"Maybe," cracked Coach John Thompson to Mary Fenlon, his Georgetown team's acacemic coordinator, "I'd better go down to (Athletic Director) Frank Rienzo's office, uncover the label on that trophy and see if we are the Big East champions.

"We've been lugging that thing from Providence. Maybe we've been misled," said Thompson in dry response to yesterday's NCAA news on the heels of his return from the conference tournament: Syracuse seeded No. 1, Maryland No. 2, Georgetown No. 3.

On Saturday, after Georgetown had beaten Syracuse for the second time in 2 1/2 weeks and prompted Jim Boeheim, coach of the 25-3 Orangmen, to say GU had proved it was the better team. Thompson had been asked whether his team deserved top seeding in the NCAA East Region. ing in the NCAA East Region.

"Deserve it?" Thompson replied. "We've earned it."

Georgetown's 24-5 record, 13 straight victories, December win over Maryland and 5-2 record against teams in last week's national top 20 were not enough to offset midseason losses to Boston College, Drake and Oral Roberts.

"I was very surprised; very, very surprised," Thompson said of the seeding. "I can't understand the logic. You remove opinion when you have competed with people and how in the world they can seed us third, I can't understand. But there's been a lot this year I haven't understood."

Thompson said this may make his team's path to the Final Four slightly more difficult -- theoretically a No. 1 team playing a No. 4 team in a regional semifinal should have an easier opponent than No. 2 playing No. 3, as Maryland-Georgetown would be.

"Your ego is involved more than anything else," he said. "It doesn't matter at this point. We just have to do it on the floor. We'll have to go to work some more. If you reach your ultimate goal, you have to be ready to play."

Winning the national title is Georgetown's ultimate goal.

This will be GU's fourth NCAA appearance in Thompson's eight seasons since taking over a team that finished 3-23 the season before he arrived. The Hoyas have yet to hurdle their first opponent. Thompson feels circumstances dictated defeat -- playing away from the East (twice) and having a serious injury (center Tom Scates' knee last year. "I want a healthy team and I want to be put in a reasonable position to compete," Thompson said.

He has both.