Except for Bradley of the Missouri Valley Conference, the best unranked teams in the region are independents. One of them is Houston, which gets back 22-point scorer Louis Dunbar and has superb freshman Guard Tony Smith to run the show. To make their outlook even brighter, the Cougars have scheduled 18 games at friendly Hofheinz Pavilion, where they have lost only twice in four years. Oral Roberts and Creighton have new coaches, but the old itch to return to the NCAA tournament. Titan boss Jerry Hale hopes to install the more disciplined style that made him a big winner at Southern Idaho Junior College. If run-and-gunners Duane Fox and Anthony Roberts slow down long enough to listen to him, it just might work. Creighton's Tom Apke will no doubt find room on his front line for Cincinnati's top high school player, his younger brother Rick.
Centenary remains on NCAA probation, but 7'1�" Center Robert Parish makes it bearable. Pan American University and Oklahoma City have lost outstanding players, but the Broncs still have Coach Abe Lemons to keep them laughing. Newly independent St. Louis University and its rookie Coach Randy Albrecht will not find winning any easier outside the Missouri Valley Conference, despite a veteran lineup that features 6'8" Bill Morris.
Last season's MVC Coach of the Year, Joe Stowell of Bradley, retains star Center Greg Smith and Guard Jim Carruthers from his 20-8 team. The Braves could win even more this season. North Texas State lost its best player when Bobby Iverson unexpectedly left school. Tulsa and New Mexico State will feel the departure of two all-league players, Willie Biles and Tree Grant. Center Reg Ramey heads an experienced West Texas State lineup, which could pull some upsets. Wichita State needs the kind of divine intervention Drake's new coach, Bob Ortegel, might provide the Bulldogs. Fulton Sheen's TV fans may remember Ortegel as the cherub who wiped the bishop's blackboard clean. Off camera, Bob no doubt was scribbling X's and O's.
Kansas seems two laps ahead of its Big Eight competition. Maybe three since Oklahoma has the league's best player in seven-foot Center Alvan Adams, but not much support for him. Nebraska has a veteran team; alas, only Guard Jerry Fort knows how to score. Among Oklahoma State's four returnees is Andy Hopson, the Big Eight's leading re-bounder the past two seasons. Jack Hart-man faces a severe challenge at Kansas State, where four starters graduated and the other, Dean Harris, was killed in an automobile accident. Hartman, however, is anything but a loser. Neither is Iowa State's new coach, Ken Trickey, who worked miracles at Oral Roberts. Even with Hercle (Poison) Ivy at guard, however, Trickey soon may have to learn how defeat feels.
The weak Southwest Conference might compete better against non-league opponents by pooling its resources. Arkansas' Rickey Medlock, Texas Tech's Rick Bullock and A&M's John Thornton would form an imposing nucleus, but few other players seem as qualified. New Coaches Eddie Sutton of Arkansas and Bob Polk of Rice may have the know-how to pick things up in the future. They are fresh from successes at Creighton and St. Louis. If something does not happen quickly, Houston will trample the rest of the conference when it begins playing for the SWC title in 1976.
Every year it is the same in the Pacific Eight: speculation abounds in November about beating UCLA; anxiety arrives in December as the Bruins glide through their non-conference schedule unbeaten; then aggravation takes hold in January, when John Wooden begins whittling another conference title. By February USC is a sure second and everybody else is trying to win the Pacific Six championship. Last year's vagabond king was Oregon, which upset UCLA in February and found it did not matter. Coach Dick Harter has all his starters back, including 6'4" Guard Ron Lee, who led the entire conference in scoring. But he still needs strength under the boards. Marv Harshman has three players over 6'10" at Washington, plus a pair of 16-point scorers in Forward Larry Pounds and Guard Clarence Ramsey. Freshman Forward Kim Stewart is also an offensive threat. The Ducks and Huskies are as tough as the UCLA-USC opposition gets. Oregon State, which also upset the Bruins in Corvallis, is solid enough to better .500 this year and too stolid to do much better. Stanford's seven-foot Rich Kelley is a scorer (18.4), but none of the Cardinals' big men can jump or defend very well. Washington State's 6'11�", 225-pound Steve Puidokas can. He was one of the outstanding freshmen in the country by the end of last season, averaging almost 17 points per game. California Coach Dick Edwards went all the way to New Jersey for 6'9" Jerome Young and 6'4" Connie White of Mercer County Community College, the national junior college champion. On the way home he picked up 6'8" juco All-America Carl Bird from Arizona Western and added 6'11" Mark Dickey from nearby Menlo JC. When Edwards started, all he had was 6'3" Guard Rickie Hawthorne. Now he has a real team to go with him.
New Mexico Coach Norm Ellenberger sent an assistant coach to Petersburg, Va. five or six times last spring; hoping to persuade Moses Malone to forget about the University of Maryland and come out West to play basketball. Well, Malone did go West, anyway. Bill Hagins, at 6'7", obviously is not the center Malone would have been, and the WAC's defending champs will not be what they were last year—22-7. Four starters departed and Ellenberger has merely moved up reserves to fill the vacancies. Even in the unlikely event that Colorado State and UTEP are unable to stay in the conference race with Arizona and Arizona State, fans all over the WAC will still find it exciting to watch the shooting of Utah's deadeye Ticky Burden, perhaps the best "pure shooter" in college this year.
Nevada-Las Vegas could win the West Coast Athletic Conference championship, despite the presence of Seattle. The Rebels finished 20-6 last year, but weren't asked out to any tournaments. In case the trouble was his mild schedule, Jerry Tarkanian has added road games at Arizona and Oregon along with a trip to the Bluebonnet Classic, where the competition includes Hawaii, Houston and Texas A&M.
San Diego State has three valuable transfer students and the Aztecs should win the Pacific Coast Athletic Association title despite a 7-19 record last year, the worst in the school's history. Montana's best team in 24 years (18-8) won 12 straight before falling to Idaho State in a playoff for the 1974 Big Sky title. This season the roles should be reversed. The problem at independent Utah State—14-0 at home and 2-10 away—is fairly obvious and second-year Coach Dutch Belnap is working on it.