Buddy Mahar knows that his Columbia team very likely could lose to Georgetown by three dozen or so points Tuesday night. Mahar knows that his center is no bigger than Georgetown's point guard. He knows that a starting lineup containing four guards could be demolished by a Hoya team ranked 17th in the nation by Associated Press and 15th by United Pess International.

So Mahar has told his team to "have fun and see what happens" during the Lions' 9 p.m. game against Georgetown in the opening round of the Rochester Classic at the War Memorial. Niagara (4-3) plays Utah (5-4) in the 7 p.m. game, the winners advancing to Wednesday's 9 p.m. final.

"Georgetown's 15th man would start for us," Mahar said today, after taking his team (4-2) through practice. "Yet, there's always that opportunity for the little guys to overtake the big guys. Every day, the world turns over on somebody who's been on top."

The Hoyas (8-2) are not exactly on top, but they are expected to win this tournament easily. Georgetown has won seven straight since its last tournament, the Great Alaska Shootout, and learned to play impressive defense with 7-foot freshman Patrick Ewing roaming the lane like a free safety.

"They're beautiful to watch, offensively," Mahar said. "But the key to their game is defense. On defense, they do so many, many smart things."

Columbia's four victories--one was over Loyola of Baltimore and another over Delaware--were a result of strong defense. The Lions are allowing only 53 points per game, and their opponents are shooting just 43 percent. Only Lafayette, in an overtime victory, has scored more than 60 points (66) against Columbia.

The Lions would have been much better, but three players walked out on Mahar in September.

Jerome Quinn, a 7-foot, 255-pound center, "flunked out of school," Mahar said. Koco Eaton (who attended De Matha), a 6-6 forward and a premedical student, decided he needed to devote more time to his organic chemistry class, plus make some money to pay tuition bills.

And, in the strangest case of all, 6-7 forward Larry Lamphere, an impressive player from New York City, quit school after one week because he wanted to get into punk rock dancing five nights a week.

"I laughed when he told me, too," Mahar said. "Punk rock. Can you believe it? Some of those punk rockers are out there, aren't they?"

So, without the entire potential starting front line, Mahar makes do. His starting center is Eric Clarke (listed as 6-6); he averages 10 rebounds a game, and got 19 in the 40-39 victory over Loyola. Clarke may be the only front court player in the lineup for the Lions much of the night. When Mahar doesn't run four guards, he'll run three.

Richie Gordon, a 6-4 guard, is the next biggest man. Columbia's leading scorer is 5-11 junior guard Darren Burnett, averaging 14 points. "We don't have anybody as big as Fred Brown (the 6-5 Hoya point guard)," Mahar said.

"Maybe a lot of teams look at that and say, 'Why work hard?' " he continued. "But we're a blue-collar team. We bring our lunch to practice every day and we work hard. There's only been one-half of one practice all season that I can remember being unhappy with. I don't mind if somebody takes us lightly.

"We'll look to play a full-court defense, and break every chance we get," Mahar continued. "We joke around and have a lot of fun. But we'll be serious about the game. I have positive thoughts. I never think about losing."

Asked what odds he would put on the game, if he were a betting man, Mahar replied: "Are you kidding? I'd bet the house, the whole thing. But I'm not saying on which team."