The prophecies holding that this will be the Big Ten's best year in history rest on similar numbers. No less than 78% of the players who started in the conference last winter have returned, as have 39 of the 50 top scorers and 11 of the 15 finest rebounders. The Big Ten is still big, still bulging with pectorals and eating its porridge. But the league is quick, too. Big, quick and smooth. Rock breaks scissors, cuts paper, wraps rock. Everything.
While Ohio State stumbled on the road last week at Washington despite Allan Hornyak's 25 points, other schools popped up all over to throw down the gauntlet. Iowa has filled its only weak spot with the addition of Carnell (Candy) LaPrince, who with Rick Williams forms one of the best backcourt combinations in the conference and makes the Hawkeyes especially dangerous. Indiana, whose Steve Downing scored 31 points in an easy win over Harvard Saturday, may be, too. But it is between Michigan and Minnesota, and possibly Ohio State, that the race should be run this season.
In Ann Arbor basketball is treated in the same loose manner as student government, where last week the council narrowly defeated a proposal to establish a "student dope co-op." The Wolverines' Johnny Orr, a frank and fun fellow who some rivals claim has trouble leading his team out of the dressing room, reflected on his coaching strategy the other day. "Last year we had one offense—Henry Wilmore," he said during a press conference. "Now we have two offenses—Wilmore and Campy."
But a lack of cohesion and the unmistakable overlapping of styles between Wilmore and Russell may haunt the Wolverines all season. In addition, defensive techniques are guaranteed to be absent. As Notre Dame's Digger Phelps said before the game Saturday, "Orr's idea of D is to beat you 91-89." Which turned out to be nearly on the button.
"We got 63 in the second half," said Orr, smiling. "We must have a pretty good offense." But the offense does not yet take advantage of Russell's speed inside, and Wilmore, who scored 21 points but did not appear to start playing until Campy sat down, does not look like a happy second banana.
The Wolverines' high promise will be put to the test early in Big Ten competition when they open at Ohio State and play five of their first seven games against contenders. If Russell and Wilmore are working with each other by then, Orr will be in line for Coach of the Year.
By that time, too, all the nice folks in Minnesota unfortunately may still be trying to explain away that night of terror in the Ohio State game last January, even while attempting to squeeze themselves into the 18,000-seat Williams Arena. Musselman—who has the looks of Steve McQueen and the reputation of Charles Manson—and his team have captured the soul of the Twin Cities faster and to a greater degree than the Twins, Vikings, North Stars or Mary Tyler Moore ever did. Each seat is sold out for the main building as well as 500 season tickets in the adjacent hockey rink, where students and citizens swoop in from the blizzards to huddle in blankets and watch the games on closed-circuit TV. "We avoid talking about last year," says one man downtown. "It's like Vietnam—we want to forget it."
Still, "the incident," as the events of last Jan. 25 are referred to around the campus, is destined to stay with the Gophers for a long time. Musselman, Behagen and Corky Taylor, the other suspended player, are properly sober and reflective about the affair, but the humorists are getting in their licks. When it was announced that Minnesota had sold 1,400 tickets in the ice rink for the closed-circuit telecast of the opening game against weak California-Irvine, one guy cracked, "Who says the fight game is dead?" Other ticket buyers have requested "ringside seats" to Minnesota games. And a student group has invented dance steps known as the "Corky shuffle" and the "Behagen stomp."
The team has taken refuge in work, for which Musselman admits to a certain fanatical affection. His mother still labors on the line at the Frito-Lay factory in Wooster, Ohio. "How can I let my mother work harder than I do?" he asks. "If you're not intense in this business, you're not around very long. I must succeed."
This year's goal obviously is to succeed UCLA. The coach mentions the Bruins constantly. A sign, "Conditioning Is a Must to Beat UCLA," is in the locker room. Insiders say not a day goes by when there is not a crisis at basketball practice. One afternoon the heat in Williams Arena was faulty, and Musselman was upset. "Feel the heat. Feel this," he complained to nobody in particular. "How are we going to beat UCLA with a cold building?"