It is almost time for the NCAA championship tournament again, and coaches from Corvallis, Ore. to Durham, N.C. are trying to convince themselves that the name of this event should not be changed to the Missouri Valley Waltz. The teams that will get a chance to try to keep Cincinnati from dancing away with its third consecutive national title have almost all been chosen (see page 25). Only the Big Ten, Big Eight, Big Six, Ohio Valley, West Coast and Ivy League have not settled their championships. The other 19 are ready, and they make up about as strong a field as ever set out with the single objective of beating one basketball team.
Meanwhile, New York's National Invitation Tournament, resigned to getting largely leftovers in the competition for tournament teams, rounded out its field with St. Francis of Brooklyn (16-6), Fordham (16-7), La Salle (16-7), DePaul (14-7), Villanova (16-8) and St. Louis (15-10). But the NIT has at least one showcase item. Wichita (19-7), which has beaten four NCAA choices ( Cincinnati, Loyola of Chicago, Arizona State and Texas Western), is among its four seeded clubs. The others are Providence (19-4), Canisius (17-5) and Marquette (17-7).
NYU Coach Lou Rossini sounded silly last week when he warned some highly skeptical listeners that anything can happen when New York City schools play each other. But he was right—awfully. First, Manhattan's young ball handlers dashed in and out among NYU's bigger Violets and almost upset what had been considered the East's best team. Fortunately, Barry Kramer and Happy Hairston scored 55 points between them and NYU pulled it out, 78-72. But then Fordham got an early jump on NYU and made it stick. The Rams couldn't quite handle Kramer, who put in 35 points, but they grabbed the key rebounds, made the most of Bill Sheridan's 20-point shooting and upset the NCAA-bound Violets, 71-68.
Manhattan, too, had unexpected trouble. The St. John's waiting game was backed up with some decent shooting for a change, and the Redmen beat the Jaspers, 76-63, in a fist-swinging battle. St. Francis, up in the air after its selection for the NIT, was shocked back to reality by a 71-62 loss to Seton Hall.
Although Providence led St. Joseph's by 12 points at half time, Coach Joe Mullaney decided to change his defensive strategy. Fearful that his Friars would lose their hot hand and the taller Hawks might be able to capitalize on mismatches under the basket, Mullaney shifted from a scrambling zone to a man-to-man. The change worked just fine. St. Joe's never could get around to setting up an offense and, with big John Thompson shooting in 20 points and Jim Stone 18, Providence won easily, 83-64. But the Friars went back to the zone to beat Holy Cross 85-67. In the meantime, St. Joseph's regained its respectability against Dayton, downing the Flyers 70-63. La Salle, however, was the picture of utter futility against Villanova. The Wildcats immobilized La Salle's big men by shifting in and out of a variety of zone defenses, and Wally Jones, a deft guard, passed and shot the Explorers dizzy as Villanova ran off with the game, 63-47. Canisius, another NIT team, had an easy time beating St. Bonaventure 88-72.
Here it was March and the Ivy League race, supposedly between Princeton and Penn, was still in doubt, though Penn wasn't in it. Columbia, surprisingly, knocked the Quakers out of the running, 70-66. Princeton finished with an 11-3 record when sophomore Bill Bradley scored 72 points to lead the Tigers past Cornell 78-65 and Columbia 64-55. Yale, the defending champion but an unlikely contender in December, was only a half game behind Princeton after beating Dartmouth 80-55 and Harvard 56-52. Yale had only to beat Harvard again to force an Ivy League playoff. The Yankee Conference title was settled when Connecticut defeated Rhode Island 88-73. The top three:
1. PROVIDENCE (19-4)
2. NYU (16-3)
3. ST. JOSEPHS (21-4)
Georgia Tech had its hotel reservations at East Lansing, Mich., but Mississippi State broke its color-line policy (no games against Negroes), cinched its third straight Southeastern Conference title by beating Tulane, 78-67, and announced it would accept its rightful place in the NCAA regional playoff up north. Just hours later. State had to play its slowdown game for all it was worth to hold off old rival Mississippi at Oxford. But Joe Dan Gold and Red Stroud finally put together enough points (43) to beat last-place Ole Miss 75-73.