Kansas, overwhelmingly favored to win its fourth straight Big Eight Tournament, wound up playing Missouri for fifth place as the championship game matched Kansas State and Nebraska. The Jayhawks were shocked in the first round by Oklahoma State, Henry Iba's pupils performing in their well-drilled style. After grabbing a 10-point lead in the first half, State came back with a spread offense. As the clock ticked on, Kansas, in desperation, came out after the Cowboys, which is just what Iba wanted. State made 13 of 19 field-goal attempts, 12 on drives. "Possibly Kansas underestimated us," said Iba tactfully after the 79-67 victory.
The title game pitted Kansas State's size and zone defense against Nebraska's speed. "We saw no way to get inside on them," said Husker Coach Joe Cipriano, sporting a flaming-scarlet linen jacket, "so we had to rely on the outside shooting of Stuart Lantz and Tom Baack." Both came through beautifully as Baack got 28 points, Lantz 21, and Nebraska won 66-62.
Kansas State had reached the finals by beating Missouri 71-61, and two nights later utilized a tough zone with special man-to-man coverage on accurate outside shooter Pat Frink to defeat Colorado 74-69.
Nebraska's route to the title was more difficult. Outscored from the field by Oklahoma, the Huskers made 27 of 28 free throws, including 25 in a row, to win 75-65. The next night they gave Oklahoma State a little of Iba's own medicine as they played deliberate ball throughout the game. With the score tied at 46, Nebraska stalled for two minutes and 43 seconds and won on a rebound shot by Bob Gratopp. This time the Cornhuskers hit on 16 of 18 free throw attempts.
Powerful Cincinnati won its 12th straight game—and the second this year—from Dayton, as the Bearcats pierced the Flyers' zone continually for an 82-68 victory. Toledo took a giant step toward its second consecutive MAC title when the Rockets stopped their leading rival, Marshall, 102-87. Earlier in the week Toledo experimented with Morris-Harvey and won 98-76. Coach Bobby Nichols had Center Steve Mix at forward, Forward John Brisker on the bench, 7-foot sophomore Doug Hess at the pivot and Don White at guard, filling in for playmaker Willie Babione, who had become scholastically ineligible. But when Marshall came to town, Nichols had Mix back at the post and Brisker in the front court, and both showed him that's where they prefer to play. Brisker scored 35 points and Mix added 30.
Everyone in Detroit expected, and hoped, that Niagara's Calvin Murphy would score 100 points. That is, everyone except the opposing teams in the Motor City Tournament. Valparaiso met Niagara in the first round, and Calvin got 41 as the Crusaders tried a man-to-man on him. After three minutes the man guarding Murphy had three personal fouls. The rest of the Purple Eagles were also hot and they won easily, 113-82. The next night, however, Calvin scored only 29 points as host Detroit kept him outside with a tight zone defense. With Murphy relatively silent, Detroit won the title game 102-91.
Michigan sophomore Forward Rudy Tomjanovich was in an auto accident on Monday, could hardly walk on Tuesday. But, miraculously, he recovered enough on Wednesday to score 21 points and grab 10 rebounds while leading the Wolverines to their first victory in their new arena, 93-76 over Butler. Three days later the Wolverines defeated Northern Illinois 84-77.
1. VANDERBILT (9-1)
2. NORTH CAROLINA (7-1)
3. KENTUCKY (7-1)
After winning their fifth straight Vanderbilt Invitational Tournament before Christmas, the Commodores added to their holiday cheer with a happy New Year in New Orleans by beating Davidson 80-67 in the finals of the Sugar Bowl Tournament. Unlike an earlier meeting between the same teams, which went into overtime before Vandy won by two points, this one saw the Commodores open a big lead in the second half behind the shooting of Bo Wyenandt and Tom Hagan and hold on to win easily. Hagan finished with 26 points and Wyenandt had 23. The night before, in the opening round, Tommy-gun paced the Commodores to a 73-63 win over Michigan State while Davidson's Mike Maloy was leading his team to a 51-44 victory over deliberate Memphis State.