Almost nothing rankles college basketball fans in Atlantic Coast Conference country as much as the success of teams in the Big East.

For the first time this season, Villanova, the Big East regular season champion, has ventured out of the Northeast. The Wildcats are in Raleigh, N.C., the heart of anti-Big East territory, for tonight's 9:43 game with Memphis State in an NCAA East Regional semifinal.

In the first half of the doubleheader in Reynolds Coliseum, top-ranked North Carolina plays Southeastern Conference champion Alabama at 7:08 (delayed broadcast, WDVM-TV-9 at 11:30 p.m.).

Chances are that most people in the Coliseum won't know much about the Wildcats (23-7) and their excitable coach, Rollie Massimino.

"As far as coming down South to play, I know some may not be familiar with us," Massimino said. "That's why, as a team, I hope we can represent the Big East to the best of our ability. The East has an incredible amount of togetherness. I think we're all pulling for each other."

Don Casey, coach of Temple, said he thinks anyone who underestimates Villanova's talent will be surprised. "That's a very talented team, even though not many people outside the East realize it," Casey said.

The Wildcats apparently match up well with Memphis State (24-4).

Ed Pinckney, a 6-foot-9 freshman, is the third-best percentage shooter in the nation (65.1 percent), but he has not received the national publicity of his counterpart at Memphis State, 6-10 Keith Lee.

If Lee has an off game, Memphis State could be in trouble because he is the Tigers' best player.

Villanova is not as dependent upon Pinckney. John Pinone, a 6-8 center nicknamed "The Bear," is strong beneath the backboards, and Aaron Howard, the only starting senior, completes an imposing front line.

Stewart Granger is one of the best point guards in the Big East; the Tigers don't have a natural point guard.

Fans at Villanova games like to watch the tempestuous Massimino pace the sideline.

"He's very excitable," said Casey. "That's just his makeup. It's an extension of his involvement in the game. I enjoy his antics because the way he gets excited is genuine. I don't think he force-feeds it to the kids, though, because they play with more and more poise as the season progresses.

"The thing I envy about Rollie is that his teams always get better at the end of the year. They win the right games. When the season is over, I would like to speak to him and find out what it is that he does to improve a team constantly over the span of a season."

If Villanova and Carolina advance to Sunday's regional final, that would give the fans in Raleigh a dream matchup: a Big East team against the ACC Tar Heels