbler and a masterful passer, too. Against North Carolina, in a game in which he scored 40 points, Heyman came whipping down the floor with three seconds left in the half and everybody in the Duke field house knowing he was going to shoot. He went up in the air near the head of the key—and fired a perfect pass to Mullins for an easy layup. If anything, Heyman takes too many shots, but so voracious is he at retrieving the ball that Bubas is reluctant to find fault.
Cincinnati has no player to equal Heyman's shooting, nor Mullins' either, for that matter. But none of Duke's multiple defenses are really very good—Heyman himself has a tendency to scramble and take chances—and Bearcat Bonham's short jumpers and the driving layups of Thacker would cause the Blue Devils trouble.
It would be about the best possible pairing for the finals: Duke with its offense, Cincinnati its defense. But Cincinnati is faster, better regimented and less prone to error. What's more, in close games defense usually wins. The champion Bearcats are favored, and deserve to be. If you want to bet on an underdog, take Duke.