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THE TOP 20 TEAMS
December 01, 1969
Not in four years has anybody dared pick against UCLA. Even with Lew Alcindor gone, to do so now is still chancy. John Wooden's teams have always been good and this year's edition is no exception. But the Gamecocks of South Carolina, an almost all-New York team, and the Aggies of New Mexico State, not to mention Purdue with Rick Mount, may have enough finesse and—most of all—enough desire to unseat college basketball's biggest winner
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December 01, 1969

The Top 20 Teams

Not in four years has anybody dared pick against UCLA. Even with Lew Alcindor gone, to do so now is still chancy. John Wooden's teams have always been good and this year's edition is no exception. But the Gamecocks of South Carolina, an almost all-New York team, and the Aggies of New Mexico State, not to mention Purdue with Rick Mount, may have enough finesse and—most of all—enough desire to unseat college basketball's biggest winner

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Having already won more games than any coach in history (810), Rupp's main ambition now is to win his fifth NCAA title, which would tie him with UCLA's John Wooden. Now 68, he is supposed to retire after next season, but with 7' Thomas Payne, his first black, in the freshman class, Rupp is talking as though he may go on forever. "I haven't heard any of that retirement talk around here," he snaps. "I'm certainly not looking to get out."

8 COLORADO

Because California has been slowly disappearing into the sea over the past few years, all kinds of species hippie have packed up, moved out and settled in on Boulder, Colo. Probably they figured that any place called "The Rock" was too solid to go under.

The hippies should have been warned that Boulder is never easy on visitors. Basketball teams long have complained about their journeys there. The ferocity of home crowds is exceeded only by their wrath when powder snow is missing on the mountains. The limitations of the field house are important only if you are not used to playing in a box. And the altitude makes the air tight, particularly for foreigners. If all this wasn't hard enough on visiting teams, last summer the university installed a Tartan floor in the old gym—producing a haunting, almost silent "thud, thud" sound for footsteps and dribbles—so that now in Boulder you not only can't breathe, you can't hear.

Last season Colorado did not lose a game at home on the way to a 21-7 record (best in school history) and its first Big Eight championship in six years. They got that good when Coach Sox Walseth turned up the sleeper of the year in 6'8" Cliff Meely. He emerged from Northeastern JC in Sterling, Colo. to lead the league in scoring and earn its most-valuable-player award. A remarkably versatile athlete who plays both ends of the court and can start, finish and center the break equally well, Meely has two more years at Boulder where he will serve admirably at any of three positions.

However, Colorado is not a one-man team. Guard Gordon Tope is a fragile-looking 5'11", but he was All-Conference as a junior and his deft left-handed passes are the perfect complement to the Buffaloes' dazzling team speed. Returning at the other guard is Dudley Mitchell, a 6'3" shooter who also plays center field on the baseball team, reminding people of his father Dale, the old Cleveland Indian. Freddie Shell, a high school teammate of Meely's in Chicago, adds depth to the backcourt.

Up front are Mike Coleman and Tim Wedgeworth, both experienced and both 6'5", but one of them will probably have to move over for sophomore Jim Creighton, two inches taller, who has moves and savvy underneath. Some opposing coaches say Colorado will be better without 7'2" Ron Smith, who transferred this fall to Wichita State. But the Buffs were 15-3 last season with Smith and only 6-4 after he became ineligible and Meely had to move into the pivot. Now Creighton may play a lot there so Meely can go outside again. Colorado is fortunate to have a Cliff who can play anywhere on The Rock.

9 FLORIDA STATE

Florida State Coach Hugh Durham does not smoke, drink or get rated. He is the best badminton player in Florida but cannot play in the state tournament because of recruiting trips. He had the finest team in FSU history last season but could not go anywhere because the school was on NCAA probation. In the three years he has been head coach at Tallahassee, in fact, the most news coverage his Seminoles have received came last season when one of their games was called off. State was leading South Carolina 87-76 with 1:57 to go when USC's Frank McGuire and the referees disagreed and—just like that—the game was over. Just like that, Florida State had come of age.

Now, Durham believes, his team can stir up interest by itself. "This is the fastest team in the history of the South," he says, "and Dave Cowens is the most underestimated player in the country." For two years Cowens has been a better kept secret than cyclamates. A sandy-haired 6'10" lefthander out of Newport, Ky., he joined the varsity and singlehandedly turned a team that was 11-15 the previous year into a 19-8 winner. Cowens was the eighth best rebounder in the land as a sophomore and sixth best last year when the Seminoles beat three Top 20 teams and finished 18-8. Because of some outstanding sophomore and junior college help, he will switch from the baseline to a high post. His range has improved, but it is quickness and mobility that make him special. Cowens also is that rarest of birds, a white star on a predominantly black team. Durham plans to start four blacks with him this time; Tallahassee fans already call the team "the busted flush."

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