Along with Illinois, the biggest challenge to Purdue in the Big Ten will come from Ohio State, which will face the favorites only once and at Columbus, where Purdue suffered its only conference loss last season. The Buckeyes, producers of seven of the last nine all-conference centers, should have still another in 6'8" Dave Sorenson, an unassuming fellow whose dark, bushy eyebrows will remind everyone of Lucas. He averaged 23.6 points as a junior, many on soft hook shots, and still has 6'3" Jim Cleamons, who many feel is the Big Ten's most complete guard, to deliver him deft feeds underneath. Iowa, a disappointing 12-12 last season, returns its top five, including three strong shooters in John Johnson, Glenn Vidnovic and Chad Calabria, and adds a speedy JC guard named Fred Brown. Michigan still has 6'8" Rudy Tomjanovich, the league's best rebounder (12.8) and second best scorer (25.0), plus a highly regarded sophomore in Lamont King. The rest of the conference should do battle for fifth place, though Michigan State has Ralph Simpson, a sophomore guard whom rival coaches are already planning defenses around.
Notre Dame possibly is the biggest of the Midwest independents—with 6'8" John Plieck at center and 6'8" Sid Catlett teaming with 6'7" Collis Jones at forward—but it also has the biggest schedule. Johnny Dee's charges must face UCLA, Kentucky, Villanova, Duquesne, Marquette, Kansas and St. John's, plus either South Carolina or New Mexico in the Sugar Bowl Classic. Austin Carr, scaled down to 200 pounds, is capable of improving on his 22-point average of last season and could be a better all-round player.
Dayton, De Paul and Loyola of Chicago are the chief threats to Marquette and Notre Dame among the other independents. Dayton has that familiar May magic—Ken, the younger brother of 1968 All-America Don—plus the tradition of five consecutive 20-victory seasons and a slick new field house. De Paul returns four starters from a 14-11 team, including 6'7�" Forward Ken Warzynski with a Rick Barry touch. Coach Ray Meyer may also have a big surprise in 6'8" Paul Pomplun, potentially the school's best pivot since George Mikan. Should Loyola, which sagged to 9-15 last year, get rebounding, its starting five could be scoring much as the 1963 national champions did.
Nobody—or maybe everybody—can share optimism in the Big Eight, where the conference race looms as the most balanced in years. Kansas might provide the strongest challenge to Colorado but will also be the least predictable, primarily because conservative Ted Owens is opening things up, probably with three sophomores in the starting lineup. Last year the Jayhawks plodded downcourt like oversized penguins to a 20-7 record. Now Owens has shifted primarily to a two-guard, single-post moving offense and has inserted a man-to-man defense instead of the old 1-3-1 zone. This means that either 6'9" Dave Robisch, an 18.6 scorer, or 6'10" Roger Brown will draw the inside role. Stocky Aubrey Nash should supply the ball-handling skill so lacking after Jo Jo White's graduation.
Should Kansas' rookies falter, Iowa State, Nebraska and Missouri are all ready with seasoned clubs. Bill Cain, the conference's top rebounder and second best scorer, is an exceptional jumper for 6'7" and he leads an Iowa State team that returns all five starters. If 6'10" sophomore Roger Ahrens can produce too, the Cyclones will have solved their only major problem—lack of height. Nebraska, with most of its scoring punch back, has so much depth that Tom Scantlebury, an 11.5 scorer a year ago, is not counted among the top seven. Missouri has a superb all-round player in Don Tomlinson. It needs only to find a big man.
It is a mark of the changing times that Kentucky's 12,000-seat Memorial Coliseum, once the showplace of Southeastern Conference basketball, now is only the fifth biggest in the league, and will drop to sixth as soon as LSU completes its 13,000-seat arena. There are new, spacious gyms at Alabama (15,000), Tennessee (13,000), Auburn (13,000), Georgia (10,400) and Ole Miss (8,500), and Vanderbilt recently enlarged its capacity to 15,400. It is a mark of the changing SEC, too, that the arenas will be filled. The conference may have more good acts than any league in the country.
If Kentucky is to be kept from winning its 25th SEC title, the teams to do it should be Vanderbilt and Georgia, with Auburn and Tennessee only a dribble behind. Vandy returns 6'7" junior Forward Thorpe Weber, who averaged 14 as a rookie, and coming up from the freshman team is 7'4" Steve Turner of Memphis, the tallest man in the league's history. Not even Coach Roy Skinner is quite sure how good or bad Turner will be, but he must have more than size to keep up with the likes of Kentucky's Dan Issel, Georgia's 6'11" Bob Lienhard and Tennessee's 6'10" Bobby Croft.
Georgia Coach Ken Rosemond, who played for Frank McGuire on North Carolina's New York 1957 NCAA champs, has opened his own underground railroad to New York City. Now more than half of Georgia's varsity speaks Yankee rather than Southern. Most prominent of these interlopers is Lienhard, the giant out of the Bronx whose junior statistics included a 23.8 scoring average, 15.8 rebounds (11th nationally) and a 58.2 shooting percentage (sixth). Lienhard is so quick that Rosemond will also use him at forward this season, with either 6'8" sophomore Randy Mateland or 6'8" senior Cort Nagle from Long Island moving into the pivot. At guard is 6'0" Barry Cohen of Brooklyn, scholastically ineligible last season. "We lost six games in the last 90 seconds of overtime last year," says Rosemond. "Cohen could have made the difference in each of those."
Auburn, making the transition from its famous shuffle to a running game, again will play around 6'5" junior John Mengeldt, who averaged 19.4 last year, but the Tigers as usual will suffer from lack of size. Up from the freshman team is Henry Harris, whose debut will make Auburn the second SEC team to break the color barrier in basketball. Tennessee has back Croft, the big Canadian transplant, and three more of the six players who carried the Vols into the NIT semifinals, but Coach Ray Mears may have trouble replacing the man who ran his disciplined game, Billy Hann. It's SOS—Same Old Story—at LSU, where Pete Maravich once more will be the best show in Dixie, and his supporting cast one of the worst.