The jockeying for choice teams for the two major postseason tournaments was almost over. But the NCAA, strapped by a shortage of good at-large teams in the South and West, reluctantly cut its field from 25 to 23 and even then had to indulge in some gerrymandering to fill out the Mideast Regional. By the end of the week the NCAA had seven of its 15 conference champions and seven of its eight independents safely in the fold. Defending National Champion UCLA (AAWU), St. Joseph's (Mid-Atlantic), Princeton (Ivy), Connecticut (Yankee), West Virginia (Southern), Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley) and San Francisco (West Coast) all clinched their league titles and were in the four regionals along with Providence (20-1), Penn State (19-3), Dayton (19-6), Colorado State (15-6), DePaul (16-7), Houston (18-8) and Oklahoma City (19-9).
New York's NIT, meanwhile, was busy assembling a 14-team field for the tournament that begins March 11 in Madison Square Garden. Already in: Villanova (19-4), New Mexico (19-5), Boston College (19-6), Army (18-7), Detroit (17-7), Texas Western (17-8), St. John's (16-8), La Salle (15-7), NYU (13-7), Manhattan (12-6), Fordham (12-11) and Ohio Valley runner-up Western Kentucky (16-8). Possibilities for the two remaining places: St. Bonaventure (15-6), Creighton (13-9), Notre Dame (14-11) and Missouri Valley runners-up St. Louis (17-7) and Bradley (16-8).
THE TOP THREE:
1. ST. JOSEPHS (24-1)
2. VILLANOVA (19-4)
3. PROVIDENCE (20-1)
Providence's Joe Mullaney, whose Friars were the nation's only unbeaten major-college team, hardly looked the part of the worried coach as he relaxed in his motel room before the VILLANOVA game. "No, our kids don't seem to feel any pressure, they're loose," he said. "If we play our normal game and shoot as well as we have been lately, we won't have any trouble." But there was trouble later in the noisy Villanova field house. The Friars shot a puny 39% against the Wildcats' zone defenses, which shifted imperceptibly from 2-3 to 3-2 to combination, and that was not good enough. Bill Melchionni, a deadeye Villanova guard, and Jim Washington, a tough 6-foot-7 rebounder, each shot in 21 points, and the Wildcats handed Providence its first loss, 71-57. Later the Friars bounced back to beat Holy Cross 75-64, while Villanova smashed Memphis State 91-58.
Villanova's big win was not the only excitement in Philadelphia last week. La Salle had the usual overflow crowd in the Palestra panting as little Curt Fromal brought the Explorers from 20 points behind to give ST. JOSEPH'S, the city's big team, a run for its glory. Fromal, throwing in amazing scoop shots and swishing 20-foot jumpers, scored 34 points and had La Salle only two points behind with 1:46 to go. Then Billy Oakes, Tom Duff and Marty Ford put in baskets and it was all over. St. Joe's won 93-85.
It was a dismal week for Cornell, St. John's and NYU. After leading the Ivy League for most of the season, Cornell fell apart all at once. PENN surprised the Big Red 79-70 last Friday night, and then PRINCETON, with Bill Bradley playing brilliantly as usual (below), trounced them 107-84 to win its third Ivy title in a row. St. John's ran into trouble in upstate New York. The Redmen lost to SYRACUSE 68-59 and CANISIUS 85-75. NYU'S troubles were purely local. The Violets looked solid enough as they beat Notre Dame 60-54 in Madison Square Garden. Then they came up against FORDHAM'S spoilers. The Rams bottled up the NYU shooters with their variable zone defenses, outfought them off the boards and beat them 58-52.
Penn state, getting ready for its first NCAA tournament since 1955, beat Bucknell 68-52 and Pitt 83-72, while ARMY, playing patiently against Navy's zone defense, celebrated Coach Tates Locke's 28th birthday by beating the Middies 62-52 at Annapolis for the first time in 20 years. CONNECTICUT took Manhattan 80-75 in overtime and then bombed New Hampshire 109-61 to clinch the Yankee championship. BOSTON COLLEGE edged Boston U. 90-85 in the opening round of the Beanpot tournament.