I have given this game some serious thought. I have compared their records and their opponents. I have detailed scouting reports on their players. I have tried to evaluate the critical intangibles: tournament experience, fan support, dental hygiene.
I don't like making predictions because when you're right no one remembers, and when you're wrong no one forgets. Still, when you write a sports column and it's NCAA tournament time, you're obliged to put yourself on the line.
I may be wrong, but I don't think Lehigh will beat Georgetown.
(However, I think Lehigh might cover. Last I heard, if you want Georgetown, you have to give 65 1/2.)
I won't lie to you. This game makes me nervous. Lehigh's been, as they say, knocking on the door for quite some time now. Three times in the last 31 years, for example, Lehigh's had winning records. Last year, it narrowly missed making the NCAAs, finishing at 4-23.
I know that Georgetown's the No. 1 team and the defending national champion and 30-2, and Lehigh is only 12-18. But let's try to interpret those statistics in terms of trend. By going from last season's 34-3 to 30-2, Georgetown shows a slight improvement. But by going from 4-23 to 12-18, Lehigh is leapfrogging. The momentum clearly rests with Lehigh. Each team is hot; Lehigh won three straight, over Drexel, Hofstra and Bucknell, to take the East Coast Conference tournament, and Georgetown won three straight, over Connecticut, Syracuse and St. John's, to win the Big East. A conference is a conference, right? So that's a wash. If I were looking for a miracle, I might be inclined to favor a school situated in the little town of Bethlehem. Pennsylvania, that is.
But I'm sticking with Georgetown.
I like the Hoyas' style in a key match-up: they are flying to Hartford for the game; Lehigh is taking the bus.
A lot of people have said that Lehigh doesn't belong in the tournament with a 12-18 record; George Raveling, the coach at Iowa, called it "a farce." On the subject of real farces: Raveling's team lost eight conference games -- the same as Lehigh -- including one by 20 points to Northwestern, which ended 6-22.
Tom Schneider, a former American and GW assistant who took over at Lehigh last season, correctly says, "Whether or not we deserve to be in there is arguable, but we belong in there; we won our tournament -- and that's the way the system works."
Since the ECC tournament ended 10 days ago, Lehigh has had loads of time to ruminate over exactly where it might be seeded in the 64-team draw. Perhaps the most prescient voice belonged to student Ron Ticho; he reasoned that Lehigh was a lock for the 64th seed and ordered T-shirts printed that said: "Bring on The Hoyas." Life imitates art.
"All along we thought we'd get the Big East winner," says Gordon Austin, an assistant coach at Lehigh and the point guard on the 1982-83 American team that upset Georgetown, 62-61. "On Sunday when we found out officially, we had a team meeting. The kids had sparkles in their eyes because they were actually getting the chance -- Lehigh's getting the chance to play the No. 1 team in the country."
And yes, Lehigh will show up.
"Absolutely," said Roger Clow, the sports information director. "Don't you have to, to collect the dough? Personally, I'm glad that it's Georgetown we're playing; I was afraid we'd get someone we couldn't beat."
And no, Lehigh will not stall.
Schneider laughed at the suggestion. "With Georgetown's speed and quickness, I'm not sure we'd be capable of holding the ball even if we wanted to," he said.
The coaches expect lots of pressure. On the court from the famed Georgetown press. "We're worried about getting the ball over half court, and we're working against seven defenders in practice to get a feel for how tough it is," Austin said. And off the court from the media. "You're my 15,000th call so far today," Schneider said.
For the benefit of those few out there who might not have followed Lehigh's season -- beginning with the East Stroudsburg game (giggle if you wish, but what's the difference between East Stroudsburg and Hawaii-Hilo or St. Leo?) -- as closely as you should have, let's meet the key players.
At center we have a 6-foot-7 sophomore, Don Henderson, who averages 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. He will guard Patrick Ewing. Good luck, Don. At forwards are: 6-6 senior Paul Wickham, who averages 7.8 points and 6.6 rebounds, and 6-4 freshman Daren ("He calls himself 'Aren,' because his 'D' is invisible," offers Clow) Queenan, the ECC's rookie of the year, who led the league in scoring at 18.4 per game and was second in rebounding at 8.3. At guards are: soph Mike Polaha, a car antenna at 6-1 and 150 pounds, scoring 15.5 points per game, and 6-3 junior Mike Androlewicz, a 5.2-per-game scorer. To show you the kind of laugh-riot school Lehigh is, the guards are nicknamed "Michael P." and "Michael A." Cracks my face, eh, Yortek?
For you pessimists, Schneider refuses to promise victory. He promises only that Lehigh "will play hard, work hard, and battle them."
For you optimists, rumor has it that Schneider has been scouting Temple and Virginia Tech, the other teams in the bracket.