Not much more than a month now, and then begins the annual cannibalistic fenzy to determine the hoops champion of North American, collegiate division.

Of all the competitions among our apprentice mercenaries, the NCAA basketball tournament is always the most thoroughly entertaining. Also the most difficult to handicap.

So now, in early February, who looks most likely to succeed Kansas as roundball king? The usual sneakered suspects have been rounded up.

Oklahoma, runner-up last spring, led again by the larcenous Mookie Blaylock and the springy Stacey King.

Louisville, with its usual battalion of lithe leapers, tournament-hardened by that brutal schedule.

Perhaps North Carolina, grinding inexorably toward another one of those 25-victory seasons that Dean Smith has patented.

Or somebody from the carnivorous Big 10. Indiana's overachievers, perhaps, lashed along by that red-sweatered, paunch-protruding, furniture-rearranging, tyrannical perfectionist.

Or Illinois' sky surfers?

Michigan's underachievers?

Iowa's pressing zealots?

Or Georgetown.

Uh-huh. They're b-a-a-a-a-ck.

Sixteen-and-two arriving at Philadelphia's Spectrum Sunday, eager to get at Villanova or whatever is left of the Wildcats after that 33-point flameout at Syracuse.

This is the Georgetown you remember from the Patrick Ewing reign of terror. The infamous Hoya Paranoia days. Quick and ravenous, unrelenting on defense, gathering strength as the game wears on, displaying depth that comes at you in waves. And there's that physicality, of course. The hard stare. The chest-on-chest pressure. The nose-to-nose intensity.

Never a chance to draw a breath. Never a chance to step back and size up the situation. Never a chance, period.

"Even when I'd pass the ball, they'd stay right on me," said Chris Jackson, the freshman prodigy for Louisiana State, his tone one of wonder, marveling at how the Hoyas had stuck to him like lint in his navel, impossible to dislodge.

Other teams, you pass the ball, the defender backs off, eases up. But give up the ball against Georgetown and somebody still wants to cuddle inside your tank top. "They wouldn't let me go back and get the ball," Jackson said. "That was what was so hard.

"They forced me to do a lot of things I didn't want to do."

That, of course, is the essence of Georgetown defense, and everything else the Hoyas do is fed by that defense.

It should be on the record, though, that Jackson, in only his 19th collegiate game, acquitted himself most admirably last Sunday against the Hoya hordes. Before a live audience of 54,321 at the Superdome, plus national TV, LSU put an 82-80 nick in Georgetown.

The Hoyas rebounded nicely, though, with a 74-66 victory over Seton Hall at midweek, avenging their only other defeat of this season. And the one statistic that leaped at you from that game was this: Georgetown was without a basket the final 4 minutes, 8 seconds but made 11 of its last 13 free throws.

Last season, the Hoyas were wanting inside.

This season, though, they have the long-awaited Alonzo Mourning, who is said to be superior offensively to what Ewing was as a freshman and at least Ewing's equal as a shot-blocker and trajectory-alterer.