His statistics hardly qualify him for an all-America ranking. But coaches who have spent all season searching for ways to neutralize Patrick Ewing are not deceived by the numbers.

"I thought coming into this season, even as a freshman, that he would be the most dominating player in the Big East, and that's what has happened," said Boston College Coach Tom Davis. "He's the one player in the league everyone would pick to start their team with. He's the one guy you can't answer."

Ewing is by no means a polished player, but even at this stage of his career, he has amply demonstrated he was not overrated when he was considered the nation's best high school player.

Scouts were excited by Ewing's ability to run, his quickness and jumping ability, his sudden surges that allowed him to take control. He has displayed those traits on the college level, even if he hasn't always been as flashy or productive as fans might have expected.

"People look at statistics, but they don't mean that much," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "Any great center on a talented team never really has been asked to produce big statistics. Their presence is what is important. They contribute through a lot of other ways, like being an intimidator on defense and complementing their teammates on offense.

"He'll get better through maturity and as his role on the team changes. All the ability is there already, no question about that. He's gotten better since the start of this season. It's a natural process with most big men when they come into college. Most of them have needed time to fully develop."

Entering the Big East Tournament Thursday, Ewing is averaging 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds, and is shooting 64 percent from the floor. As a freshman at Virginia, Ralph Sampson's numbers were 14.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 54 percent. But Sampson also attempted 404 shots in 34 games. Ewing, who has been more active defensively than offensively this season, has tried 220 in 29 games, third on the team behind Eric Floyd and Eric Smith. Sampson played 1,017 minutes his first year, Ewing has played 794 so far.

"Go back to Sampson's freshman year," American's Gary Williams said. "He didn't have a dominant year then. Yet today, he is the very dominant player. Ewing is obviously going to improve like that. He eventually will be in the same class with Moses Malone, (Kareem Abdul-) Jabbar, (Wilt) Chamberlain, Sampson, whatever player you want to name."

If Ewing were playing on a different, less talented team, his production probably would have been higher. But because Floyd and Co. were present, Coach John Thompson was able to develop Ewing more carefully, letting his prize prospect grow accustomed to college basketball at his own pace.

"John Thompson is playing a team concept," Williams said. "Ewing realizes he doesn't need to score 25 every night for them to win. He can score eight and they can win it easily. He's good enough to score big if they need it, but he also seems content if they win and he doesn't have big numbers.

"What's important about that is if he is in foul trouble or if he is hurt, the whole team won't fall apart. They aren't relying on one guy. People like Eric Floyd have been around, they know how to play. It's not all up to Patrick."

He was in constant early foul trouble during December and, when Georgetown lost three in a row in January, he fouled out of two games and had four personals in the other. Since then, he hasn't fouled out once, and has played at least 30 minutes in five of the last six games.

He also is shooting and scoring more than he did midway through the schedule. Late in February, he tried a career-high 16 shots against Missouri and scored a career-high 23 points against Boston College. He has scored more than 20 in three of the last six games and has rebounded in double figures five of the last nine.

"He's playing more and he's playing with more confidence," Davis said. "I know there has been some talk about his offense, but he has a chance to be a great scorer. He's just really well-rounded. There are things he has to work on, like catching the ball in the right spots, but that's a matter of adjusting to the college game. Everything is there, no doubt about that."

There also is no doubt about Ewing's defensive abilities.

"He takes his man out of the game and he hinders everybody else on your team, that's all," Boeheim said. "He's perfect for their full-court press. You work to get through the first wave and he is always back there, waiting. Then what do you do?"

Said Williams: "You watch films of the way he went against Steve Stipanovich (of Missouri). He was always moving on defense, denying position, banging away. That takes a certain desire, but everyone on your team knows he's around."

With Ewing at center, Georgetown's defense is one of the nation's best. He is third in the country in blocked shots, and the Hoyas are in the top five in defensive field goal percentage.

"Good teams are built on defense," Davis said. "That will hold up longer any time than your offense. Georgetown has reached the point now where the guys out front are comfortable playing with Patrick underneath. They know they can gamble a little and he'll still be there to help out if they get beat.

"When you know that, you can play defense so much differently. He's made good defensive players better."

Big East coaches have taken turns during the season comparing Ewing to such centers as Sampson, Abdul-Jabbar and Russell. Boeheim has seen enough this season to find a different model.

"To me, he's like Patrick Ewing," Boeheim said. "He's a different kind of player than any of the people you can think of. Take Sampson. He's just not the same kind of player. Even as a freshman, Patrick is much more physical and stronger, and he has the potential to get even stronger.

"He plays unlike any college center I can remember. He's already like a pro-type center, who can mix it up and not be thrown off his game. He can play big and he can take command. And what's been good for him this year is that he has been able to go out there and just play and not feel he has to do something special."