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If choosing one's time was as simple as selecting a new car or the proper cravat or a special flavor down at the ice cream parlor, it is reasonable to assume that no college basketball coach would have picked the season 1984-85 unless he was extremely tall, wide, outspoken and he carried a towel over his shoulder, the easier to wipe his brow in relief because he had Patrick Ewing on his team and nobody else did.
This is not to deny the leadership qualities of Georgetown coach John Thompson. Indeed one rival, John Chaney of Temple, called the Hoyas the best "taught" team in the land and presented Thompson with an apple "for the teacher" before Georgetown shooed the Owls from the NCAA tournament last Saturday. Nor can one question the skills of the rest of the Hoyas. They probably have enough talent and moxie to reach the Final Four on their own, even if Ewing would rather sit on the bench tatting some more ruffled doily accessories for academic coordinator Mary Fenlon's wardrobe.
Realistically, however, Ewing has become such an overwhelming figure—"Just his presence in the gym affects the game," Thompson has acknowledged—that last week's opening rounds of the NCAAs seemed nothing more than an investiture preparatory to the official presentation of a second straight national championship trophy to the Hoyas as well as a distinguished place in the record books. After all, only five schools in the 45-year history of the tournament have accomplished the rare double that appears to be within easy reach of the intimidating platoons from the Potomac: Oklahoma State (1945-46), Kentucky ('48-49), San Francisco ('55-56), Cincinnati ('61-62) and UCLA ('67-73). And none of them had more or better athletes than Ewingtown. Just ask Lehigh.
What this means for the remaining dregs of the college game is that '84-85 was a good season to be bad—Indiana, Louisville, Houston and, uh, UCLA, which collectively had won 15 national championships and had made eight trips to the Final Four in the '80s, didn't even qualify for the tournament; to be too young—Michigan; too restless—Alabama-Birmingham; and too, too bored—LSU, which accomplished another characteristically shameless no-harm, no-heart, give-up early exit.
On the other hand, with Georgetown glowering at everyone, it also was a bad year to be good: to have the team of a lifetime, as St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca has; to be the scorer of a lifetime, as Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale is; to submit your resignation in February and then watch your team survive six post-season lose-and-you're-gone games, after which you want to un-resign, as Auburn's Sonny Smith apparently does.
Finally, it was an especially unfortunate time to be Illinois or Georgia Tech or Memphis State, any of which, going into the regionals, might be a good bet to win it all—in other years. Or to be Louisiana Tech, a dangerous sleeper in Mailman's togs. Or if you couldn't be the real Kentucky, why pick this season to duck into a phone booth, throw on Wildcat uniform No. 34, emerge as Kenny Tucky and actually turn out to be Cinderella?
Kentucky as Cinderella? Well, that gives a fair indication of how Georgetown has turned college basketball inside out. Remember the 'Cats shooting 3 for 33 against the Hoyas in the second half of their NCAA semifinal last March? Kenny Walker and mates have been searching for their other slipper ever since. In like manner, just facing Georgetown a couple of times this season steeled several of the Hoyas' Big East buddies enough so that when they were finally rid of Ewing, they went and kicked some tail of their own. Along with Georgetown, Big Easterners St. John's, Villanova and Boston College account for a quarter of the final 16 teams in the field.
After coaching Georgetown to its first national championship last year, Thompson announced that the monkey was off his back. But last week, admitting to the pressure of defending the title, he had second thoughts. "I feel like I'm in the monkey's house" said Thompson. "You become greedy." Later, a striking admission: "We have a great team. That's probably an understatement."
Although it may be true that the 32-2 Hoyas are not the dominating defensive colossus of last season, they still held opponents to 39.9% field goal shooting and outrebounded them by 9.2 boards a game going into the tournament. Both marks led the nation, so what fallibility are we talking about here? Ewing's power; the versatility of forwards Bill Martin, David Wingate and Reggie Williams; the ball-handling expertise and game direction of Michael Jackson at the point; the bench work of Ralph Dalton and Perry McDonald; everyone's aggressive quickness to the ball; plus the Hoyas' confrontational posturing—all of this devastates the enemy. Without Jackson, the Hoyas might be vulnerable. Williams had off nights (2 for 9 shooting) in Georgetown's two regular-season losses to St. John's and Syracuse. The Hoyas shoot only 63% from the foul line. But then there's always Ewing—the Terminator—who seems to take over only when he has to. Nervous joking has replaced strategy in rival camps. Syracuse's Pearl Washington: "Maybe Ewing's mind could be taken off the game. Put some naked women on the court." Nevada-Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian, whose Rebels were blown out 82-46 by the Hoyas on Dec. 8: "If I had to play them again, I'd get sick and let my assistant coach."
Naturally, Georgetown has treated any speculation that it is dethronable with serious contempt. Back in December Georgetown beat DePaul, then the nation's No. 2-ranked team, so viciously (77-57) that the Blue Demons never recovered. Then came the midseason slump that lasted all of 55 hours. But after St. John's accomplished its treasured 66-65 Jan. 26 upset, the Hoyas subsequently retaliated with two thorough slaughters of the Redmen. (After falling behind St. John's 57-39 in that first meeting, the champions have now out-scored the Redmen by 46 points.) Their two get-back whippings of Syracuse were equally as brutal.