Uncertain of Maryland's place in the college basketball world? That's okay, so is Terrapins Coach Gary Williams. But everyone can begin to get a better grasp of things beginning tonight, when Maryland faces Rutgers in the opening round of the ECAC Holiday Festival tournament in New York.

Brigham Young University and 7-foot-6 freshman center Shawn Bradley will meet 13th-ranked South Carolina in the second game of the tournament at Madison Square Garden. The winners will play for the championship Saturday night after a consolation matchup between tonight's losing teams.

"The tournament will help us get a better feel for where we are," Williams said yesterday. "South Carolina is playing as well as anyone in the country and Brigham Young's interesting because of the big kid and Rutgers is really playing at home."

On the surface, all of that would seem to indicate that Maryland (4-3) will be one of the squads playing in Saturday's warm-up game. Another daunting factor could be playing away from Cole Field House.

All of the Terrapins' victories have been at home, with the team suffering from stretches of careless play that cost it winnable road games against West Virginia, Boston College (in Richmond) and Jacksonville. Last Saturday, a lethargy fostered by sitting out 11 days for final exams had to be expelled before Maryland could overcome Lafayette, 64-48.

In that game, Vince Broadnax and Evers Burns started in place of Kevin McLinton and Garfield Smith, who had missed a number of practices because of finals. Both McLinton and Smith are expected to return to their starting positions against the Scarlet Knights (5-2).

"The big thing about us is just getting excited to play, and that wasn't easy against Lafayette," Williams said. "Hopefully those days are behind us, because we've got to get better on the road.

"We have to be confident enough to provide our own boost rather than standing there worrying about the crowd. When the ACC season starts {with a Jan. 2 game at Wake Forest} we're going to have to play seven games with no support, so that's something we'd better get used to for the next two months."

The Garden crowd can be expected to support Rutgers, from nearby New Brunswick, N. J. Wherever they play, the Scarlet Knights are capable of causing trouble for opponents, particularly with their two big men. Keith Hughes is a 6-8 forward who averages 19.9 points and 12.1 rebounds, and 6-9 center Brent Dabbs, who transfered from Virginia after the 1988-89 season, adds 12.2 points and 7.4 rebounds.

Despite finding itself at a size disadvantage in most of its games, Maryland had rebounded well, averaging 43 to 37.1 for rivals. Maryland has outrebounded all but two opponents, the most glaring exception a 44-24 deficit in a 71-70 loss to Jacksonville.

Even so, the Terrapins controlled play most of that night, making their loss somewhat puzzling. Getting an accurate team picture is further muddled by the roller coaster nature of college basketball.

For example, Maryland routed Cal-Irvine, which went on to beat California. Similarly, the Terrapins dispatched Southern California, which now has a victory against Notre Dame to its credit.

Does that make Maryland better than either the Golden Bears or Fighting Irish? One would be hesitant to say so, in part because the Terrapins are far from a smoothly operating team at this point. Although they tied their season-low with 10 turnovers against Lafayette, Williams said his players, who are averaging 16 turnovers, "still aren't doing a good job" of taking care of the basketball.

"That was 60-point, half-court game against Lafayette so 10 turnovers were probably too many," he said. "If you score 100 points and turn the ball over 18 times that's okay because it's probably a fast-break, transition game. But if you turn the ball over 18 times and it's a 70-point game, chances are you're going to lose."