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While most of the nation's major college teams disappointedly packed away their shattered dreams, the fortunate few made ready to engage in the annual battle for national honors in the NCAA and NIT tournaments.
The NCAA, after waiting patiently for conference races to be decided, assembled the newly crowned champions and moved toward this weekend's four regional finals—at Charlotte, N.C., Manhattan, Kans., Louisville and Seattle (see page 39).
But not all of the nation's top teams were in the NCAA. Many of them were headed for New York's Madison Square Garden, where the NIT had ambitiously accumulated a shiny field of 12 good teams for its postseason show. Bradley (24-2), which finished a mere gasp behind Cincinnati in the Missouri Valley, was given top seeding, followed by Skyline runner-up Utah State (22-4), St. Louis (18-7) and defending champion St. John's (17-7). However, the favorites could expect serious competition from Temple (17-8), Providence (21-4), St. Bonaventure (19-3), Villanova (19-5), Holy Cross (20-5), Dayton (20-6), Detroit (20-6) and Memphis State (18-4).
The small colleges, too, were making a pitch for fame and glory. Evansville (Ind.), last year's champion, St. Michael's (Vt.), Kentucky Wesleyan, American U., Wheaton, Chapman, Cornell ( Iowa) and Northeast Missouri survived district playoffs and prepared to fight it out for the NCAA college-division title at Evansville. Things were even more hectic in Kansas City, where 32 teams, including three-time winner Tennessee A & I, were diligently engaged in eliminating each other on the way to Saturday's NAIA final.
Trounced five times by North Carolina and Wake Forest and no better than fourth in the regular-season standings, Duke suddenly came alive in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at Raleigh and upset its most persistent tormentors on successive nights to win the title and an NCAA berth.
After beating South Carolina 82-69, the running Blue Devils wrapped up North Carolina in a 1-3-1 hawking zone defense and edged the unsuspecting Tar Heels 71-69. Next night, Wake Forest, which had reached the final by routing Clemson 74-59 and outfighting North Carolina State 71-66, tried to crash the zone and was moderately effective as long as big Len Chappell was hitting with his favorite jumpers and picking off rebounds. But Duke cleverly dropped back defensive swingman Jack Mullen to clog the middle, and shut off Chappell with five points in the second half. Offensively, Doug Kistler pressured the desperate Deacons with his outside shooting (for 22 points), and John Frye calmly dropped in four foul shots in the final minute to give the hustling Blue Devils a 63-59 victory and 32-year-old Vic Bubas a championship in his first year as a head coach.
Kentucky ended its season by whipping Pitt 73-66. Any other coach but Adolph Rupp would have been satisfied with an 18-7 record, but The Baron, audibly piqued because Kentucky wasn't tournament-bound for the first time in seven years, took occasion to blame his troubles on 1) the school band, which stopped tooting for the Wildcats after midyear exams left most of its members on probation; 2) student fans, who were absent in droves for the final game; 3) the lack of a more intensive recruiting program.