On the first day of this sixth Big East Conference tournament, opposing coaches apparently figured the best way to attack Georgetown was to kill the Hoyas with full-court kindness.

Georgetown, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, will open defense of its Big East tournament title here Thursday at 1 p.m. against Connecticut in Madison Square Garden. And it's nearly impossible to find anyone who doesn't expect the Hoyas (27-2) to keep winning, straight through Saturday night's championship game.

In Thursday's other games, Boston College will play Syracuse, Pittsburgh has what could be the tournament's most significant first-round game, against Villanova, and St. John's, the nation's No. 2 ranked team, will play Providence.

Winning at least one game here probably is more important to Boston College, Villanova and Pitt, in terms of receiving at-large NCAA tournament bids. BC and Villanova, both 18-9, probably will receive bids anyway. Pitt is in the position of having to face Villanova after beating the Wildcats by 23 points only four days ago.

"Certainly there are going to be favorites, people like ourselves and St. John's who are expected to win," Georgetown Coach John Thompson said. "But that doesn't always happen, particularly in tournaments . . . Some of the other teams might just be hanging on the line (for an NCAA bid)."

To hear the coaches here today, none of that incentive will matter as much as the fact that Georgetown is playing as well, they feel, as it was last year when the Hoyas swept through the postseason.

"It's pretty unsettling to me to see them playing this well," Boston College Coach Gary Williams said. "I saw a couple of those games. I can't believe they played any better last year at any time. They're going into the right time of the year playing their best ball."

Syracuse's Jim Boeheim said the Hoyas could be beaten. "I think there's more likelihood that they would get beat here in New York than in the NCAA tournament. Teams here know them, and really think they have a good chance to beat them. When they get to the NCAA tournament, everybody's going to be scared to death of them, I think."

But Boeheim made it clear he thinks Georgetown is the team to beat. So did St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca, whose Redmen were ranked No. 1 for five weeks before losing to the Hoyas here last week.

When asked to pick a favorite, he said, "You'd have to say Georgetown, the way they beat us (by 16 points) and Syracuse (by 27). They're on a hot roll."

He didn't give much credence to the fact that Georgetown, St. John's and Syracuse -- who certainly have NCAA at-large bids coming -- wouldn't have enough incentive. "You're also playing for reputation, for the ego," Carnesecca said.

Connecticut Coach Dom Perno is most concerned with Georgetown since his team plays the Hoyas first.

"They're playing with an intensity that's second to none," said Perno. "This is just my opinion, but I think they may be playing better now than last year when they won the whole thing. All guns seem to be firing."

Playing its best at this point of the season is not uncommon for Georgetown; it's part of the overall plan. In fact, Thompson's teams are 64-12 from the beginning of February through postseason play over the last six years.

"A lot of people play well early in the year, a lot of people play well in the middle," Thompson said. "We try to gear most of our play towards the end of the year. It doesn't always work out that way, but hopefully we can consistently play as well as we're playing now."

Even so, Thompson certainly wasn't agreeing with anyone who was saying Georgetown should automatically win Thursday.

"It's very hard for me to look at any opponent as not being an opponent which can beat you.

"As I told the kids, we are only the best if we are playing our best. And if we're playing our best . . . then we should beat the opponent."

Connecticut is one opponent that doesn't have a true center and figures to have trouble with Patrick Ewing inside. "But Earl Kelley (17 points per game) is the focal point and an outstanding player," Thompson said. "They're an up-and-coming program. They've had some very good games against good teams. They did what we were unable to do: beat Syracuse at Syracuse."