Navy and Richmond are playing for the lead in the antique colonial furniture and brickwork conference -- or the Colonial Athletic Association, as the charmingly historical league is called -- and you can break an 18th-century vase if this one doesn't look like fun.

"Fun for you, maybe," Navy Coach Paul Evans said.

The eventual champion of the conference figures to be one of these two social-climbing teams, which are both undefeated in league play at 5-0 and are lurking near the top 20 in the nation. That thought has made tonight's game at Richmond's Robins Center (8 p.m.) a sellout, which means one long 10,000-voice shriek.

There would seem to be as much at stake over at Cole Field House, where Maryland will meet North Carolina State (9 p.m.), when you take into account grudges, the matter of self-respect and the opportunity to climb back into the esteem of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Wolfpack (11-5, 3-2) hasn't beaten Maryland in the regular season in three years, but this may be the time, with the Terrapins (10-6, 0-4) still seeking their first league win.

"We're not panicking," Maryland guard Keith Gatlin said. "We know what the situation is. We know this a must-win game. All the 'what ifs' and 'should haves' still add up to one thing: we're 0-4. We've got to get on track, because the clock is running."

The Terrapins have been working on their inside game all week, and it appears they will use most of their roster to combat a North Carolina State front court that is on its way to becoming a power. But the Wolfpack has a major weakness, and that is youth. Chris Washburn, the 6-foot-11 sophomore, is the moving force, averaging 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds. But he is joined by two freshmen in 6-10 Charles Shackleford, averaging eight points, and 6-7 Walker Lambiotte.

"I know those guys," said Gatlin, who played against them in high school in North Carolina. "They're young and real streaky and good. They don't want me going home to North Carolina and talking junk."

The Terrapins have had some success against bigger teams. They led No. 1 North Carolina for 35 minutes and outrebounded the Tar Heels before losing, 71-67. But their front court, despite Len Bias' 19 points, was their biggest handicap in Sunday's loss to Virginia. So forward Tom (Speedy) Jones will replace center Terry Long in the lineup in an effort to help the rebounding, with Derrick Lewis working the middle on defense.

Maryland's problems right now might not be physical so much as mental. The 70-49 loss to Virginia was the Terrapins' first to that team in two years, and they might have been unprepared for the Cavaliers' intensity. They are in a similar situation against the Wolfpack, which is upset-minded after losing six straight regular-season games to Maryland over the past three years.

"A 21-point loss ought to wake us up emotionally," Coach Charles G. Driesell said. "If not, we'll get beat again, it's as plain as that."

A rematch of last year's conference title game opponents, Navy's meeting with Richmond could have some long-term significance. The champion of the conference, which changed its name last spring when it broke from the ECAC, has won at least one NCAA tournament game in the past five years.

The Spiders (15-1) finished 21st in the most recent Associated Press voting and are on a six-game winning streak after a 90-64 loss to fourth-ranked Georgia Tech. The Midshipmen (12-3) are on a seven-game winning streak after their 82-64 loss to Georgia Tech and finished 24th in the last AP balloting.

The game presents a contrast in philosophy. The Midshipmen are a running team, averaging 80.9 points a game. The Spiders use a half-court offense, relying more on a defense that is ranked in the top 10 nationally. They have just one player in double figures in 6-7 forward John Newman, with a 23.2 average, but they haven't needed much scoring with their defense holding teams to 56.7 points.

But no one has managed to stop Navy's David Robinson yet, and there is no reason Richmond should be any different. The 6-11 center has averaged 21.3 points and 13 rebounds, plus six blocked shots per game, a figure that leads the nation.

"It's two different styles, which may be significant," Evans said. "They're deliberate, while we try to push it up court. It doesn't mean one is better; it's just different. They're going to try to stop us from getting in the middle. We may have to be more patient."

In another important local conference game, George Washington (5-9, 0-5) will try to break a six-game losing streak when it plays host to St. Bonaventure (10-6, 5-2) at Smith Center (7:30 p.m.) The game represents a meeting of the top scoring teams in the Atlantic 10.