A couple of preseason college basketball publications peg George Washington to finish second in the Eastern Eight regular-season scramble that commences with Duquesne at GW Dec. 1.

But a poll of those who know the fourth-year conference best -- its coaches and media (or do they?) -- taken at the league's preseason gathering in Smith Center yesterday sees the race turning out so:

1, Villanova; 2, Pitt; 3, St. Bonaventure; 4, Duquesne; 5, Rutgers; 6, Gw; 7, West Virginia; 8, Massachusetts.

And that's with nearly universal belief among the Colonia rivals that GW center Mike Zagardo will shake whatever is afflicting his ankle and be in there when it matters.

Which speaks for the strength of definding regular-season champion Villanova with all five starters returning; of Pitt with the prospective player of the year in power forward Sam Clancy (himself coming off three weeks' hositalization for heart and respiratory trouble that hit him at the Pan Am (Games): of league newcomer St. Bona, and so on.

As witness this preseason All-Eastern Eight team from the pollees:

Alex Bradley, Villanova; Sam Clancy, Pitt; Lowes Moore, West Virginia; Mike Zagardo, GW; Bruce Atkins and B. B. Flenory, Duquesne; Delmar Harrod and Earl Belcher, St. Bonaventure; Daryl Strickland and Kelvin Troy, Rutgers.

Leland Byrd, conference executive director, pointed with pride to the E-8's new roster of its own referees -- 15 of 'em, including Ernie Cage and Mike Sierco from hereabouts -- and to the league's hard-bought game-of-the-week TV package.

Bob Tallent, GW coach, pointed with increasing concern to Zagardo's ankle, which swelled up after a 15-minute test Monday, putting him back in dry dock, along with hobbled guard Curt Jeffries. Bucky Roman, who had knee surgery in June, broke his ankle Saturday. The crystal ball clouds further . . .

Tom Watson has been named PGA player of the year for the third time in a row, and nobody at the organization's Callaway Gardens (Ga.) meeting was dissenting -- Watson won five tourneys, a record $462,636 averaged 70.27 strokes in 82 rounds . . . But Watson still will have Jack Nicklaus to beat in the majors next year. The Golden Bear's people cited "misinterpretation" in Bob Hope's report that Nicklaus might give up competition next year; Jack will continue to play his reduced schedule and what he told Hope was "he possibly would not be playing on the West Coast this winter" . . .

The majors' baseball tour of Japan has begun before a below-capacity 24,000 in Yokohama, with the National League shelling AL skipper Earl Weaver's starter, Oriole Dennis Martinez, for six runs the first two innings. Dave Kingman added frosting to the 11-12 romp with two-run homer off Aurelio Lopez. And it's a happy honeymoon for newlywed NL squadder George Foster . . .

Never a dull moment on the Oakland Raiders. Now it's big John Matuszak, erstwhile almost-Redskin, arrested at Stockton, Calif., on drunken driving charges. CHiPs say the giant lineman failed two breath tests, by a wide margin, on way back from an appearance at a Raider boosters night at the local Italian Athletic Club; spent two hours in the cooler until getting up $250 bail . . . This just after a spread in Partner magazine reveals, among plenty else, that Kenny Stabler not only was late reporting to preseason camp at Santa Rosa, Calif., but dawdled some when he got there -- posing with topless dancer Carol Doda. "as a favor. It was a new job for her," says the Snake, chivalrously . . .