First-year Providence Coach Gordon Chiesa can empathize with his players. They had to try to replace the nucleus of last season's team, a squad that got all the way to the Final Four. He has to try to follow the lead of two fellows named Gavitt and Pitino.

It hasn't been a walk in the park for Chiesa, a man who got a reputation for excitability in his two seasons as associate coach under Rick Pitino, who accepted, rejected and finally accepted the head coach spot with the New York Knicks. Before his apprenticeship at Providence, Chiesa had been Metro Atlantic coach of the year in 1983 after taking Manhattan College to its best record in eight seasons.

Most expected him to get the job if Pitino left. Friars fans haven't called for his head, but there was the matter of the "Bring Back Pitino" sign at the Providence Civic Center last month when Providence played Austin Peay.

The Friars (7-4 overall and 1-1 in the Big East), who will play host to Georgetown tonight in a Big East matchup at the Civic Center, are looking for consistency from any of their top-line players. They've gone through seven starting lineups this season and have been hurt by scoring droughts.

"I don't look at it as following in Rick's footsteps," said Chiesa. "I look at it as continuing the great tradition of Providence College, a tradition of {current Big East Commissioner} Dave Gavitt, Joe Mullaney {319 wins in 18 seasons and a Final Four appearance in 1973} and Rick Pitino."

In other local action tonight, Navy and American both will play Colonial Athletic Association games. Navy will play host to William and Mary at 7:30, while American is at home against Richmond at Fort Myer. It will be the last AU game at the fort. The Eagles will move into new Bender Arena Jan. 23.

Navy (3-7, 0-1 in the CAA) lost its Colonial opener Saturday by 15 to Richmond, though sophomore center Byron Hopkins scored a career-high 20 points. But the Midshipmen can't stay away from the arthroscope long enough to keep a team healthy. They've already had four players (Hopkins, Derric Turner, Craig Prather and Mel Davis) miss substantial time this season with knee injuries. Turner will be out another month.

American (5-7, 1-0 in the CAA) is tied for first with Richmond (10-2, 1-0). If the Eagles win, they'll be in first place alone after two games for the first time since AU joined the CAA in 1985.

Pitino accomplished quite a bit in his two seasons in Providence, taking the Friars to an NIT bid in 1986 and a 25-9 record last season, including two wins over Georgetown, one in the NCAA Southeast Regional final. But this season, the Friars can't sneak up on anybody. As a preseason publication put it, "Have you met anyone who isn't ready to bury the Friars?"

The supporting players of last season have had to take front-and-center roles. But there is talent. Senior guard Delray Brooks, though struggling of late, is still the top scorer at 15.1 a game. Forward Marty Conlon (6-10, 209) has picked up his offensive pace from little more than four points a game last season to 13.3 this season, to go along with his 5.6 rebounds.

Their two Wrights -- center Steve and forward Darryl (no relation) -- are both in double figures in points (10.6 and 11.2) and are Conlon's primary help on the boards. Steve Wright scored 23 against Connecticut. Sophomore forward Quinton Burton, from Hammond High School locally, is fifth on the team in scoring and may start ahead of Steve Wright tonight. And Providence has continued to employ the full-court pressure that Pitino installed.

Sophomore forward Abdul Shamsid-Deen, with Conlon the biggest Friar at 6-10, is just getting back into playing shape after a preseason injury to his left ankle.

"People always will wonder about us and say we don't have the talent of other teams," Brooks told the Providence Journal-Bulletin earlier this season. "But we still go after people like we always have. The intensity won't change."

Still, graduation sapped a lot of talent from Providence. The departure of its four starters -- guard Billy Donovan, forwards Dave Kipfer and Ernie Lewis, and center Jacek Duda -- meant the departure of 47 points and nearly 16 rebounds a game, and untold experience.

The loss of Donovan, now backing up Mark Jackson for Pitino in New York, has been the hardest to overcome. The 20 points per game notwithstanding, Donovan's hard-nosed leadership qualities were his biggest asset to the Friars.

"You can tell Billy Donovan isn't out there," said Connecticut guard Tate George after the Huskies beat Providence, 79-72, Saturday, their first win over the Friars since February, 1985. "Last year, we thought Donovan made Brooks a better player. This year, it's different. Brooks has to be a leader. That's a big burden."

The Friars need Brooks' offense. He has failed to score in double figures in four games, and Providence has lost three of them.

"Every time Providence has lost this season, Delray Brooks has struggled offensively," Chiesa said.

"The shots didn't fall. I have no excuses," said Brooks, who went one for nine Saturday against a box-and-one by Connecticut, including missing all seven of his three-point shots. For the season, he's hitting just 41.3 percent from the floor, and in Providence's two Big East games, he's two of 13 from the three-point line.

Georgetown Notes:

Georgetown senior forward Ronnie Highsmith's status for the Providence game is uncertain. He missed Sunday's game against De Paul with back problems stemming from a cold, and is still day-to-day.