In the Atlantic Coast Conference, North Carolina Coach Dean Smith predicts a "six-way battle for third place." It probably would be more accurate to expect the prime challengers—after South Carolina and Duke—to be Smith's Tar Heels, North Carolina State and Maryland. With Charlie Scott gone, Bill Chamberlain, Dennis Wuycik and two other former high school All-Americas will have more room to roam at North Carolina. State, which upset South Carolina in last year's tournament, also had a key loss in Vann Williford, but juniors Ed Leftwich and Paul Coder are good in their own ways. While freshman Tom McMillen wows the preliminary game crowds, Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell will build around newcomers like Jim O'Brien, whose 30-point average topped all ACC freshmen last year, and Barry Yates, a 24-year-old sophomore who will captain the team. A veteran of four years in the Coast Guard, Yates was due for promotion anyway.
The best player in the ACC—north of Columbia, S.C., at least—is at Wake Forest. "The skinny kid will be playing as badly as ever," deadpans Coach Jack McCloskey of Charlie Davis, who scored 25.5 points a game last season. At the ACC tournament in 1969, University of Virginia players tried unsuccessfully to secure the ouster of Coach Bill Gibson. Twenty months later Gibson has, possibly, his best talent ever. Tall Scott McCandlish and Bill Gerry return to form an imposing double post, two-year starter Mike Wilkes is back after choosing to sit out last year and Barry Parkhill moves up from the freshman team where he averaged over 26 points a game. Basketball fortunes, which seem to grow worse at Clemson, can only improve under new Coach Tates Locke.
"Davidson is human again," says William & Mary Coach and former Wildcat assistant, Warren Mitchell, and that clarifies the Southern Conference picture. With three three-year starters gone, Davidson's Bryan Adrian will have to score all night—after he recovers from minor knee surgery. East Carolina, the league's tallest front line, offers a stiff challenge to the Wildcats, and who can be sure about Furman, where Joe Williams unpacks after rousing success at Jacksonville? Williams will try to start fast with some appealing junior college players.
"Essentially, this is the year of the sophomore in the Big Ten," says Ohio State Coach Fred Taylor. "I believe 31 of the top 40 scorers last year have completed their eligibility, so the conference title will be won by the team that can get the whole thing together the quickest." The one team well could be his Buckeyes, who have their best sophomores since the Lucas gang. The new faces feature 6'11½" Luke Witte and Guard Allan Hornyak, who scored 86 and 61 in successive high school games. Best of the Bucks, however, will be senior Guard Jim Cleamons, who averaged 21.6 points last season and, according to Taylor, "is the someone to solidify things."
Minnesota, too, has new people, happily most of them talented. To put things in their proper sequence, first there is 6'8" Forward Jim Brewer, and then there is new Coach George Hanson. Brewer has caused almost as much talk around the Midwest as Indiana's George McGinnis or Illinois' Nick Weatherspoon. Purdue lost scoring-machine Rick Mount and must get consistent guard play from previously erratic Larry Weatherford, but there is good talent left over, notably aggressive Forwards George Faerber and Bob Ford.
Independent Dayton could have a better record than its 19-8 of last season, when the Flyers lost at the Midwest Regional in Houston. Top rebounder George Jackson returns at center and top scorer Kenny May (Don's brother) comes back, too. Coach Don Donoher seems to have his teams right around the 20-victory mark every year no matter what his material or schedule looks like.
Tulsa has 6'10" Dana Lewis, the New Jersey lad who transferred from nearby Oral Roberts when he tired of such Bible-school discipline as "demerits for being in your room on Sunday morning." Lewis averaged 21.3 points last season. Additional scoring power should come from Guard Steve Bracey, who somehow found his way from Brooklyn to Kilgore (Texas) Junior College to Tulsa. He led all the juco players in the nation in scoring last year. Bradley will have a truly veteran team with Guard Al Smith back after two years in the Army. He averaged 16.7 and 17.8 points a game before departing and played close to 100 games in the service. The Braves also feature "the world's shortest college starter," 5'4" Frank Sylvester. Cincinnati, 21-6 last season, is no longer in the Missouri Valley Conference and probably would not be in contention if it were. The Bearcats lost their three top scorers, two through graduation. The third, excellent shooter John Fraley, decided to transfer to Georgia. "We emphasize pattern play, defense and distribution in shooting," said Coach Tay Baker. "I suppose this is not his type of basketball."
In the Big Eight, defending champion Kansas State has a new coach, Jack Hartman, who built a fine record at Southern Illinois. The Wildcats also have six good men but barely enough manpower after that to hold a scrimmage. Guard Eddie Smith and Forward David Hall are talented players back from last season and 6'10" sophomore Steve Mitchell "has tremendous potential." Colorado lost playmaker Gordon Tope, yet nobody is crying for the poor Buffaloes. Any team with Cliff Meely and Jim Creighton has to be a title contender.
The Mid-American Conference should belong to Toledo, which has 7' Doug Hess back and two other starters, plus a good sophomore crop. Defending champion Ohio U., always well coached by Jim Snyder, will not be far behind with Center Craig Love. Fifteen minutes by El from Chicago Stadium, De Paul has a poor enough team to convince Coach Ray Meyer that it is time for his retirement. Loyola has 6'9" LaRue Martin. He is skinny and he tends to foul out, but he is counted on heavily in the face of the team's extremely difficult schedule. What possibly could hurt Coach George Ireland is that he has fewer than his usual quota of New York imports. Yes, he agrees, but then he lights up when he thinks of Guard Ron Black of Brooklyn. "He's sort of sensational," says Ireland.