It's time for everybody to bow down and face the East. Or, as they might say in the horse country around Lexington, Ky., the Big East has a leg up on the national title, with three teams in the Final Four -- Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova. The outsider, Memphis State, at least should be the favorite of everybody in the country west of Pittsburgh.
The winners Saturday at Rupp Arena might be the teams that are best able to shut down the opponents' superstars. How to do it? Well, let's take a look:
* Chris Mullin of St. John's: You can't defend him with a man smaller than 6 feet 1. You must face-guard him and not look to help out regardless of his position on the floor because he moves so well without the ball. Let the man guarding Mike Moses help out whenever possible and force Mullin to put the ball on the floor and move to the middle instead of to the base line.
* Ed Pinckney of Villanova: Must keep him off the offensive boards. Give him the jumper beyond 15 feet, and really attack him and double-team him whenever he puts the ball on the floor. Don't try to block his shots inside because he can kill you from the foul line. Play him for position so he can't take advantage of his quickness.
* Patrick Ewing of Georgetown: Try to keep him occupied on defense. Otherwise, he'll patrol the whole lane and then some. Play behind him and let him take his jump-hook and jumper. They'll go in more often than not, but at least you have a chance on the boards when he's going away from the basket.
* Keith Lee of Memphis State: Excellent hands and a good passer. You must force him to work on defense and, if possible, really make him work to run up and down the floor. He gets into foul trouble by reaching rather than establishing good position. Make him put the ball on the floor when he steps out to take his excellent short jumper. Must play him physically at all times.
As for role players who might make a difference, give me Michael Jackson of Georgetown, Bill Wennington of St. John's, Dwayne McClain of Villanova and William Bedford of Memphis State.
Jackson can be a brilliant scorer and leader of the delay game. Wennington's a beleaguered big man who could have the game of his life against Ewing. McClain is a streak player capable of 80 minutes of great basketball. Bedford is a coming superstar, but has the potential to arrive now.
Now, for the winners.
Villanova is playing super defense at the moment, but I think time is running out on the Wildcats' limited offense. They like to slow the pace and control the tempo.
Memphis State is a lot more flexible, and the Tigers' half-court game helps keep Lee in the game and out of foul trouble. Lee came alive against Oklahoma with a big game, and he's capable of a very big game against Villanova. Look for point guard Andre Turner to try to force the tempo, so Lee and Bedford can wear down Villanova.
The fourth meeting between Georgetown and St. John's -- the Hoyas won the last two convincingly -- might be tougher to judge than it appears. St. John's has regrouped out West and I think we'll see a war -- a mental war as well as a physical one. With a week to prepare and three games against Georgetown to review, I expect Louie Carnesecca to devise a special game plan for this one.
The Redmen have handled Georgetown's press very effectively in three games, and I look for them to do as well again. What got St. John's in trouble was the failure to get forward Walter Berry involved in the offense. The Redmen need to get Berry going early to force Ewing to help out as Berry posts up in the lane.
That keeps Wennington on the base line and not in Berry's way, and allows him to follow up missed shots. Mullin will get his baskets, but St. John's must have a two-pronged attack to win. I still have to go along with the Hoyas, but this really is going to be a massive struggle for them.