The UK-ND survivor must play the winner of the Jacksonville-Iowa game, probably Jacksonville (24-1), the tallest team in the country. The Dolphins made their very first NCAA tournament game an impressive one Saturday, murdering Western Kentucky 109-96. JU's 7'2" Artis Gilmore, who is known as Batman, but with his beard looks more like Satan, scored 30 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked nine shots. Western Kentucky's own 7-footer, Jim McDaniels, scored 29 points before fouling out when the game was long gone.
Jacksonville has much more than Gilmore. Wingman Rex Morgan, Robin to Artis' Batman, draws a lot of fouls with his twisty drives and feeds Gilmore well. Vaughn Wedeking, a 5'10" outside shooter, makes it difficult to press the Dolphins because he handles the ball so well. And there is an excellent bench. "They can throw wave after wave of muscle and speed at you," said one awed observer of Western's massacre.
Iowa, only the third undefeated titleholder in recent Big Ten history, has no such bench or height, but it does have Coach Ralph Miller's pressure defense and a quick, clever passing game. The Hawkeyes' senior forward, John Johnson, has a jump shot with as much arc as a straight right cross, yet it goes in more often than not. Iowa has won 16 straight games, but the streak should end against JU, especially if one believes Dolphin Coach Joe Williams, decked out in a white double-breasted sport coat and a blood-red shirt.
"A lot of people tend to underrate us, then get a rude awakening when they find out we're really that tough," he said. If it does not get too cocky, the Jacksonville team will win the Mideast and face St. Bonaventure—Gilmore versus Lanier—in the semis at College Park. Awake, all you nonbelievers.
The choice in the Midwest is New Mexico State, which has size and strength inside with 6'10" Sam Lacey and 6'8" Jeff Smith, and three hot-shooting, flashy guards, Collins, Charley Criss and Milton (Roadrunner) Home. Home comes in off the bench and throws nifty passes, some of which land in the pep band's tuba. The Aggies' biggest asset, though, is the fact that, for the first time in three years, they do not have to play UCLA in the West Regional.
"We've got a better chance of getting up momentum now," said Collins. They started gathering it Saturday by blitzing Rice 101-77. Of course, little of this was accomplished with local talent. The basketball courts are not very fertile around Las Cruces. Coach Lou Henson has, in his first 12, six players from New York and another from Camden, N.J.—echoes of the University of Texas at El Paso team four years ago.
The Aggies move on to meet Kansas State, surprise of the Big Eight. State has gone far afield for talent, too—notably to Virginia for Jerry Venable and to Georgia for David Hall. The bench is good, but seldom has the team put 40 minutes of solid basketball together. Its biggest man is 6'7" Bob Zender, and that is not big enough.
Drake, which meets Houston in the other Midwest bracket, is aided again by junior-college transfers, three of them new, and the tough defense taught by Coach Maury John. The team sometimes forgets to work together and there was a suspicion at the end of the Missouri Valley season that Cincinnati was the best club, but the other teams in the regional remember the Bulldogs' surprises last year and worry. Drake has good shooting, rebounding and depth.
Houston, which has no Elvin Hayes, earned the slot opposite Drake with a 71-64 victory Saturday over Dayton. The Cougars have a slick ball handler in Poo Welch and surprisingly play 6'2" Ollie Taylor, another New Yorker, in the low post. ("He's been battling 6'7"s and 6'9"s all year and still averages 25 points a game," says Coach Guy Lewis.) Neither Houston nor Drake should be able to stop New Mexico State.
In Seattle everybody will be worried about the outside shooting of UCLA's Henry Bibby and Vallely, but the scoring and board power of the Bruin front line is even more frightening. Scariest individual is Forward Sidney (never Sid) Wicks, who has the meanest glare since Sonny Liston. He is a quick junior who, says Wooden, "has as much physical ability as any man I've ever seen at his position."