Both Maryland and Rhode Island head into tonight's 8 o'clock National Invitavitaion Tournament basketball game at Cole Field House with starters questionable because of injuries.

Maryland's Albert King is suffering from an inflamation of the sesamoid bone in the ball of his right foot while Rhode Island starting center Irv Chatman has his injured right knee in a cast. He will not play; King might.

If Maryland wins the first-round game, it will host the winner of tonight's Ohio State-St. Joseph's game Monday night at 8.

In another first-round game tonight, Virginia (18-9) hosts Northeast Louisiana (23-5).

The winner of Virginia's game plays the winner of Thursday's Alabama-St. Bonaventure game.

After the second round, six teams will be left from the original 24-team field, and a meeting of the NIT committee will be held to determine two byes and the pairings.

"I think we can win it if we play very well," said Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell, whose 18-10 team was eliminated from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in a 102-79 semifinal defeat to eventual champion North Carolina.

"This is a good opportunity for our young players to get some postseason tournament experience," Driesell added.

Driesell said that if King is unable to play, he would move 6-foot-7 guard Ernest Graham to King's forward spot and probably start Greg Manning at guard.

Manning suffered a fracture of the transverse process of the third lumbar vertebra last week and Driesell says he is almost back to normal.

Point guard Dutch Morley, who regained his statrting position in the tournament, has had the flu but is listed as probable.

Rhode Island is led by junior All-America forward Sly Williams, who averages 24.3 points a game.

"They have a great player in Williams. He's left-handed," said Maryland's left-handed coach. "We'll have to do something to contain him.

"But they're not a one-man team. They have three players averaging in double figures. They're 20-8, obviously a very strong team, and we'll have to play well to beat them."

Virginia must contend with All-America forward Calvin Natt.

"The pro scouts tell us he'll be in the top three or five in the first round of the draft," said Northeast Louisiana Coach Lenny Fant.

Natt has averaged 23.9 points and 11 rebounds a game.