Although the Utes and their fans are thrilled about being in the Final Four, you'll have to pardon the North Carolina Tar Heels if they don't join in. Or if they yawn. It's just that they've heard this all before.

For the Tar Heels, there's always a new challenger, struggling for respect. On the other hand, playing in the Final Four isn't a privilege for North Carolina, it's a given. Carolina goes to Final Fours like Rick Majerus goes to drive-throughs - regularly. In the Jordan Rules, Section 31, Article 11, Paragraph nine, it expressly states: "North Carolina Shall Attend the Final Four, or Answer personally to The Man Himself, Michael Jordan." It might even be in the NCAA rule book.If North Carolina appears uppity, it stands to reason. Fourteen trips to the Final Four will do that. Jordan, the greatest player in history, admits his underwear is Carolina blue. This is a guy who could afford to have shorts of spun gold. Noooo. He goes with Carolina blue.

Although Utah does have a Final Four history - this is its fourth appearance - the Utes haven't been there since 1966. North Carolina hasn't been there since, oh, way back in 1997. The Tar Heels are tied with UCLA for the most Final Four appearances in history. Five of their 14 appearances have been in the past eight years.

Tar Heel games are carried on 52 radio stations and the Internet. The coach's show is carried on nine TV stations and five cable outlets. Thus, they couldn't be blamed if they came off looking like, well, heels.

Snobbishness, of course, comes with the territory. In an area where the best college basketball in the world is played, Carolina rules. Consequently, there are probably as many Tar Heel fans as there are for nearby Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina State, combined.

"So," observed John Delong, of the Winston-Salem Journal, "the other schools (fans) end up hating Carolina. It ends up that nobody roots for Carolina but the Carolina fans."

Wake Forest fans will cheer for Duke, Duke fans cheer for North Carolina State and North Carolina State fans cheer for Wake Forest - just so long as the opponent is North Carolina. Hence, the term "ABC'ers" (Anything But Carolina).

It's nice to be loved, but when it comes to basketball, it's even better to be hated.

This is a team that has finished in the Top 10 of a major wire service 25 times. A team that has won at least 21 games 28 straight years, earned a post-season invitation every year for the past 32 years and has the second-most wins of any college team in history.

Despite Carolina's success, there is a certain coolness to its fans. Unlike, say, the students at Duke, North Carolina's are relatively subdued at games. And unlike Kentucky, North Carolina fans aren't all that worried what the rest of the country thinks. They have that peculiar self-assuredness that comes with being better than everyone else, and knowing it.

Like all schools, even North Carolina started inauspiciously. Its first-ever hoop game wasn't until 1911, two decades after Naismith nailed up his first peach basket. Since there was no coach, the track coach consented to fill in. But the Tar Heels not only won going away (42-21), they also won seven of 11 games that year. A tradition was born. They hit a home run on the first try. Since then, there have been only nine losing seasons.

History varies as to how they became the Tar Heels. One version is that during the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee declared that the soldiers from North Carolina were so brave that they "stand as if they have tar on their heels." And that was before Joe Wolf was even born. Still, the nickname lasted.

As time went on, fans began contending that Carolina basketball had some sort of bond with deity. In the early 1940s, North Carolina recruited a player named George Glamack, who had a great hook shot from the free throw line. The only problem was, he was nearly blind. It was long before the era of political correctness, so Glamack - because he couldn't focus on the rim - was called the "Blind Bomber." Even so, he ended up being twice named the National Player of the Year.

You don't even have to see the basket to make them go in at Carolina.

Legendary players continued to arrive: Billy Cunningham, Bobby Jones, Phil Ford, Walter Davis, Kenny Smith, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, J.R. Reid, Rasheed Wallace, and, of course, Jordan.

The CBA can only dream of sending so many players to the NBA.

So the Utes go into tomorrow's game facing a long history of winning. They're not the first. Besides, if the Tar Heels look down their noses, and refuse to speak, the Utes need not be offended. When you're Carolina, it's your job to look down on everyone.

