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The annual scurrying for postseason tournament invitations was almost over. The NCAA, with a lock on the major conference champions, already had signed up Arizona State (Border), Bowling Green (Mid-American), Western Kentucky (Ohio Valley) and independents NYU (15-3), Oregon State (18-4), Creighton (17-4), Butler (20-5), Air Force (15-5), Villanova (17-6), Memphis State (15-6), Seattle (16-8) and Detroit (15-8). Ohio State ( Big Ten), UCLA (Big Five) and Yale (Ivy) were almost certain to make it, but the situation was still unsettled in the Atlantic Coast and Southern (where championship tournaments begin Thursday), the Southeastern, Missouri Valley, Big Eight, Yankee, Mid-Atlantic, Southwestern, Skyline and West Coast.
Meanwhile, New York's National Invitation Tournament was busy lining up an impressive field of independents. Loyola of Chicago (18-2), St. John's (16-4), Houston (21-5), Duquesne (18-5), Providence (18-5), Dayton (17-6), Navy (13-7) and Missouri Valley's Wichita (17-7) were already in, and three spots were reserved for runners-up in the Missouri Valley (Bradley or Cincinnati), Skyline ( Colorado State U. or Utah State) and Mid-Atlantic (St. Joseph's or Temple). Other NIT possibilities: Holy Cross (17-4), Niagara (13-8), Boston College (14-5).
Most years the formula is simple in the SEC. The team that beats Kentucky usually wins the championship and a place in the NCAA tournament—except when that team is Mississippi State. When the Bulldogs win, they have to beg off because state policy does not permit them to compete in integrated competition. Last week, after victories over Georgia 83-74 and LSU 58-48 and with only Tulane and Mississippi ahead, Mississippi State appeared likely to finish first for the third time in the last four years and, if this happens, will elect to stay at home again. However, old Adolph Rupp was ready and eager to take his Kentucky team into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats, who were heading for a showdown Monday with third-place Auburn, stumbled a little but still beat Vanderbilt 87-80 and Alabama 73-65 as Cotton Nash scored 68 points. Meanwhile, Auburn, relying on a fast break almost as much as its accustomed shuffle, got by Tulane 81-64 and Tennessee 60-51.
Wake Forest, which flip-flopped around in the ACC until big Len Chappell hit his Stride, polished off North Carolina State 69-62 and South Carolina 97-85 to finish a full game ahead of Duke in the regular-season standings. N.C. State gave the Deacons some uncomfortable moments, but only until Chappell tore up the Wolfpack's three-man inside zone in the second half. Chappell was even more devastating against South Carolina as he powered his way through the Gamecocks for 45 points. But now Chappell and Wake will have to do it all over again in the championship tournament at Raleigh.
Southern Conference leader West Virginia also was faced with the prospect of battling through a risky tournament at Richmond. With backcourt stars Rod Thorn and Jim McCormick healthy again, the free-running Mountaineers raced past independent Penn State 79-60 and Furman 101-86, but they can expect sterner competition from streaking Virginia Tech, which trounced George Washington 91-75 for its eighth straight. It was all over in the Ohio Valley, where Western Kentucky trounced Morehead 77-51 to clinch the title. The top three:
For weeks Cincinnati's Ed Jucker had been brooding over his team's only two losses, to Bradley and Wichita. Last week, he got even with both at Cincinnati. Without 6-foot-8 Joe Strawder to man the middle, Bradley had to give the job to Chet Walker, and he spent most of the night trying to elude the Bearcats' collapsing defense. Cincy sophomores Ron Bonham and George Wilson fired away for 36 points from inside, Tony Yates shot over the scattered Braves for 14 more from outside and the Bearcats won easily, 72-57. Five nights later, Cincinnati trounced Wichita 84-63 to clinch a tie for the Missouri Valley title. Now Cincy can win it all if St. Louis beats Bradley Saturday. Ohio State's Fred Taylor was more annoyed than worried when OSU recently showed signs of wear and tear. Last Saturday, however, the Buckeyes were their old impeccable selves. John Havlicek was bombing again (for 19 points), and State ran over Illinois 102-79. "We haven't burned any baskets the last couple of games," confessed Taylor, "but I think we got the juice back in the offense now." This 26th straight Big Ten win shook everybody but obstinate Wisconsin off OSU's heels. The second-place Badgers stayed alive by edging Illinois 103-101 and Northwestern 65-64.
Colorado and Kansas State displayed their assets as they headed for their definitive Big Eight game at Manhattan Saturday. Colorado's big front line carried the Buffs past Iowa State 74-69; K-State overwhelmed Oklahoma with its bench strength and won 89-57. The top three: