Seldom is a team so heavy a favorite to win its conference title as NEW MEXICO STATE. The outlook was summed up by Arizona Coach Fred Enke when he was asked to name the top players in his area. His answer: "The New Mexico State starting lineup." The heart of that lineup is a lofty trio of veterans: 6-foot-8 Forward George Knighton, who dropped in 52% of his field goals for a 21-point average last year and is a fine offensive rebounder; 6-foot-9 Center Billy Joe Price, who keyed State's excellent defense and scored 12 points a game; and Guard Vencent Knight, who built a 13-point average with outside shots. Coach Presley Askew has three sophomores who may start, including tall Forwards Russell Mathews and Dave Kilburn and Guard Dave Brown. Four good junior-college transfers are on tap, led by 6-foot-8 Bob Rogers. At rival ARIZONA STATE, Coach Ned Wulk is rebuilding the team that finished fifth in the nation in offense by scoring 84 points a game. Wulk's igniter is 5-foot-9 Guard Larry Armstrong, who whipped in 15 points a game as a sophomore, and works well with his forwards, powerful Ollie Payne and 6-foot-6 Bill Pryor. Three junior-college products, Gerry Hahn, Jerry Daugherty and Joe Pesavento, add strength, as do four sophomores (all over 6 feet 4). Of these, Forward Tony Cerkvenik has the best chance to start. This offense-minded team lost four regulars but has good shooting and speed. TEXAS WESTERN has two prize junior-college transfers. One is sophomore Nolan Richardson, a jump shooter good enough to break all the Border scoring records, and the other is 6-foot-9 Larry Smith. Al Tolen and Don Burgess, who averaged 20.3 and 10.6 points and are fine rebounders, both return. More height is supplied by 6-foot-8 sophomore Ted Sterrett. Coach Harold Davis has scoring power and good ball handlers to run his single-post attack. Reserve strength consists of more transfers: Paul Hines, Jerry Ray, Fred Smith and Gordon Hines. ARIZONA Coach Fred Enke starts his 36th year with the Wildcats. Five lettermen are back, but the graduation of conference scoring champ, Center Ernie McCray, will hurt. Enke will alternate between a double-post offense and one with no post at all. Forwards Marv Dutt and Kirk Young return, while sophomore Wes Flynn joins Bill Weese in the back-court. Art LaZar and JC All-America Joe Skaisgir add to the team's good speed and shooting. Another newcomer, 6-foot-6 Monte Clausen, a fine rebounder, has to sharpen his shooting eye, but bravely moves into McCray's spot, HARDIN-SIMMONS must develop a new starting center, but Coach Bill Scott is a bit more fortunate than most of his colleagues. His top candidate, 6-foot-8 Bob Taylor, acquired plenty of experience last year as a reserve. Guards Milt Martin and Dave Kissinger, who averaged 16 and 15 points respectively, return with reserves Dallas Christian, Lynn Mendenhall and Paul Hinds, but the team lacks depth, WEST TEXAS STATE lost not one but two centers, including all-conference front-court man Milt Fitts. So 6-foot-8 Jim Conner, who was injured last season, will step up for his turn and can count on experienced help from Guards Keith Blair and Jim Curtsinger. The team's rapid improvement under Coach Metz LaFollette may continue if sophomores, 6-foot-6 Bob Grace and Guard Sonny Blankenship, are effective. Forwards Henry Hardaway, Jerry Bell and Frank Castleberry add some needed depth.
Some of the Negro colleges in the area again have powerhouse teams. Best of the group is GRAMBLING, where Coach Fred Hobdy's career record (105-19) soon will be even more remarkable. Hobdy has small-college All-America Forwards Rex Tippitt and Charlie Hardnett, the pair that helped the NAIA All-Stars defeat Ohio State in the Olympic trials last March, plus high-scoring Hershell West and 6-foot-9 Tom Bowens. Traditionally strong TEXAS SOUTHERN is rebuilding, so Grambling's only threats come from JACKSON STATE and PRAIRIE VIEW, which compiled records of 22-4 and 21-5, respectively, last season.
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