Two of the best early season games involving local college basketball teams are scheduled tonight when No. 1-ranked Virginia visits James Madison and defending NIT champion Bradley plays at Howard.

In other games, Maryland seeks its first victory, against Maryland-Eastern Shore, and Monmouth visits George Mason.

Howard and Bradley, both rebuilding, will play at 8 p.m. in Burr Gymnasium. Bradley still has talented players in point guard Willie Scott, guard Barney Mines and high-scoring forward Voise Winters, but no longer has the overpowering front line that made the Braves one of the nation's best teams the last two years.

A victory for Howard would be the school's biggest nonconference triumph since the Bison beat Dayton in 1980.

In Harrisonburg, James Madison figures to give top-ranked Virginia one of its toughest games of the season in a contest that begins at 7:30. The Dukes, as usual, are unranked and unheralded but have four starters back from last year's 24-6 team.

It will be the last college game in his home town for Ralph Sampson, Virginia's two-time player of the year. The game's primary matchup should be Cavalier lead guard Othell Wilson against Dave Dupont or Charles Fisher, who often play flawless defense for the Dukes.

At Maryland, Coach Lefty Driesell has made some changes in his starting lineup for the 8 o'clock game against Maryland-Eastern Shore. Junior Steve Rivers will start at point guard and Mark Fothergill will replace Herman Veal at power forward. Adrian Branch will be returned from guard to forward.

The changes were brought about by Maryland's 18-point loss to Penn State Saturday in Baltimore, prompting Driesell to say yesterday: "The best thing about Baltimore was I bought a cheap pair of shoes while I was over there. They played so bad it scared me.

"But looking at the film, when you see the coaching job I did and the playing job they did, the result wasn't that surprising. I probably substituted poorly and used the wrong combinations of players."

Against Penn State, Maryland had little direction on offense and, as a result, committed turnovers that resulted in easy transition baskets. Is Rivers the answer? "I don't know," Driesell said. "But he'll be the answer until something else comes along. At least he's a junior and he's got some game experience."

The decision to return the 6-foot-8 Branch to forward should help the sophomore do what he does best, score from the base line and within the lane, and get more rebound baskets.

When asked asked who would win the Virginia-Georgetown game on Dec. 11, Driesell replied, "I'll be pulling against both of them. I hope they both lose. Can that happen? Well, I probably will have to root for Terry Holland (Virginia's coach) since he played for me and coached for me."