For North Carolina, it's an annual affair. For Eastern Michigan, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Both teams advanced to the final 16 of the NCAA tournament on Sunday, setting up a showdown at the East Regional semifinals in East Rutherford, N.J.Top-seeded North Carolina overpowered Villanova 84-69 to reach the Sweet 16 for the 11th straight year, while 12th-seeded Eastern Michigan edged Penn State 71-68 in overtime and moved into the regional semis for the first time.
"All the streak means is that I'm old and I've had a lot of good teams," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
While Smith took the victory in stride, Eastern Michigan's Marcus Kennedy was stunned by his team's achievement.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," he said. "I'll be sitting in my room tomorrow and somebody will come in and say, `You're in the final 16.' That's when it might hit me."
North Carolina won't be satisfied unless it reaches the Final Four, a goal that has eluded the Tar Heels since winning the national title in 1982.
"I want to accomplish one more thing in life, and that's getting a regional championship," senior Rick Fox said.
The North Carolina-Eastern Michigan game will be part of a doubleheader Friday at East Rutherford, N.J. Temple plays Oklahoma State in the other game.
The Midwest semifinals also will be played Friday, with Ohio State meeting St. John's and Duke facing Connecticut at Pontiac, Mich.
On Thursday, UNLV plays Utah and Arizona meets Seton Hall in the West Regional at Seattle. In the Southeast Regional at Charlotte, N.C., Arkansas plays Alabama and Indiana meets Kansas.
No. 4 N. Carolina 84, Villanova 69
At Syracuse, N.Y., George Lynch had 19 points and 10 rebounds and the Tar Heels used a 7-0 run to pull away from the Wildcats in the second half. North Carolina made its move after Villanova cut a 15-point Tar Heel lead to 66-59 with 8:24 left, a spurt that featured two 3-pointers by reserve Lloyd Mumford.
After calling timeout, North Carolina (27-5) responded with a 7-0 spurt that started and ended with baskets by Lynch.
Lance Miller scored 17 points and Greg Woodard 15 for Villanova (17-15), which shot only 41 percent from the field.
E. Michigan 71, Penn St. 68, OT
Lorenzo Neely scored five points in overtime as Eastern Michigan prevailed in a seesaw game.
The Hurons (26-6) were first-round losers in their only previous NCAA appearance, in 1988. Penn State (21-11) hasn't advanced beyond the second round since 1954.
Penn State had several opportunities to win, but James Brown missed two free throws in the final 63 seconds of regulation and Freddie Barnes missed a pair of 3-pointers in the final four seconds of overtime.
No. 19 Alabama 96, Wake Forest 88
At Atlanta, Melvin Cheatum, Gary Waites and Latrell Sprewell each scored 21 points for Alabama (23-9).
Waites scored 19 points in the first half, including five 3-point baskets, as Alabama took a 48-45 lead. Then Sprewell and Cheatum took over in the second half. Sprewell scored 16 after intermission, including six straight free throws in the final 1:30, and Cheatum added 13.
Chris King scored 29 points for Wake Forest (19-11), which was making its first NCAA appearance since 1984.
No. 2 Arkansas 97, Arizona St. 90
Arkansas started quickly, then held off Arizona State to set a school record for victories in a season.
The Razorbacks (33-3) took a 12-0 lead in the first four minutes as the Sun Devils missed their first eight shots. Arizona State rallied to tie it at 30 and later went ahead by one point, but Arkansas took the lead for good shortly before halftime on a free throw by Ron Huery.
Oliver Miller had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Arkansas, while freshman Jamal Faulkner led Arizona State (20-1) with 29 points.
No. 5 Ohio St. 65, Georgia Tech 61
At Dayton, Ohio, Perry Carter had 19 points and 18 rebounds as Ohio State held off a late charge by Georgia Tech.
Jim Jackson added 16 points for the Buckeyes (27-3), including three free throws in the final 17.4 seconds. Ohio State, plagued recently by poor free-throw shooting, hit seven of its last eight from the line.
Kenny Anderson had 25 points and six rebounds for Georgia Tech (17-13), but hit only 8 of 28 shots from the field. It may have been the last college game for the sophomore guard, who is considering entering the NBA draft.
No. 20 St. John's 84, No. 23 Texas 76
The Redmen wore down Texas with their patient offense and pinpoint shooting.
Texas (23-9) tried a variety of defenses, but nothing worked against the Redmen (22-8), who shot 61 percent from the field.
Billy Singleton scored 21 points for St. John's, which advanced to the regional semis for the first time since 1985. Joey Wright paced the Longhorns with 32 points.