With the television cameras and the Big East Conference tournament rolling before him, Georgetown Coach John Thompson kept talking and kept perspective today.

Giving his tournament thesis, Thompson said, "We have come here to find out just how good we are."

The first opportunity for assessment will come Thursday night at 7 o'clock in Madison Square Garden when the No. 15 Hoyas play No. 20 Syracuse (WTTG-TV-5) in this single-elimination tournament.

"You realize at this point that you're playing all your cards," said Thompson, whose Hoyas won this tournament last year and the automatic NCAA tournament bid that such a victory brings.

"You're not really thinking 'development' now in the broad sense that you were earlier in the year because this is it. This is what you go for . . . You spend it now if you have it."

Thompson said one talent he won't be able to spend here is that of Fred Brown, the junior guard who hasn't played in a month because of a strained patella tendon in his right knee.

"Fred is out for the tournament. He's back at school getting treatment," Thompson said. Asked if Brown, the Hoya with the most court experience, will be back for the NCAA tournament, Thompson shrugged and said in a doubtful tone, "Hopefully . . . "

Georgetown (21-8, 11-5 in the conference) has defeated Syracuse (19-8, 9-7) twice this season. On Jan. 10, the Hoyas squeezed the Orange, 97-92, when freshman guard Michael Jackson scored 31 points before 31,327 at the Carrier Dome. The second Georgetown victory came Monday night, 80-75, at Capital Centre.

"Both games we had a legitimate shot at winning," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "We are certainly capable of beating Georgetown."

The Orangemen, who thrive on the fast break, need a quick revival from senior guard Erich Santifer (17.7 points per game) and senior forward Leo Rautins (13.4 points), two players trapped in a slump. "We all talked about it the last few days and I think they'll bounce back," said Boeheim.

Boeheim said that 6-foot-5 senior forward Tony Bruin (15 points per game), a marvelous jumper who missed Monday's Georgetown game because of a sprained right ankle, will try to play Thursday.

Asked if Bruin's status were "doubtful," Boeheim solemnly amended that, saying, "Doubtful he'll be effective."

Thompson said, "When you start talking about Bruin, Santifer and Rautins, it's the last chance for them as seniors. That was my own theme song last year. That's when I told our older guys, 'Hey, it's your last shot. You got to take it now.'

"Our team, particularly this year, needs the tournament. Last year, I could have done without it. This tournament is good in itself because it brings a team together."

There are those who look at the Hoyas' recent victories over Villanova (87-71) and Syracuse and think that they may win this tournament again.

"Against Villanova, Georgetown looked awesome," said Boston College Coach Gary Williams, whose team is the tournament's top seed. "Nobody does that to Villanova. I think Georgetown is really coming on."

Of course, wrinkling his nose and shooing away the smoke rising from his own cigar, Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino gruffly said, "We just did not play well against Georgetown . . . It's so nebulous to try to pick a (tournament) winner at this stage."

In Thursday's early games, third-seeded St. John's (24-4, 12-4) will play sixth-seeded Pittsburgh (13-14, 6-10) at 1 p.m. Second-seeded Villanova (21-6, 12-4) will play seventh-seeded Connecticut (12-15, 5-11) at 3 p.m.

The winner of Thursday's Georgetown-Syracuse game will play in a semifinal Friday at 9 p.m. against the winner of Boston College-Seton Hall.

"Is our team tournament tough?" said Thompson, repeating a television reporter's question. With a raised brow and a careful grin, Thompson said, "I don't know. But the coach is."