The few people left in the college basketball world who doubt Georgetown's apparent invincibility have been pointing for some time to Georgia Tech as a team that has the weapons to dethrone the top-ranked Hoyas.
The Yellow Jackets, champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, will get that opportunity here Saturday at 4:03 p.m. (WDVM-TV-9) in the NCAA East Regional final, with the winner going to next week's Final Four.
Tech's chances for an upset at the Providence Civic Center will be greater if freshman forward Duane Ferrell, who has two sprained knees, is able to play effectively. But things could be even, since Georgetown Coach John Thompson said his sophomore swing man, Reggie Williams, would miss today's practice due to a sprained ankle. Williams' playing status might not be determined until game time.
But the pivotal matchups probably wouldn't involve either player.
One reason people believe Georgetown could have trouble with Georgia Tech is that the Yellow Jackets have two 7-footers in their starting lineup to Georgetown's one.
For one of the few times, Georgetown's 7-foot center, Patrick Ewing, will find himself surrounded by people as big as he is. Yvon Joseph, 6-11, and John Salley, 7 feet, each is capable of getting 20 points and 10 rebounds.
But Ewing has heard all this before. Last year, Kentucky's Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin were supposed to rain doom on Georgetown in the NCAA semifinals.
"We've played against height before," Ewing said, "and we've handled it."
Thompson said he sees an increased role for 6-11 senior reserve Ralph Dalton, who has played very well in the postseason. "I'm certain Ralph's role will be more significant with Georgia Tech having two 7-footers," Thompson said.
If Williams' ankle still is stiff at game time, it would not be surprising to see Dalton start at forward, with David Wingate shifting to guard.
Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins indicated he would not be playing much man-to-man on Ewing, even though Joseph is as tall, heavier and maybe even stronger than Ewing.
"Yvon cannot play Patrick straight up," Cremins said. "No way, and that scares me. Yvon's strong, but Ewing's too quick. Yvon and John can't move laterally defensively yet and, against a player like Ewing, you have to be able to move laterally. And this is what my biggest concern is."
The matchups in the back court are at least as important.
What Georgetown (33-2) also hasn't faced this season is a team with quards as good as Tech's Mark Price and Bruce Dalrymple.
Georgetown has had success using a box-and-one defense against top guards like Chris Mullin of St. John's and Syracuse's Pearl Washington. So Price, who averages 17 points per game and hit nine of 12 shots in Georgia Tech's regional semifinal victory over Illinois, could find himself being chased by Wingate while the other Hoyas throw a zone around the rest of Tech's players, none of whom is especially effective from the outside.
Price, when he's on, is all the outside shooting any team needs. He shot 49.3 percent this season although the vast majority of his shots were at least 12 feet, and usually over bigger defenders.
But Georgetown has made a lot of shooters miserable over the last four years. Price, if he's isn't extremely careful, could be added to the list.
Cremins said today, "They play as hard for John as I've ever seen any team play for their coach. They're relentless in their pursuit."
Price and Dalrymple have that type of spirit. Cremins called them "fighters and hustlers." Dalrymple, who averages six rebounds despite being only 6-4, is similar to former Hoya Gene Smith, but with more offense. He's everywhere a loose ball is. Dalrymple, in style, is the perfect Georgetown player.
"He's so damn aggressive," Thompson said. "He's active, he gets the loose balls, the offensive boards. And Price is a given. I know he's good."
Georgia Tech is good. The Yellow Jackets have a 27-7 record. Cremins, though, is worried about everything. "If we play well, we're capable of playing with anyone. But we have to play well. We've got to stay close."
Probably, Georgia Tech will play better if Ferrell has some mobility. He came into the tournament with a sprained left knee from an injury suffered in the ACC tournament.
Against Illinois, Ferrell, 6-6, drove the right base line and collided in mid-air with Doug Altenberger.
"I wanted to protect the injured leg, so I tried to pick a spot to land," Ferrell said, sounding like the pilot of a wounded plane trying to land in a cornfield. "I knew one of my knees was gonna take the pressure; I chose my good leg."
Ferrell's good leg now is his semibad leg. Williams only has one injured ankle, which he suffered early in Georgetown's game against Loyola Thursday night. Williams had the ankle retaped and played in the second half. After the game, he said he felt pretty good.
But Thompson said Williams was experiencing "a little soreness" and expressed a "we'll see" attitude about Saturday.
The friendship between Ferrell (from Towson, Md.), and Wingate and Williams (who went to Dunbar in Baltimore) dates to 1977, Ferrell said. "We've (he and Williams) always been good friends. Not close, but we've always enjoyed each other's careers. It's a great feeling competing against each other at such a high level."
Georgetown and Georgia Tech probably will reach an even higher level if Williams and Ferrell are able to play, with little discomfort, especially Tech, which usually uses only six players, including Ferrell.