The ballyhooed, revised, bigger and better-than-ever 1979 national collegiate basketball championships start tonight with eight games at four sites.

Twenty-four teams -- the top six seeds in each of the four regionals -- received first-round byes and won't begin play until Saturday or Sunday.

One of the most interesting games tonight pits Metro Conference champion Virginia Tech against Sun Belt champion Jacksonville in the Midwest Regional at Lawrence, Kan.

In the second game of that doubleheader, Weber State faces New Mexico State.

In the West Regional's first-round doubleheader at UCLA, Southern California will play Utah State and Utah will play Pepperdine.

In the East, at Raleigh, N.C., Temple will face St. John's and Iona will play Penn.

In the Mideast at Murfreesboro, Tenn., Southeastern Conference champion Tennessee faces Eastern Kentucky, led by Turk Tilman and his 28 points-a-game average. Detroit plays Lamar in the second game.

VPI and Jacksonville reached the tournament with surprise victories in conference tournaments.

Jacksonville (19-10) has a Washington connection. Two of its players are former local standouts. Senior guard Anthony (Cricket) Williams from McKinley is the Dolphins' leading assist man and Paul DeVito, a freshman from De Matha, is averaging 7.5 points a game.

The Jacksonville star is 6-9 junior James Ray, averaging 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.

The Dolphins have won five straight games, three in the Sun Belt tournament.

Former Clemson and Buffalo Brave Coach Tates Locke has his team playing a patient, patterned offense and a combination of defenses.

The winner of the VPI-Jacksonville game will meet top-ranked Indiana State Sunday.

One of the least-known teams in the tournament is Lamar University of Beaumont, Tex. Formerly known as Lamar Tech, the Cardinals (22-8) are champions of the Southland Conference.

Their big gun is 6-foot guard Mike Oliver, averaging 22.4 points a game.

"Our guys don't seem overly enthused, excited or fired up," said Lamar Coach Billy Tubbs. "We may be No. 40 in a field of 40, but we're in the NCAA playoffs."

Georgetown begins tournament play Saturday in Providence, R.I., against Rutgers in an East Regional second-round game.

North Carolina is top-seeded in that region. Duke is the No. 2 seed and the Hoyas are seeded third.

Notre Dame is the No. 1 seed in the Mideast and won't play until Sunday, meeting the Tennessee-Eastern Kentucky winner.

Tennessee has never won an NCAA tournament game. "That fact alone should be a great motivating factor for us," said Coach Don DeVoe.

One of the longest winning streaks in the tournament belongs to Iona (23-5), nine straight. It also has one of the top individuals in the East Regional in 6-10 center Jeff Ruland.

Ruland is averaging 20.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and is shooting 67.4 percent from the field.

Iona plays Ivy League champion Penn tonight, with the winner facing North Carolina Sunday.