Whether it involves academics or camping outside Carmichael Auditorium on a cold March night to secure a precious ticket for the NCAA basketball finals, the University of North Carolina tries to maintain an elitist image.

"When they come out and find us," said Mary Ellen Sexton, a senior from Tarboro., N.C., and one of 11 students waiting overnight for 12 unclaimed student tickets for Atlanta, "we'll be frozen blue - Carolina blue."

Sexton was not the first in line. That honor went to Jennifer Nichols, a sophomore economics major who attended Herndon (Va.) High. She queued up at 11 a.m. in the lobby of the arena. A campus policeman, securing the building, ushered them onto the front steps at 10 p.m. to finish the 21 1/2-hour vigil in temperatures that hovered near freezing.

What those in the line want, what a consensus of the fans in this college town want, what practically everyone in these parts wants is a Carolina plays Nevada-Las Vegas and UNCC plays Marquette in the semifinals Saturday.

If Carolina beats Vegas, this town literally close down Monday night. The Board of Alderman already has made arrangements to postpone a hearing until Tuesday. Leroy Merritt, the owner of the Pines Restuarant, a local landmark, says he might as well shut his doors because everyone will be home watching on television.

That is all but the 1,000 who snatched up Carolina's ticket allotment. Half the tickets went to The Educational Foundation, Inc., the fancy name for the Ram Club that raises scholarship money. Donors of $20,000 were able to buy four tickets; contributors of $7,500 were allowed two tickets.

Four hundred more tickets went to the basketball team, athletic staff and administration. The other 100 were put into a student lottery for which 2,000 of the university's 19,400 students applied.

"I'd rather be beaten by Charlotte in the finals than by Vegas," said Sexton. "At least it would keep it in the state. We're the elitist university. We're the creme de la creme, but UNC Charlotte's all right."

Others do not talk about Carolina's sister school as kindly.

"They're like a stepbrother; we've hardly heard of them," said one Tar Heel booster. "We drive by their school, but we don't want to get out and look, like they do when they drive up here. All we know about is their basketball. We call them UNC Concrete because that's the way the campus is. They don't have many trees. It's not that we disrespect them; there's nothing to respect them for."

Just how elitist is the oldest state university in the nation, whose first students attended class in 1795? And how much of a national school is Carolina, whose basketball coach has had a steadfast policy since the day he arrived 16 years ago that his team would play no instate rivals outside the Atlantic Coast Conference?

From the 4,000 out-of-state applicants who seek the 425 places in the freshman class, the school receives a lot of applications from the Eastern prepsters who also apply to Ivy League schools.

But the profile for the typical North Carolina undergraduate, provided today by the registrar's office, is: a public high-school graduate from a small North Carolina town who scored 1,100 on his college boards, graduated in the top 5 per cent of his high-school class, and one of whose parents graduated from college.

And how does the basketball team compare to the typical UNC student?

Only 15 per cent of the entire student body is from out of state; the basketball team is 75 per cent out-of-state. Eight of the 16 players scored 1,100 or better on the college boards, the university wide average. Four players ranked in the top 5 per cent of their high-school class, and two of them, injured center Tommy LaGarde and reserve forward Bruce Buckley of Bladensburg, Md., are Rhodes Scholar candidates.

In fact, coach Dean Smith has a theory surrounding the athletes he recruits - that overachievers in the classroom also will be overachievers on the basketball court, and vice versa, that talent in itself is not everything. He recalls the 6-foot-11 center he recruited a few years ago with 1,500 on his college boards, only 100 points below perfect.

This student-athlete ranked in the middle of his high-school class. And he played basketball the same way, as an underachiever.

On his no-instate-competition rule, Smith said, "Adolph Rupp told me never play anybody you don't have to in your own state."Name one that does. Kentucky doesn't play Lousville, Eastern Kentucky or Western Kentucky; Indiana doesn't play Indiana State or Evansville; Ohio State doesn't play Cincinnati or Dayton. I don't think we're unique."

Then Smith got around to the crux of the matter-prestige, as Maryland found out this season when George Washington knocked off the Terrapins for the first time in 17 years.