•Bradley, one of the few runaway conference winners, escaped from three straight Missouri Valley home games with one-point decisions and next led a 10-7 West Texas team in Peoria, Ill. by only one with 10 seconds to go before romping 84-79. Still, the Braves, led by their superb forward, Mitchell Anderson, became the only team in the 64-year history of the Valley to go from last place to first in one season.
•In Utah, the Beehive State, things were abuzz at the top of three conferences. Big Sky champion Weber State had to go into overtime twice to sweep last-place Boise State in their home-and-home series. PCAA champion Utah State won four overtime games but lost at home to a 15-game loser, Fullerton State. WAC champion Brigham Young won seven games by a total of nine points. And perennially dangerous Utah is 8-4 in the conference, 4-11 non-league and 0-5 in forfeits.
•In the ACC the only real difference among the six top teams—four of which may end up with 20 wins—is Maryland's winning record on the road. Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Clemson, Virginia and Duke were, collectively, 37-4 at home. But the Terps won the championship, in effect, when the remarkable Albert King deflected a Tar Heel inbounds pass with two seconds left at College Park on Feb. 7 to preserve a 70-69 victory.
•In the SEC the difference has been home-court failure. Tennessee ripped off seven straight wins in the league before dropping a one-point heartbreaker to LSU at Knox-ville. The Vols lost their next four and were finished. In a series of road-game shockers, Alabama beat LSU, Kentucky and Georgia, which in a normal year would have set up the Tide for the conference title. But then 'Bama lost to the same three teams at home and fell to fourth place. Meanwhile LSU embarrassed Kentucky at Lexington, Ky., forging a tie for the regular-season lead, but then—tit for tat—the Wildcats traveled down to Baton Rouge on Sunday and returned the favor, winning the championship, 76-74.
•One day in the Big Eight—Feb. 16—saw underdogs win three games on the road by a total of eight points, while Missouri edged last-place Oklahoma State 69-64 and took undisputed possession of the league lead. Oklahoma, which lost only one starter from last season's championship team, finished 6-8 and in sixth place. Even with Jack Hartman's characteristically solid coaching, Kansas State couldn't win any league game by more than 10 points. Or lose any by more than 10, either. One evening K State, 8-2 at the time, journeyed to Iowa State, 2-8. The Cyclones played without a single head coach, Lynn Nance having resigned and been replaced by two assistants, who shared the duties. But the Wildcats were awarded only two free throws—and failed to make either of them—and Iowa State, 12 for 18 from the line, won 66-58, proving once and for all that when you've got two referees, you hardly need any head coaches.
•Even DePaul, unbeaten though it may be, isn't head and shoulders above everybody else. Of their 26 consecutive victories, the Blue Demons have won 15 by fewer than 10 points, 11 of those by six points or fewer. DePaul blasted Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Lamar and Dayton by two points each; that foursome has gone on to a sparkling combined won-lost record of 51-45. The Blue Demons' strongest opponent, LSU, played a league game against Tennessee on a Saturday, then traveled to Chicago on Super Sunday without its strongest player, Durand Macklin, and outscored the home team by nine field goals. De-Paul made 28 free throws to LSU's five and won 78-73.
"I've never been through a season like this," says Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian, who has been through a few wringers, not to mention seasons. "Out of our 23 games, I bet 20 have gone to the wire. [In fact, 12 of the Rebels' games have been decided by four points or fewer.] You know, other guys get up in the morning and go to work and nothing happens. But I know every time we play a game, it's going to the wire."
The reasons for this colossal parity are not difficult to figure. One is the freshman-eligible rule, which is now seven years old. This means that the grade-schoolers of the early '70s have had plenty of time to perceive what happens when a recruit picks the right school, coach and environment—and what develops when he picks the wrong one, too. Now high school stars no longer flock to the eight or 10 "name" schools. Instead, they enroll elsewhere, at places where they know they will play a lot and play soon.
"I don't want to sit' is a common expression we hear from the top recruits if we can't show them an open position," says Purdue Coach Lee Rose.
Coaches are forever moaning and groaning about the freshman eligibility rule. The kids aren't ready. They're unprepared socially. Can't handle the study load. Get homesick. Make too many turnovers. In truth, the fact that a five-man game can be affected so dramatically by a single fellow and that that fellow can be all of 18 years old is the most important factor in the remarkable balance in college ball.