Minutes after Syracuse had eliminated Georgetown from the Big East tournament in a 75-73 overtime thriller Friday, Orangemen guard Dwayne Washington shared an afterthought.

"I don't care what happened in this game, I still think they're one of the best 10 teams in the country, maybe even higher," Washington said. "I still don't count them out of going a long way in the NCAA. Forget them now? It would be a big mistake."

Whether Washington's words were more out of respect for what Georgetown has been, or an accurate assessment of what is coming up for the Hoyas (23-7) remains to be seen.

Certainly, there was reason for Georgetown supporters to be both encouraged and skeptical after the Hoyas lost for the second time this year to Syracuse.

If the Georgetown locker room was any indication, the Hoyas feel very good about themselves. Coach John Thompson said he told his team, "I feel very good, very good" about the way it is playing.

"They're playing very hard, and that's all you can ask of them," Thompson said. "I don't think anybody will close their eyes on us next week in the NCAA tournament . I hope they do, but I don't think so."

But if their Big East tournament fortunes are an indicator, the Hoyas could be in trouble in the NCAA tournament.

Before this week's action, Georgetown had won four of the six Big East tournaments. After the four title victories, the Hoyas went to the NCAA final eight once (missing the Final Four by one basket against Iowa) and the Final Four the other three times.

The two times Georgetown did not win the Big East tournament (1981 and 1983), the Hoyas lost in the first and second rounds, respectively.

Clearly, Georgetown is very good, but, just as obviously, no longer great. What could help the Hoyas considerably is that not many teams in the country -- maybe a half-dozen -- have better inside games than Syracuse.

But the Hoyas have found during the last two weeks that they are extremely vulnerable if Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Michael Jackson aren't shooting well.

It's too late for Georgetown to do anything other than go with the perimeter game. As Thompson said today, "We can wish we had a lot of things, but we're going with the jump shots."

That doesn't mean Thompson is comfortable with it. "It's obvious we have to get good inside play.

"We still play sometimes like a power team, because we're accustomed to having the power there. But we have to be more patient, and be a lot more cat and mouse now.

"We have to shoot well from the outside, or we have problems. When we miss the outside shots, we're in trouble then. We're saying 'Hail Mary' then. When you see that white towel on my neck and my head down, I'm not thinking, I'm praying."

Jackson said he, Wingate and Williams should be carrying the scoring load, since the best big men -- the 6-foot-8 forwards, sophomore Ronnie Highsmith and freshman Johnathan Edwards -- are so young.

"We knew this coming into the season," Jackson said. "We should be better shooters because we've done it more during the season."

One problem has developed that didn't exist at the start of the season. The Hoyas aren't exactly thin, but they aren't as deep with the departure of 6-10 forward Grady Mateen and the sprained back injury of starting senior guard Horace Broadnax. And Jackson's bruised thigh meant that freshman Charles Smith was guarding Washington in the final minutes.

When Williams, the team's scoring and rebounding leader, fouled out with 1:20 left in overtime, Thompson's options were limited. "We've stretched the rubber band pretty far," he said.

Thompson also said he would "rotate" the fifth starting spot, depending on the opponent. Highsmith started at power forward against Syracuse. But sophomore swingman Perry McDonald, freshman Jaren Jackson, Edwards or Smith could wind up starting in the NCAA tournament, although Broadnax may be back by Thursday, the earliest Georgetown could play.

Thompson, when asked earlier this week about the NCAA tournament, said: "It's very difficult, from what I've looked at, to determine who can win the national championship. A lot of it will determine who's hot and who gets a roll going.

"It's almost impossible to look at the field and say, 'This team will win.' I don't think that's clear. As soon as I start liking a team, they start losing a few games.

"When everybody was talking about North Carolina, I told my staff, 'Memphis State is the best team in the country, I don't care what anybody else says.' Then Memphis State started losing a couple of games.

"Not that losing is the indication of what the best team is. Kansas looks awfully strong right now. I'm biased toward Carolina. Dean Smith gets ready. And they've got people who can do some things.

"Duke, you'd question their front line. But those kids play well with one another and you can't question motivation."