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Is it possible to begin a college basketball season without raising hosannas to Bill Walton and his UCLA Bruins? Well, no. So here's to Bill—Kick him in the knee, rah, rah, rah. Sting him with a bee, sis, boom, bah—and to Coach Johnny Wooden and all the other Bruins on the 10th anniversary of the origins of their reign. May they have no more.
May they, rather, appear as cameos in the following scenario: On Dec. 1 in Los Angeles Tom McMillen puts down his Kierkegaard, Lefty Driesell punches a hole in his locker and Maryland defeats UCLA. On Dec. 15 in St. Louis Tom Burleson knocks his head on a rafter, David Thompson scores 400 points and North Carolina State defeats UCLA. In February Bobby Jones makes a shot of over three feet, Dean Smith substitutes 15 men at one time and North Carolina has beaten both Maryland and North Carolina State on the way to winding up an undefeated regular season. In March the Atlantic Coast Conference concludes its most successful year ever as four teams are put on probation for embezzlement and two are suspended for mail fraud. Finally, at the NCAA tournament in Greensboro, UCLA is dethroned once and for all by the ACC. As Coach Tates Locke waves his whip and chair, hush puppies cascade from the rafters and 15,000 overalled dung shovelers shout their school's frantic slogan, "I-P-T-A-Y, I-P-T-A-Y [I Pay 20 a Year]." Clemson wins the championship.
Perhaps that moment next spring when the NCAA title is decided in the Carolina pines will not be the end of the UCLA tyranny. Maybe, instead, it will come earlier against archrival Southern Cal, or Oregon or Stanford, young teams waiting with bared teeth in the Bruins' own conference. It might even end against Notre Dame, the team that last beat the Bruins back there in, what was it, 1918? and may remember how to do it again if husky freshman Adrian Dantley can make the starting lineup. But if history be a guide, when UCLA falls it just as likely could be the Atlantic Coast Conference that will be there waiting.
Despite the swollen claims of supremacy generated by the ACC's own publicity organs and, conversely, the mocking derision the conference receives from professional skeptics—Southern Cal's Bob Boyd says, "As a group our little teams in the Pac Eight year in and year out would kick the ACC's rear end"—the truth lies somewhere between.
Wherever that is, it must be conceded that for colorful teams, imaginative coaches, smart players, kinky incidents, blatant outrages, spectacular coat-and-tie getups, enthusiasm, noise, old-fashioned bitterness and downright exciting basketball, top-to-bottom the Atlantic Coast Conference leads them all.
Let us dispense with the simple facts that during the 20 years the conference has been in existence with its postseason tournament, only 13 times has the regular-season champion (and best team) escaped double jeopardy and won the tournament; that of those 13 teams, only 10 were eligible for the NCAA tournament ( North Carolina State was on probation in 1955, 1959 and again last year); and that of those 10, nine won the Eastern regional while nothing short of a four-overtime defeat stopped the 10th ( Canisius beat N.C. State 79-78 in 1956).
Let us toss off the statistics showing that since 1962 the ACC has won the Eastern regional and advanced to the Final Four eight times (more than any other league except the Pac Eight—where UCLA has been the representative 10 times). And that in the four years the ACC did not win the East, it may have been because the regular-season champion (and best team) did not even go—i.e., last March when N.C. State sat home again while Maryland advanced and, with Center Len Elmore playing on one foot, lost to Providence.
Let us not even mention the past appearances on the national scene of four schools located within a 90-mile slice of North Carolina's Tobacco Road. Or the unbeaten 32-0 North Carolina team of 1957. Or the All-Americas and the Top Ten teams. Or last year's symbolic achievement when at one point ACC teams were ranked two, three and four in the land.
Though league representatives have twice lost to the Bruins in the NCAA finals ( Duke in 1964 and North Carolina in 1968), which was the last team to beat UCLA in the Final Four? Which was the last team to—get this—embarrass UCLA? It was an ACC representative on both counts. In 1962 Wake Forest defeated the Bruins for national third place. And in 1965 Duke beat UCLA back-to-back 82-66 and 94-75, which means that during one lost weekend in Carolina the Bruins lost as many out-of-league games as they have in the seven years since. Indeed, against UCLA the ACC is 3-5. USC's Bob Boyd is 2-14.