It may be a new season for local men's college basketball teams but if preseason indications are accurate, it will bear a strong resemblance to the last one.
Claremont-Mudd and Pomona-Pitzer, which finished 1-2 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last season, appear to be the cream of the crop again, and Biola and Westmont, the top teams in District III of the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics last spring, loom as the best again.
The only change may be in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn., where Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside are considered early favorites to unseat defending champion Cal State Dominguez Hills.
In the CCAA, Northridge may have provided an indication of things to come by winning its final six games last season and finishing at 12-15. The Matadors have three starters returning from that team, including 6-foot 6-inch forward Ray Horwath, who averaged 12.8 points and 6 rebounds; 6-7 center Todd Bowser and 6-5 forward Pat Bolden.
Northridge also has two solid newcomers in guards Chuck McGavran and Barry Eget, an accurate three-point shooter from Crescenta Valley High.
If Northridge stumbles, traditional conference power Riverside may take the title. The Highlanders, 19-9 overall and 9-5--third place--in the CCAA last season, has only one starter returning but 6-2 guard Julius Thomas is a good one. He averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 rebounds last season. Riverside also will rely on 6-6 forward Jim Conway and junior college transfers 6-4 Chris Jackson and 6-2 Maurice Pullum.
After finishing last in the CCAA two years ago, Chapman improved to fourth place and 15-14 overall last year. Further improvement would be no surprise, even though the Panthers have 12 newcomers on their roster. The presence of two key starters, 6-7 forward Kelly Huston and 6-6 swing man Dave Roth, will help ease the transition.
Coach Pat Douglass, who turned out consistent National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division II playoff- caliber teams at Eastern Montana and Cal State Bakersfield, is hoping he can do the same for the Roadrunners. Bakersfield, 16-11 overall and 5-9 in the CCAA last year, has two starters returning in 6-2 guard Ray Burris and 6-8 center Neil Stephens.
Last season was a surprising one for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which finished 19-10 and tied Cal State Dominguez Hills for first in the CCAA at 10-4. But with All-CCAA standouts Sean Chambers and Melvin Parker graduated, the Mustangs may have problems contending this time. The leaders should be 6-6 Kurt Colvin at forward and Jeff Gray and Mark Otta at guard.
Cal Poly Pomona has languished near the CCAA basement in recent years and finished seventh and 11-16 overall last season. But first-year Coach Dave Bollwinkel has four starters returning, headed by 6-2 guard Bill Dobbs, who averaged 14.7 points last season. Other top players are 6-4 forward Terry Stevens and 5-10 guard Darron Suttle.
With four starters missing from a team that won the CCAA tournament and reached the NCAA playoffs, Cal State Dominguez Hills will be hard pressed to match its 22-9 record of last season. The lone starter returning, 6-7 center Anthony Blackmon, averaged 7.6 rebounds last season. Other key players are guards Barry Johnson and Leonard Easton.
Cal State Los Angeles has a new coach in Henry Dyer, who found success on the junior college level at Compton. But the Golden Eagles, 7-18 last season, still may not avoid finishing last in the conference. Two top players are 6-2 guards David Gray and Ken Horton.
In the SCIAC, Claremont-Mudd has the experience to repeat as conference champion. The Stags, who finished at 21-7 and reached the NCAA Division III playoffs, have four starters back, including guards Todd Thomas and Chris Dibble, and forwards Mike Dawe and Mike Larson. Thomas, who made all-conference a season ago, averaged 18.5 points and 6 assists.
Coach Gregg Popovich returns to Pomona-Pitzer after a one-year sabbatical and the Sagehens, 15-10 overall and second in the conference last season, are expected to challenge for the title. Leading the way is 6-5 all-conference forward Rick Duque, who averaged 18.8 points and 7 rebounds last season. Other standouts are swing man Chris Buchholtz and point guard Ethan Caldwell.
Redlands finished fifth in the SCIAC last season and 10-15 overall but with four top lettermen returning, including junior forward Perry Bellaire, the Bulldogs should be improved. The Bulldogs will also feature junior Tyrico Tyler and sophomores Robert Stone at guard and Darryl Robinson at forward.
With all three front-line starters having graduated from its 13-13 team of last season, Occidental figures to rely more on its guards this season. Fortunately, the Tigers have two good ones in junior Mike Guzman and senior Jim Cartoni.