What must Georgetown do to beat Virginia? Five things would help: (1) Patrick Ewing needs to play Ralph Sampson even, (2) Bill Martin must score about 20 points, (3) the Hoyas' full-court press must force Virginia out of its comfortable pace, (4) the hustling half-court defenses must rush Virginia's slower shooters to mediocrity and (5) the Hoyas' freshmen guards must score from outside early.
Only the lame-brained are convinced beyond doubt that Georgetown can pull off any one of these things, let alone the three or four necessary to win tonight's made-for-TV basketball special. That very uncertainty is the secondary charm of this first game matching Sampson and Ewing, a meeting that might happen only this time before 1985, when Ewing says he'll turn pro.
The game's special charm is that not only will we see two gifted athletes, we will see them in circumstances that should produce a pretty game. It is a nonconference game 11 days into December and so life itself is not at stake. There shouldn't be any maddening tactical brainstorms such as (whisper) delay offenses. Both teams have run in early games, and they won't stop now.
Make it Georgetown, 81-78, if the Hoyas can accomplish any three of the five necessities outlined -- provided that (1) is one of the three.
Sampson is more likely to outplay Ewing than Ewing is to outplay Sampson. Ralph comes with more offensive strengths than any other big man ever. Also, and this is often forgotten, he is 7 feet 4. At that height with his grace, touch and strength, Sampson can score from 15 feet or at the rim over even a 7-footer of Ewing's caliber.
Three seasons in the ACC crucible have given Sampson a hard edge of experience in critical games. Although Virginia often seems in no hurry to give the ball to Sampson, he yet dominated games at Chapel Hill and Durham. At Ohio State, against Herb Williams, Sampson scored 40 points.
Sampson, the 7-4 veteran, ought to contribute more to his team's victory than Ewing, a 7-footer playing the seventh game of his sophomore year, can bring to a Georgetown victory.
No guarantees come with such a statement, though, because Patrick Ewing can do anything necessary to beat any team. In the hinterlands a thousand miles from Capital Centre, a college basketball observer said, "Ewing isn't in Sampson's class, is he?"
Only geographical bias could produce that question, with the fellow admitting to an idea that the ACC is superior to Georgetown's Big East. If the Big East wasn't the nation's best league last season, it will be this March. In that league, Ewing is in a league of his own.
Stronger than Sampson, more aggressive, as good with the ball around the rim, a better rebounder and defender, Ewing suffers in comparison only when asked to play facing the basket. Even there with the 12- to 15-foot jumper, Ewing is the rare 7-footer who must be covered. He isn't Sampson offensively -- but he ain't bad.
Another of Ewing's superiorities could be decisive. Over 40 minutes, no other big man runs the court as quickly or relentlessly as Ewing. If Georgetown's pressure so discombobulates Virginia as to produce the turnovers and ill-conceived shots that make it a base line-to-base line running game, Ewing will leave Sampson panting at his heels.
The irony of all this chatter about the big men is that they likely will not determine victory or defeat.
"You'd have thought we were heavyweight boxers going at each other, because our respective teams were largely ignored," Bill Russell wrote of his meetings with Wilt Chamberlain. " . . . As the Celtic championships began piling up, Wilt took offense at those who enjoyed labeling him a 'loser.' They said he 'couldn't win the big one' . . . This seemed to me nonsense; I think you keep winning games until you play a better team."
As a team, Georgetown's success may depend as much on little guards as it does on the big center. Virginia's offense is led by guard Othell Wilson, who must be shut down if a team wants to beat the Cavaliers. With veteran guard Fred Brown injured and unable to play, junior Gene Smith most likely will start and try to stop Wilson.
How Smith handles Wilson may be as important as how Ralph and Patrick fare.
"Georgetown is a great team," said James Oliver, the Alabama State coach whose team lost to the Hoyas by 23 Wednesday. "They're great because of their all-over-the-court quickness with two or three kinds of presses. I feel they'll beat Virginia because they're better overall. They have more players, clear down the bench, than Virginia does."
Oliver said one Georgetown weakness is free-throw shooting. "They were shooting 56 percent on free throws before tonight," he said, adding with a wry chuckle, "Of course, tonight they made their first 13 free throws. So who knows?"
The Hoyas' sophomore forward Martin, the third-best player in tonight's game, must score well because his sophomore running mate, Anthony Jones, is in a shooting slump so profound he seems to be worrying about the very mechanics of each shot. For the season, Jones is one for 13 on free throws. His 60.3 percent mark from the field, on 32 of 53, is built on layups.
The shooting problems haven't affected Jones' work as part of an eight-player-deep pressure defense that has been the foundation of all six victories this season. If that defense does the job against a Virginia team suspected of being slow, and if Sampson doesn't decide now is the time to score 45, and if Georgetown's guards score early to open up the inside, and if . . .
Hurry up, 8:35.