The East went West and the West came East and no one knows if the twain will meet.

But there is no question that the NCAA basketball committee's gerrymandering, which has been the source of considerable debate, has given this week's Eastern ZRegional semifinals at Cole Field House its strongest field in at least a decade.

On Thursday, it's North Carolina against Notre Dame (8:15 p.m.) and Kentucky against Virginia Military Institute (6 p.m.,) three traditional basketball powers and the smallest school in Division I.

Compare this Eastern grouping to the 1976 matchups of VMI, Rutgers, DePaul and Connectivut, or to that of a year earlier when Syracuse, North Carolina, Boston College and Kansas State made up the semifinals.

This year the NCAA basketball committee sent Holy Cross to the Mideast Regional, where it lost yesterday to Michigan; Providence to the Midwest Regional, where it lost Saturday to Kansas State; St. John's to the West Regional, where it fell to Utah in the first round, and Syracuse to the Mideast, where it beat Tennessee yesterday.

In the past, the committee kept each region's top at-large team, and sometimes two squads, in its own territory. But the committee, which includes Eastern representatives Willis Casey of N.C. State and Jack Conboy of LaSalle, unanimously changed its mind this year.

"The idea was to get the best tournament we could within the new rules that have been implemented in the last three years," said Conboy. "We tried tog et balance within the original premise of getting the best tournament possible.

The committee did not seed teams, as the rules gave it the authority to do. Instead, the at-large teams were placed in the four regionals and a draw produced such first-round matchups as North Carolina versus at-large Purdue, UCLA versus at-large Louisville and San Francisco versus at-large Nevada-Las Vegas.

In last week's poll, San Francisco was rated No. 3 and Las Vegas No. 5 Vegas won in a rout, 121-95.

"By not seeding them and having a blind draw, no one could accuse you of having a television extravaganza," said Casey. "If you seed them, then you could be accused of setting up th draw."

Further, said Casey, he would do away with the geographic aspect of the tournament, have hte committee seed the best 32 teams in the country and then draw up brackets and play the games under the same tournament-style format as they are now.

"Ive advocated that for a long time," he said. "But I've yet to find anyone in the NCAA who agrees with me."

In the East, uncertainty remains because of North Carolina's two injured Olympians, 6-foot-5 forward walter davis and 6-10 center Tommy LaGarde.

Neither played in the Tar Heels' 69-66 comeback win over Purdue Saturday night. Davis underwent surgery on his broken right index finger last Sunday and LaGarde is recovering from a knee injury.

"The chances are good theyll both be able to play," coach Dean Smith sure. But we don't know for sure. We said yesteray. "I hate to not say for sure we won't know about Walter until Wednesday. Tommy could have played two minutes Saturday, but I thought it best not to use him. He practiced for the first time Friday and was limping afterward, so I'm not greatly encouraged there."

Carolin won Saturday with relentless delense and another strong game by the Tar Heel reserves as Smith used 12 players in the first half. Sophomore Dudley Bradley responded with his best game in two seasons, eight points and eight rebounds.

The Tar Heels, with 12 straight wins and a 25-4 records, were ranked fourth last week.

Notre Dame, ranked among the top 10 early in the season, has recovered from a midseason slump and freatures the scoring of guard Donald (Duck) Williams, a Mackin High grad. The Irish also have the size and muscle to trouble a Carolina without Davis or LaGarde.

Kentucky, 25-3, was ranked sixth last week. The Wildeast, losing finalist two years ago, were Southeastern Conference cochampions with Tennessee, but had to take the at-large bid to the East because of two regular-season losses tot he Vols. Kentucky will be the most physical team at College Park with a pair of 6-10 brutes in Mike Phillips and Rick Robey.

Elsewhere, UCLA and Las Vegas will be heavily favored to reach the West final, although Utah, in the words of high scorer Greg deane, "On any given day, we can play with anybody. I hope we can put it together for our game."

Tennessee's overtime loss to Syracuse in the Mideast first round improved Michigans chances of returning to the final four. But Detroit, a somewhat unknown quantity, and the other two semifinalists all seem capable of pushing the top-ranking Wolverines.

The Midwest is the weakest regional, with only Marquette ranked 16th) among the four semifinalists. The Warriors should reach the final against Wake Forest, the ACC at-large entry, although Mike Glenn can keep Southern Illinois in a game with his shoting.