The painful knee injury Tom Scates sufferd Wednesday night against Old Dominion is not serious, but the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Georgetown center is not expected to play Saturday against Syracuse in the ECAC Southern-Upstate tournament final.

After an arthroscopic examination yesterday, Georgetown team physician Carl McCartee said Scates had a strained muscle tendon in his left knee but there was no cartilage or ligament damage.

"It's a day-to-day thing. When he can play depends on his rate of healing," a Georgetown spokesman quoted McCartee as saying.

Georgetown Coach John Thompson said he does not plan to use Scates in the 2 p.m. regionally televised game at Cole Field House, but that he would not make a final decision until he sees Scates' progress.

An arthroscopic examination is a surgical procedure in which a small incision is made, fluid is injected into the knee and the arthroscope is inserted.

Most of the fluid is removed afterward but some remains and, according to one orthopedic specialist, "practically speaking, it takes 48 hours for the fluid to be reabsorbed into the body."

Syracuse is ranked fifth and sixth in the polls, Georgetown 15th and 16th. Thompson said after Wednesday's 73-52 rout of Old Dominion that Saturday's winner can call itself the best team in the East.

Sctes' injury comes at an inopportune time for Georgetown because, according to Thompson, "this is a game when the matchup is important because (6-foot-11, 240-pound Roosevelt) Bouie's in the middle. When we need Tommy is when a team penetrates well and goes to the basket."

Ed Spriggs, a 22-year-old freshman in his first season of organized basketball, will start for Scates. Spriggs is not the defensive force that Scates is, but he is more mobile and becoming more of an offensive threat.

Thompson said the Hoyas, who built a 23-4 season on aggressive, gambling defense, will have to be more honest against Syracuse without Scates.

"To have a good defensive center has a lot to do with how much you can gamble and the pressure you can apply," Thompson said. "You can't gamble as much because you don't have the security of him there."

Depth also becomes a factor, because this is expected to be a physical game. Spriggs has been foul-prone and, in a tightly officiated contest, the Hoyas would have to depend on 6-7 forward Jeff Bullis or 6-8, untested Mike Hancock as backup for Spriggs.

Thompson compared the Hoyas' situation to taking a trip wihtout a spare tire. "You may not get a flat," he said, "but you're scared as hell you will."