Eastern college basketball is dead, of course. Madison Square Garden killed it. Or the gamblers did. Or UCLA, or the Celtics. Or some maniac truck driver out of gas did. Everybody knows that all good Eastern dudes go away to college now to escape snow or dirt or hockey, and what the ECAC has left are a few thousand schools and universities named Bowdoin and Tufts and things like that. Philadelphia talent is down; the NIT is a beggar's market.
Yet anytime one turns around in the East there is Marvin Barnes at Providence playing like the best rebounder in the land, which he is. There is the most outrageous home crowd anywhere at Syracuse, led by "The Zoo" in the end-zone seats, which is so wildly obscene that the announcer has stopped introducing the starting lineups. And there, also, is that other team—that speck on the horizon of the national ratings that has been growing every week.
It started slowly with a record of 0-1, went to 5-1, 10-1, 15-1 and last week—what is this?—to 19-1. The East has a team at 19-1 with the longest winning streak in college? Yes, and even better, it is the same school that made a major turnaround in football. It is what you call your About-Face Headquarters School. It is Pittsburgh.
The Pitt Panthers, with their firetrap of a field house, their no-center offense and "amoeba" defense, their screwball cheerleader, their Knight to remember and their coach who grows geraniums in his suburban basement and decorates Christmas trees in the locker room. His name is Buzz.
When Pittsburgh defeated Syracuse 71-56 last Saturday, it was the latest victory of a devastating run in which the team has compiled a scoring differential of 19.8 points, second only to UCLA. In the process, most nights have belonged to Knight—Bill (Mooney) Knight, a 6'6�" mustachioed senior who can do everything but grow long hair. His teammates call Knight TWA for Teeny Weeny Afro, but when in trouble he is the one they look for. Having practically destroyed one of his square shoulders in a fall against Penn State, Knight recently had been a one-armed man of little value on the backboards—until Syracuse, that is.
His tender wing harnessed with tape, Knight exploded all over rickety Fitzgerald Field House, scoring off balance, blocking shots, rebounding, stealing passes, directing fast breaks and quick-handing everything in sight. Knight dominated the Orange's big men inside and outhustled their backcourt. In short, he ravaged Syracuse with 24 points and 19 rebounds, on one spree nailing 14 of 17 Pitt points to take the Panthers from a 45-40 lead to the easy win.
Along the way Pittsburgh did what really fine teams are wont to do—go for the other guy's jugular and make him look bad. The Panthers' marvelous junto of a defense beat quick Syracuse to every loose ball, disrupted the Orange patterns, stopped their star, Dennis DuVal, with eight points and held the visitors to a ripe 26 below their average.
It was Pittsburgh's most important victory of the season, for what it did was show the Panthers that they could withstand hardship (Mickey Martin, their other fine forward, was rendered useless by a leg injury), beat a reputable team and not have to apologize anymore.
It is fine irony that the Pitt schedule has been ridiculed as too easy, for it was only a few hours ago that alumni were berating Coach Buzz Ridl for scheduling way over his team's head and calling for his very scalp. As recently as last season the Panthers played UCLA, Notre Dame and North Carolina but, until Syracuse, this year's Pitt edition had faced no member of the top twenty.
Still, after a season-opening loss at West Virginia, Pitt has thrashed the opposition, winning only two games by fewer than 10 points; then too, the five teams with tournament potential that Pitt has played were bounced around easily.