Bradley returns to the Missouri Valley and although probably not quite ready to bid for the championship, helps to make this, as usual, one of the country's best-balanced conferences. Houston, with 7-foot Don Boldebuck one of the top scorers and rebounders, is favored. Oklahoma A & M should rank with St. Louis as a strong contender but lacks a player with the all-round ability of St. Louis' Jim McLaughlin.
Two of the nation's best basketball teams are midwestern independents—Dayton and Marquette. All-America Bill Uhl of Dayton gets handsome help from 6'6" Jim Paxson, back from service, and Marquette, a quarter-finalist in the NCAA, returns with 6'9" Terry Rand. Loyola of Chicago, Notre Dame (which lost only All-America Jack Stephens) and Cincinnati also look good.
THE WEST. What else can you say about the Pacific Coast except San Francisco and Bill Russell—plus Russell's running mate, K. C. Jones, who may also wind up as an All-America. It's a strong combination to beat—and no one really expects to beat the Dons as they aim for their second straight NCAA championship.
In the Coast Conference, Washington is loaded with height and may take the play away from the southern schools, UCLA and Southern California. The Huskies have 7-foot Gary Nelson, 6'8" sophomore Bruno Boin, and experience at every position. UCLA could win with a cast built around Morris Taft and Willie (The Whale) Naulls. Tony Psaltis, a fine all-round player for Southern Cal, and little George Sellect, Stanford's standout 5'8" guard, are two of the league's stars.
Utah, with Art Bunte and the rest of last year's championship crew, is favored to win the Skyline Conference again—but things may get awfully rough. Brigham Young opened with two straight victories over UCLA and could upset Utah as it did last year. Brigham Young shines with 6'8" Herschel Pedersen and a tiny playmaker named Terry Tebbs. Close behind is Wyoming, with three good players over 6'7".
THE SOUTH. There are good basketball teams in the Southeastern Conference this year and Kentucky may not be the dominant force as in seasons past. Alabama has a squad playing together for the fourth straight year and a star in Jerry Harper. Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech could make it a race.
George Washington: first in war, first in peace and almost surely first in the Southern Conference—if it can beat West Virginia. Both rank with the nation's best and each has a first-class star, towering Joe Holup for George Washington and Hot Rod Hundley, who took time out from clowning long enough last year as a sophomore to score 711 points for West Virginia. Furman may not scare anyone but it has a shooter who certainly will—Darrell Floyd, the nation's most awe-inspiring pointmaker with his 35.9 average last season.
North Carolina State and its high-scoring Ron Shavlik again should lead the Atlantic Coast Conference but it won't be easy. Maryland, with an ambitious schedule and most of its letter-men back, will join Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina, the latter led by Star Lenny Rosenbluth and rich with imports from the New York area, in challenging the champions.
THE EAST. Gone are Tom Gola and Dick Ricketts, who made LaSalle and Duquesne the big names of eastern basketball for the last three years. But Duquesne has back an All-America in spring-legged Si Green and a good supporting cast which misses only a strong big man. Holy Cross appears to be powerful with Heinsohn ranking alongside Green as the class of the area's individual stars. Niagara suffered losses but has a standout sophomore center in 6'7" Boo Ellis. Columbia, sparked by Chet Forte, appears to be one of the strong teams of the Ivy League, along with Dartmouth. Yale's excellent 1954-55 freshman team moves up to begin causing trouble. Fordham, St. John's of Brooklyn, Syracuse and Seton Hall will win a lot of games. One of the area's best performers is little Hofstra's big Bill Thieben.
THE SOUTHWEST. As usual the Southwest Conference is anybody's race, with more good big men showing up than ever before in this weakest of all basketball sections. As in football, the balance is so delicate that anyone can win—even the favorite. In this case it's SMU, the defending champion, by a very slight margin. SMU lost only Art Barnes and this year 6'8" Jim Krebs should be even better. TCU has the area's highest scorer and a preseason selection on several All-Americas, 6'7" Dick O'Neal. But TCU may lack support for their big boy and could easily drop behind Baylor, Arkansas or Rice, the latter blessed with 6'10" Temple Tucker, who scored at a 30-point clip last year for the freshmen. Ken Loeffler faces a rugged task after transferring from LaSalle to Texas A & M (see page 14) and will probably wind up battling Texas for the cellar.