George Washington, which has improved to the point it is considered one of the favorites for the Atlantic-10 Conference basketball title this season, probably will open league play tonight without 6-foot-10 Mike Brown, its star center.

Brown, who has averaged 18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, has a stretched tendon in the big toe of his left foot and Coach Gerry Gimelstob said he is doubtful for tonight's 7:30 game against West Virginia at Smith Center.

"Right now, I don't know if Mike will be able to play," said Gimelstob. "He hasn't picked up a ball since Saturday and he still can't run very well. His toe is still swollen. But if he can do anything, anything at all, he'll play."

Brown said he injured the toe running in practice last week and cannot put pressure on it. "It's swollen and hurts," said Brown. "It'll take time to heal."

A semihealthy Brown probably would not be enough to handle West Virginia. The Colonials (5-3) aren't the same team without him, as was evidenced Saturday when they were in danger of losing to mediocre Towson State.

GW was behind by three points midway in the second half before Brown, limping badly, came in and inspired his mates. Gimelstob juggled his lineup for that game and the new unit responded by shooting a horrid 27 percent (11 of 41) and looking completely out of synch.

"Actually, we didn't play that badly. We just shot poorly," Gimelstob said. "We tried a different lineup to look at a few things. I don't know who'll start tonight. If Brown doesn't go, I'll start either Dan Williams, Craig Helms or Max Blank."

Lester Rowe, a 6-5 senior forward, leads the Mountaineers with 16.9-point and 8.5-rebound averages. Guard Dale Blaney (10.8) is the only other returning starter from last season's fifth-place conference team. The Mountaineers split two games with GW last year and finished 9-9 in the conference. But they won the conference tournament -- at Morgantown -- to advance to NCAA play. They finished 20-12.