John Thompson was reminded today that nearly a year had passed since his Georgetown Hoyas won the NCAA tournament, and he pronounced, "Now, the monkey's off my back."

But as Georgetown prepared to open defense of its title, Thompson and his top-ranked Hoyas say they will pursue this championship just as doggedly as the first. Whatever pressure Thompson assumed he escaped by winning a national championship in Patrick Ewing's junior year, apparently has resurfaced for Georgetown.

"I feel like I'm in the monkey's house now," Thompson said, laughing. "I think you create pressure on yourself. The challenge is still there. We want to win again. You become greedy."

"My belly is not full yet," said Michael Jackson. "I'd like to win another one and another one."

That probably comes as bad news to the other seven teams gathered here for the NCAA's East Regional, especially Lehigh, the incredibly overmatched team that has the unenviable task of playing top-seeded Georgetown Thursday at 12:07 (WTTG-TV-5, WWDC-1260) in the the opening game here at the Civic Center.

The other afternoon game here will have Temple playing against Virginia Tech, which could be without three of its regulars. And in the evening Loyola (Ill.) will play Iona, followed by the finale of Old Dominion against Southern Methodist.

Three of the games should be extremely competitive. Not the first. Georgetown has been made a 33-point favorite because Lehigh is a team that won 12 games but lost 18 this season and only got into this 64-team field by winning three straight games to take the East Coast Conference tournament.

The Engineers start a 6-foot-7 center and a shooting guard who weighs 155 pounds and had to convince his mother this week it was all right to play against a tough team like Georgetown.

Coach Tom Schneider, who grew up in and coached in the Washington, D.C.-area, was asked many times today if his team has a chance, if his voice will tremble in the pregame introductions, if his players -- who are not on scholarship -- will be afraid.

Mike Polaha, the small but effective shooting guard, said, "I'm not the strongest guy in the world . . . . I'm awed by the whole situation. But I just can't wait to play Georgetown."

Polaha hasn't lost his sense of humor over playing the biggest game of his life. Earlier in the week, when asked about his team's chances, Polaha cracked, "Well, we've got to be careful not to overlook Georgetown."

Jokes aside, Schneider had to be offended by some of the questions he was asked today at an afternoon press conference, concerning some comments that it is a "farce" for his team to be in the tournament.

"We don't feel this is a farce," he said. "I want everyone to understand that we've me here in a purposeful frame of mind."

Forward Paul Wickman and Polaha talked about how honored they were to play Georgetown.

Thompson called that kind of talk, "fattening the frogs for the snakes," then added, "I'm a little tired of everybody harping on Lehigh and whether they should be here. I don't feel sorry for them. They didn't win a vote to get here, they earned a spot by beating some people.

"We have a great team; that's probably an understatement," Thompson said. "We're beatable. We never come into a game -- no matter who the opponent is -- thinking someone is terrible. If we perceive it that way we'll be in trouble.

"People were saying the same things last year about North Carolina (which lost in an early round of the East regional). I've always been worried when people try to make me believe something's going to come so easily."

The reality of the situation is that a Lehigh victory would probably be the biggest upset in the history of college basketball, even bigger than when Chaminade, an NAIA school, beat Virginia, which was ranked No. 1 at the time (December 1982) and had Ralph Sampson.

The Engineers have a very athletic player in 6-4 freshman Daren Queenan, who led the team in scoring (18.4) and rebounding (8.3) and could be playing for a lot of top 40 college teams.

But it's probably asking too much of 6-1 Polaha to do the shooting (15.5 points per game) and do the majority of the ballhandling against Georgetown's pressure defense.

Besides that, there are the obvious problems for Lehigh, like what to do with 7-foot Patrick Ewing. And all the other Hoyas for that matter. Georgetown hasn't suffered a real upset in more than two years, and if the Hoyas are as hungry as they say they are, Georgetown's winning streak will reach 13 games.

"National championships aren't won in bunches," Thompson said. "You have to take it a segment at a time. We have to play hard against any and everybody. You can't turn it on and off. You can't say, 'Now fellas, we're going to play hard.' The tournament is too competitive for that."

The winners of Thursday's games will advance to the second round, played here on Saturday. Georgetown would meet the winner of Temple-Virginia Tech.

VPI, which has already lost its last two games, might have to play without leading scorer and rebounder Perry Young, point guard Al Young and his substitute Al Lewis.

Al Young, still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, is listed as questionable for this game. Perry Young and Lewis missed practice today, and Coach Charlie Moir said he wasn't sure of their status.

The team's hotel is located only about three blocks from the Civic Center, but neither player showed up after missing the team's bus ride over to the arena.

Four of Tech's players -- including all-Metro Conference selection Dell Curry -- have been starting together for three years. Now Moir might be without two of those starters and another regular. Curry, a wing-man, might have to play point guard.