Today will provide a true measuring stick for those in the Washington area who consider themselves college basketball fans.
The hard-core, card-carrying junkies will have no problem foregoing the Redskins this afternoon and getting themselves to Capital Centre for fifth-ranked Georgetown's game against Texas El-Paso or to Bender Arena for American's game against eighth-ranked Ohio State. Both games start at 2.
At 8 p.m., George Mason tips off at Patriot Center against 24th-ranked East Tennessee State and a tremendous guard from Culpeper, Va., 5-foot-7 Keith "Mister" Jennings.
Howard also plays a nationally ranked team, but the Bison are in New York for an 8 p.m. game against No. 14 St. John's.
Georgetown forward Alonzo Mourning, who has missed the last two games because of a sprained arch, has resumed practicing and probably will play today, Coach John Thompson said yesterday.
"He is still experiencing a little bit of soreness, which we expect to be normal at this point," Thompson said, "but he'll probably play. How much he'll play, I don't know, and how cautious I'll be, I'll have to get a feel for that from him and from the game."
Texas-El Paso (4-2) is coming off what Coach Don Haskins called "the worst finals week I've ever had" in 30 seasons at the school. He said he has not been able to have more than five players at practice, and the team was forced to travel here in two groups. One arrived late yesterday afternoon, the other at nearly midnight.
And the Miners brought a personnel question of their own -- whether senior point guard Prince Stewart will be able to play. He has been academically ineligible, and Haskins was not scheduled to learn his status until at least late yesterday. But on Wednesday, Haskins said, "Right now it looks like he won't be with us."
Henry Hall, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard from Parkdale High School, will be there, however. And his scoring potential concerns Thompson. "Henry is an excellent shooter from the outside," Thompson said, "and anytime a kid comes back home, you have to be very careful. Either he has a horrendous day or a superior day."
Even if Hall has a poor shooting game (and Georgetown's opponents are shooting just 32.2 percent from the field), it may not be a problem for the Miners. Led by a quartet of 6-8 players -- Marlon Maxey, Von Bennett, David Van Dyke and Roy Howard -- they are averaging nearly 17 offensive rebounds per game. Even 6-4 guard Johnny Melvin grabs nearly three per game. In addition, Haskins has yet another excellent man-to-man defensive team.
For American (3-3), today's game is its biggest at home since Bender Arena opened in January 1988. "This is sort of a showcase game for us and for the building," Eagles Coach Chris Knoche said. "We should relax, go out and have fun with it. This a game against a team that is supposed to beat us pretty good, so the pressure would seem to be on the bad guys just a little bit."
But the Buckeyes (5-0) are averaging 108.2 points per game, shooting 60.8 percent from the field and beating their opponents by 44.2 points per game. Granted those opponents were Bethune-Cookman, Delaware State, Youngstown State, Chicago State and Wright State, and all of them have traveled to Columbus. However, this truly is an excellent team.
The Buckeyes play aggressive defense and rebound incredibly well, considering 7-foot reserve center Bill Robinson is their only player taller than 6-8. They also can be explosive offensively. Tied with Wright State early in the second half Wednesday night, they outscored the Raiders, 28-2.
Jim Jackson, a 6-6 sophomore, is among the nation's best small forwards. He averages 19.2 points, 5 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. Perry Carter, from Gonzaga High School, averages 16 points and a team-best 8.6 rebounds.
George Mason (2-3) begins a stretch of eight days during which it will play four home games. But it does so under less-than-ideal circumstances. The Patriots have had to contend with exams this week as well as what Coach Ernie Nestor perceives as lagging confidence caused by losses to St. John's and Eastern Kentucky in last week's Cougar Classic at Brigham Young.
"I think we're making progress," said Nestor, whose team lost to East Tennessee State, 105-92, three weeks ago in Johnson City, Tenn. "But it's difficult to continue to make progress when you don't win. So this is a real important time for us."
Under first-year coach Alan LeForce, a former assistant who took over when Les Robinson left for North Carolina State, the Buccaneers (6-1) have moved into the national rankings for the first time in the program's 79-year history. Even though 6-11 center Greg Dennis has missed five games because of a broken foot that will keep him out at least four more weeks, they have supplanted Tennessee, Memphis State and Vanderbilt as the state's best team.
The Buccaneers revolve around Jennings, a senior who is averaging 17 points, 8.4 assists, 3.9 steals and 3.3 rebounds. He is shooting 59.7 percent from the field, 85 percent from the free throw line and 80 percent from three-point territory (16 for 20). He and North Carolina State's Chris Corchiani are in hot pursuit of Sherman Douglas's NCAA record of 960 career assists. Corchiani needs 172 to surpass the mark, Jennings 220.
Howard (1-5) will meet St. John's (7-0), which rarely loses at Alumni Hall. "It's quite an honor for us to play a top-25 team," Howard Coach Butch Beard said. "It's a hell of a challenge for us at this time. We'll see what we can do."