Four regulars return at Georgetown, which was 23-8 last season, but the Hoyas will be thin on the bench except where 300-pound Coach John Thompson is sitting. Across town, George Washington has 10 players who could start and two who definitely will. Brian Magid, who prefers 30-footers to layups, will be the wing-and-a-prayer guard, and tenacious Mike Zagardo will play the middle.
If La Salle had a center to go with its crackling fast break, it might be readying for a replay of the Tom Gola era. As it is, the Explorers have Michael Brooks, who could be every bit as good as Gola was. Not only is he a 24.9-point-a-game scorer and a 12.8-a-game rebounder, but, says Coach Paul Westhead, "Michael has the tools to go baseline to baseline faster, than a speeding bullet."
Penn should once again be the class of the Ivy League, but only if Guard Bobby Willis and Forward Tony Price take command quickly. Otherwise, Princeton will sneak in behind Bob Roma and 6'11" Tom Young.
With 6'8" scorer-rebounder Jonathan Moore, Furman should win the Southern Conference race easily. Connecticut, with standout freshman Cornelius Thompson, is likely to be second best in New England to Rhode Island. Only Holy Cross and its 21.7 scorer, Ron Perry Jr., and Fairfield seem capable of disputing that.
A year ago, Kentucky was the unanimous choice to win not only its 31st Southeastern Conference championship, but also its fifth NCAA title. Now, with last season's four senior stars having accomplished the triumphs predicted for them, the Wildcats should do no better than battle Georgia and Alabama for third in the SEC. Despite all this, Coach Joe Hall's disposition is considerably brighter this season than last. "Actually, it should be more fun with this team," he says. "The pressure is still there; it always is. But this group will be more fun to work with." The group includes impeccable playmaker Kyle Macy; sophomore Chuck Aleksinas, a 6'10", 258-pound center in the mold of last year's massive star, Rick Robey; relatively inexperienced forwards LaVon Williams and Fred Cowan; and three touted freshmen, Clarence Tillman, Dwight Anderson and Chuck Verderber. Alabama could be an SEC contender once its six good homegrown recruits—the best of whom are Forward Eddie Phillips, the state's top high school player a year ago, and 6'8�" Center Phillip Lockett—learn to blend with Reggie King, the 6'6", 225-pound workhorse forward who was conference MVP in 1977-78. And the Tide can afford to wait a while to jell, because for the first time the SEC title will be determined in a postseason tournament. The site of the inaugural: Birmingham.
Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa could each mount a challenge to Big Ten favorites Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State. To compensate for the departure of All-America Mychal Thompson, Minnesota has turned to speed and highly regarded recruits. Coach Jim Dutcher brought in the conference's best crop of freshmen, and three of them could start. Purdue's new coach, Lee Rose, has three things going for him: Center Joe Barry Carroll, who blocked 105 shots last season and dominated the action when he felt like it; deadly outside shooter Jerry Sichting; and an easier schedule. Back at Iowa are 6'4" Clay Hargrave, the shortest player ever to lead the Big Ten in rebounding, and Guard Ronnie Lester, who was third in the conference in scoring and assists.
In the Mid-American, Miami, which upset Marquette in the NCAA tournament, lost four starters. That leaves Central Michigan, which has the league's best center in Jeff Tropf, to battle Toledo and Bowling Green for the title.
Despite the loss of its coach to Purdue and leading scorer Lew Massey to the pro draft, UNC Charlotte is favored to win its second Sun Belt title in three seasons. New Coach Mike Pratt, who is only 30 years old, has the conference's most talented player, Chad Kinch, and Forward Kevin King, the 49ers' top rebounder and third-leading scorer, back from last year's 20-7 team. Jacksonville, now coached by Tates Locke, and South Alabama, runner-up in last season's Sun Belt tournament, will be Charlotte's toughest challengers.
At Western Kentucky, another new coach, Gene Keady, will attempt to direct the Hilltoppers to a repeat of last year's performance. Despite a 13-13 regular-season record, Western won the Ohio Valley Conference postseason tournament and then upset Syracuse in the first round of the NCAAs. The OVC's other contender, Eastern Kentucky, has four starters back from last season's 15-11 team, including all-conference Forward Lovell Joiner.