The argument goes something like this: the only way Villanova can deny Georgetown the NCAA championship here tonight is by putting everybody else to sleep.

In a real game, which is to say everybody running up and down the court and shooting after a decent amount of time to dissect the defense, Georgetown would breeze.

The Hoyas have better players. Or at least ones more suited to the game played during the regular season. That game had a 45-second shot clock; tonight's game, like all those in the NCAA tournament, will not.

Villanova is deliberate on offense, complex and relentless on defense. Georgetown's one alleged weakness, perimeter shooting, will get its most severe test.

In these teams' two Big East meetings this season, the Wildcats took 11-2 leads. Then they were forced to be less patient than Coach Rollie Massimino wanted, as much by the 45-second clock as by the hurryin' Hoyas.

Georgetown caught the Wildcats each time and won.

Massimino is a master of tempo. With no shot clock and a lead midway or so through the second half tonight, he just might demand that the proceedings come to a screeching halt.

"We've gone to it (the delay offense) sooner in the tournament," he said. "We're very comfortable with it."

A clear majority of those who administer basketball, who play it, who coach it and who watch it are not. Massimino and his supporters call it four-to-score; the rest of us call it four-to-snore.

It won't be around next season, even for the tournament, thankfully. And one of these years, when the NCAA gets even more enlightened, there will be a three-point shot from a reasonable distance.

Kicking and screaming, college basketball eventually will realize all its potential for both speed and innovation.

What might not be clear here is that I adore Massimino. He is brilliant, deeply devoted to his players and competitive in a way more becoming than many of his more renowned peers.

It would be nice, as well as appropriate, if Massimino or one of the Big Five's Philly crowd could advance to the Final Four every few years. Those five coaches and schools adore the college game in a unique way, and the rest of the country should experience it.

Having said that, I also believe the style of play Massimino emphasizes is sophisticated snooze, boring beyond belief. It's about as thrilling as watching team needlepoint.

Whatever trickery might be involved that causes other cerebral coaches to genuflect, Massimino's defense essentially is a five-man picket fence around the opposition's inside players.

This is not exactly an original thought. Even a few newspaper stiffs know that the closer the ball is released to the hoop the better chance it has of dropping through.

Zones are fine. They add variety to games, and in fact usually are necessary when a Villanova plays a Georgetown.

But the wizards who brought the shot clock -- and the zones it spawns -- to the college game forgot one thing: all but a few coaches are too dumb to know how to beat a zone, except by stalling.

So in many ways, the 45-second clock has been counterproductive. It encourages faster play, but less thoughtful play.

Lots of teams, perhaps most, pass the ball close to a dozen times and still take a terrible shot. How often has this scene been repeated? The ball gets whipped around and over a zone, somebody notices that the clock is dipping under 15 seconds and throws up an off-balance 20-footer.

The last time, even without a clock, was in the first semifinal game here Saturday. When Memphis State's inside players moved, they were in perfect rhythm with the Villanova zone.

In dance terms, it was like the girl leading.

Massimino could not have prayed for a more predictable attack. Rarely did State try anything that might harass the Wildcats out of their routine.

If there were a three-point play, and more than a few dozen players about the country actually capable of hitting an open jump shot regularly, even simple-minded teams could stretch zones -- and frequently break them.

The Hoyas' John Thompson is Massimino's mental equal. His team also has the speed and depth to force Villanova into more errors than usual.

Also, Patrick Ewing's smaller pals have been exceptional from the outside of late. This has allowed him even more freedom inside.

Much as he knows that a shot clock and three-point play would boost his chances of winning a second straight NCAA championship, Thompson hopes the combination never comes to pass.

"I'm conservative, kinda old-fashioned," he said. "I don't like too much change."

It's coming, for the simple reason that there are larger arenas to fill and not enough excitement in games in which neither team gets 60 points.

"We win 90 percent of the games in which we hold the other people in the 60s," Massimino said. "Twelve years ago, teams got into the 90s on us and we won only seven games."

Scoring 51, 59, 46, 56 and 52 points with the clock stopped, the Wildcats have slipped into the NCAA finals. They'll hold Georgetown to less than 65 points tonight, but won't get 55 themselves.