At the beginning of the basketball season the Georgetown at Navy game at 7:15 tonight figured to be one of the season's premier soporifics. GU would be too good, Navy too balch. Yawn.
Now, Navy has proved that it can win; GU that it sometimes loses.
The mood of the game has done an about-face. Navy brass has bent a rule. Plebes can attend this weeknight game and welcome the Hoyas to Halsey Firehouse with appropriate opprobruium. Yesterday GU braved 100 miles of slick roads to work out in Navy's gym.
Must be serious.
If any game looked more like a dud tonight than GU-Navy, it was Norfolk State at Howard. NSU was two-time CIAA champion, Howard was as 9-19 MEAC tailender last year.
So last week Howard visited Norfolk and defeated the unbeaten hosts 78-73. Now comes the rematch. The game has been shifted to the D.C. Armory at 8 p.m. in anticipation of a crowd that wants to see a showdown between the 10-1 frontrunner in the CIAA and the new 9-2 hotshots of the MEAC.
"Norfolk State's been making excuses since the final buzzer," said Howard coach A.B. Williamson. "Now I guess we'll see."
By contrast, Navy and GU coaches are straining tonsils pleading poor mouth. Navy's Bob Hamilton said it is unreasonable to expect his 7-5 bunch to beat a team as good as 9-2 GU.
Navy beat Penn by three points and GU only beat 'em by four, but "we haven't played that well before Penn of since," apologized Hamilton.
GU's John Thompson called Navy "an underrated team that must be good to beat Penn. Halsey's a tough place to play and their style is the opposite of ours . . . what's this I hear about the plebes?"
Certainly few major college teams in America are more opposite than Navy and GU. The Hoyas list eight men who are taller than Navy's biggest starter (6-foot-6). GU could conceivably have as many as a half-dozen guards who could break into Navy's unspectacular starting backcourt duo of senior Leo Latonic and frosh Bruce Grooms.
GU loves to run, but is usually forced to walk. Navy wants to plod along, but, out of neccessity, has learned to cun better.
The Hoyas claim their Achilles heel is rebounding because several of the front-liners are slim. Navy looks tiny but plays much bigger, having outrebounded 10 of 11 opponents by a total margin of 534-405
Both teams are among the nation's top 20 in defense, although. GU (60.4 PPG) does it primarily with fullcourt pressure and a tall zone. Nay (62.8 ppg) tends toward halfcourt mantoman.
Navy's woman scoring punch - 66 Kevin Sinett (15.8) and 66 Hank Kuzma (14.4) - work best inside.
GU's two smoothies, Derrick Jackson (14.6) and 67 AI Dutch (12.1), will shoot outside.
The contrast is set, Sinett, who was ill Friday, the day before Navy's triple overtime loss to Air Force, is healthy again. Hamilton said, "If we can control the tempo and not be dominated on the boards, maybe we can give them a game."
Those plebes might help, too. "We have to improve our student enthusiasm a great deal," says firstyear coach Hamilton, aware that basketball has never captured the naval mind. "I guess you call those people midshipmen here. I'm learning."
GU has its surprise package. Soph Gary Wilson, 68 brother of Merlin, is healthy and ready to play. Thompson has searched for a bruising power forward since Arizona muscled his men in the NCAA's last year. Because Craig Shelton appears to be out for the season, Wilson will step into "a role somebody has to fill. He's mean. He can stick the ball and go out and play pressure defense," said Thompson.
"We're finally getting healthy. Larry Long and Mike Riley are ready to play, too."
Howard has more bad news for Norfolk State. Dorian Dent, 610 Bison center, is rounding into shape and may start tonight. In two games since becoming eligible he has averaged nine points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots in only 15 minutes.
"If we keep all the gentlemen on the team that we have now," says Williamson, "we should have a fine year. If we lose no more than four games and win our (MEAC) tournament, I think we could hope for an NIT bid, especially if we played well against St. John's. That's asking a lot, but we're good enough now to start setting goals for ourselves."