For a public grown accustomed to protracted sports seasons, college basketball always comes as a refreshingly succinct change. The beginning of the season is camouflaged by college football's cool-down period, and then after several months in which games come in torrents, the NCAA tournament begins.
The tournament field will be bigger than ever this time, with 64 teams attempting to wend their way to the Final Four at Lexington, Ky., in late March. If any team can safely make reservations, it would appear to be top-ranked Georgetown, which some consider a lock to successfully defend the national championship.
Figuring a second term is almost inevitable, Sports Illustrated had Coach John Thompson and center Patrick Ewing pose with fellow repeater Ronald Reagan for a cover photo. The Reaganesque headline? ''There they go again.''
No team has strung together championships since UCLA concluded an incredible seven-year run at the top in 1973. And given the enlarged post-season tournament, the percentages of any team surviving this single-elimination gauntlet twice in a row diminish.
But Georgetown is far from just any team. Indeed the Hoyas bear some resemblance to those UCLA machines of the late '60s and early '70s. You can start with Ewing, as dominating a hub as Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton once were for the Bruins. Then, too, there's the way Thompson incorporates every player, including his seven-foot pivotman, into the total team concept. And finally, there are shades of UCLA's success with full-court pressure in the suffocating, game-long press Georgetown throws at opponents.
Thompson even projects a fatherly image as John Wooden did at UCLA, yet the public perception of the Georgetown program has been quite different from that of the Wooden-era Bruins. At times, the team has projected an ''us against the world'' air, with Thompson shielding the squad from the probing media.
Georgetown, of course, is again planted squarely in the media glare, with a host of familiar names back in uniform, including Horace Broadnax, David Wingate , Reggie Williams, and Bill Martin.
Complacency can be problem for many defending champions. And particularly with Ewing, one must wonder how long he can stay interested against outmanned foes after having already achieved Olympic stardom and played exhibitions against pros. He has stayed in school for this, his senior season in order to fulfill his late mother's desire that he graduate.
After toying with several pushovers in the early weeks, however, Ewing and his mates showed just how awesome they can be against Nevada-Las Vegas Saturday defeating the 20th-ranked Runnin' Rebels 82-46 on national TV.
A bigger test should occur this coming Saturday, when Georgetown takes on No. 2 DePaul in what may be a preview of this season's NCAA championship game. The Blue Demons started somewhat shakily, beating Northern Illinois by a point in their opener, but they since have rounded into expected form under new coach Joey Meyer, who replaces his dad, Ray, the team's long-time patriarch. DePaul crushed UCLA by 19 points earlier this month, and Notre Dame by 12 points over the weekend.
Basketball has been called the city game, and the prominence of Georgetown (Washington, D.C.) and DePaul (Chicago) is an indication that urban schools are doing a better job of mining the playground talents.
Some of the greatest reservoirs of it naturally are in New York, where Coach Lou Carnesecca of St. John's has the inside track on many of the metropolitan area's finest players. The third-ranked Redmen are so strong this year that some have picked St. John's to join Big East rival Georgetown as a national contender. The catalyst for the New Yorkers is sharpshooting forward Chris Mullin, a Brooklyn product who was a major contributor on the gold medal-winning US Olympic team.
Other Olympians back are campus are Steve Alford at Indiana, Joe Kleine at Arkansas, Jon Koncak at Southern Methodist, and Wayman Tisdale at Oklahoma. The 6 ft. 9 in. Tisdale and Ewing are two-time consensus All-Americans who should join that rare breed of three-timers this season. If he stays in college, Wayman could become history's first four-time consensus All-American - a possibility with today's freshman eligibility. As Nigeria's Akeem Olajuwon illustrated the last three years at Houston, current US college stars aren't always homegrown. Among foreigners who will attract a lot of attention this year are the University of Washington's Detlef Schrempf, a potential All-America from West Germany, and the University of Bridgeport's 7-6 Manute Bol of Sudan.