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Defending champion La Salle must hold off American University and Hofstra in the Eastern section of the East Coast Conference. American has four starters back and Hofstra five, including national rebounding leader John Irving (15.4), but La Salle must compensate for severe frontcourt losses. Guard Todd Tripucka leads Lafayette against favored Bucknell in the Western section.
Massachusetts, with junior Jim Town, should survive Connecticut's challenge to win its fourth straight Yankee Conference championship. Vermont, coming off its best season (16-10) in 28 years, has five of its top seven players back, and Rhode Island, 5-20 a year ago, will be considerably better. A real Yankee dandy is Maine's Bob Warner, who averaged 19.7 points and was second in the nation in rebounding (14.1).
Independent Syracuse will not return to the NCAA's final four this year, but speed, defense and Forward Chris Sease make an NIT appearance likely. Providence seeks its sixth straight 20-win season and postseason tournament bid with frontcourt depth and accurate outside shooting from Guard Joe Hassett. George Washington's first year in Smith Center should be a good one as Pat Tallent (20.3 points per game) fills the basket from long range. West Virginia hopes that 6'11" Junius Lewis is worth the 21 recruiting trips it took to sign him. Villanova, an untypical 9-18 a year ago, appears much improved with brothers Larry and Keith Herron, who each averaged nearly 18 points a game last year.
Florida Stale, 18-8 in each of the last three seasons, may be the best of the Southeastern independents, although Coach Hugh Durham says, "We have a lot of good players, no great ones.' With a pair of seven-footers, Jacksonville recalls the good old days of Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows III. New Coach Don Beasley can also count on solid scoring from JC transfer Guard Kent Glover. South Carolina could return to the 20-win class if it gets good ball handling to go with the shooting of four-year starters Alex English and Mike Dunleavy. New Coach Lee Rose hopes to continue the pattern at UNC-Charlotte, which was 23-3 last season and led the nation in average margin of victory (23.7 points) for the second straight year.
"I've always felt guards are so important," says Purdue Coach Fred Schaus, and all you have to do to discover why he feels that way is to check the Boilermakers' roster. In All-Big Ten Bruce Parkinson, Purdue has its best guard since Rick Mount. Parkinson does what Mount did not—pass and defend—and he shoots well enough to have scored 25 points in one of those frenetic Pan-Am games in Mexico City. He also has broken all the conference assist records.
Another returning backcourt starter is sophomore Eugene Parker, who celebrated last season's 17-11 record by singing This Guy's in Love with You at the team banquet. Unfortunately for Parker, Schaus is in love with two Indiana-style, nail-up-a-basket-and-shoot-12-hours-a-day freshman guards, Jerry Sichting and Kyle Macy. One of them could replace Parker as a starter.
Forward Wayne Walls (6'7") is a good defender, and his frontcourt mate Walter Jordan (6'8") has 42-inch sleeves and an almost unblockable shot, but neither weighs as much as 200 pounds. "We do get manhandled physically at the forwards," Schaus says. So the key to Purdue's season will be the performance of 6'10" Tom Scheffler, who replaces graduated- John Garrett, a 20-point scorer and, more important, a 10-a-game re-bounder. "I see my job as rebounding and defense," says Scheffler. He will have to do plenty of both if Purdue is to bump Michigan for second place in the Big Ten. Iowa, whose starting lineup returns intact, and Ohio State should round out the league's first division. Buckeye Center Craig Taylor twice outplayed Indiana's Kent Benson last year, but Taylor had little support. Now he has less.
Kentucky, defending Southeastern Conference champion and NCAA finalist, is fresh out of everything but tradition. If Rick Robey and Mike Phillips, both 6'10", can work together in a double-post, the Wildcats might finish as high as 18-8. But that's about it, since they play North Carolina, Indiana, Notre Dame and Kansas even before facing their vastly improved SEC rivals. One of those up-and-coming league teams is Vanderbilt, which has everyone back, including 22-point man Jeff Fosnes.