Howard and George Washington have been playing basketball for three-quarters of a century. Tonight, at 8 o'clock in GW's Smith Center, they will play each other for the first time.

In College Park at 8 p.m., Maryland will get another early season test, against St. Joseph's, which has three starters from last year's 25-5 team.

In other local games, No. 1-ranked Virginia opens its Atlantic Coast Conference season by playing Duke in Durham, N.C., at 9 (WJLA-TV-9), and Georgetown plays Alabama State at Capital Centre at 8.

Howard will enter the GW game with momentum, having defeated Bradley, the defending NIT champion, by three points in its most recent game. This is supposedly a rebuilding year for Bison Coach A.B. Williamson, who lost four starters from last year.

The only starting holdover is Bernard Perry, a 6-foot-5, streak-shooting guard who scored 47 points in Howard's first two games.

The Bison players are excited about a rare opportunity to play a local team with greater basketball prestige and tradition.

GW is coming off a confidence-building victory over Bowie State Saturday. Howard may have trouble with GW center Mike Brown, who is capable of dominating inside against Howard's center, 6-8 Chauncey Terry.

The center matchup could also be the determining factor in Maryland's game with St. Joseph's, the first of seven straight home games for Maryland.

Ben Coleman, the 6-9 junior transfer from Minnesota, will go against Tony Costner, a 6-10 junior whose quickness offensively could be a problem for Coleman, who has been foul-prone.

"Other than Ralph Sampson and Sam Perkins, Costner would start at center for anybody in the ACC," Driesell said yesterday. "I'll get a better idea of Coleman's progress after he plays somebody tough, like Costner."

It will also be a chance for Driesell to better evaluate Steve Rivers, who has played well in his first two starts at point guard, but against opposition considerably weaker than St. Joseph's.

"I thought Steve played well against Canisius, especially for his first game on the road as the starting point guard," Driesell said. "But I can't get too flowery on him yet. I want to wait and see what he does against St Joe's and UCLA (Dec. 23). He's the quickest guard we've got, and he plays good defense, but not great. Steve's got an opportunity to prove himself now."

Rivers has made nine of 12 shots and provided the Terrapins with better-than-average floor leadership in his two starts.

"I'm feeling pretty comfortable at the point," Rivers said, "but I'd like to learn how to penetrate more. The guys say I should take the ball inside more and dish off. But it's something I have to know when to do and when not to. I'm trying to study the position as much as possible."

Maryland's women (4-0) are ranked No. 3 nationally and will also play St. Joseph's, at 5:30 tonight. The Terrapins have seven players averaging 10 points or better per game. Their early season victories have been so convincing that even Coach Chris Weller has been surprised. Maryland's closest margin of victory was 11 points over Illinois.