Arizona State dynamited away part of a mountain to build Coach Ned Wulk's dream basketball palace. When the place finally opened last season, the Sun Devils returned the favor by blasting all 14 of their opponents in the 14,227-seat ASU Activity Center. There will be 15 games in "Ned's Place" this year, and the Sun Devils must win practically all of them to have a chance in the WAC race. Guard Lionel (Train) Hollins and Forwards Rudy White and Jack Shrader have turned pro. The only returning starter from last year's conference champions is 6'10" Center Scott Lloyd, who averaged 12 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. He will get some help from 6'5" Forward Gary Jackson, who scored 17 points in 22 minutes during ASU's 84-81 NCAA regional win over Nevada-Las Vegas. "The loss of Hollins has cost us some of our explosiveness," Wulk says. "We can compensate with rebounding." A couple of compensators, 6'7", 220-pound Ken Wright and 6'4", 205-pound Nate Drayton will see plenty of action, allowing 6'4" James Holliman to relocate at guard and run the search-and-destroy offense.
Another contender for the WAC title is New Mexico, which has recruited four top junior college players. The best of them should be 6'7' Larry Gray, provided he can overcome knee problems.
If Cal and Washington are unable to challenge UCLA in the Pac-8, Oregon may be the last line of defense. McArthur Court, alias The Pit, has been expanded by 1,400 seats and sold out for the season. Ron Lee, who should become the first four-year All-Pac-8 selection, is the main reason for the booming sales.
The Big Sky title will go to the school that survives the league's new four-team postseason playoff. Idaho State will be most visible in the Sky, thanks to seven-foot Steve Hayes (20.4 points a game, 13.3 rebounds and .542 accuracy). With four starters back from a .500 team, Boise State will contend. And Weber State, which has double-figure scorers and re-bounders in Jimmy Watts and Al De-Witt, could be a surprise after winning only 11 games last year.
No one will seriously challenge San Francisco in the WCAC, but Pepperdine has four regulars returning from a 17-8 team and figures to finish second. The PCAA should be more interesting to watch now that Long Beach State's six-year reign appears to be over. For the superstitious, Fresno State, whose all-PCAA Forward Roy Jones won $17,000 in prizes on
The Price Is Right
, is a good bet. Even luckier was San Diego State. It went to the NCAA playoffs last spring despite a 14-13 record. The Aztecs have all five starters back and might even deserve a tournament spot this season.
Newly independent Nevada-Las Vegas has improved its schedule but still might come close to the 24-5 record it had last year. The Rebels' new itinerary calls for 19 homes games, and that will help ease the loss of Ricky Sobers, the school's first All-America. Four other double-figure scorers are back, and the new recruits include 6'6" Reggie Theus, a high school All-America from Inglewood, Calif., and 6'4" Sam Smith, a 32-point scorer from Seminole ( Okla.) JC. Only a pessimist like Jerry Tarkanian, the most consistent winner among active coaches in the NCAA (.843), could view such prospects with alarm.
Utah State (21-6) lost 40 points and 16 rebounds a game when Jimmy Moore and Rich Haws graduated and probably will not receive another NCAA bid. The remaining Aggies are as uneven in talent as the best returnees, seven-foot Ed Gregg and 5'11" Oscar Williams, are in height. With four-year starter Merlton Werts and its own seven-foot center, Tommy Barker, Hawaii has hopes of improving its 14-11 record, but the departure of scoring leader Jimmie Baker and the Rainbows' toughest schedule ever are apt to make the task hopeless.