When people talk about Georgetown these days, they begin with Patrick Ewing, move on to the Hoyas' superb pressure defense, then finish by discussing the great depth Coach John Thompson has.
Lost in the shuffle many times is a player who might be as underrated as any in the country: junior point guard Michael Jackson from Reston. He has joined Ewing as a Hoya who can't be replaced.
Consider what Jackson does: He is a zone-buster, accurate to 20 feet. Georgetown is always going to see lots of zones. He is the ball-handler and distributor, the man most often in the middle when Georgetown pushes the ball up court.
Almost always, Jackson penetrates and either gets a good shot or gets the ball to the right man in the right place. When the Hoyas spread the floor, no one is better at handling the ball in the middle of the four corners. Jackson can dribble, pass, shoot, penetrate and make free throws.
His numbers in Saturday's 77-57 victory over De Paul pretty well sum up his role for Georgetown: 38 minutes, 14 points (five of eight from the field), 12 assists and just three turnovers in an up-tempo game during which Jackson had the ball on almost every possession for the Hoyas.
"You can't ever let down against him," De Paul point guard Kenny Patterson said after Jackson clearly had outplayed him. "He's aggressive and he's smart. With Patrick back there, he can afford to take chances defensively and on the break, because if they do turn it over, they'll probably get it back."
This week, the local team most worthy of notice is George Washington. The Colonials (4-1) are embarking on the most ambitious week in school history, playing Michigan State Tuesday at the Smith Center and Kansas Saturday, also at home.
Michigan State is 6-0, its best start since 1958. Although the Spartans are picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten, they are big, experienced and solid. Kansas will come to town with one loss (to Alabama-Birmingham in Alaska) and a ranking that will probably be around 15th. Beyond that, the Jayhawks (7-1 after beating Houston Saturday) have Danny Manning, the 6-foot-10 freshman who might be the game's next superstar.
For GW, the week will go a long way towards telling Coach Gerry Gimelstob just how far his 4-year-old program has come. The Colonials should have a shot at beating Michigan State, and if they can play with Kansas, it means they can play with almost anybody.
Because De Paul lost to Georgetown by 20 points, the Blue Demons almost undoubtedly will drop a couple of notches in the rankings. The new No. 2 team probably will be Duke (5-0), which has yet to face a serious test.
The Blue Devils get a breather tonight against Davidson, then go to Northwestern Wednesday. If they get past the Wildcats, their first loss could come in Los Angeles Dec. 29 against Alabama-Birmingham. Duke is a poised, hard-nosed team but plays no one over 6-8. This week's ranking probably will be too high and Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows it.
"But one of the things you play for is high ranking," he said yesterday. "Whether they're accurate or not, the polls exist and it's exciting for the kids and for our fans, just so long as our players don't get carried away by it."
One coach who hates a high ranking is Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins. He practically begged Sports Illustrated not to include Tech in its preseason top 20 (the magazine did) because of pressures the ranking would create.
Still, the Yellow Jackets (4-1) overcame all that pressure Saturday, coming from 13 points down to beat ninth-ranked N.C. State, 66-64, in Raleigh on Mark Price's jump shot with two seconds left. Fortunately for Cremins, Tech lost to Georgia Tuesday. Otherwise, it would have cracked the top 10 this week.
Saturday's game was probably the last of the season for Georgia Tech sophomore guard Craig Neal, who might need a second operation on his right wrist. Neal played the five games allowed by NCAA rules to be eligible for redshirting, and is now expected to undergo surgery. With the impending transfer of freshman swing man Bud Adams (he visited Vanderbilt yesterday), Tech could have depth problems before the year is over.
Maryland freshman guard Wally Lancaster, who left campus briefly last week, is expected at practice today when the Terrapins return from a three-day break. Lancaster left campus Tuesday after not playing against Ohio State.
Lancaster, an all-Met from Coolidge High School, called Coach Lefty Driesell Wednesday and returned to the team Thursday after missing practice the day before. That absence was the reason he didn't play against Maryland-Eastern Shore Thursday.
"I want Wally to stay," Driesell said yesterday. "But I told him I don't want him getting down and sulking if he doesn't play. He's just a freshman and he's got time. I think he understands that now."
Two weeks ago, the upset pick was Oral Roberts over North Carolina. The Tar Heels won by 18. Last week, it was St. Bonaventure over Syracuse. The Orangemen won by 12. Call it improvement. This week, try George Washington over Michigan State. What the heck.