After a confusing start, the race in the Big Ten began to clear up a little as Michigan State emerged as a convincing front-runner. When the conference competition began early this month, Indiana looked as if it would make a surprising run at the championship, with Michigan and Purdue also contending. The young Spartans were supposed to be a year away. Well, Indiana was 2-4 in the Big Ten after losing to the Boilermakers 77-67 last week, while Michigan State stood alone atop the standings with a 6-0 record. The Spartans defeated Purdue 60-51. with freshman Earvin Johnson hitting eight straight one-and-one free throws in the final 2:06. Johnson finished with 21 points. 12 rebounds and five assists. Johnson also controlled the tempo for the Spartans, handling himself with such aplomb that the Boilermakers' Fred Schaus, who coached Jerry West at West Virginia, was moved to call Johnson "the finest freshman I've ever seen." When the Spartans were struggling against Iowa. Coach Jud Heathcote brought in another freshman. Guard Mike Brkovich, who promptly nailed three 20-foot jumpers that propelled MSU to a 68-58 victory.
Still another newcomer stole the spotlight in Michigan's game against Wisconsin. The Wolverines trailed 48-46 when freshman swingman Mike McGee took over, scoring Michigan's next 14 points and finishing the game with 26 on 11 of 16 shooting. "He's quick, isn't he?" Michigan Coach John Orr asked rhetorically. Reporters found out just how quick McGee is when he executed a neat fastbreak out of the locker room. "If I get the pub. I get the pub," McGee said as he disappeared into the night. "It doesn't make much difference to me."
Minnesota, out of the race for a postseason tournament bid because it is on NCAA probation, won twice, defeating Illinois 70-66 and Wisconsin 61-51. Gopher Center Mychal Thompson had 49 points in those games and left a houseful of pro scouts drooling. "I don't think there is any doubt he is the best player in the country," said Illinois Coach Lou Henson after Thompson had scored 27 points against the Illini.
Top-ranked Kentucky knocked off what may have been its only serious challenger for supremacy in the SEC. After routing Mississippi 76-56, the Wildcats faced the SEC's second-place team, Mississippi State, on the Bulldogs' court. And to give State another edge, Kentucky star Jack Givens was weakened by a cold. But Givens' 13 points in the final 8:20 of the first half were nothing to sneeze at, and the Wildcats established a school shooting record for the game by hitting on 25 of 37 shots, or 67.6%. "They have no weaknesses," said Mississippi State Coach Ron Greene after the 75-65 Kentucky win.
Notre Dame and UCLA has become one of the best rivalries in college basketball, and last week's game was typical. UCLA's James Wilkes missed the first shot of a one-and-one free-throw situation with four seconds left, and Notre Dame hung on for a 75-73 victory.
Earlier the Irish barely squeaked by Villanova 70-69 when Duck Williams hit a pair of foul shots with 11 seconds remaining. The Wildcats had a chance to win the game by doing what they do best—shoot free throws. Villanova was leading the NCAA in foul shooting with a .787 team percentage, and in the final 38 seconds at South Bend the Wildcats managed to get Whitey Rigsby (84%) and Reggie Robinson (79%) to the line for a total of four foul shots. Only one of them went in.
John Long scored 56 points for Detroit in wins over Bowling Green (84-79) and St. Peter's (87-77). The Titans are now 15-1.
2. MARQUETTE (14-1)
3. MICHIGAN ST. (14-1)