The top seven scorers from last year's injury-riddled Brigham Young team, which finished 12-18, are back, the brightest of them being Guard Danny Ainge, who made the all-WAC squad and led the nation's freshmen in scoring for most of the season. In addition, Coach Frank Arnold has two good players returning from two-year stints as Mormon missionaries and a promising local freshman, Devin Durrant. Durrant played for the U.S. High School All-Stars against the Kentucky-Indiana All-Stars last summer and was not only MVP of that contest but also won the one-on-one contest held in conjunction with the game.
Unless Durrant turns out to be even better than his credentials indicate, the Cougars will have only the slightest edge over their WAC rivals. Utah lost Jeff Judkins and Buster Matheney but will still be tough. Coach Jerry Pimm can turn to sophomore leaper Danny Vranes, senior Greg Deane and some good newcomers, notably Curt Clawson, the leading high school scorer in Indiana last season. The NCAA finals will be on the Utes' home court, but it is doubtful that any Utah school will make the final four.
Elsewhere in the WAC, New Mexico will be rebuilding—perhaps rapidly, as it has in the past—with junior college transfers, and sophomore-dominated UTEP, led by Center Anthony Burns, should be ready to contend now that the Miners' best players have a season's experience.
In the Big Sky, Weber State figures to win again; it was first on 34 of 38 ballots in a preseason poll. One good reason is Guard Bruce Collins, the league's best player. Another is that the Wildcats won the league's postseason tournament last March and all the starters are back.
The big news at Las Vegas is still the hassling between the NCAA and Coach Jerry Tarkanian. That doesn't mean UNLV will not be worth a bulletin or two, mainly because some Angelenos left home. Returning starters Earl Evans, a transfer from USC, and Tony Smith will be joined by two redshirts, Center Brett Vroman, a transfer from UCLA, and Guard Flintie Ray Williams, a transfer from Pepperdine.
Oregon State could be the surprise team of the Pac-10 now that Center Steve Johnson, who had a broken foot last year, has fully recuperated. The Beavers were last in rebounding in 1977-78, but Johnson should change that. The addition of Arizona and, especially, Arizona State to the league will change things, too. The Sun Devils have Guard Blake Taylor and Forward Tony Zeno back, but the State player who figures to really give opposing coaches fits is freshman Greg Goorjian, who scored 43.4 points a game at California's Crescenta Valley High. Washington State, which has seven veterans returning from its third-place team, again will be muscular, with 7'2", 275-pound Center James Donaldson and 6'11" Stuart House. But State will also be oh so slow.
In the PCAA, Cal State-Fullerton may win the championship again, but Fresno State is also a strong contender. The Bulldogs had the best defense in the nation last year, allowing 52.3 points a game, and should be about as stingy this time around.
Santa Clara won 17 of 20 games during a summer tour of Australia and New Zealand, and the experience the young Broncos gained might have given them just the edge they need to overtake archrival USF and Nevada-Reno in the WCAC. Santa Clara will miss Point Guard Eddie Joe Chavez but is solid at three positions: center, with last season's WCAC Freshman of the Year, 6'10" Mark McNamara; forward, with two-year scoring and rebounding leader Kurt Rambis; and guard, with Londale Theus, a cousin of former Las Vegas star Reggie. The Broncos almost certainly would have finished better than 21-8 last year had not Rambis gotten the flu in February. The dark horse of the WCAC is Portland. Coach Jack Avina has recruited two promising freshmen, Guard Jose Slaughter, who was the MVP of Pittsburgh's Dapper Dan high school all-star game, and 6'10" Bryan Beard. The Pilots also have an exceptional shooter in Reggie Logan, Portland's top scorer the past two years as sixth man. Loyola Marymount, St. Mary's and Seattle don't figure to threaten the WCAC leaders, but Pepper-dine might, especially if its Brazilian imports, Cesar Cavalcante and Evaristo Soares, come through. The Waves also have muscular 7-foot Center Ray Ellis and Forward Ollie Matson, who missed last season because of injury.