The University of Maryland's basketball sorrows would seem to pale in comparison to Wake Forest's tragicomedy of a season, which means the Terrapins actually might have cause for optimism tonight when these two unsettled teams meet.

The Terrapins (10-8 overall, 0-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) would seem to be the favorite at Cole Field House (9 p.m.), having lost only five straight. The Demon Deacons (6-13, 0-8) have lost seven straight to rest at the bottom of the ACC.

Wake Forest has lost five players as a result of various ailments and problems, including a walk-on who walked off and a victim of appendicitis. That left the Demon Deacons short-handed in scrimmages for a while, but now they're back to fighting weight.

Three recent walk-ons at least bulk up the roster, including a 6-foot-8 pre-med student, Alan Dickens, who joined the team last week and has played 24 minutes in two games. The Demon Deacons seem to be performing relatively well now; they lost to North Carolina State, 45-44, 10 days ago and to Clemson, 46-43, in their last game.

"It's encouraging but it's frustrating because we've been so close," said first-year Coach Bob Staak. "At least we've had a chance to win instead of getting blown out."

Tyrone Bogues, a 5-3 junior from Baltimore, continues to be one of the more relentless players in the conference. He leads the nation in assists, averaging 8.4 a game, and leads the conference in steals with 60, while averaging 11.1 points.

Maryland's lineup will be something of a mystery. The Terrapins started freshmen John Johnson at forward and Tony Massenburg at center in their 80-68 loss to Duke Saturday, their ninth lineup change this season.

"My next move is just to get a win," Coach Charles G. Driesell said.

Driesell added that junior point guard Keith Gatlin, sidelined with back spasms against Duke, should return as a starter.