THE EAST COAST Conference basketball coaches must think Towson State's Terry Truax is one heck of a good coach. Truax has lost four starters -- including Kurk Lee, now with the New Jersey Nets -- from the school's first league championship team, yet his fellow ECC coaches are picking Towson to finish second this year behind Delaware. Towson opens at Dayton a week from Saturday and plays at Maryland two days later. UMBC, new in the ECC this year, is picked sixth in the seven-team league.
* A one-time Maryland football player, Joe Gardi ('57-'59), has turned in one of the best college coaching jobs in the country this year. Gardi, who was on Joe Walton's staff with the New York Jets, has led Hofstra to a 10-0 season and the NCAA Division III playoffs. Gardi's team will face Cortland State in the first round Saturday. Hofstra moves up to Division I-AA next year.
* Navy, miraculously, can still finish with a winning record in football by beating Delaware Saturday and Army Dec. 8, but the Middies will not have an easy time with Delaware. Coach Tubby Raymond's Blue Hens are 6-4 and going for their third straight victory. They think a win at Annapolis would put them in the playoffs and give them a shot at the I-AA championship, which is a powerful incentive. Navy never has an easy time with Delaware. Raymond's record against the Mids is 3-2.
* Tara Finnegan, daughter of Washington College basketball coach Tom Finnegan, has been chosen Scholar-Athlete in the East Coast Conference. In addition to starring in tennis at the University of Delaware, Tara -- who's also sports editor of the school newspaper -- is a 3.3 student in mass communications.
* The Nos. 1 and 2 finishers in college lacrosse this year -- champion Syracuse and runner-up Loyola -- each will be minus a player the next time their respective teams participate in the first game of a championship. For Loyola it's Paul Cantabene, for Syracuse Shawn Magowan. The NCAA has punished both for taking part in a fight at the NCAA title game last Memorial Day. Two players who have since graduated (Loyola's Brian Kroneberger and Syracuse's Jim Egan) also have been reprimanded. Additionally, the NCAA will withhold two days' per diem for each school's travel party of 36 (about $2,800). The altercation at the championship game was ugly, no doubt about it. I just hope the NCAA comes down as hard on football fights.
* Former Orioles general manager Hank Peters, now the GM in Cleveland, is in town for a few days, trying to sell his Riderwood town house. Peters says he'll do one more season with the Indians and then turn the job over to a younger man. It has been little noted here that Hank's Indians finished ahead of the Orioles in the AL East race this year.
* Jennifer Capriati didn't hurt the gate for her Nov. 27 Baltimore appearance with her loss in the Virginia Slims championship in Madison Square Garden this week. Capriati, 14, lost to top-ranked Steffi Graf in a three-set, two-hour match. Capriati's record on the tour is 42-11, she has won $300,000, is ranked No. 10 in the world and has earned another $5 million in endorsements. She and Monica Seles, along with Pam Shriver and Elise Burgin, will play here in the fifth annual First National Bank Tennis Festival.
* The absence of sports in the Arena this week doesn't bother me a bit. Taking over the building through Sunday is the Moscow Circus. Nothing I saw in the Arena last year -- Blast, Skipjacks, indoor lacrosse -- thrilled me the way the Moscow Circus did. You talk about athleticism? You have to see this circus to believe it.