If the reports are true that Bill Walton has left UCLA, Moses Malone has skipped Maryland and the pros have drafted every hardship case except Billy Jack, it all means just one thing. The cinch winner of the NCAA championship will be Louisville. Maybe.
To proclaim that the coming season may be the most wide-open and interesting since the 1950s assumes more than the simple reality that North Carolina State's tumbling of the UCLA dynasty opened the gates for everybody else. The mad scramble in 1974-75 also will be the result of competition among better athletes, more varied and intricate coaching techniques, intense and sometimes unfortunate recruiting methods, further collapse of racial barriers and a renewed fanaticism for the college game in every section of the country.
Basketball fans should be grateful for all these things and more. We need to thank old Mr. Walton for graduating; he would have made it the Year of Revenge, if it isn't that anyway at UCLA. Thanks to young Mr. Moses, who would have taken Maryland all the way to the promised land. And thanks also to Mr. Tommy Barker, who chose the hot sands of Hawaii over the cool hands of David Thompson at North Carolina State. Barker, a seven-foot customer of merit, would have made the Wolfpack altogether impossible to control.
As it is, these teams are just three for the show now, and there are others almost anywhere one cares to look. Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Memphis State, Arizona, Detroit. All can be legitimate contenders for the national championship if certain things fall right. In fact, New York, that wasteland of campus disinterest, even has a team, Manhattan College, that can, as they say, win it all.
There are other schools whose chances are bright if they overcome handicaps uniquely their own. DePaul, another sidewalk campus within the urban core, is back again with Chicago-like size and Ray Meyer still coaching. If the Blue Demons get by their initial scrape with UCLA free of any psychological tremors, they may go a long way.
Southern Illinois has the second best big man in the land in Joe C. Meriweather. (The best is seven-foot Marvin "The Eraser" Webster, who plays for Morgan State in NCAA Division II—whatever that means.) But the Salukis for some reason still have a small-college image, even though they have been big time ever since Walt Frazier led them to the NIT championship in 1967.
Marquette's Al McGuire will try to camouflage his troops in uniforms of way-out design. As if the Warriors' old ones were not outlandish enough, what with circles, stripes and zigzags signaling ultimate chaos, McGuire has announced a splendid change. He will break out the new duds against South Carolina on national TV, and the shirts will be worn outside the pants. (Since when has anybody at Marquette been accused of tucking his shirt inside?) McGuire's new line is to be called "Sand-Bo" after Sand-Knits, the manufacturing firm of which McGuire is a vice-president, and after Bo Ellis, the sensational sophomore.
With the NCAA enlarging its tournament to 32 teams, including some league runners-up, the championship becomes more accessible than ever. Under the new arrangement Maryland, which might have been the country's strongest team last season, yet did not get to compete in the NCAAs because it lost perhaps the best-played game all year to N.C. State in the ACC tournament, would have been eligible for the big prize. And might have played the Wolfpack again. And might have won.
Such a development augurs irony this season for Purdue, North Carolina and Southern Cal, which may well win their respective Big Ten, ACC and Pacific Eight conferences in upsets, and then have to face the preseason league favorites once again in the tournament.
All of which makes for so much confusion that Coach Ted Owens of Kansas was heard to comment even before preseason practice was under way, "People didn't expect from us everything we achieved last year. Obviously, that will not be the case this year." That's what he said.