North Texas State must have unsightly dandruff. Why else was the Mean Green, which had a 43-10 record the past two seasons, ignored by the NCAA and NIT selection committees? North Texas may absolutely force a postseason invitation this year, however, because it has four starters back to work with Jon Manning, a high-scoring transfer from Oklahoma City. Somebody has to notice.
Another well-kept secret is Pan American, which defeated North Texas twice last year in an up-and-down 17-9 season. The Broncs also have four regulars available from that team. All averaged in double figures. Pan Am makes the going great at home, but it crashed too often on the road last season. Oral Roberts hasn't a prayer of having a ninth straight 20-win year, although new Coach Lake Kelly worked a few miracles while at Austin Peay.
Georgia Tech will march to a different drummer as it pursues Metro Seven favorites Louisville and Cincinnati. Setting the beat is Sammy Drummer, the Junior College Player of the Year while at nearby DeKalb South. Tico Brown is the best of the holdovers. Florida State had a bad record—for it—last season, winning only 16 games. But with the three good freshmen of a year ago having matured and with leading scorer David Thompson sure to be more consistent, the Seminoles should get their customary 20 wins again. Memphis State is rebuilding around James Bradley, the Tigers' No. 2 scorer and rebounder last season who, Coach Wayne Yates says, is "great sometimes and—well—awful other times." Playmaking Guard Alvin Wright will continue to feed him the ball in either case.
Don't be surprised if another newcomer, Creighton, claims second place in the Missouri Valley behind Indiana State. The Blue Jays were 21-7 as an independent, and star Forward Rick Apke (19.8 points a game) is back. Wichita State and Bradley will lead the charge by the Valley old-timers. The Braves feature league MVP Robert Phegley, who came to school on a baseball scholarship but stars at every position on the basketball court.
Every day could be Feb. 14 at Kansas this season because the Big Eight Jayhawks landed sensational Guard Darnell Valentine. It will take some rearranging to get Valentine, who pumped in 26.1 a game in high school, into the lineup; John Douglas, the team's leading scorer last year, is a backcourt man who takes a back seat to no one. Oklahoma also recruited well, even though it needed to replace only one starter from an 18-10 team.
Although Arkansas is expected to dominate the Southwest Conference, there is a glimmer of hope for the rest of the league. Texas Tech Coach Gerald Myers reminds everyone that " Arkansas never fouled out a player or had an injury in a conference game last year. You can't expect that to happen two years in a row." Well, at least Myers can hope it won't happen. His Red Raiders have won 20 games each of the last two seasons, but failed to win an SWC title. That pattern could continue behind the power play of Center Mike Russell. Texas A&M also could be a spoiler, with four starters from last season and two others from the 1976 league champions on its squad. The SWC team of the future is Texas, or as A&M Coach Shelby Metcalf calls the Longhorns, "The University of California at Austin." Coach Abe Lemons brought in three more California high schoolers to go with Ron Baxter, who averaged nine rebounds and 17 points a game as a freshman. "When you get a foot in the door," says Lemons, "you keep on going back."
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas might have been the logical choice to take the NCAA jackpot this year, except for three things. One, its topflight center, Larry Moffett, decided to forgo his senior season to turn pro. Two, the NCAA, charging UNLV with recruiting violations, has barred Las Vegas from postseason play. And, three, the Rebels have a road schedule that includes Kentucky, Louisville, Marquette and Maryland.
Nonetheless, Las Vegas will win often, mainly because of the presence of 6'7" swing man Reggie Theus, who is accomplished at all phases of the game, and Guard Tony Smith, a deadly outside shooter. But whether the Rebels can break into the rankings will depend on how quickly Moffett's replacement, Earl Evans, blends in, and how soon Forward Jackie Robinson, who missed last season because of an ankle injury, regains his jumping ability. In preseason practices, Robinson was not soaring high enough to give UNLV the lift it needs.