Long Beach State doesn't want to share top billing in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association with anyone, and there's no reason why the 49ers should. Last season's co-champ, Fullerton State, lacks a center, so will be hard-pressed to stop the 49ers—especially now that Long Beach Forward Richard Johnson's right wrist is healed and redshirted Lloyd McMillian (Jim's brother) is eligible to play. Also, Coach Dwight Jones has five starters returning.
Arizona State's fast-breaking, high-scoring offense must integrate two new players in order to give chase to defending champion Arizona in the Western Athletic Conference. The pair of Californians, junior Mark Landsberger—once a junior college Player of the Year—and freshman Johnny Nash from Long Beach, who bypassed UCLA for the Sun Devils, seem tailored to Coach Ned Wulk's game. WAC runners-up UTEP and Utah must suffer with inexperienced front lines. The Miners rely on backcourt men Jake Poole and Ron Jones. Utah compensates with top WAC scorer Jeff Judkins (19 p.p.g.) and Guard Jeff Jonas, who owns the Ute season-assist record of 223.
Idaho State's seven-foot Steve Hayes is the big man in the Big Sky, but Boise State has three starters returning to defend its title.
Among the independents, Utah State should improve its 12-14 record, Air Force appears ready to better its best record (16-9) since 1962 and Denver—sixth in the nation on offense—retains its top five point-getters. At Portland State, junior Guard Freeman Williams, the nation's No. 2 scorer with a 30.9 average, heads an exciting offense.
Creighton and Oral Roberts, two independent powers, are suffering from the same symptoms, but neither is looking for a cure. Both teams have a rash of returning starters. Creighton has six of its top seven players back from a 19-7 season, including Coach Tom Apke's younger brother Rick, who averaged 16.8 points. Oral Roberts, 20-6 last year, lost only its center and will try to fill that void from among four giant freshmen, including John Hollinden, the tallest player in the country at 7'5". (Steady, sports fans, he's a Popsicle stick at 215 pounds.) Anthony Roberts (no relation to Oral) and Arnold Dugger will handle the scoring; they combined for 41 points a game last year. Both Creighton and Oral Roberts have tough early road schedules.
There should be plenty of healthy competition for defending champion Missouri in the Big Eight. Kansas and Kansas State are sure to press the Tigers now that Willie Smith, their team leader and 25-point scorer, is gone. Kansas has four starters back from a 13-13 team that lost six conference games by four points or less. Paul Mokeski's pulled hamstring, which held the seven-foot center to 10 points a game last season, is healed. Kansas State lacks the Jayhawks' height but has quickness in 6'1" Mike Evans, the Big Eight's top offensive guard, and faith in two highly touted freshmen from Brooklyn's Canarsie High, 6'2" Tyrone Ladson and 6'5" Curtis Redding. (Also included in the package was Canarsie Coach Mark Reiner, now a Kansas State assistant.)
The Metro Six was the nation's only conference to place half its members—Louisville, Cincinnati and Memphis State—in postseason tournaments. Now a seventh team, Florida State, comes aboard in the Metro's second year, hoping to receive its first NCAA bid since 1972. Memphis State Guard Dexter Reed and Center-Forward John Gunn, who provided the 21-9 Tigers with 25 points a game, are the best of Coach Wayne Yates' returning lettermen.
Southern Illinois Coach Paul Lambert is a most happy fella, and there are 10 good reasons why. His top eight Saluki scorers and rebounders are joined by two potential starting freshmen to challenge Wichita State for the Valley title. "One thing is certain," Lambert says, "there will be an Abrams at the point." Senior Corky Abrams, a 6'8" guard, owns the league field-goal percentage record of .767, but he may move to forward if his freshman brother Wayne moves in. The Salukis run a high-post offense, which means "get the ball to Mike Glenn," the 6'3" guard who once beat alumnus Walt Frazier one-on-one and had a 19.4-point average. West Texas State and New Mexico State both get back a splendid pair of guards; the Buffaloes' set of 6'1" Maurice Cheeks and 6'4" Melvin Jones is the league's best.
The Southwest Conference will have as many new faces as next year's White House, and the results are as tough to predict. Texas Tech, which won the league tournament, and regular-season champ Texas A&M have fallen on hard times. The Aggies have lost every starter, including leading-scorer Sonny Parker, while the Red Raiders must compete without alltime career-scorer Rick Bullock. Baylor has the best shot at the title with incumbent frontline strength and two junior college transfers, Russ Oliver and Larry Rogowski, both of whom can hit from outside. Houston senior Otis Birdsong, top SWC scorer with a 26.8 average, will try to lead the Cougars to the championship in their second year of eligibility. Texas Coach Abe Lemons, who inherited little to joke about at Texas, says, "All I have right now is a roster."