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With Guard Derek Harper drafted early by the NBA, the spotlight at Illinois shifts to 6'9" Forward Efrem Winters, last year's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. "If there's a better power forward in the Big Ten," says Coach Lou Henson, "I don't know where he is." Sophomore Doug Altenberger, who has recently recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, will be in the Illinois backcourt with another sophomore, Bruce Douglas, the Big Ten leader in assists last season.
Nebraska Coach Moe Iba is building a basketball team the Cornhusker football team can be proud of. The Husker hoopsters tied a school record with 22 victories last season and advanced to the NIT Final Four. Four players with starting experience are back, including sophomore Center Dave Hoppen. The Big Eight's premiere big man, though, is Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale, the 6'10" center-forward who set 10 Sooner records, made history by becoming the first freshman ever named first-team All-America by the Associated Press and broke Wilt Chamberlain's Big Eight single-season scoring record with 810 points. He's the only starter back from a 24-9 team, but Sooner Coach Billy Tubbs says his freshman class is so good that at least three of them, probably Darryl Kennedy, Tim McCalister and David Johnson, should start and produce. "That's not false confidence," says Tubbs. "This is a superior group."
Tulsa Coach Nolan Richardson has assembled his deepest and most experienced team ever. Returning from a 19-12 club are three starters and 79% of the 1982-83 offense. Richardson says his best player. All-Missouri Valley Guard Steve Harris, who shared team scoring honors with Forward-Guard Ricky Ross at 18.5 points per game, is "as good as Michael Jordan."
"I hope I'm not getting senile," says Lamar Coach Pat Foster, "but I think our three perimeter players [Jerry Everett, Tom Sewell and Lamont Robinson] are just as good down the line as the Triplets." The Triplets were Arkansas' fabled trio of Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph, who led the Razorbacks to a three-year 77-15 record and a berth in the 1978 Final Four while Foster was an Arkansas assistant. The Cards should breeze to their sixth Southland Conference title in seven years.
At Cal State Fullerton, four starters are back from a 21-8 team that finished second in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association behind the University of Nevada, Las Vegas but ended the Rebels' 25-game winning streak. The key man is play-maker Leon Wood (left), who last year led the nation in assists (11.0 a game), and Fullerton in scoring (18.1). Wood is so good he was chosen for the U.S. Pan Am team last summer, even though he missed the trials while recovering from a foot injury.
UT- Chattanooga has earned three straight Southern Conference titles and the best two-year record (53-8) in the nation. Still, the Mocs have yet to receive much national attention largely because they have yet to make a big splash against top regular-season opponents or in the NCAA tournament. With four starters, including senior Willie White, the Southern's Player of the Year as a sophomore and league tournament MVP last March, returning from a team that went 26-4, Chattanooga could be splashy, indeed. Ohio University, the surprise Mid-American winner last season, should also repeat. Morehead (Ky.) State is expected to win its first Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title and to have its first 20-victory season.
Other conference favorites will be looking to end NCAA tournament victory droughts. Temple, the choice in the Atlantic Ten, hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1958. Santa Clara should win the West Coast Athletic Conference championship and make its first trip to the tournament since 1970, when it lost in the second round. Weber State, the pick in the Big Sky, hasn't won in the NCAAs since 1979.