The conference championship tournaments--will be played this week and all eight Division I teams in the Washington area will participate, beginning with American University's East Coast Conference game tonight at 8 o'clock against Lehigh at Fort Myer.
The winners of this week's Division I tournaments involving area schools all receive automatic bids to the 48-team NCAA tournament that begins March 11. The Big East champion receives an automatic bid for the first time, the league now being in its third year of existence. Georgetown and Virginia are almost certain to receive NCAA at-large bids next Sunday if they don't win their respective conference championships. The other area teams in all likelihood have to win tournaments to get there.
Georgetown, ranked by AP as the No. 12 team in the nation and seeded second in the Big East tournament, will play seventh-seeded Providence Thursday at 7 in Hartford Civic Center. Semifinals are scheduled Friday evening and the final Saturday afternoon.
Friday, Maryland goes to the Greensboro Coliseum for Atlantic Coast Conference tournament first-round action against North Carolina State at 2 p.m. Virginia, upset by Maryland on Saturday and knocked into a tie for regular-season first place with North Carolina, which won a draw yesterday morning for the top seed, will play seventh-seeded Clemson Friday night. Carolina, which could go in ranked No. 1 nationally, will open at noon Friday against eighth-seeded Georgia Tech.
Wake Forest and Duke are matched in the other Friday night game. The semifinals will be on Saturday, the championship game to be nationally televised Sunday afternoon.
George Washington, after a greatly improved--to .500--regular season, has home floor for a first-round Eastern Eight game Tuesday night against fifth-seeded St. Bonaventure. If the fourth-seeded Colonials win, and top-seeded West Virginia defeats Massachusetts at Morgantown, GW and the Mountaineers will meet Friday night in Pittsburgh Civic Arena. The final there is set for Saturday.
Howard will begin defense of its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title on Friday afternoon, in Winston-Salem, N.C., against Maryland-Eastern Shore. The MEAC final is Sunday afternoon.
In the ECAC South, George Mason and Navy face tough opposition Thursday night. GMU, the sixth seed, has to take on Old Dominion on ODU's home court, the Scope in Norfolk. On the same program, fifth-seeded Navy plays William and Mary, which during the season defeated the Midshipmen by one point in overtime in Annapolis.
In tonight's game, American is an 18-point favorite to defeat Lehigh, a team the Eagles routed by 15 points earlier this season. AU will be trying to break a two-game losing streak and make it two straight 20-victory seasons for the first time as a Division I school.
If victorious, the Eagles will play Rider at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Lawrenceville, N.J., with that winner advancing to the semifinals Friday night at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
District of Columbia, the top seed in the South Atlantic Region, will open the 32-team Division II NCAA championship tournament Friday night at Mount St. Mary's, against either Virginia Union or Maryland-Baltimore County.
Should UDC, ranked third nationally in Division II, win two games in the tournament, the Firebirds will entertain a quarterfinal opponent March 13 at their Physical Activity Center on the Van Ness campus.