In New England, Fairfield should be back in another NIT, and Connecticut and Massachusetts appear best in the Yankee Conference...to name just a few of those 56 teams.
Gene Bartow is alternately amused and astonished each time he picks up a newspaper and finds his Memphis State Tigers unmentioned in a list of this year's best basketball teams. The papers may be forgiven since the finest players in the school's history—Larry Finch, Larry Kenon and Ronnie Robinson—all left at once. But Bartow, named 1973 Coach of the Year for leading MSU to a second-place finish in the NCAA tournament, has an easier route—State has left the Missouri Valley Conference—and better players than most people suspect.
Senior Forwards Billy Buford and Wes Westfall are tall and swift, sophomore Guards Bill Cook and Clarence Jones have already proved their stuff, and freshman Guard Dexter Reed looks too good to keep on the bench. Add 6'10" John Washington at center, and zippo! Instant Rebuild.
With the Tigers out of the Valley, everyone aims for Louisville, and the chief marksmen should be from Tulsa. Just in time, too, since crosstown rival Oral Roberts, a powerful independent with a gaudy modern arena, has just about monopolized the city's attention. In Willie Biles the Hurricanes have the first Valley player to average 30 points since Oscar Robertson and a shooter who can put the memory of Oral Roberts' Richard Fuqua to rest. Hopes soar, too, with 6'9" Sammy High, especially now that the Titans will be minus their 7-foot center, David Vaughn, out for personal reasons.
The mass exodus from Minnesota adds still another chapter to The Strange Case of Bill Musselman and leaves serious doubt as to his future in the Big Ten. Not only did the entire starting five depart, but his three top reserves transferred to smaller schools and Musselman's all-new freshmen-transfers squad ("skinny, short and white," says a local reporter) is more representative of his days at Ashland ( Ohio) College than of the Ron Behagen-Clyde Turner regime. Wisconsin claims to have the tallest starting lineup in the country, average size 6'8�", and hopes to challenge Indiana and Purdue.
Kansas State leads the land rush against Oklahoma in the Big Eight. Coach Jack Hartman's record (344-132) and disciplined teams make him look more like John Wooden every day. Guard Lon Kruger is back and should be enough to hold off Iowa State. The MidAmerican Conference winner will be either Bowling Green, defending champion Miami of Ohio, Ohio University or Kent State. All four return at least four starters.
Southern Illinois was one of the few Midwest independents to finish under .500 last year, and that should not happen again. Three college players who participated in a children's benefit tournament in Gary, Ind.—Center Jim Bradley of Northern Illinois, Center Andy Pancratz and Forward Bill Robinzine of De-Paul—will reportedly be lost to their teams until Jan. 1. Dayton could have a contender for national scoring honors in Donald Smith, who led in free-throw shooting last season. Marshall lost four starters but has a much easier schedule. Cincinnati will not be as dangerous without Derrek Dickey on the boards, but the Bearcats have Lloyd Batts and freshman Jim Webb, shooters. At Detroit, former Rutgers assistant Dick Vitale will try to re-create the success he once enjoyed in the New Jersey scholastic tournaments. Seven-footer Mike Heck has put on 15 pounds and should help Creighton better its 15-11 mark. Oklahoma City will miss Ozie Edwards and Marvin Rich too much to win 21 games again. Indiana State is talking about the NCAA playoffs, and the Sycamores have a new 10,000-seat amphitheater. Illinois State, without Doug Collins, is on the way down from 13-12.
Hawaii is a fine place to visit, which is why coaches hate to journey there. Their teams like it so much they forget to play basketball. Matters could be still worse because the University of Hawaii's first-year coach, Bruce O'Neil, has assembled an array of stunning Rainbows, among them Tom Henderson, the former Olympian, and Melton Werts, who developed into a promising center as a freshman. Now, if they do not fall into the same lassitude as their visitors, aloha.