NEW YORK, NOV. 5 -- One year ago, when the nine Big East basketball coaches chose Georgetown as the preseason favorite to win the league title, John Thompson's reaction was direct: "They're voting," he said, "for a damned ghost."

The reference was to the specter of Patrick Ewing, who towered over the conference from 1982 through 1985. Ghost or no ghost, the Hoyas went 12-4 in league play and beat eventual NCAA finalist Syracuse to win the 1987 Big East tournament in New York.

Today, the nine coaches got together again and picked Syracuse to unseat Georgetown in the upcoming season. Fine with Thompson.

"Everybody wants to be picked last, of course," he said. "You go around telling people that you're no good so there won't be any expectations. But we have a team that lost only one player {all-America Reggie Williams} -- that was a great player, no doubt -- but the fact is we have a lot of kids who helped pull us through some very tough games last year. They have earned the right to face expectations. If we were young and inexperienced, I would say so. But we're not."

This is a league full of expectations. Syracuse, with Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas and Derrick Coleman back from the team that lost the national championship game to Indiana at the buzzer, is the preseason pick to win the national title in many polls.

Pittsburgh, in spite of the loss of point guard Michael Goodson because of academic problems, is a top-five pick most places. Georgetown is experienced and deep. St. John's is solid as always. Seton Hall should be ready to reach the potential it has flashed the last two seasons. Providence was a Final Four team last season.

"This is not a good time of year to bring a bunch of coaches together and ask them about their teams," said Pittsburgh Coach Paul Evans. "We've seen {our players} every day for three weeks. We're sick of them and they're sick of us. All you see right now are problems."

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim sounded a similar note. When someone mentioned that his team would be a heavy favorite to beat North Carolina in the Hall of Fame Tipoff game in two weeks because of the one-game suspension of Tar Heels star J.R. Reid, he moaned: "The way we're playing right now, I don't think we could beat anyone, much less North Carolina."

He laughed. "Anyway," he said, "everyone knows we're a football school."

Boeheim's best player, Seikaly, was much looser than his coach. For three seasons the big man has been Boeheim's whipping boy. Not so much anymore. "He's let up on me," Seikaly said. "I figure that will last until we lose. If we go undefeated, I won't get yelled at."

The coach claiming to be calmest was the one with the most reason to be noticed: rookie Providence Coach Gordon Chiesa, who took over in August when miracle worker Rick Pitino became coach of the New York Knicks.

With key players Billy Donovan and David Kipfer gone, Chiesa's team will have a difficult time matching last season. He says he isn't worried.

"Pressure is your last game," he said. "Our last game was in the Final Four. That's a great feeling for us to have starting out this season."

Providence's last victory was in the regional finals, over Georgetown. But before that, Thompson's ghosts had managed to win 29 games.

Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt formally announced three-year extensions, through 1991, of the league's TV contract with CBS and its deal to play the league tournament at Madison Square Garden.