Is there really any doubt now? On successive nights, Georgetown beats Syracuse and St. John's, two conference rivals and the only teams to have tripped the Hoyas all season. Beats them on the road in front of hostile crowds, and beats them handily and convincingly. During the last 11 days, Georgetown has beaten Syracuse twice, by a total of 36 points, and St. John's twice, by a total of 28. In the latest polls, Syracuse was ranked 13th; St. John's, second. So just who on earth is supposed to keep Georgetown from winning its second straight NCAA championship? The line forms on the right. When the Celtics show up, call me.

I know the NCAAs are different from the regular season. I know there isn't a 45-second clock as in the Big East; there isn't a clock at all, so the door is open for one of those strategic whiz bangs to come up with something cute: maybe a glockenspiel-and-nine defense, with 12 people playing zone and the Stanford band guarding Patrick Ewing, or maybe a Thorazine offense in which you hold the ball for the first 39 minutes and 50 seconds, then go for the last shot. I know that the object is to win, and since playing Georgetown straight-up probably isn't going to get it done, the Hoyas are going to see so many new wrinkles they might as well play their tournament games in a laundromat. But like I said before, when the Celtics show up, call me.

What Georgetown did to St. John's on Saturday night couldn't have made a whole lot of coaches comfortable.

Georgetown won, 92-80.

And Ewing played 19 minutes.

Now, based solely on the performances that St. John's has given recently against Georgetown, you might have every right to think that the Redmen did not deserve to be ranked No. 2 in the country; you might have every right to think that the Redmen in general, and Walter Berry in particular, are shoulder-to-shoulder in the hoax category with the Cardiff Giant, and that perhaps some members of the St. John's front court ought to be eating their meals out of a dish on the floor. But remember this about the Redmen: they had, in fact, already beaten Georgetown, and they had, in fact, won 27 of 29 games. If you were to tell me before this game that Ewing would have gotten into foul trouble early and would play just seven minutes in the first half and only six of the first 15 minutes in the second, I would have told you to wear something red so you could blend in at the St. John's victory parties. I wouldn't have thought that, for all intents and purposes without Ewing, Georgetown was good enough to beat any top-20 team.

Was I wrong.

St. John's never even made a run.

When Ewing left the first half for good, with 11:32 still to go, Georgetown was leading, 22-20. Although St. John's tied the score twice -- at 26 and at 28 -- Georgetown closed the half leading by seven. When Ewing picked up his fourth foul with 13:25 left in the game, Georgetown was ahead, 63-55. He sat out the next 8 1/2 minutes, and when he came back for the last dance Georgetown was ahead by 10. "We should have come back at them when Patrick was out," Berry said. "But they seemed to pour it on more and more and more."

Georgetown outrebounded St. John's, 36-19. Fifteen of Georgetown's rebounds were on offense, leading to this appraisal from Bill Martin: "We were getting good first shots, and even better second shots." Georgetown shot 57 percent from the field; Martin, Reggie Williams and David Wingate combined for 20 of 35, many of them stop-and-pop jumpers. "The way those guys run the break, it's almost like seeing Havlicek pulling up from 18 feet -- it's like an automatic," marveled Brian Mahoney, a St. John's assistant coach. From the foul line, where the Hoyas foundered in their January loss to St. John's, Georgetown made 26 of 32, including its last 14 in a row; after going to its delay game with four minutes left, Georgetown cashed in fully on its five one-and-one opportunities.

Defensively, when they needed to most, the Hoyas neutralized the player they feared most, Chris Mullin, the second-best college player in the conference and the country behind Ewing. "For us," Mahoney said, "he's a once-in-a-lifetime player." All that kept the Redmen close in the first half were Mullin's 19 points. In the second half, Mullin got only six more; he didn't even get off a second-half shot until 8:08 remained in the game. "They make it so tough for you to get the ball," said Mullin, who'd totaled 20 assists in Big East tournament games against Providence and Villanova, but only one against Georgetown. "And when you do get it they make it so tough for you to get a shot." After the game, Lou Carnesecca underlined Mullin's 25 points and, quite justifiably, asked, "What more do you want him to do -- take down the chandeliers?" But it says something about the relative strength of both teams when Mullin goes 40 minutes and gets 25 points, and Ewing goes 19 minutes, and Georgetown still wins easily.

Carnesecca seemed nearly awed by Georgetown's performance. "We got 80 points," he said. "You'd think that would be enough to win. But you just saw a great, great performance by Georgetown. I think they played about a perfect game." Time and again when referring to the game, Carnesecca would return to the same point: 80. "It shows you what a great team they have," he'd say. "Look, we scored 80 points, and they still beat us. Unbelievable. They get 92, and they put the damned ball in the icebox, too. Unbelievable." Shaking his head in admiration at Georgetown's speed, strength, endurance and combativeness, Carnesecca would ask in his familiar raspy, rhetorical way, "Wouldn't you like those guys defending our country?"

There was some brave, albeit quiet talk in the St. John's locker room about getting another shot at Georgetown in the NCAAs. Whenever the question came up -- can St. John's, at its best, beat Georgetown, at its best? -- the answer was reflexive: we beat them once this year already. But the way the Hoyas are playing now it's difficult to imagine St. John's, or any other college team, beating them. They are moving to their own music now, relentless in their progress, oblivious to the sounds around them; the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.