FIVE TO WATCH
Much has been written about the New South this year, but little about the basketball prowess at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, who have been Southeastern Conference patsies for a long, long time, have a shot at the SEC crown. Things have really changed around Starkville. In 1957 Mississippi State was scheduled to play a game in Indiana against Evansville College, but was recalled by the president of the university when it was learned Evansville was starting a black player. Kermit Davis was on the Mississippi State team that season; now he is the Bulldog coach and he will start five blacks.
State showed signs of brilliance at the end of last year, when it played well on the road and nearly beat Kentucky a second time. Now Davis adds freshman standout Ricky Brown (6'10", 215 pounds) at center to the cast that includes super soph Ray White (6'5", 18.3 points a game) at guard, sophomores Wiley Peck and Gary Hooker in the corners and Al Perry, who set a school record in assists, at the other guard. Brown, who averaged 28.9 points and 19.8 rebounds a game in Atlanta and was considered the premier high school big man in the country last year, has dreams of returning to his old stomping grounds in Atlanta—site of the NCAA finals.
Arkansas may be a year away from having its best team ever, but the Razorbacks will fare well with Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer. Thanks largely to Moncrief, Arkansas was second in the nation in field-goal percentage last season. A 6'4" sophomore forward who can soar, Moncrief shot .665 from the floor last year, tops in the country, and word out of Fayetteville is that Sidney went home this summer and took 500 shots a day to improve his marksmanship. Brewer and Delph are also 6'4" and tremendous leapers, but the Razorbacks could get cut up at center if 6'11" sophomore Steve Schall or 6'9" JC transfer Ken Gehring don't develop quickly.
Last season North Texas State Coach Bill Blakeley put a sign on the back of his chair at courtside that read DON'T EXPECT MIRACLES. Blakeley then proceeded to take a team that was 6-20 in 1975, went 22-4 and averaged 96 points a game—second highest in the nation. But the Eagles weren't invited to either the NCAA tournament or the NIT, so Blakeley is beefing up his schedule by dropping all non-Division I teams. The Eagles can fly; there is not a player on the team who can't dunk. Junior-college transfer Charles McMillian, a 6'3" forward with a 22.5-point average, can perform a 42-inch vertical jump.
Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference last year, but then someone discovered the course of the Missouri River just couldn't keep up with the MVC's membership changes and the league has been renamed the Valley Conference. Whatever they call it, Wichita State should win the championship. Center Robert Elmore, a 6'10", 245-pound senior, and Lynbert (Cheese) Johnson, a 6'5" sophomore forward who has a nodding acquaintance with the top of the backboard, will lead the Shockers' sky-high attack. The Cheese smiles at his opponents on the court, probably because he knows something they don't.
Until last year VMI had never won more than 13 games. Then the short-haired Keydets posted a 22-10 record with victories over Tennessee and DePaul in the NCAA tournament. Senior Guard John Krovic, senior Forward Will Bynum and junior Swingman Ron Carter all can break the school's career scoring record this season. At 6'7", Center Dave Montgomery is the tallest returning starter, so the Keydets can't afford to miss many shots against teams with big men. Sophomore Jeryl Salmond, who paid to stay in school last year while waiting out a year of ineligibility, could turn out to be the best player in VMI history.
Last spring the forecast for Pepperdine called for sunny skies. The Waves had finished on top of the West Coast Athletic Conference with their best record (22-6) in 24 years. Then the clouds rolled in. League MVP Marcus Leite dropped out to play in Italy, and high-scoring Guard Dennis Johnson went to the SuperSonics as a hardship case. Seattle University could surprise the WCAC's strongman, San Francisco, with its two freshmen, seven-foot Jawaan Oldham and Guard Carl Ervin. The local pair played together six years, helping to win the state high school title the last two. They join 6'3" leaper Clint Richardson, the Chieftains' leading scorer and last year's conference Freshman of the Year, to give Coach Bill O'Connor a young, highly talented contender.
With the two top spots in the Pac-8 ticketed for UCLA and Washington State, there is a mad scramble for third. Oregon State, which had to forfeit 15 games it won with ABA signee Lonnie Shelton in the lineup, turns to 6'10" freshman Steve Johnson and junior-college transfer Alonzo Campbell to get itself back on track. Washington's 6'1" Chester Dorsey, the Pac-8 runner-up in assists, will look inside for seven-foot James Edwards as Coach Marv Harshman regroups after losing seven players from a 22-6 squad. Oregon Coach Dick Harter says, "This is my first season since 1971-72 when we're going in not expecting to improve." The Ducks lost their best guard, Ron Lee, to the pros, and knee surgery on two key players, 6'6" Stu Jackson and 6'10" Dan Hartshorne, may put too great a burden on conference scoring leader Greg Ballard.