Georgetown opens its quest Sunday for a national collegiate basketball championship and Coach John Thompson says the Hoyas have as good a chance of winning the tournament as anyone.

The 10th-ranked Hoyas, 24-5, face a 29-4 Iona team they thrashed earlier this season, 95-84, but key reserve Eric Smith is given only "a 50-50 chance" to play. The 1:07 p.m. game will be televised by WRC-TV-4.

"If we're playing good basketball and get some breaks, we have as much chance as anybody," Thompson said today on the eve of the Hoyas' attempt at their first NCAA tournament win in four appearances during Thompson's eight seasons.

"But I feel that way about most of the 48 teams. I don't think there's an apparent winner in the tournament. Whoever gains a little bit of momentum, gets a little bit of luck and gets to playing well has got the shot. But you could just as easily lose as well as you could just as easily win because the balance is distributed so well."

Georgetown, with 13 straight victories, is peaking for its rematch against 19th-ranked Iona, riding a 17-game winning streak.

But the Gaels' star center, Jeff Ruland, is hampered by two ailing hands, including bone chips discovered Friday in his left (nonshooting) hand.

Iona defeated Holy Cross, 84-78, in the first round Friday.

The Hoyas will be strong favorites at the Providence Civic Center, in a game to be followed by Syracuse against Villonava in another second-round matchup. But Smith's injured ankle and the decisiveness of Georgetown's victory in the first game raise several interesting questions.

Will Georgetown's momentum be affected by the loss of a player whose availability will be limited at best? And, since Smith is Georgetown's best defensive forward, how will it affect the Hoya's pressure man-to-man defense, the essence of their recent success?

Will Iona be more mentally ready to play than Georgetown? The Gaels were embarrassed in their first-ever NBC television appearance in the previous game, trailing at halftime, 57-36.

With Georgetown's depth, another Hoya strength, Thompson did not seem too concerned about Smith's injury.

"If the kids who take his (Smith's) place don't meet the challenge in this tournament, they never will anyway," Thompson said. "It doesn't matter if he's not here or we can't use him. Now's the time to play basketball."

Thompson has a number of options if Smith can't come into the game to replace starter Al Dutch at small forward. He can move Craig Shelton there and use a big front line with Mike Frazier and Ed Spriggs. He can deploy Jeff Bullis, normally Shelton's backup, or he can event try Terry Fenlon, normally the first guard off the bench.

Bullis said he is ready to contribute. playing behing Shelton has limited Bullis' game time this season.

"I feel comfortable just going into the game," Bullis said. "It feels nice getting in at any position."

Bullis seems the most likely condidate. He has played valuable reserve roles in big Georgetown victories the last two years. He is a skinny 6-foot-7 and possesses the nice jump shot that many teams, in trying to overplay Shelton, Eric Floyd and John Duren, leave for a small forward.

"Where it (Smith's loss) hurts," Thompson said, "is defensive pressure."

"Smitty's strengths are quickness and defensive anticipation," Bullis said. "I have to make up for it with positioning, trying to outthink and outguess where they want to be."

Where Iona wants to be is in Philadelphia Friday against Maryland. When Georgetown played Iona in early January, Gael point guard Glenn Vickers was not happy and the team's press offense was not clicking.

Vickers, a four-year starter who wants to attend lay school, said Friday night that he had received a grade that he believed to be wrong and that it affected his play for two games. That included the first Georgetown contest when he scored three points, had on assist and fouled out. He also remembers Valvano's half-time speech that day: "You guys have taken five years of my work and just flushed it down the drain."

Early this morning at a delicatessen, Valvano was sipping a beer and talking sports, as were most of the patrons.

He said his team should be able to control the tempo better, as it must do. Why? "The kids understand more about the game itself." Valyano replied. "They now ask intelligent questions at practice. We're confident. The kids believe in themselves more."

Georgetown also is confident and Floyd promises the Hoyas will not be looking ahead to a rematch against Maryland. "This is a brand-new season and the stakes are different."