It is more or less an open secret now that unless the sky falls in, Georgetown's John Thompson will be the U.S. Olympic coach in 1988, a post to which he probably will be named this spring.

Thompson was Dean Smith's assistant with the 1976 Olympic team. He has an impressive record the past few years. He is now ranked probably behind only Bob Knight as a defensive coach. And it is long past time for a black Olympic coach.

What will be interesting will be Thompson's selection of assistant coaches. The rules state that the assistants must be Division I head coaches.

One choice may well be Iowa's George Raveling, a friend of Thompson's who assisted Knight in 1984 and thus has Olympic experience.

But will Thompson select a Big East coach? To do so certainly would help the league and make Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt happy. But Thompson isn't one for aiding and abetting the enemy and may not want to put the Olympic mantle around a league rival.

One other note on international assignments: Knight and Smith are the two most influential coaches in the country in terms of getting such assignments for people. The 1987 Pan Am assignment could be an interesting tug-of-war between the two. Knight will push one of his proteges, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and Smith will push one of his, Kansas Coach Larry Brown. It could end up that neither man gets the job and somebody such as Gary Williams of Boston College or Rollie Massimino of Villanova ends up with it.

After the Big East placed three teams in the Final Four last year and two in the national championship game, the cry around the Atlantic Coast Conference was, "Wait till next year."

Certainly there is justification for that sentiment, with North Carolina, Duke and Georgia Tech in the top five and the Big East likely to begin this week with only one team, St. John's, in the top 10.

But it should also be noted that even in a "down" year, the Big East is solid through at least six teams and may this year, for the first time, be a better league from top to bottom than the ACC.

Right now, the ACC's top three are certainly stronger than those of the Big East -- Syracuse, St. John's and Georgetown. But in the middle, the Big East, with Pittsburgh, Boston College (a winner over Ohio State Saturday) and Villanova, Connecticut or Providence, is probably stronger than the ACC, with N.C. State, Virginia and Maryland.

It's close, but a slight edge to the Big East, at least for the moment. Finally, there is the bottom of the league. Connecticut and Providence, which last year had to be grouped with Seton Hall, have now proven competitive with the middle ranks of their league. Clemson eventually might be competitive but hasn't proven it yet, having played one of the all-time softest nonconference schedules. And Wake Forest is going through a brutal adjustment year, getting stomped by everyone it plays.

In fact, Wake may not be better than Seton Hall, the perennial Big East doormat. Even though Seton Hall's record isn't any better than in the past (0-4 in the league), the school is at least competitive.

Overall then, because of the strength of the top three, one must still conclude that the ACC is the No. 1 league in the nation. But top to bottom, the Big East isn't far behind. In terms of the development of the league, that is a very good sign.

Isn't it a shame when officials forget their roles in a basketball game? It happens too often, especially in the ACC, where the officials are so well-known they consider themselves celebrities.

Case in point: Saturday's North Carolina-Duke game, an excellent game between two great teams. North Carolina earned its 95-92 victory in the opening of the Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center (henceforth known to everyone as the Dean Dome).

The players on both teams performed well, but the officials choked, especially David Dodge, who hit Krzyzewski with a technical foul with the score 26-23, Duke, in the first half.

Krzyzewski has earned many technicals in his career, but this time he didn't use any obscenity. When he objected to a touch foul on Tommy Amaker for his third foul, Dodge nailed him. Why? Officials should remember how costly a technical is (four points in this case) and always warn a coach first -- unless the coach is going wild or cursing at him. Dodge never said a word, just hit Krzyzewski with the technical.

That's no good. In a game of that magnitude, the referees should try to be unobtrusive. Even Fred Barakat, the supervisor of ACC officials, said in a television interview at halftime that he wasn't certain the technical was warranted and that officials should be aware of all that is going on in a game before they make such a call.

Dodge took the spotlight away from the players and put it on himself and Krzyzewski. What's more, a quick T like that in a game like this one simply adds fuel to Krzyzewski's charge two years ago that there are two standards for coaches' behavior in the league: one for Dean Smith and one for everyone else.

This was just one incident and didn't decide the game, but it happens too often.

Thompson got mad last week, and the Upset Pick got to 4-5, thanks to Georgetown's victory over Syracuse. This week, way out on a limb, here's the pick: Tennessee goes to Lexington on Saturday and beats Kentucky.