Not too many seasons ago, Georgetown wasn't even the third-best basketball team in the Washington, D.C., area.
Monday night, the Hoyas (30-6) attempt to become this season's NCAA champion when they play top-ranked North Carolina (31-2) before a national television audience (WDVM-TV-9) and more than 61,000 fans in the Louisiana Superdome. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:12 p.m. North Carolina is favored by 1 1/2 points.
A Georgetown win would give Washington two national champions, the University of the District of Columbia having already won Division II.
Georgetown, despite playing poorly offensively, gained the final with stifling defense, defeating Louisville, 50-46, in Saturday's semifinals. Carolina, seeking its first title in seven trips to the final four under Coach Dean Smith, defeated Houston, 68-63, in the other semifinal.
"You hear a lot about North Carolina and now we have a chance to play them for the national title," said Mike Hancock, who starts at forward for Georgetown. "We had a few problems early but we got things together. We always felt we had a chance to get this far."
"We're really looking forward to playing them," guard Fred Brown said. "I don't know much about them because we've haven't seen them much. We don't know what we'll do yet."
This particular championship matchup carries special merit for several reasons:
Hoya Coach John Thompson and Smith are the best of friends and have been, even before Smith recommended Thompson for the Georgetown job 10 years ago.
UNC all-America James Worthy and Hoya all-America Eric Floyd played against one another in high school in Gastonia, N.C., and also are good friends.
The game presents the best barometer for Patrick Ewing, Georgetown's highly touted 7-foot freshman, to measure himself against James Worthy and Sam Perkins, the Tar Heels' 6-9 all-Americas.
"He (Ewing) is a good player," said Worthy, a junior who is considering declaring for the NBA draft at the end of the season. "He does a lot of things for Georgetown, offensively and defensively."
Ewing could give either of Carolina's pivot men problems if he does more on offense. Ewing took only eight shots, making three, and had eight rebounds against Louisville. By the same standard, Ewing could have trouble guarding either Worthy or Perkins, who combined for 39 points and 14 rebounds.
"We won't look at Ewing and feel we must stop him to win," Smith said. "They have a well-rounded team. We've played against other capable big men and Ewing will certainly present problems for us. He runs and jumps well. We won't necessarily try to get him in foul trouble because you lose some of your offense. I wouldn't mind if he did get four fouls in the first minute."
It was announced by Thompson at today's afternoon press conference that Ewing had received a death threat March 8, following the team's return from Hartford after winning the Big East Conference tournament.
This is Georgetown's seventh NCAA appearance and first in the final four since losing the title game to Wyoming 39 years ago. Smith has come up empty in the six previous times UNC has advanced to the final four, three in the last six years.
"We feel good about our chances," said Jimmy Black, North Carolina's point guard. "We've heard all the talk about how we've choked when we get here and we want to win the championship for Coach Smith and ourselves. I remember we were in the final last year and we lost (to Indiana, 63-50)."
Neither Smith nor Thompson has revealed any game secrets or strategies, only that they would remain friends when the game ended. The coaches have similar philosophies about the game and stress defense and patience.
Since postseason play began, Georgetown has been the best defensive team in the nation. In winning three Big East tournament games and four in the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas held their opponents to less than 43 percent shooting and an average of 45 points per game. Louisville averaged 75 points a game while shooting 50 percent, but against GU made only 19 field goals in 48 attempts for 40 percent and had 18 turnovers.
The Hoyas will have to play probably their best defensive game ever to beat the Tar Heels, who have the nation's longest winning streak, 15 (Georgetown's 10-game streak is second).
UNC had the best offensive half of any of the four teams here, making 13 of 17 second-half shots (77 percent) against Houston. Worthy and Perkins are the key players inside, and can score from outside. Michael Jordan, Black and Matt Doherty usually get most of their points from the perimeter. The ACC tournament champions also run the best delay game in the nation.
Floyd, Ewing and Smith are the chief shooting powers of a Georgetown team that averages 67 points per game. Excluding Saturday's poor performance, the Hoyas had been shooting very well. In the three West Regional games, they made 63 percent of their shots, including a tournament record 74.4 percent in the final against Oregon State.
One area in which Georgetown may be able to prevail is rebounding. Since Worthy and Perkins shoot a lot from the outside, Carolina loses some of its rebounding strength. Houston outrebounded UNC, 33-26.
When that was mentioned, Thompson merely said, "Statistics can be misleading.
"It doesn't matter how many rebounds a team gets," he said, "it's when you get them is what counts. As for matchups, I can't say who'll be on whom. We're a team-oriented defensive team and I would say there'll be different matchups all game."