Two months ago, the basketball world was wondering whether Georgetown would be a top 20 team, playing without Patrick Ewing. But nine games into the season, it has become most fashionable to say that Georgetown may be better than last year, when it advanced to the national championship game.

Ray Meyer, De Paul's coach emeritus, said it; so did American University Coach Ed Tapscott. And chances are the same thought was on legendary Texas-El Paso Coach Don Haskins' mind yesterday as he ran his Miners through a brief practice.

The Hoyas, ranked fifth in the nation, carry a 9-0 record into the sold-out Special Events Center tonight at 9:30 (EDT) for a road game with a once-beaten UTEP team that's traditionally tough to play in its gymnasium. For this memorable occasion, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 12,000 is expected.

Meanwhile, Navy will try to duplicate what Georgetown did Saturday in defeating De Paul. The Midshipmen will face the Blue Demons in the first round of the Cotton States Classic in Atlanta. American University will play South Florida in the Miller High Life Classic in Tampa, while Virginia faces Long Island University in the Rochester Classic.

To think Georgetown is as good now as it was last year with Ewing probably is stretching it a little. Maybe a lot. "We'd be damn fools to say we don't miss Patrick," Coach John Thompson said recently.

Even so, Georgetown will be heavily favored. But the Miners should provide the kind of road test Thompson wants his team to have as a tuneup for the Big East season, which for Georgetown begins on Thursday at Pittsburgh.

It will be the first meeting between Thompson and Haskins, who is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his historic national championship victory over Adolph Rupp's Kentucky team in Cole Field House.

The Miners have won eight straight since losing their season opener to Washington.

The Hoyas are getting the kind of play from the upperclassmen -- Michael Jackson, David Wingate, Reggie Williams and Ralph Dalton -- that will make them difficult to beat, home or away.

The Midshipmen (6-2) are still shaking jet lag after playing in Japan, where they beat Army and Air Force.

"It's been a little rushed," Coach Paul Evans said of his team's hectic travel the last few days. Navy arrived from Japan Tuesday night, worked out in Annapolis Wednesday night and flew to Atlanta yesterday morning. As for how his team played, Evans said, "The trip over showed in the first half against Air Force (a 70-53 win), but against Army we ran well and played good defense. I'm encouraged that we're making progress and hopefully we'll be in good shape when conference play begins."

The 20th-ranked Blue Demons (5-2) are coming off successive losses Saturday to Georgetown at home and Monday at Purdue.

"I think they'll be ready," Evans said.

"After losing twice, they're not going to overlook us and will probably play us as tough as they would Notre Dame or anybody else on their schedule.

"Hopefully, our zone will hurt them. They didn't get the ball inside and didn't shoot very well from the outside. And we'll try to keep it away from (Dallas) Comegys."

AU is 5-1, with its only loss coming at the hands of Georgetown. The Eagles are led by Frank Ross, who is averaging 21.5 points per game. Virginia Tech, which has an eight-game winning streak, will face Miami of Ohio in the other bracket.

Virgina junior Tom Sheehey will get a chance to play in front of the home folks tonight as the Cavaliers (5-3) meet the Blackbirds (4-4). A high school all-America at McQuaid High School in Rochester, Sheehey is averaging 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds for Virginia, which has lost three of its last five games.