Any NCAA Division I basketball team that does not earn a spot in a postseason tournament this season will probably have to reevaluate its program.
With 80 berths available -- 48 in the MCAA tournament and 32 in the NIT -- local teams ranging from Georgetown, a very serious contender, to George Mason, in only its second year of Division I competition are thinking about postseason play.
When the NCAA tournament finally starts, predicting the four teams that will go for the national title in Indianapolis will be difficult -- the Associated Press preseason poll reflects that fact: with 59 voters, no team received more than 14 first-place votes and nine different teams received at least one first-place vote, including one team not even in the top 10.
There are, perhaps, nine teams that must be considered bona fide contenders to succeed Michigan State as national champion. This season's Spartans, minus Earvin Johnson and Greg Kelser, are not among them.
But Indiana and Ohio State of the Big Ten; North Carolina, Virginia and Duke of the ACC; Kentucky and LSU of the SEC, and independents Norte Dame and DePaul must be considered title contenders.
Locally, if Virginia isn't included, Georgetown would appear to be the best D.C. area team, although Maryland will get an early shot at contesting that as when the two temas play Dec. 5 in the D.C. Starplex-Armory.
The Hoyas were 25-4 a year ago, including a win over Maryland, and Coach John Thompson has his four best players back and two others who left the team for a year -- 6-7 Al Dutch and 7-0 Mike Frazier -- have returned.
Dutch, a gifted swing man, could be the perfect replacement for the graduated Steve Martin. Frazier lends depth at center, where 23-year-old sophomore Ed Spriggs, now with a year's experience, should eventually be a better player than the departed Tom Scates.
Georgetown, ranked 19th in preseason polls, should make it back to the NCAA tournament easily.
For Maryland, it will not be so easy, largely because the Terps play in the ACC.
Maryland's strength is its quickness, with a front line that includes Albert King, Earnest Graham and Buck Williams Its question marks are Williams' ability to handle big centers -- he's 6-8 -- and front-court depth.
Finally, King must come into his own as a junior if the Terps are to rise above fourth in the ACC.
If there is a sleeper team locally it is Coach A. B. Williamson's Howard Bison. Howard was 16-12 a year ago and, with Larry Spriggs back at forward to team with Eastern graduate James Ratiff, who sat out last year after transferring from Tennessee, the Bison could definitely make waves.
George Washington Coach Bob Tallent is coming off his first losing season (13-14) in five with the Colonials and another tough schedule awaits him. The key for Tallent is All-East center Tom Zagardo, who has been bothered by an ankle injury throughout the preseason.
American Coach Gary Williams will also lean heavily on one player, 6-4 Russell (Boo) Bowers. Bowers has been Mr. Everything for the Eagles his first two seasons and the swing man must continue to shine if they are to improve on their 14-13 mark of a year ago.
If it were offered, Catholic Coach Jack Kvancz would probably take a 14-13 record and run straight home with it. The Cardinals were 6-20 a year ago, and to top off a long season, Kvancz lost top recruit David Blue to Georgetown. The experience gained by the freshmen and sophomores last year should help but the schedule is still a mine field.
The same is true of George Mason, which finished 17-9 in its first year of Division I ball last winter and promptly scheduled people like Stetson and Richmond on the road this year. If Andre Gaddy stays healthy, the Partiots will be better. But their record may not reflect that fact.
Navy Coach Bob Hamilton, 14-12 a year ago, is still searching for a Kevin Sinnett clone. The 6-6 forward graduated with virtually every academy record, and now Hamilton must rebuild without him. Look for the Mids to surprise some people, however. They always do.
Down the road in Charlottesville, Coach Terry Holland has the kind of talent that could give Virginia a legitimate shot at winning everything.
Back for their junior years are the Dynamic Duo -- 6-6 Jeff Lamp, the ACC's leading diver for loose balls. Joining them is 7-4 Ralph Sampson, the Harrisonburg (Va.) messiah, the next Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, take your pick.
Sampson's presence, along with tremendous depth, should propel the Calvaliers into a battle for the ACC title with North Carolina and Duke, the two teams that have dominated the league the last two seasons.
UNC, which won the conference tournament last year, has Mike OhKoren and Al Wood back and has added a super freshman, James Worthy, 6-8, and Jim Braddock, 6-4. As always Dean Smith's team will be deep and talented.
Duke, led by All-America center Mike Gminski, is talented but may not be deep. Coach Bill Foster must get more consistent performances from junior forwards Eugene Banks and Kenny Dennard and bench help from four freshmen, including Robinson's Mike Tissaw, if the Blue Devils are to stay with UNC and UVA.
N.C. State, led by DeMatha's Hawkeye Whitney and four other Washington-area players, will be a dark-horse contender.