*****

Additional Information

N. CAROLINA (34-3)

84 Mid. Tenn. 56

84 at Richmond 65

71 California 47

109 UCLA-x 68

95 Seton Hall-x 65

73 Purdue-x 69

81 Louisville 72

68 Chatt. 38

78 Va. Tech 57

50 Princeton 42

92 Hampton U. 69

81 at Florida St. 73

82 at Georgia, OT 80

97 at Beth.-Cook. 46

73 at Clemson 70

96 Ga. Tech 75

81 Virginia 73

83 at Maryland 89

96 Applchian 63

74 at N.Caro.St. 60

103 Florida St. 55

88 Clemson 79

79 at Wk.Forest 73

97 Duke 73

107 at G. T. OT 100

60 at Virginia 45

85 Maryland 67

72 N.Caro.St. 86

72 Wk.Forest 53

75 at Duke 77

73 N.Caro.St.-y 46

83 Maryland, OT-y 73

83 Duke-y 68

88 Navy-z 52

93 N.C. Charl. OT-z 83

73 Mich. St.-z 58

75 Conn.-z 64

x-Great Alaska Shootout

y-Atlantic Coast Conference

z-NCAA

UTAH (29-3)

87 CS-Fullton 59

87 at Weber St. 72

66 S. Utah 48

89 at Loyola Mary. 50

83 UC Irvine 45

64 Providence 58

62 at Wk.Forest 53

71 Utah St. 55

78 Azusa Pacific 58

69 Oregon St. 61

66 at Wis.-Milw. 51

73 Rice 65

71 at BYU 61

65 Colo. St. 51

75 Wyoming 58

57 at Air Force 46

67 at UNLV 54

62 Tx-El Paso 56

74 at New Mex. 77

83 BYU 68

60 at Rice 49

56 at Wyoming 62

60 at Colo. St. 48

55 Air Force 41

79 UNLV 68

71 at Tx-El Paso 49

65 New Mex. 55

51 UNLV-x 54

85 USF-y 68

75 Arkansas-y 69

65 W.Virginia-y 62

76 Arizona-y 51

x-Western Athletic Conference

y-NCAA

STANFORD (30-4)

87 San Diego 57

98 at Hawaii-Hilo-x 49

70 Valparaiso-x 65

99 Butler-x 86

76 Georgia 74

63 at San Diego St. 42

67 Pacific 61

95 UC S. Barbara 62

95 Lehigh 42

70 Rhode Isd.-y 69

69 Santa Clara-y 60

68 at Oregon St. 48

89 at Oregon 67

84 California 74

99 So. Cal. 62

93 UCLA 80

82 at Wash. St. 72

74 at Washngtn 72

75 Arizona 93

87 Ariz. St., OT 90

74 at California 72

56 at Conn. 76

84 at UCLA 81

83 at So. Cal. 59

93 Washngtn 70

72 Wash. St. 56

86 at Ariz. St. 73

58 at Arizona 90

95 Oregon 67

85 Oregon St. 77

67 C. of Charleston-z 57

83 W.Michigan-z 65

67 Purdue-z 59

79 Rhode Isd.-z 77

x-Big Island Invitational

y-Cable Car Classic

z-NCAA

KENTUCKY (33-4)

88 Morehead 49

70 G. Washington-x 55

74 Arizona-x 89

77 Missouri-x 55

76 Clemson 61

89 Purdue 75

75 Indiana 72

81 at Canisius 54

85 Ga. Tech 71

74 Tulsa 53

75 American U. 52

76 Louisville 79

95 at Ohio U. 58

71 Vanderbilt 62

90 at Georgia 79

77 at Miss. St. 71

91 S.Carolina 70

80 Arkansas, OT 77

70 Alabama 67

85 at Tennessee 67

63 at Vanderbilt 61

78 Florida 86

63 at LSU 61

79 at Villanova 63

80 Tennessee 74

64 Mississippi 73

79 at Florida 54

85 Georgia 74

83 at Auburn 58

69 at S.Carolina 57

82 Alabama-y 71

99 Arkansas-y 74

86 S.Carolina-y 56

82 S.Car.St.-z 67

88 Saint Louis-z 61

94 UCLA-z 68

86 Duke-z 84

x-Maui Invitational

y-Southeastern Conference

z-NCAA