This is Georgetown Coach John Thompson's favorite time of year. "Anybody who wants to win important basketball games comes to play in February," he says.

He should know. His teams have won their last 14 February games over the course of three seasons.

Thompson's coaching philosophy is geared to have his team finely tuned by this stage of the college basketball season, and the Hoyas seem to be prepared for a rematch with St. John's this afternoon (3:30, WRC-TV-4). "Nobody even remembers who won in December." Thompson has often said.

In December, Thompson was explaining to everybody who would listen why his team -- without Craig Shelton and John Duren -- would not be the national power some predicted before the season.

He began January by saying, after a conference-opening loss to St. John's in New York, how his team hadn't yet found its identity. "But we expect to get there by February," Thompson said.

The Hoyas (14-8, 4-3) seem to be rapidly approaching "there." They won the only game they've played this month by 16 points -- over a tough Villanova team -- by playing brutal defense, the surest way to win important games in February.

And this afternoon, McDonough Arena will be packed as the Hoyas seek revenge against the Redmen (15-4, 6-2 in the Big East), who are in sole possession of first place in the conference.

A victory today would move Georgetown to within half a game of St. John's and tie the two teams in the loss column.

The Redmen are not ranked among the top 20 in the wire service polls, but have been the best team in the East (except for Virginia) the last five weeks.

St. John's has three of the best young players in the conference in sophomores Billy Goodwin, George Garrison and David Russell. That trio, along with seniors Ron Plair, center Wayne McKoy and Frank Gilroy, make up the nucleus of the team.

Goodwin, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard from the Bronx, will be starting in place of two-year starter Curtis Redding, who quit the team Tuesday for personal reasons. He was probably the most talented of the Redmen but had season-long disputes with Coach Lou Carnesecca and was benched after one game for complaining about being removed from the contest.

But St. John's may be better off with Goodwin in the lineup. He has several different floor personalities. Goodwin can score in bunches from the inside or outside, or can concentrate on assists and rebounds at Carnesecca's whim.

Playing less than 20 minutes per game, Goodwin is averaging nine points and three assists while shooting 58 percent. He grabbed five rebounds and had five assists in 20 minutes against the Hoyas Jan. 7.

Thompson may put relentless defender Gene Smith on Goodwin, even though Smith is four inches shorter. Thompson credited freshman Smith for being the single most important factor in the Hoyas' triumph over Villanova. "Everybody else played like it was December," Thompson said. "Gene Smith played like it was February."