Can Georgetown adjust to the loss of center Ed Spriggs and stop the nation's No. 1 defensive team?

Can Catholic neutralize American's swarming, up-tempo style in the latest rematch in one of the city's longest rivalries?

Can George Washington win its first Eastern Eight conference game over a crippled opponent that will be playing without one of the nation's leading scorers?

If area college basketball fans can pull themselves away from tonight's televised Atlantic Coast Conference doubleheader, they can get the answers to these and other questions.

Six area teams are at home, starting with clemson at Maryland at 7 o'clock (WJLA-TV-7) in a matchup of two of the three teams tied for second place in the ACC. The second ACC game on television here pairs first-place N.C. State at North Carolina (WDCA-TV-20) at 9 p.m.

In other area games, St. Peter's is at Georgetown at 8 p.m.; George Washington hosts St. Bonaventure at 8; American entertains Catholic at Fort Myer at 8; Navy starts a five-game home stand in a 7:30 matchup against William and Mary, and Penn takes a six-game winning streak to Virginia at 7:30.

For Georgetown (10-4), Coach John Thompson feels this is not the best of times to be playing a team such as St. Peter's, whose Princeton-style offense has helped the Peacocks roll up an 11-3 record and the No. 1 points-yielded defensive ranking in Division i.

"It's one of the worst times in the world we can play them, particularly because of the adjustments we're making," Thompson said. "We're coming off a loss (to Oral Roberts) and Ed's hurt. We need a game to see some things, but this game is a hard way to find out because of how they play." s

Spriggs suffered a severely sprained ankle in the 76-65 loss to Oral Roberts Saturday. The ankle is still puffy, according to Thompson, and his status for Saturday's regionally televised Big East game against St. John's is questionable, at best.

Thompson said he plans to start 6-foot-8 sophomore Mike Hancock at center, but is not sure that will work Saturday against a St. John's team with a true center in 6-foot-9 Wayne McKoy. Thompson said that he expects 7-foot Mike Frazier and 6-6 Jeff Bullis all to see action at center in Spriggs' absence.

Forward Jim Brandon and guard Mark Murphy are the Peacocks' top scoreres. Brandon, at 14.5 points per game, is shooting 56 percent.

Meanwhile, at Fort Myer, AU (7-6) will be playing its first home game in a month. It will be the 59th meeting in the cross-city rivalry, in which AU holds a 43-15 lead. CU Coach Jack Kvancz, whose 4-7 team is winless on the road, knows it won't be much of a game if the Cardinals try to run with AU and concentrate too much on stopping AU's star forward, Boo Bowers.

"The key is a low-scoring game," Kvancz said. "We have to be patient on offense, so we don't have to play as much defense. Their defense is predicated on making you put it up quickly. You get great shots, open 18-foot jumpers. But, you see, they dictate who shoots them.

"They let guys who are not great shooters take the shot. Then they get the rebound and it's sayonara."

Bowers is averaging 26.8 points a game and Kvancz said he plans to do nothing special initially to overplay him. Anyone who saw Eagle point guard Robin Hoey score 30 points (Bowers had 28) against William and Mary Monday night knows why.

As AU Coach Gary Williams put it, "They overplayed him and, in doing so, they offered no help to Hoey's man. Once he beat him, he had a 10-12-foot jumper."

At GW, where the 6-4 Colonials will be seeking their first Eastern Eight victory in four games, St. Bonaventure (9-4, 2-3) will be hampered by the loss of star forward Earl Belcher, who is averaging 28 points a game.

Belcher suffered an ankle injury in practice last week and it turned out to be more serious than originally expected. X-rays showed a slight ligament tear. He will be out probably for another week. Without Belcher, the Bonnies have a depth problem.

GW guard Brian Magid broke a four-game shooting slump against Stetson Monday night and Coach Bob Tallent is hopeful the Colonials can win both home games this week (they play winless Massachusetts Saturday).

Tallent said that Dave Thornton, GW's backup center who missed the past two games, had straightened out some academic problems and will be eligible for the remainder of the season.