So what's not to like about North Carolina? It's just the usual Tar Heels, with their yuppie haircuts and their baggy light blues, their awkward, lumbering gaits and their socks slipping down around their calves, their faces well-scrubbed and their ambition insatiable.

That the Tar Heels are the top-ranked team in the country is nothing particularly new, nor is the way they have gone about it, typically undefeated at 16-0 (2-0 in the ACC). The force with which they have wielded their authority, however, is cause for some remark, for they have scored more than 100 points in seven of 16 games so far. That, along with their unbearably clean-cut image, may make them as cheerfully detested as any North Carolina team in recent memory.

"You have to realize," said Charley Scher, sports editor of the Chronicle, Duke University's student newspaper, "that Carolina is the evil empire."

Maryland meets the evil empire tonight at Cole Field House at 9, for those in the mood for an apocalypse. The Terrapins (10-4, 0-2 in the ACC) are going ahead with this mismatch against all better judgment, and it was rather strange to hear Coach Charles G. Driesell, usually full of bravado on the eve of a North Carolina game, praising these Tar Heels yesterday as the best he has seen in his Atlantic Coast Conference career.

After all, North Carolina obliterated UCLA by 107-70, Florida State by 109-64, and even N.C. State by 90-79. Not to mention an 84-point victory over Manhattan.

"We're just going to try to stay on the court with them," Driesell said, "and hope that maybe, by some stroke of a miracle, we can knock them off."

At a glance, these Tar Heels are indistinguishable from those of other years. They play man and zone defense with equal tenacity, offense with the usual inexorability. Six players are from in state, but they have the usual scattering of blue chippers from various backgrounds. Steve Hale is from Oklahoma, freshman Steve Bucknall is from London. Brad Daugherty is a North Carolina mountain kid, Kenny Smith is a New Yorker.

"We're the typical North Carolina team; we're doing the same things," Hale said. "That's the image we project -- it's all business and we're doing our jobs. But there's more to it below the surface. We haven't blended our identities. We're big-city to small-town and everything in between."

It comes as something of a shock to discover that the serious-minded Tar Heels say they have fun from time to time. One has to wonder, however, what that entails. For instance, they seemed to have a grand time cleaning out their lockers the other day.

"We have a lot of humor," Hale said. "Like Brad, he's a funny guy."

Brad? Daugherty? The 20.3 points a game, 6-foot-11 Brad Daugherty who scored 33 compassionless points against beleaguered Fordham? What kind of funny things does he say?

"I don't really remember anything," Hale said.

There is perhaps only one major difference in this North Carolina team: the Tar Heels lack a clear-cut star, a James Worthy or Michael Jordan. But what they lack in individuality, they make up for with a depth that they have rarely had before. While most teams can go seven or eight deep, North Carolina is going 10 and 11 deep. That's actually causing problems: Coach Dean Smith is trying to find a settled eight-man rotation but can't decide whom to go with.

The Tar Heels have endured an occasional unflattering remark about their high scores, particularly over one stretch when they won four mismatches by scoring more than 100 points against the Citadel, Manhattan, Brown and Florida State. But according to the Tar Heels, they can't really help it.

"We're able to bring in six, seven, eight, nine, 10 guys who are all capable of scoring," Daugherty said.

Versatility is their strength; they have what amounts to two different lineups, one big, one small. The big one consists of Daugherty in the middle, with 6-11 Warren Martin and 6-10, 235-pound Joe Wolf at forwards, although Daugherty and Martin are interchangeable. The small lineup is a three-guard scheme, with Smith, perhaps the best point guard in the country, and freshman Jeff Lebo, one of the most highly recruited prep stars in the nation, in the back court with 6-4 Hale moving to small forward.

The bench is equally strong: Dave Popson, a 6-9, 225-pounder, and Charles Hunter, a quick 6-5, are part-time starters at small forward. A couple of superb freshmen are also in the picture: 6-5 Bucknall and 6-5 Kevin Madden.

One footnote to that array of talent is that all of North Carolina's 11 scholarship players are shooting better than 50 percent. The only players not shooting 50 percent are reserves James Daye (1.0 points a game, 25 percent) and Michael Norwood (0.8, 12 percent.

"They'll probably start those two guys and they'll score 25," Driesell said.

Then there is the intangible element of Dean Smith, quite possibly the most successful tactician in the game today. The Terrapins have not beaten the Tar Heels since 1983, and North Carolina leads the series by 79-33. Against Smith since coming to Maryland, Driesell is 7-25 in regular-season games, 5-11 at Cole.

"I wish he'd retire or get another job or something," Driesell said of Smith. "So does every other coach in the ACC. He's not slacking off. You'd think a guy with that much success would, but I can't get him to slack off. He just keeps on rolling."

Dean Smith says Maryland is the Tar Heels' "toughest test" so far. That is a little hard to take seriously. The Tar Heels are averaging 96.1 points to Maryland's 72.3, and even with a couple of injuries -- Wolf has a hyperextended index finger and Martin is just back after missing 10 days with a broken ring finger -- they are still beating teams by an average of 33 points.

"He says that about everyone," Driesell said. "Dean's a master of psychology. I don't go for his injury report anymore either. He says a guy has a hyperextended finger. He'll probably score 30.