With the loss of five players who helped Marquette win the 1977 national championship and took it to a 24-4 record last season, the Warriors are unlikely to have their 13th straight 20-win season. Among the starters, only senior Forward Bernard (Looney) Toone, a 9.3-point-per-game scorer, returns. But if a 6'10" local boy, freshman Dean Marquardt, matures rapidly, the Warriors could be surprisingly good. DePaul, another independent, lost its alltime scoring and rebounding leader, 7-foot Dave Corzine, as well as powerful Forward Joe Ponsetto and playmaker Randy Ramsey from last season's 27-3 squad. But Ray Meyer, who is in his 37th year of coaching the Blue Demons, retains three other good players and has added the best high-schooler from the Chicago area, 6'6�", 240-pound Mark Aguirre. Detroit, snubbed by the NCAA last season despite a 25-4 record, lost its entire front line to graduation. Senior Guard Terry Duerod, the third-leading scorer in 1977-78 with a 17.2 average, is back, and Titan Coach Dave Gaines calls freshman Forward Jerry Davis potentially the best player to come to Detroit since Spencer Haywood.
Yes, Virginia—and Carolina, California and Kansas, for that matter—they do play basketball in the Southwest Conference. In fact, last season the SWC had more teams, three, in postseason tournaments than any conference except the ACC. Houston qualified for the NCAA playoffs by winning the league tournament; 32-4 Arkansas finished third in the NCAAs; and surging Texas won the NIT. This season Texas is a heavy favorite to win the conference title, but as an indication of the new balance, neither Arkansas, despite All-America Sidney Moncrief, nor Houston, hard hit by graduation, is likely to finish second.
The team that should is Baylor. The Bears retain the services of Vinnie Johnson, who averaged 23 points a game while being double-and triple-teamed, and have added a rich harvest of freshmen, including one with a winning name, Jimmy Carter. Texas A &M, torn by dissension of late, has a new cast that should allow Aggie fans to concentrate on basketball. Center Rudy Woods, a heralded freshman, and Forward Vernon Smith, whom Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton considers the most talented player in the conference, should hearten A & M rooters. And SMU might be the most improved team in the league, now that Coach Sonny Allen has signed his son Billy, who scored 25 points a game in high school.
Another balanced conference is the Missouri Valley, where even the decision of Indiana State's Larry Bird to stay in college did not send rivals running for cover. Though Bird is the best player in the country, the Sycamores are so weak elsewhere that they are not the Valley front-runners. That role belongs to Southern Illinois, which has nearly everyone back from a 17-10 team. Albert (Slab) Jones of New Mexico State and Lynbert (Cheese) Johnson of Wichita State give their teams more than just nicknames.
Oklahoma should round out the Big Eight's Big Four behind Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa State. Coach Dave Bliss has all his starters back from a 14-13 team and has reaped a bumper crop of freshmen. The four best are 6'5" or taller, and one of them, 6'9" Ingram Purvis, is the backup Center Al Beal so sorely needed the last two seasons.
In the Metro Conference, perennial contenders Cincinnati, Memphis State and Florida State won't be within hailing distance of favored Louisville. The best they are likely to do is produce some outstanding individual performances. Cincy's Pat Cummings, who shot a school-record 64.2% in 1977-78, is the individual most worth watching.
No, the Trans America Conference is not headquartered in a tall, pointy building in San Francisco. The new league consists of the likes of Northeast Louisiana, Houston Baptist and Pan American. Calvin Natt, who, though only 6'5", is one of the nation's top rebounders, makes Northeast Louisiana the favorite. In another unheralded conference, the Southland, defending co-champion Lamar, with four starters back, is the front-runner.
The best of the Midwest independents is Illinois State, even though Forward Billy Lewis, the Redbirds' leading scorer and rebounder, has graduated; the schedule is tough; and this is Bob Donewald's first college head-coaching job. Donewald has four starters returning from a 24-4 team, and they all had double-digit scoring averages. The Red-birds also have a freshman, Dale White, who shot 69.1% in three high school seasons. That is not a typographical error. An Illinois State record of 25-5 won't be, either.