In the East Coast Conference, Lafayette lost its coach, Dr. Tom Davis, to Boston College, but his successor, Dr. Roy Chipman, has enough veterans to win the West Division. With Hofstra unlikely to repeat as East champ, Temple, La Salle and St. Joseph's will contend for the title.
St. John's should be the region's best independent by tournament time, but could be out of contention for an NCAA spot long before that because playmaker Reggie Carter, a transfer from Hawaii, must sit out the first 14 games. George Johnson is a multitalented fixture at forward, but Coach Lou Carnesecca says of highly recruited Center Wayne McKoy, "He's not going to change the world—yet."
Georgetown (19-9), Rhode Island (13-13) and South Carolina (14-12) will try to recover from last year's disappointments. The Hoyas will be better if Craig ( Big Sky) Shelton is sound and the backcourt of Derrick Jackson and John Duren plays up to potential. Neither little nor talent-poor, Rhody could finally get it together with Jiggy Williamson, Sly Williams and freshman Phil Kydd. Can Jackie Gilloon, the mini-Maravich, live up to his billing in his final season at South Carolina? He has 6'9" Jim Graziano to get him the ball and to receive it from him. New Coach Larry Gillman faces a brutal schedule at East Carolina and will need instant help from J.C. transfer Oliver Mack and freshman Walter Moseley, both guards. Surprising Old Dominion (25-4) hopes Ronnie Valentine continues to score as well as he did as a freshman (22.4), and NIT champ St. Bonaventure must rely on Greg Sanders for almost all of its points, now that Essie Hollis has departed. At Providence, Coach Dave Gavitt has come up with an unusual pair of forwards: Rick Hunger played for the Canadian Junior team and Mladen Filipan is from Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
Can anyone match Purdue and Michigan State in the Big Ten? It's as much a question of individuals as it is of teams. Michigan seemed a possibility until Center Phil Hubbard was lost, probably for the season, with a sore knee. Minnesota, whose equally valuable center, Mychal Thompson, has been declared ineligible for the first seven games, should be a spoiler once conference play begins. Unfortunately for Gopher fans, that is all their team can aspire to because Minnesota is on probation and cannot participate in the NCAAs. Elsewhere, freshmen will determine how high their teams can go. Wisconsin was supposed to have a find in 6'9" Larry Petty, but he is overweight. Indiana did some sharp recruiting, snagging, among others, the state's prep Mr. Basketball, 6'9" Ray Tolbert. Ohio State has an even better freshman crop, perhaps the nation's best, including another local sensation, Columbus' 6'11" Herb Williams.
The Ernie and Bernie Show has turned pro, so count Tennessee out of the Southeastern Conference race. But Alabama and Kentucky will not go unchallenged. For one, LSU has four starters back from a 15-12 team. Guard Kenny Higgs is already the school's third leading career scorer behind Pete Maravich and Bob Pettit, and 6'1" Durand Macklin was the top rebounding freshman in the country. Another potential SEC contender is Florida, which hopes to improve its 17-9 record with the addition of high school All-America Center Reggie Hannah.
In the Mid-American Conference, Miami of Ohio, Central Michigan and Toledo each won 18 or more games, and all could do at least as well again. Miami has four starters back, including 57% shooter Archie Aldridge, but Redskin Center Bill Lake is short on stamina. Toledo will have its 19th straight winning season if its defense, second best in the country last season, holds true to form. Central Michigan lost its two top scorers, but if Coach Dick Parfitt comes up with a center, his team will challenge.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, darlings of the NCAA tournament, lost the sensational Cornbread Maxwell to the Boston Celtics. Still, Kevin King, Chad Kinch and Lew Massey, who this season will replace Maxwell as leading scorer in the school's brief history, are back. The 49ers should win the Sun Belt Conference, but don't overlook New Orleans. The Privateers lost to UNCC by one point in last spring's conference finals, and new Coach Butch van Breda Kolff has 6'10" Wayne Cooper, 6'11" Ardith Wearren and Guard Nate Mills, an excellent outside shooter. With two junior-college All-Americas, Ron Anthony and Flenoil Crook, Jacksonville could also contend.
Look for Middle Tennessee to win the little conference the big powers fear, the Ohio Valley. Blue Raider Guard Claude (Sleepy) Taylor, who averaged 15.5 points as a freshman, is back in form after two seasons of knee trouble.
Don Donoher, coach of independent Dayton, says that 6'5" Jim Paxson is the school's best player since Don May. As usual, DePaul is an enigma. Why did the talented Blue Demons play such mediocre (15-12) basketball last year? With almost everyone back, will they improve or succumb to a tough schedule? And what are we to make of Center Dave Corzine? He averaged 19 points and 13 rebounds a game last season, but some scouts feel he should be doing far better than that.