THE TOP THREE:
1. VANDERBILT (11-2)
2. DAVIDSON (11-1)
3. DUKE (8-2)
North Carolina's Dean Smith, after bleakly watching WAKE FOREST rip his disappointing Tar Heels 107-85 for their fourth loss in a row and with Duke next on the schedule, came to a decision. "I made up my mind to go with five men," he said later. "I told Billy Cunningham, Ray Respess, Ray Hassell [a new starter] and sophomores Bob Lewis and Tom Gauntlett they were my team and that we had to control the tempo, stop Duke's fast break and open up when they overplayed us on defense." Smith apparently had an attentive audience. Carolina's man-to-man contained Duke's Bob Verga and Steve Vacendak outside and successfully shut off Jack Marin's favorite push shot from the side. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, attacked cautiously but accurately. Cunningham hit for 22 points, Lewis for 21 and down went the Blue Devils, a 15-point favorite, 65-62. It brought a caustic comment from Duke's Vic Bubas. "Whatever they did tonight, they ought to study real well and see if they can do it again," he warned.
Bubas had better begin to worry about some other Atlantic Coast teams, WAKE FOREST, which edged Virginia Tech 86-85 in overtime in a nonconference game, was in first place and Duke was tied for second with NORTH CAROLINA STATE, a winner over South Carolina 68-49 and Virginia 73-67.
Vanderbilt, looking more and more like the best in the Southeastern Conference, had its strategy set for Kentucky. Coach Roy Skinner expected Adolph Rupp's team to go at his Commodores with zone defenses, and he was ready for them. Skinner set a guard almost back to half-court and had him hold the ball, hoping that the Wildcat zone would send two men after him. Kentucky obliged and Vandy had no trouble getting the ball to big Clyde Lee, who shot over the Wildcats for 41 points as Vanderbilt won 97-79. Mississippi State was even easier for Vandy. The Maroons succumbed 94-70.
Auburn, however, kept pace with Vanderbilt. With its big boys crashing the boards and Lee DeFore, Jimmy Guy and Larry Cart bombing away, the Tigers trounced Mississippi 77-53 and then shot holes in three different Florida zone defenses to win, 74-63. "You play it tough in this league or get killed," observed Coach Bill Lynn. "We play it tough."
The Southern Conference had a strange look. West Virginia, which almost never used to lose to a conference opponent, was wallowing in third place behind DAVIDSON and THE CITADEL after losing to GEORGE WASHINGTON 79-74 and RICHMOND 74-71. But there is some cheer in Morgantown. West Virginia fans are showing up early on game nights to watch the unbeaten (10 straight) freshman team play. The frosh are averaging 100 points, and four of the top six scorers are Negroes, who next year will become the first of their race to play in the Southern Conference.
THE TOP THREE:
1. UCLA (11-1)
2. SAN FRANCISCO (10-1)
3. BRIGHAM YOUNG (9-3)