Maryland, Georgetown and Virginia received at-large bids to the NCAA basketball tournament yesterday, and Howard gained automatic entry into the field of 48 by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

Virginia and Georgetown Will stay in the East Regional, Howard heads to the West and the Terrapins are going to the Mideast, kicking and screaming all the way.

Two other Atlantic Coast Conference teams received bids, tournament champion North Carolina going to the West, the region with the weakest field, and Wake Forest joining Maryland in the Mideast, James Madison, in Harrisonburg, Va., also is in the East field and will play Georgetown in a first-round game in Providence Thursday, starting at 7:08 p.m.

American, with a 24-5 record after losing the East Coast Conference final to St. Joseph's Saturday night, did not get an at-large bid. The Eagles instead received a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, and will play the University of Toledo Wednesday night at Toledo, starting at 8. Clemson (20-10), the fifth ACC team hoping to get an NCAA bid, also was shut out and will go the NIT. Duke (15-11) also is invited to the NIT, giving the ACC a total of six teams in postseason play.

Maryland (20-9), seeded sixth in the Mideast, will play Tennessee-Chattanooga (21-8), the Southern Conference champion, in a first-round game in Dayton, Ohio, on Thursday, starting at 9:38. If the Terps win that game, they will play Big Ten champion Indiana, the third seed in the Mideast on Saturday.

If Georgetown (20-11) beats James Madison (20-8), the ECAC South champion, it will play Notre Dame in the second round. The Georgetown-James Madison matchup has an interesting subplot -- some bad feeling between Hoya Coach John Thompson and Madison Coach Lou Campanelli dating back to 1977 when both were recruiting current Georgetown junior Jeff Bullis.

"I just don't think about it," Thompson said. "During the course of college coaching, you run into several issues, but you can't be successful if you look at each one of those issues and let it affect how your team plays.

"A few years ago when we were 21-6 and nobody knew who Georgetown was, we didn't get invited. But our program has been nationally recognized now. We've had three wins on (regional) television, including two in the conference. Now we can go 20-11 and get in."

Virginia (25-3), the top seed in the East, will play the winner of Houston-Villanova in the second round. A victory there probably would set up a meeting with Tennessee in the round of 16. The other team expected to reach that round in Atlantic is UCLA, seeded third in the East behind Notre Dame.

Howard (17-11), after winning its second straight MEAC title yesterday, will make its first appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament when it plays an opening-round game against Wyoming (23-5) on Thursday (12:38 a.m. EST Friday) in Los Angeles. If the Bison win that game, they would play Illinois (20-7) in the second round.

Defending national champion Louisville (21-8) is seeded fourth in the Midwest. The Cardinals, who have won 15 straight, will play the Arkansas-Mercer winner in the second round and likely will face LSU in the round of 16.

Maryland is in the toughest regional. The top seed in the Midwest is De Paul, which will go into the tournament as the nation's No. 1 team for a second straight year. The Blue Demons will play the Creighton-St. Joseph's winner in their first game next Sunday. Then they are seeded to play Wake Forest if the Demon Deacons can survive a game against the Boston College-Ball State winner.

Maryland's half of the draw, in addition to Indiana, includes Kentucky. The Wildcats will play the Alabama-Birmingham-Western Kentucky victor for a spot in the final 16 against Indiana, Maryland or Tennessee-Chattanooga.

"Whoever we play better be ready," Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said yesterday. "We're in a tough region, but if we get out of there we'll be very well prepared for the final hour."

Driesell could not resist taking a shot at Virginia, a team the Terps defeated, 85-62, in the ACC tournament Friday. "If Virginia's the best team in the East and we beat them by 23 points, I don't know how we can possibly be just the sixth-best team in the Mideast," he said.

And what does Driesell know about his opening round opponent?

"Absolutely nothing," he said.

There were some surprises. Syracuse (18-11), the Big East tournament champion, was overlooked in favor of Villanova (19-10), the team the Orange beat in the tournament final. South Alabama (23-5) was left out in favor of fellow Sun Belt team Alabama-Birmingham (21-7).

"We don't have the best 48 teams in the country," said Wayne Duke, the chairman of the nine-man basketball selection committee. "All of the upsets (in league tournaments) did cause consternation. This can mean certain teams will qualify sometimes at the expense of the conference champions."

Based on the seedings, the committee's disdain for the various conference tournaments is apparent. Mississippi, winner of the Southeastern Conference tournament, is the 11th seed in the Midwest. LSU, the regular-season champion, is the top seed in that bracket.

Creighton, winner of the Missouri Valley tournament, is the eighth seed in the Mideast and will play St. Joseph's, the ECC tournament champion, in the first round. The Hawks are the 12th and last seed. The winner of that game plays De Paul (27-1).

The only two spots still undecided are the Ivy League and West Coast Athletic Conference berths. Penn and Princeton will play Tuesday for the Ivy title, the winner playing Brigham Young in a first-round East game for the right to play UCLA in the second rank.

San Francisco and Pepperdine also will play Tuesday to decide the WCAC title. The winner will play Kansas in a first-round West game for the right to face Oregon State in the second round.

If the seedings hold up, the regional final matchups would pair Virginia and Notre Dame in the East; Oregon State and North Carolina in the West; De Paul and Kentucky in the Mideast, and LSU and Arizona State in the Midwest.

The final four will be held in Philadelphia March 28 and 30, with East facing West and Mideast playing Midwest in the semifinals.

Driesell who never has reached the final four, insisted yesterday that his team is in better position this year than last when it lost to Georgetown in the round of 16.

"Last year the Duke game in the ACC tournament took a lot out of us," he said. "It wasn't the same this year. It was a loss but that's as far as it went. I guarantee you by Thursday, we'll be ready."

By Saturday they had better be very ready.