In preparation for the Big East Conference tournament starting Thursday, Coach John Thompson today ran his Georgetown team through a closed practice, at an undisclosed location, rather than working out at a prearranged hour in the Hartford Civic Center.

"I did it because I wanted to," said Thompson, laughing. "Some of us need more time. I'm a little slow and an hour isn't enough time."

Extra shooting practice seemed to be in order, especially if Thompson expects to win three games during the next 72 hours. Second-seeded Georgetown (23-6, 10-4 Big East), which has shot less than 44 percent in three of its last four games, faces seventh-seeded Providence (10-16, 2-12) in the first round tonight at 7. The game will be televised in Washington on WTTG-TV-5.

In other first round games, top-seeded Villanova (20-6, 11-3) meets eighth-seeded Seton Hall (11-15, 2-12) at 1 p.m., fourth-seeded Boston College (18-8, 8-6) plays fifth-seeded Syracuse (15-11, 7-7) at 3, and third-seeded St. John's (19-7, 9-5) plays sixth-seeded Connecticut (17-9, 7-7) at 9 p.m.

The winners of the afternoon games play Friday in one semifinal, at 7, and the Thursday night winners meet in the other at 9. The final will be Saturday at 3; the winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs.

Although Georgetown appears set for the NCAAs regardless of what happens here, Thompson says he wants very much to win this tournament.

"It means a lot to us," said Thompson, one win short of 200 as a college coach. "Our incentitive is pride. You can't talk about peaks because you don't know how the kids will react. I think they're prepared to play. There's no one key thing you can do to win this thing--I've been looking for 10 years and I haven't found it--it's a combination of a lot of things."

The Hoyas, whose one-point loss at Providence was a major factor in their finishing behind Villanova, have won nine of their last 10 games mainly on the strength of their defense. During that span, Georgetown has held seven of its opponents under their shooting average and forced an average of 18 turnovers a game.

"That's what you have to do--work harder on defense and force mistakes," said Hoya foward Eric Smith. "You can't afford to worry about the shots not falling. I don't care if we shoot 10 percent if we win. Providence didn't shoot that well (29 percent) when we beat them here, 60-42, but they're the type of team that can be trouble if you let them get ahead. We have to set the tempo and make them run with us."

Georgetown has most of the matchup advantages. Seven-foot freshman Patrick Ewing is expected to control the Friars' 6-9 center Otis Thorpe (14.5 points). The Hoyas' back court of 6-5 Freddie Brown and 6-3 all-conference player Eric Floyd (16.9) is quicker and better offensively than 5-10 Ricky Tucker and 6-3 Jim Panaggio, who together average 10 points. Hoya forwards Mike Hancock (7.9) and Eric Smith (9.3) can't quite match the scoring of Friar forwards Ron Jackson (16.7) and former Osbourn Park all-Met Billy Fields (8.1). However, the Georgetown forwards are stronger on defense.

"They present a lot of problems for us, and for a lot of teams here," said Providence Coach Joe Mullaney. "Even if we have a near-perfect game, we'll have to hope they come up with a less than average effort. They're quicker, bigger and mix their defenses up well. If you get by the first wave of their press, they come back and hit you with a second one. After that, Ewing is back there in the middle. A lot of things have to happen for us to win."