Is there life after Craig Shelton and John Duren for the Georgetown basketball team?

Definitely , according to the Big East Conference coaches who picked the Hoyas to retain their championship.

Certainly , according to Eric Smith, the junior forward who must provide the leadership Shelton and Duren provided last year.

Eventually , according to John Thompson, the coach whose program has improved each of his eight years on the Hilltop.

Last year the program improved so much that the Hoyas won 26 of 32 games and made tne NCAA quarterfinals. But Shelton, the Big East tourney's most valuable player, and Duren, the conference player of the year, have graduated to the NBA.

If Georgetown can't match last year's success, it surely will be in position to do it a year hence; only one of this year's top 10 players, 7-foot Mike Frazier, is a senior. The Hoyas became a legitimate national power last season; there is no reason to assume they will slide this season. America's best teams replace standout players with other standout players; so should Georgetown.

"We miss them in everything we do," replied Smith to the obvious question about the absence of Duren and Shelton. "We will miss them as people, too. But we can't live on Craig and John Duren. We just have to go on and do what we can do without them. You don't forget people like that; you just have to put it behind you."

Helping the Hoyas forget will be 6-3 Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, a preseason all-American choice; heralded 6-5 freshman guard-forward Fred Brown, and a bunch of players who complemented Shelton and Duren perfectly on last year's role-oriented team. Frazier, Ed Spriggs, Mike Hancock, Jeff Bullis and freshman Ray Knight must provide the rebounds and clutch inside baskets Shelton contributed a year ago.

From Brown, fellow freshman Gene Smith, sophomore Kurt Kaull and Smith, who will play a lot of point guard early, the Hoyas must find a leader who can set the pace Duren did that splendidly, and was particularly adept at quickly changing this high-tempo team into a control team without losing momentum.

The Hoyas, who will play a double round-robin league schedule for the first time, have been plagued by several nagging minor injuries and Thompson still isn't sure of the substitution patterns that are so important to him. He says it probably will be mid-December before those fit into place. By then, Georgetown already will have returned from the Great Alaska Shootout. In their season opener in Alaska, the Hoyas likely will play North Carolina in the semifinals and either Missouri, Arkansas or LSU in the final or thirdplace game. All are ranked in preseason polls.

Thompson is sure he has the makings of a good team come spring tournament time. However, he claims he is puzzled by his team's selection as the preseason Big East favorite. "The expectations are too high in relation to this time of the year," he said. "Last year, we had three people on the preseason all-league team and were picked third. This year we've got one (Floyd) and we're predicted to finish first . . .

"We're not going to have a smooth trail . . . We're going to be going in with a few bangs."

Strengths: Despite relative youth, a lot of experienced depth; could develop into a better defensive team than last year's with a Mike Riley-type guard in freshman Eugene Smith and the 6-9 Spriggs' ability to play the point on zone press and apply perimeter pressure; Floyd's scoring, rebounding and defense -- he is one of America's best college guards.

Weaknesses: Rebounding may be biggest problem, assuming Brown develops into the point guard that everyone is anticipating he is. He will play a lot of small forward early, as Thompson works him in gradually. Early on, this team will not have the ability to control tempo as well as it did a year ago.

Assesment: In a league in which no team stands out, the Hoyas should be by season's end where the league coaches picked them at the start, assuming they improve to the degree that every other Thompson team at Georgetown has.