Those who love the underdog and those who insist -- despite the evidence -- that St. John's is the team that can beat Georgetown can hardly wait for this afternoon at 2 o'clock when the top-ranked, undefeated Hoyas put their 29-game winning streak on the line against the third-ranked, once-beaten Redmen at Capital Centre.
Anyone who doesn't already have a ticket will have to be content with watching on television (WDVM-TV-9). To think of the game in pure terms of unashamed hype, this could be, maybe even should be, the best game of the college basketball season so far. Several teams have been able to play beyond their talents for one game against Georgetown. St. John's (14-1, 6-0 in the Big East) is one of the few teams that has the talent to match up well with the Hoyas (18-0, 7-0).
St. John's brings its own nine-game winning streak, including an 82-80 overtime victory over Syracuse Wednesday in Madison Square Garden. The tone of Coach Lou Carnesecca's voice yesterday during a phone interview said the excitement had not died, even though odds makers have made Georgetown a 10-point favorite. "This is one of the great games in college basketball this year," Carnesecca said, his voice still soft from a lingering cold/virus. "Hey, we're coming down there to play the best. The best."
When told he sounded pretty excited, Carnesecca said, "I can afford to be fired up; I don't have to go man-to-man with Patrick Ewing. I know what we'll do, though. I've still got this cold. I'm gonna come out early and give it to Georgetown."
It will be the fourth straight game Carnesecca has worn his lucky sweater, the one that has turquoise blue, candy-apple red and brown swirled around in a pattern that attempts to be argyle but doesn't quite make it.
On their good days, the Redmen don't need lucky charms. St. John's, in fact, was the last team to beat Georgetown, earning a 75-71 victory Feb. 21, 1984, at Capital Centre. "This is another time, another game," Carnesecca said, "unless you can get me some of those points. Can you get them for me?"
Chris Mullin, St. John's all-America guard, scored 33 points in that game, on 13-for-18 shooting. To know Georgetown's defense is to figure that won't happen again, even if Mullin is a great shooter. But it doesn't have to.
What St. John's has now that it didn't have last year is Walter Berry, a 6-foot-8 power forward who scores (15.5), rebounds (8.6) and gives St. John's an inside threat. Another strong inside player is 7-foot Bill Wennington, who in St. John's man-to-man defense will come nose to nose with Ewing.
"Everybody's talking about Berry, who is playing well," Georgetown Coach John Thompson said. "But Wennington is giving them a lot. And (point guard) Mike Moses reminds me a lot of (the Hoyas') Michael Jackson. He takes shots when he needs to. He sticks them in prime time."
Of Mullin, Thompson said, "Chris will be Chris. Wherever he is, his shooting is a danger. He's posting up a little more now. And I think he does a good job of reading screens and switches and getting the ball to Wennington. The thing about St. John's is you can't cheat off, help out on Chris, because there are too many other people."
Since St. John's plays man-to-man and not zone -- Carnesecca said he will not stray today -- individual matchups will stand out more than usual, at least when Georgetown has the ball. Mullin could be guarded a lot by 6-5 David Wingate, Georgetown's super-quick swing man. Berry matches up with Georgetown's Bill Martin at power forward. But the most important matchup could be Ewing-Wennington. Ewing seldom gets a chance to go one-on-one since no one has dared to go man-to-man against the Hoyas for an entire game.
Thompson is hoping that 6-11 center Ralph Dalton, who missed Wednesday night's game against Connecticut with the flu, can play.
"We've got to operate from our strengths," Thompson said. "We still have work to do, but I see progress. I want us to put together the whole package, combine our running game with our half-court offense."
Just around the Beltway, in College Park, there will be another standing-room-only crowd, this one in Cole Field House to watch Maryland play Notre Dame at 1 p.m. The Terrapins should be at their best since vindication is a primary motive: they suffered a most embarrassing 52-47 loss at Notre Dame last season.
It would seem the Terrapins go into today's game with at least one distinct advantage. First, De Paul showed last week that quickness along the base line can hurt the Irish. Notre Dame is a tough, smart team but its front court players aren't the quickest in the world and the Irish could have trouble with Maryland's Len Bias and Adrian Branch, who work well along the base line.
But Notre Dame also has something that gives Maryland fits -- a quick scoring guard in David Rivers.