Everywhere, everybody is talking. Seven feet above sea level, however, the folks aren't saying much.
"Really, I'm sick and tired of talking about this," said Georgetown's Patrick Ewing, the 7-foot sophomore. "I'm anxious to get it over with."
"There is not much left to say," said Virginia's Ralph Sampson, the 7-foot-4 senior.
Only this: tonight at 8:35 at Capital Centre, No. 1 Virginia (5-0) will play No. 3 Georgetown (6-0) before a capacity crowd of 19,035. Oddsmakers' tea leaves read "Georgetown by 2 1/2." Much of the country will watch on television (locally on WTTG-TV-5 and cable).
Some have called this college basketball's "Game of the Decade." To which Virginia guard Rick Carlisle says, "Can you see me telling my professors, 'Sorry, professor, I can't take my final this week because I have to play in The Game of the Decade?' "
Caught in the riptide of hype, both teams have tried to downplay the game. After all, they have said, this is not a conference game and it is still just December.
"But the more they say this game is not important," says Al McGuire, the former Marquette coach turned television commentator, "the more important it is."
Which is to say, this game is very important. There will be no shot clock, no three-point shot.
There will be Sampson versus Ewing: the pride of Virginia versus the pride of Washington, D.C.
"A fan's dream," Virginia Coach Terry Holland says.
"Ralph is a once in a lifetime player," says Georgetown Coach John Thompson. And what of Ewing? "Patrick is a once in a lifetime player, too."
Ewing is considered the consummate defensive big man. Another Bill Russell, some say. His 24 blocked shots hardly reject the comparison.
Ewing can also score. Ask Western Kentucky, against whom Ewing scored 30 points (13 of 17 from the field) in a 70-66 overtime win in Bowling Green one week ago. Also note that Ewing's 13.8 scoring average leads the Hoyas.
"On offense no one man can cover Patrick," says Fred Brown, Georgetown's injured junior guard. "Sometimes, even two or three players can't guard him."
To the average center, the thought of playing against Ewing can be terrifying.
"The night before we played Georgetown, I had a nightmare about Patrick Ewing," said Lou Schmitt, St. Francis (Pa.) College center, after the Hoyas beat the Red Flash, 75-40, Dec. 3. "I dreamed he was a monster who got mad and took a swing at me. He was real sinister in my dream. And he was the toughest player I've ever played against, too."
And what of Sampson, the two-time NCAA player of the year? He is so multitalented he defies comparison. "Sampson," says North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, "will always be compared to Sampson."
Sampson averages a Cavalier-high 18.4 points per game, after his 36 points in Virginia's 104-91 victory at Duke Wednesday night. Also note that Sampson has blocked 19 shots.
"Everyone says it's Ralph's offense against Patrick's defense," says Virginia forward Craig Robinson. "But what about Ralph's defense?"
A valid point, further validated by Virginia reserve guard Ricky Stokes, who simply says, "Ralph is definitely not a bad defensive player. Knowing Ralph is there to block the shots means the guards can gamble. It's a good feeling."
There is also the theory that the two centers will neutralize each other tonight. Or, another theory, that maybe the centers won't cover each other, at all; that they might be neutralized by defenses collapsing on their every move.
"If they (Georgetown) concentrate on me," Sampson says, "everybody else is going to score."
There is also a theory that the real matchup is Ewing's strength against Sampson's experience. Quietly, most of the Hoyas say they expect Ewing to maintain peace and security in the lane.
The Cavaliers feel the same way about Sampson. They talk, however, a bit more candidly. "I see Ralph getting the edge," says Stokes, the reserve guard, speaking the Virginia consensus. "He just has the all-around skills. He makes some moves even a guard wouldn't make. And he's 7-4."
If Sampson controls Ewing tonight, someone asked John Thompson earlier this season, would Ewing be affected forever more?
"When Duran beat him the first time," Thompson responded, "did that put any doubt in Sugar Ray Leonard's mind?"
Chances are, somebody's theory will be proven correct tonight. With all the theories hovering over Capital Centre, at least one must be right.
"With all the buildup," says Virginia reserve forward Jim Miller, "how can the game be anything but a letdown?"
"Our perspective?" says Carlisle, the Virginia guard. "We want to win."
At a press conference Thursday, Thompson said junior guard Gene Smith might start to help contain Virginia guard Othell Wilson, that Fred Brown will not play because his right knee is not ready, and that he has "almost outlawed" the alley-oop pass to Ewing because it is overused.
Then, Thompson said of this game that has outhyped everything in December except Christmas, "If I had to do it all over again, I probably would. The atmosphere is like the (NCAA) tournament. This will help us down the road."