Tonight should be a feast for area basketball fans.

George Washington plays an important 8 p.m. Eastern Eight game against league-leading Villanova, a team with a recent victory over Providence and a one-point loss to Notre Dame.

In a 6 p.m. (WTOP TV-9) matchup at Cole Field House, Maryland collides with Nevada-Las Vegas. The struggling powers have lost 12 of their last 15 games.

In Chicago, Georgetown will have a following of 700 in Loyola's 3,500-seat Alumni Gym when the Hoyas, whose 13-game winning streak was cracked Wednesday, attempt to bounce back against a team that beat Marquette in Chicago a week ago.

Howard plays its second Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference home game in two nights, at 6 p.m., against North Carolina Central.

Other major games find Virginia at Wake Forest (WJLA-TV-7, 2 p.m.), New Hampshire at Navy 3:15; Catholic at Iona, 8, and George Mason at William and Mary, 8.

For GW, winner of five straight and eight of its last nine games, playing Villanova represents an opportunity to fortify a high-seeding in the Eastern Eight tournament and to avenge its only loss since Jan. 6.

The Colonials have lost their previous three games to the Wildscats, all in Philadelphia. Al McGuire, who retired as Marquette coach following last season's NCAA championship victory, says that winning on the road is so difficult now that any road victory by a quality team against quality team should be considered an upset.

"That's the truth," said Bob Lindsay, GW's high-scoring guard. "It's tough to win on the road; ask Georgetown."

Villanova, 14-5, is playing as well on the road as any team in the nation. The Wildcats, led by Mackin High product Keith Herron, have won at Providence and Rutgers this season. They have suffered three one-point losses in their travels - at Notre Dame, St John's and Oregon State.

Tom Schneider, the GW assistant who scouted Villanova, cites three reasons the Wildcats are so competitive on the road: "Quickness, great team defense and great intensity."

"Intensity is the coaches' favorite clinche for playing hard the entire game. Villanova has been especially effective this season at grabbing an early lead, as its did against GW and Providence and holding it.

"We have to be real patient on offense and play tough hard-nosed defense," said Lindsay, "because that's the way they are going to play. You have to play very, very smartly, with a lot of intelligence against them and convert all the breaks you get."

Alex Bradley, Villanova's 6-foot-7 freshman center, is questionable with a slight shoulder separation. He is second behind Herron in scoring (14.4), the Wildcats' best shooter (54.9 percent) and their top rebounder (7.1).

Rebounding is Villanova's biggest question mark. GW leads the Eastern Eight in that department; Villanova is eighth and last.

Nevada-Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian knows what it's like playing on the road. The Running Rebels, who aren't running as much this season, have lost their last four games - all on the road - to stand 15-5. They are 14-1 at home.

Vegas' star is 6-7 Reggie Theus, one of two important returnees from last year's team that made it to the NCAA final four. But Tarkanian warns that this team has nowhere near the talent and depth as that one.

"I have for awfully good players who play awfully hard," he said. "It hurts me to see them lose. We can't give them enough help. I'd like to play four-on-four, but they won't let me. We still run, but we can't run the whole game. We don't have the depth or the size, and we don't have a center."

Maryland has the talent - six highschool All Americans - but haven't blended into the right chemistry for a successful team. The Terps have not been able to win at home or on the road recently.

Coach Lefty Driesell has played musical lineups this season seeking the right combination after each loss. Asked about lineup changes for tonight, he said, "I swear, I don't know."

Georgetown, 15-3 overall and undefeated at McDonough Gym, will have a strong alumni following as it attempts to regain its shooting eye in Chicago. The Hoyas shot 40 percent in Wednesday's 81-76 loss to Boston College, a game in which three players scored all but 10 Georgetown points.

That is not the Hoyas' normal style. Tonight they will have 700 alumni from the Chicago area watching them against the 11-6 Ramblers, including a large delegation from suburban Wheaton, Ill, hometown of all-time Hoya leading scorer Derrick Jackson. It will be his first game in the Chicago area since high school.

In women's college basketball, Georgetown meets Navy this afternoon at 1:30 in Annapolis. The Hoyas (6-3) have won their previous three games. Much of their firepower has come from Maria DeVita, who contributed 10, 12 and 22 points in last week's contests.

Navy (7-1) came back from a month and a half's layoff to defeat Maryland-Eastern Shore, 73-58, on Wednesday night. Georgetown should provide the Mids with their first tough contest of the new year.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

TODAYS GAMES

Georgetown at Navy, 1:30

George Mason at Madison J.V., 2

Catholic at Iona, 6

Yale at George Washington, 6

TOMORROW'S GAMES

Catholic at Mercy College, 1

Navy at Freshburg State, 4

MEN

TODAY'S GAMES

Villanova at George Washington, 8.

Nevada-Las Vegas at Maryland, 6.

North Carolina Central at Howard, 6.

New Hampshire at Navy, 3:15.

Georgetown at Chicago Loyola, 8:30.

Virginia at Wake Forest, 2.

Catholic at Iona, 8.

George Mason at William and Mary, 8.

Prince George's CC at Howard CC, 7.

Harford CC vs. Montgomery-Takoma Park at Blair, 7:30.

York vs. University of the District of Columbia at Dunbar, 8.

Bowie State at Copala State, 8.

Montgomery-Rockville at Anne Arundel CC, 8.

Southern at Rutgers-Camden, 7.