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Fresno State has the talent to win the PCAA title because its two 6'7" forwards, Bobby Davis and Rod Higgins, are among the league's best. Close behind will be defending-champ Utah State and Long Beach State. The Aggies have 20.6-points-per-game Forward Brian Jackson. The 49ers will miss Michael Wiley and Francois Wise, their career leaders in points and rebounds, respectively.
Everywhere you turn there will be powerhouses dominating conference play—Missouri in the Big Eight, Louisville in the Metro, Texas A&M in the Southwest, Centenary in the Trans America. So can anybody else out there play this game?
Well, yes and no. It seems unlikely that the favorites will falter against relatively inferior competition, but there could be some interesting battles for second place. In the Big Eight, however, Missouri suddenly became vulnerable when it lost two key players during the preseason, and Kansas State appears to have a good chance to make that race close. The Wildcats have three starters back from a team that went 22-9 last year and lost to eventual NCAA champion Louisville by only two points in the Midwest Regional. Guard Rolando Blackman is the Big Eight's best player. Both Kansas and Nebraska have a chance to be good, too, but the Jayhawks must overcome the disarray that led to last year's 15-14 record. Like Darnell Valentine at Kansas. Guard Jo Jo Hunter will make Colorado click, but the only hope for Oklahoma and Iowa State is the future, which now rests in the capable hands of new coaches Billy Tubbs and Johnny Orr, respectively.
Creighton may be the only team in the Missouri Valley Conference with a chance of overcoming the dominance of Bradley and Wichita State. The Blue Jays have four regulars back, the best of whom is Forward Kevin McKenna. Creighton will rely on a front line that averages 6'8", and for the first time Coach Tom Apke will forsake his no-post offense for a double-post formation. "Intellectually, we know we're doing the right thing, but emotionally we wonder if we've sold out," says Apke. Drake will once again have the services of the best player in the conference, senior Forward Lewis Lloyd, who finished second in scoring (30.2 points a game) and rebounding (15.0) nationally last season. Lloyd broke his right leg in the off-season, but he should not miss any games. The big surprise in the Valley this year could be Tulsa, whose new coach, Nolan Richardson, won the junior-college national championship at Western Texas last season and brought four of his starters along with him. Florida State is the only team in the Metro with the size to test Louisville, but shooting and ball handling could be problems for the Seminoles. Elvis (Rocken) Rolle is 6'10" and hard to stop in the low post; joining him will be State's top recruit, 6'9" Oren Gilmore, the younger brother of NBA star Artis.
Arkansas will be the best of the rest in the Southwest, but the Razorbacks will count on speed and cunning instead of size—of which they have precious little. "This is the smallest team I've ever had," says Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton. "We're almost fragile-looking." The Hogs will rely almost solely on Scott Hastings underneath, but that's not so bad since the 6'10" junior scored 16.2 points a game last season and made the all-conference team. Texas will be big up front, where it has one of the league's top freshmen in Mike Wacker. Baylor has junior Terry Teagle, a 23-point scorer, and not much else.
Not only does Centenary have the Trans America Conference's best inside player and three other starters back from a team that won 12 of its last 13, but the Gents also have the best names. Center Cherokee Rhone averaged 20 points and 10.3 rebounds a game and shot 66.6%, and he'll again be joined by Napoleon Byrdsong and Lorin George. Lamar should continue its hegemony over the Southland, with B.B. Davis handling the chores underneath and Mike Olliver doing the outside work.
The Big Ten will be as strong as last season. That scarcely seems possible, because seven of its teams went to postseason tournaments last spring, but with 35 of 50 starters, 18 of the top 25 scorers and eight of the 12 leading rebounders all back, it's true.
Michigan, which had the conference's best recruiting season, is a threat to Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa and Illinois. Promising freshmen Tim McCormick, Dean Hopson and John Antonides join a roster that includes four returning starters, one of whom, Forward Mike McGee, needs 458 points to break Cazzie Russell's school scoring record. Another plus: Bill Frieder, a master strategist for seven seasons as Johnny Orr's assistant, is the new coach.