Five starters are back, headed by 6'8" junior Vernon Smith, an All Southwest Conference forward who was A&M's top scorer, and 6'11" Center Rudy Woods, who led the Aggies in rebounds and blocked 65 shots and was named the conference's Freshman of the Year. With burly Rynn Wright, a 6'6" junior who plays the high post, Smith and Woods form what Metcalf fondly refers to as "the wall."
"When you're talking about A&M basketball," Metcalf says, "you're talking about that front line. Every one of them is a good rebounder."
The Aggie attack is triggered by the deft playmaking of Dave Goff, a point guard who sharpens his ball handling by dribbling two basketballs simultaneously. Goff led the Aggies in assists last season. "We've got an adaptable team." he says. "We can press, run and score 100 points or slow it down, score 60 and still win."
Uncharacteristically, the Aggies will frequently employ a zone defense this season in an effort to keep Woods under the basket and everyone from fouling out. The new defense may be easier for the players to accept than their coach. Metcalf is a disciple of former Oklahoma State Coach Hank Iba, who believed that any defense that wasn't a man-to-man was no D at all.
Whatever the defense, the Aggies will be strong on both boards and may make up for their deficiencies in outside shooting, depth and speed with tip-ins, rebounds and high-percentage shots. They will be formidable in College Station, where their 7,500-seat gym is not so much an athletic facility as an echo chamber. Officially known as G. Rollie White Coliseum, it is the "Holler House of the Brazos" to A&M fans and opponents alike.
"Last season should have been better," says the precocious Woods. "This year we can be very strong. I expect more from this team than the coach does." So does just about everyone else.
9 ST. JOHN'S
"Some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last."
And now, it would seem, St. John's has an opportunity to be first. All five starters return from last season's 21-11 team, which twice defeated Duke—once when the Blue Devils were ranked first in both wire service polls—and came within a jump shot of the NCAA finals after having been the 40th, and last, team selected for the tournament. Add to that an excellent crop of recruits and an outstanding transfer player, and it appears that the Redmen deserve the lofty title most experts have conferred on them during the preseason: "Best team in the East." Earning that honor on the court will not be easy. Both Georgetown and Syracuse, teams St. John's must defeat to win the championship of the new Big East Conference, seem to have improved, though each must compensate for the absence of a key starter. The Red-men also suffered losses, though only from their reserve strength: Guard Tommy Calabrese and swingmen Gordon Thomas and Rudy Wright had each participated in three NCAA tournaments. "We have to go on the assumption that everybody else is improved," says Coach Lou Carnesecca, who practically willed St. John's to its sixth straight 20-victory season after the Redmen had gotten off to a 9-8 start. 'We are going to have to remember how we left off, try to capture that intensity and build on it."
And Carnesecca has plenty to build on. Guards Reggie Carter, St. John's best player and last season's leading scorer at 15.0 points a game, and Bernard Rencher, who led the Redmen in assists with 123, are back, but junior Swingman Curtis Redding, who scored 1,030 points, grabbed 443 rebounds and twice earned All-Big Eight honors before transferring from Kansas State, could force the creative but erratic Rencher to the bench. In that event Carter, who was selected in the second round by the Knicks in last spring's NBA draft but chose to complete his eligibility, would move to the point. Carter will not be anywhere when the season begins this week, however. Because he played in an unsanctioned game last summer, the NCAA suspended him for last week's exhibition against Poland and Friday's opener against Oral Roberts.