"I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite in the Pac-10," says Washington Coach Marv Harshman. He's right. Although the odds favor UCLA and Oregon State, Harshman's Huskies are no pushovers; they retain the entire roster from last season's 11-16 team. Among the holdovers is 7'2", 265-pound Center Petur Gudmundsson from Iceland. Washington State lost all-league Center James Donaldson, but the Cougars return three other players who scored in double figures. According to Arizona Coach Fred Snowden, to beat the big boys from California you have to start in their own backyard. So he did, coming up with Leon Wood, the leading high school scorer in California history, and David Mosebar, the state's JC Player of the Year. Southern Cal is suffering because bone chips have hobbled Center Doug Widfeldt and the pros snapped up Cliff Robinson. Arizona State's dominating center, 6'10" Kurt Nimphius, will get help from Alton Listor in the ASU two-post offense, but the Sun Devils shouldn't rise higher than the middle of the league. Stanford and Cal should battle for the conference cellar, even though the Cardinals have outstanding Forward Kimberly Belton and the Bears brought in their best class of recruits ever. Oregon may figure in the basement battle, too, because five new faces will line up for the Ducks.
Long Beach State Coach Tex Winter just shakes his head and says, "We sure look good on paper." They sure do, which means the 49ers may win their first PCAA title in two seasons. Winter has four starters back, including Francois Wise and Michael Wiley, both of whom suffered mid-season injuries when Long Beach was 9-0 and nationally ranked. The 49ers went 7-12 thereafter. Defending champion Pacific has four holdover starters, including Ron Cornelious, the league's best player.
Jerry Tarkanian can stop biting his towel because Nevada-Las Vegas is off its two-year probation and eligible for postseason play. And just in time, too. In the early going the youthful Rebels will rely heavily on Guard Ray Williams, the only senior and starter from last season's 21-8 team. Later on Tarkanian will be able to shift some of the burden to three newcomers, each of whom was named Player of the Year in his home city: Sidney Green (New York), Michael Johnson (Los Angeles) and Larry Anderson (Pittsburgh). Another factor that should help offset UNLV's inexperience is that 11 of its first 12 games are at home.
A Kansas basketball insider warns anyone trying to gauge this year's Jayhawk squad that "we can make you look very bad. We could be anywhere from 27-3 to 18-12." The Jayhawks will capture the Big Eight title and challenge for 27 wins only if Coach Ted Owens can find a big man to support junior Guard Darnell Valentine, freshman Guard Ricky Ross and the rest of the fast-breaking, pressing team.
If Kansas goes belly up and Missouri never gets off the ground, watch out for Oklahoma. The defending conference champion Sooners, 21-10 last season, have lost Big Eight Player of the Year John McCullough and supersub Cary Carrabine, but they retain the services of four starters with double-digit scoring averages. Among them is ever-improving Raymond Whitley, an explosive guard who won the Big Eight tournament MVP award.
Although Texas A&M and Arkansas figure to dominate the Southwest Conference, rebuilt Houston will spring plenty of surprises. The Cougars recruited Forward Larry Rogers, an ex-Army star and New York Knick draftee, Guard Robert Williams, a blue-chipper from nearby Milby High, and Center Darryl Brown and Guard Walker Russell, two heralded junior-college transfers.
Indiana State, the darlings of college basketball last season, lost the spectacular Larry Bird to the Boston Celtics, but Brad Miley, Alex Gilbert, Steve Reed and Carl Nicks are back. So is Bob Heaton, often called "the best sixth man in the country." The Sycamores just might win the Missouri Valley again, but they won't win their first 33 games as they did in 1978-79. In the Valley, Indiana State must worry about Creighton. The Blue Jays were only 14-13 last season, but that record was accomplished with nine freshmen and sophomores. Wichita State Coach Gene Smithson welcomes his son Randy, a transfer from Cowley County (Kans.) Community College, and five promising freshmen—including an exciting forward, Antoine Carr. Drake will miss Wayne Kreklow and Chad Nelson, but not as much as one might think. Newcomer Lewis Lloyd, from New Mexico Military Institute, was the nation's top junior-college scorer last season with a 31.5-point average.
Though Dr. Dunkelstein, Darrell Griffith, is still around, Louisville's domination of the Metro Conference appears to be over. The Cardinals will be good again—but not good enough to hold off Virginia Tech and Florida State. Griffith's supporting cast includes the McCray brothers, freshman Rodney and sophomore Scooter. The older McCray is a passing whiz who will be more at home now that he's moved from center to forward. The 6'7" Rodney and 6'8" sophomore Wiley Brown might help the Cardinals overcome the absence of an intimidating center. Brown will be helped by his lower weight—217, down from 225—greater experience and new thumb. A childhood accident cost Brown his right thumb and turned him into a lefthander, but last season he had trouble gripping the ball on rebounds and free throws. So Louisville has had him fitted with an artificial thumb. It works fine, when it stays on. The thumb came off in a collision in a preseason game and flew toward the bleachers. Brown nonchalantly picked it up, tossed it to the bench and then slammed home a dunk the next time he touched the ball.
Ken Hayes, who never had a losing season in 11 years at Tulsa and New Mexico State, should keep his streak intact at Oral Roberts. Titan fans have not seen the last of their former coach, Ken Trickey, however. Trickey is now at Oklahoma City, and the Chiefs should be Oral Roberts' toughest competition in the new Midwestern City Conference.