Look for Connecticut and Massachusetts to fight for the Yankee Conference title. Phil Sellers, a 23.2-point scorer, will continue to rewrite Rutgers' record book, and teammates Mike Dabney and Ed Jordan could help him improve an 18-8 team.
Finally, there is a new unofficial conference with no name. It is composed of eight teams: Pitt, West Virginia, St. Francis of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, George Washington, Villanova, Duquesne and Navy. The four with the best records will meet in a playoff at the end of the season to determine which of them goes to the NCAAs. Since none of the eight seems likely to field a powerhouse, the edge could go to playoff host West Virginia.
Notre Dame was once a logical choice for this year's preseason No. 1 ranking, but without Center John Shumate and Guard Gary Brokaw, who signed pro contracts even though they had eligibility remaining, the 26-3 Irish will be fortunate to survive a schedule worthy of a national champion. Their list of opponents includes Kansas, Indiana, UCLA (twice), Kentucky, Maryland, Marquette, South Carolina, LaSalle and DePaul. Coach Digger Phelps has small guards, no tall man he is satisfied with in the middle and only two proven forwards, 6'5" sophomores Adrian Dantley and Billy Paterno. Dantley must take over if the Irish are to make the NCAA tournament. He averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds a game last season and made a nice steal against UCLA on national TV. But he tended to pad his statistics against weaker opponents and sometimes was a nonentity in big games. That occurred, for example, when Notre Dame was upset by Michigan in the Mideast Regionals.
The Wolverines, who won the Big Ten title in a playoff with Indiana and then beat Notre Dame 77-68, were also victims of the pro draft. Forward Campanella Russell is now a Cleveland Cavalier, and Michigan does not seem to have enough depth behind its four returning starters to make another run at the league championship. Michigan State's Lindsay Hairston, who pulled down 14.2 rebounds per game last season, should again lead the Big Ten and should not be far from the top in scoring, either. He averaged 17.7 a season ago.
With all its schools avidly pursuing black players, the Southeast Conference had its best recruiting year and should be stronger than ever. Georgia and Florida will be most improved, but Kentucky, which found 6'10" Rick Robey in New Orleans, should be the chief rival of favored Alabama and dark horse Auburn. Wildcat Coach Joe Hall has four returning starters from a 13-13 team. One of them is the SEC's leading scorer (21.9 points per game), Kevin Grevey. Tennessee has two New York City bruisers, Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. Though Grunfeld will miss some early games with a broken wrist, they should make the Vols tough despite the loss of seven-foot Len Kosmalski.
Bowling Green would probably have won the Mid-American crown last year if it had fit the head of 6'7" Cornelius Cash. Cash's cranium was not the only part of his body that was oversized. He was 20 pounds overweight and slipped from eighth to unranked in the nation in rebounding. Cash is now back in shape and the Falcons are again the favorite, but the Central Michigan Chippewas are a threat in only their second year in the conference.
No one is even half-certain who will win the Ohio Valley Conference because the NCAA recently suspended athletes from as many conference schools as it could locate, and the OVC's best player, Austin Peay's Fly Williams, has gone to the pros. Those who choose Middle Tennessee State because it was least penalized are only guessing.
Besides Notre Dame, Illinois State and Cincinnati will be the region's top independents. The Redbirds have two flashy guards in Bubbles Hawkins, who hit 58 points in one game last year, and Rick Whitlow, who led the team in scoring with a 21.8 average. Roger Powell and Calvin Harper return up front and Will Robinson, who recruits better than he coaches, has brought in Jeff Wilkins, a seven-foot JC transfer, and two high school All-Americas, 6'6" Billy Lewis and 6'10" Cyrus Mann. Cincinnati lost its two high scorers, but Bearcat Coach Gale Catlett also knows the name of the game is recruiting. He brought in six talented freshmen, including 6'10" Robert Miller who played for the Kentucky state prep champions.