There is a faint scar under the right eye, where seven stitches were just removed. The left shoulder is sore from a preseason practice injury. There was a strained back muscle, a bruised thigh and even pleurisy. All since October.

But today, Ed Farmer's smile was as bright as ever. The injuries and a season nearly wasted don't matter any more; only that he will start for the first time in his collegiate career Thursday when Maryland plays Tennessee-Chattanooga at 8:10 p.m. in a first-round game of the NCAA tournament.

Coach Lefty Driesell said today that the 15th-ranked Moccasins should be favored. The winner advances to Saturday's 6:45 EST game with No. 1 Houston.

Farmer, a 6-foot-7 freshman, will start at forward in place of Herman Veal, the junior cocaptain who is on disciplinary probation and has been ruled ineligible.

Farmer has played in only 18 games this season. He had so many injuries early in the season Driesell called him "a basket case."

So what was Farmer's reaction this morning when Driesell told him he would start? "I said, 'Whaaaaat?' "

Maryland isn't losing anything in talent by starting Farmer. He and Len Bias, the other starting forward, are generally said to be the best athletes on the team. And Farmer, with or without Veal, is said to be the best offensive rebounder.

"He's an incredible leaper and he always gets a hand on the ball," said teammate Jeff Adkins.

That was always evident whenever Farmer was healthy enough to practice regularly. He jumps better than anyone on the team except Bias, has a soft shot from medium range and runs the court well.

But those injuries and the rapid development of Bias didn't allow Farmer to get much playing time on this team stacked with forwards. And it wasn't a happy time for Farmer, the quietest Terrapin.

"I did get discouraged," Farmer said. "Everyone kept telling me I was a freshman, that I couldn't come right in and start in a big-time program. I should have respected that. But I didn't. I even held my head down once at practice and I shouldn't have.

"Now," he says, "I feel great. I can't wait until game time. It's only a day away. It's not starting, particularly. I just want to get a good run and get to play and show people I have poise and intensity."

What Maryland needs from Farmer Thursday is good defense against Gerald Wilkins, enough medium-range baskets to keep the Moccasins from sagging around center Ben Coleman and, most of all, good offensive rebounding.

Farmer considers offensive rebounding the best part of his game. It's something he learned by accident.

"There was a guy on my team at Beddingfield High School (Wilson, N.C.) named Wade Harris, who is now the point guard at Florida State," Farmer said. "He never gave the ball up. So I had to learn to move without it. Plus that, people were double-teaming me, so I couldn't get it, anyway. So I tried to move around the lanes and get to the basket."

And as Coleman says, "He's got a natural knack for it. He gets to the ball without going over people."

Farmer has stayed healthy enough the last month to begin to develop talents that were apparent at the beginning of the season. Driesell is happier with his play.

"He's still got to prove himself," Driesell said. "But I probably shouldn't have called him a basket case. The things that have happened to him have been bad-luck injuries. It was nothing he could avoid."

Farmer said his feelings weren't hurt by the words "basket case."

"I thought about it when he said it," Farmer said, "and all I could do was laugh. I have a lot of respect for Coach. But everything he says to me is funny to me. I guess I was a basket case, I was injured so much. But I have a chance now. In the NCAAs. This feels great. Those injuries seem like a long time ago."