Georgetown, which has had a outstanding year, meets upstart Virginia Commonwealth in an ECAC Southern Division playoff at Smith Center tonight (WEAM-1390) at 8 o'clock.

American University, which apparently has peaked at the right time, plays Temple in Philadelphia in the quarterfinals of the East Coast Conference tournament.

Fifteen months ago, with Virginia Commonwealth's basketball program in turmoil, the school's athletic directors, Lewis Mills, called an old friends, Dana Kirk, then an assistant coach at Louisville.

Mills offered the head coaching job and Kirk accepted.

With four scholarship players remaining and the rest of the team recruited from what Kirk calls the fraternities, Commonwealth finished 13-13 last year. This season, with three freshmen starting from Kirk's first recruiting class, the Rams are 23-3.

"We built it a little quicker than I thought we could," Kirk said yesterday on the eve of Commonwealth's postseason tournament debut as a division I team.

The winner advances to a Saturday game in Rochester, N.Y., against the winner of the ECAC Upstate New York playoff tonight between Syracuse and St. Bonaventure. Saturday's winner will get an at-large bid to the first round of the NCAA tournament. However, even if Georgetown does not advance via the ECAC tourney, it could receive and NCAA bid on the basis of its record.

While this Commonwealth's first NCAA tourney. Georgetown has been to the event twice in the past three years.

After watching the Rams defeat Randolph-Macon, 74-53, Monday night, Georgetown coach John Thompson said he was impressed by VCU, despite its less-than-imposing schedule.

"They've got a good team. And they've got a big team - that's what surprised me. We have to play well because we're not playing a bad term or a small team. The game will be decided in terms of who can play the inside game.

The most imposing Commonwealth player is 6-9 center Lorenzo Watson, an outstanding shot-blocker, a player whose build reminded Thompson of his onetime Boston Celtic teammate, Bill Russell.

"He's a shot-blocker, our second-best passer and an intimidating factor," said Kirk. "He is a rejector. He also has amazed me."

And that's because Watson appears to be a miracle of modern medicine.

Watson suffered a broken foot the second day of practice. He also was suffering from a collapsed lung. On the Monday before the Rams' opening game, Watson's cast was removed. On Wednesday, a tube was removed from his lung. On Saturday, he played 32 minutes against William lung. On Saturday, he played 32 minutes against William and Mary.

Watson is averaging 13 points, 11.8 rebounds and almost five blocked shots a game.

Kirk said he is worried about the consistency of his team because its starting forwards, 6-5 Dan Kottak and 6-9 Penny Elliott, and its point guard, Edmond Sherod, are freshmen.The Rams' top scorer is senior Gerald Henderson, 16 points per game.

Georgetown is 21-5 after falling to Fordham 8-18, Sunday. Georgetown senior guard Derrick Jackson acknowledges that the Hoyas have seemed to play to the level of their competition this season.

AU, 16-11, he won eight of its last 11 games and the Eagles are brimming with self-assurance.

"We have confidence in ourselves now," guard Mask Garlitos said after the Eagles' 97-77 first-round victory over Hofstra Monday night.

However, the draw is against the Eagles in their bid to earn the conference's bid to the NCAA tournament.

In other ECC quarterfinal games tonight, St. Joseph's is at La Salle, Bucknell is at Delaware and Lehigh is at Lafayette.

The semifinals are Friday night at Lafaytte, where the Temple-AU winner likely will face the host team.

That is why AU's task will be such an uphill struggle even though the Eagles lost by five points to Temple and by two points to La Salle in recent meetings.

To reach the final, AU will have to beat Temple at Temple and the Lafayette-Leigh winner at Lafayette.

'We can beat any team in the league now," center Howie Lassoff said.

"We want a piece of Temple first," said Garlitos.

Temple is one of the East's most underrated teams. The Owls are 22-3. Don Casey has them back on track with the zone defense that has made Temple famous over the years.

AU's key to success will be to get ahead early and force Temple out of its zone. The Eagles accomplished this in their last two games by employing Coach Jim Lynam's version of the four-corners, which he calls his "spread-to-score" offense.

It is designed to yield layups.