The naysayers who point out that the top of the Big East Conference is weaker than last season are having a difficult time noticing that the bottom of the league has improved, at least through the first third of the college basketball season.
A case in point is Connecticut, which will bring an 8-2 record into Capital Centre tonight at 8 o'clock to play Georgetown in a game more important to the 13th-ranked Hoyas than many might think.
With games coming up against St. John's and fourth-ranked Syracuse in the next seven days, Georgetown (10-2, 1-1 in the Big East) can ill afford a home-court loss to a conference opponent.
A lot of Georgetown's effort tonight will involve defending against Earl Kelley, Connecticut's 6-foot-1 senior guard. His 18.9 points per game lead the Huskies in scoring and rank third in the Big East, behind Walter Berry of St. John's and Boston College's Roger McCready. His average of 7.1 assists also is third in the league, behind Dwayne (Pearl) Washington of Syracuse and Mark Jackson of St. John's.
Kelley has been getting a good deal of back-court help from freshman Phil Gamble, from the District's All-Saints High. Gamble, who is averaging 11 points per game, was instrumental in Connecticut's winning its first eight games, including a one-point victory over Minnesota, before losing to Northeastern and Boston College (61-60) in the Huskies' Big East opener.
The past few years, Connecticut has been hurt by not having a top pivot man of 6-10 or taller. But this year, 6-7 Tim Coles (from Baltimore's Cardinal Gibbons) has been more than adequate. His 9.7 rebounds per game rank second in the league, behind Berry.
But the important player for the Huskies is Kelley. He has played surprisingly well for a man who has been embroiled in so much offcourt controversy the last 10 months.
Last April, Kelley was arrested and charged with threatening bodily harm and unlawful restraint. And although the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct (which carried a three-month suspended sentence and one year's probation), that didn't satisfy the university, which held its own investigation.
Kelley and four other students had been accused of threatening two students and briefly abducting one of them on April 4. Kelley was searching for another student who allegedly had stolen several items from Kelly's dormitory room.
In a public hearing in December that lasted nine hours, Kelley was found in violation of three school codes, including threatened physical assault, harassment and endangering the safety of one's self or others. Kelley, a senior, was barred from living in student housing or eating in university dining halls.
However, Kelley has been allowed to play basketball. (University officials refuse to talk about the matter further.)
In other games involving area teams tonight, Delaware visits American University at 7:30 at Fort Myer, and William and Mary visits Virginia at 7:30 at University Hall.