The nation's largest and most unfazed city is supposed to swallow mere events like basketball games, not be consumed by them.

But when second-ranked Georgetown takes the court to play top-ranked St. John's Wednesday night at 9 o'clock (WTTG-TV-5) here in Madison Square Garden, it will be an event worthy of the Final Four ballyhoo it has gotten here all month.

The Garden has been sold out for seven weeks, even before St. John's beat Georgetown in Capital Centre to break the Hoyas' 29-game winning streak and wrest away their No. 1 ranking.

Officials at Madison Square Garden say this is the hottest ticket ever for a sporting event here, and just as hot as last summer's Jacksons' Victory Tour concert.

"From a fan's standpoint, there's never been anything like this," St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said today. "Never."

It's easy to understand why this has become the most attractive game of the college basketball season. First of all, seldom have the top two teams in the nation played each other so late in the season, even though on Dec. 15, the Hoyas, then No. 1, routed then No. 2 De Paul, 77-57.

Secondly, the game will highlight the best players in the country, Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and Chris Mullin of St. John's, Olympians and close friends.

Thirdly, it will be a chance for Georgetown (25-2, 12-2 in the Big East) to even the score for its first loss of the season -- a month ago -- to the Redmen and end St. John's winning streak of 19 games.

But the best thing of all about this game might be that it doesn't mean a thing, in terms of the overall picture of the league standings or the rankings.

As Georgetown Coach John Thompson said earlier this week, "We're both playing for pride and to get ready for the NCAA tournament and that's about it."

Indeed, even if Georgetown wins, St. John's (24-1, 14-0) almost certainly will win the regular-season title in the Big East, with one game remaining for each team. No matter who wins, it's very likely these two will come together in less than two weeks on the same court to decide the Big East tournament champion.

Much of the pregame discussion has centered on whether Georgetown is trying to get revenge for that Jan. 26 loss. Thompson addressed that in a taped interview, saying, "I don't think we ever play anybody from a revenge standpoint.

"We certainly are conscious of the fact that St. John's beat us and we are certainly aware of the fact that we're playing against an excellent team. We have to be sharper and maintain a higher level of concentration. But I don't think you win ball games by pure emotionalism, by being angry because someone beat you or being fired up because of St. John's."

If Carnesecca was any more fired up, he'd burn down a forest. He first said this game would be a sell-out if it were played in Yankee Stadium, then changed that to the Rose Bowl, then went one step higher and said the Sahara Desert.

Carnesecca has been suffering from a head cold for six weeks. But the Redmen haven't lost, so he's afraid to get well. And by now, most everyone knows he will not remove his lucky sweater, the one that some people here will say has as much to do with the success of St. John's as Mullin's 19.4 points per game.

Carnesecca never would go that far, of course, but he did survive a frightful moment after Saturday's victory at Syracuse. A team manager took the sweater to the bus without telling the coach, who was briefly panic-stricken.

Carnesecca said in all seriousness, "I'm telling you, somebody's going to kidnap the sweater."

The sweater is safe, but its lucky powers might never endure a tougher test than Wednesday's. The Hoyas, who have a seven-game winning streak, are playing well. Thompson said he is fairly pleased with the team's defense, which is holding opponents to 39.8 percent field-goal shooting.

"We are a better team than St. John's beat earlier in the year," he said. "(But) I also think they are a better team. You start talking about St. John's and you have to start off talking about Chris Mullin. Chris is an outstanding player; in fact, he's a great player. But we'd be very mistaken in thinking the players playing with him aren't very good players."

The St. John's player who has surprised Thompson is 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Walter Berry, who initially had problems adjusting to Division I play after a year of run-and-shoot in junior college. He is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game, and has cut down drastically on unnecessary plays.

"Walter Berry has shown me," Thompson said. "I think the biggest tribute to Walter Berry is he's a person who possesses so many individual skills (but) he's made concessions with some of those skills to fit in."

Carnesecca, told of that comment, nodded and said, "I don't think we've really seen the real Walter yet. And I don't think the team has played as well as it can, which worries me because we're coming down to the end."

It's difficult to perceive St. John's playing much better than it did in beating Syracuse on the road Saturday. With Mullin, Berry, 7-foot Bill Wennington, point guard Mike Moses and forward Willie Glass, the Redmen could have the best starting five in the college game.

But many other factors will come into play Wednesday. Georgetown shot only 40 percent from the field in the first game and -- even worse -- just 50 percent from the free throw line.

"We can't afford to get in a hole against a team as good as St. John's," Thompson said. "As is always the case when you're playing against another very talented team, by the time you catch up you're so flat or tired and they move away from you."

The Hoyas, after a short offensive slump, have played much better in most cases since their first meeting.

On the other side, St. John's recently has shown a tendency to have problems protecting the ball. Mullin, for example, committed seven turnovers at Syracuse. If you don't protect the ball against the Hoyas, you lose.

"This is all so great," Carnesecca said. "And you know the best thing. Since it's regular season, nobody has to put away the balls and go home. It's a happening, an event." An event that could happen once, maybe twice again.