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Thursday, Jan 19

   by Larry Ness - 01/19/2006

Duke (81-68), Florida (113-62) and Pittsburgh (76-68) all won last night and will head into the weekend as the nation's only three remaining undefeated teams. Illinois won its first 29 games last year before losing its regular season finale at Ohio State, 65-64. The Illini then won the Big-10 tourney and made it all the way to the national championship game, where they lost to the Tar Heels, 75-70.

Two years ago, Stanford won its first 29 games but like Illinois, lost its regular season finale at Washington. That same year, St Joe's won all 27 of its regular season games, but lost its opening game in the Atlantic-10 tourney. The last team to finish a season unbeaten was Bob Knight's 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers at 32-0.

My free play for Thursday is in college hoops. Take Washington State over Oregon at 10:00 ET. I won TWO of three in CBB last night and I'm now 7-3 70% ATS since last Saturday. Get my 20* CBB Rivalry GOY, my latest 15* CBB Winner (off to a 4-1-1 start in Jan) and my CBB TV Game of the Month.

There are 31 games on the college hoops board tonight. ESPN features a doubleheader with North Carolina visiting Virginia at 7:00 ET and Cincinnati at Xavier at 9:00 ET. ESPN2 has a MWC game at 9:00 ET, Utah at Air Force. The Tar Heels, despite losing four players in last year's NBA lottery, are 10-3.

Three freshman guards plus 6-9 freshman Tyler Hansbrough (leading scorer and rebounder) have joined returning players Terry and Noel to give Roy Williams a much better team than most anticipated. Virginia let Pete Gillen go after seven disappointing year but new head coach Dave Leitao hasn't had much luck so far, as the Cavs are just 8-6. North Carolina is favored by three points with a total of 143.

Cincinnati is without head coach Bob Huggins for the first time in 17 years and just lost a key player for the year, forward Armein Kirkland, to a torn ACL. Cross-town rival Xavier is 'loaded' and has opened 11-2, losing to only Illinois (by three points at the United Center) and at Creighton, 71-69 (Blue Jays are 9-0 at home). Xavier is a five-point choice and the total is 139 1/2.

In Colorado Springs, Air Force hosts Utah. Despite its third coach in three years (former Nugget coach Jeff Bzdelik) and the loss of last year's co-player of the year in the MWC (Nick Welch to injury), the Falcons are 15-2. The Utes are no longer the league's dominant team, as they enter just 8-7 and that's reflected in the fact that they are 10 1/2-point underdogs (total is 114 1/2).

The NBA has just two games tonight but both are carried on TNT. The Pistons are in New York to face the Knicks (Detroit is favored by nine points with a total of 190 1/2) and the Lakers are in Sacramento to take on the Kings (LA is a 2 1/2-point choice with a total of 206).

The Pistons are doing just fine these days without Larry Brown, as their 31-5 mark is a league-best and marks the best start in franchise history. Brown, now coaching the Knicks, enters this game with a 13-24 record. The Lakers and Kings are no longer the elite teams of the Pacific Division. LA has won six of seven but sports just a 21-17 record. As for the Kings, they enter this game at just 16-21. This game begins an 11-game stretch in which the Lakers will play NINE of those games on the road.

NFL Playoffs...A look in the rearview mirror.

I'm NOT a "conspiracy advocate" but the way I see it, the NFL has two choices! It can either acknowledge that its on-field officiating crews and the replay officials upstairs (supposedly hand-picked for the postseason as the league's finest) are trying to "influence" the outcome of the games, or they are simply INCOMPETENT!

Years ago, when I was doing a national radio talk-show, I made the following comment, tongue-in-cheek. My quote was "NFL officials are there to insure that the players DON'T decide the outcome of the games." After this past weekend's games, I think it's time to remove my tongue from my cheek!

While the NFL has admitted that its officials 'blew' the call on the Polamalu interception of Manning in the Pittsburgh/Indianapolis game, that's the LEAST of the league's problems, when it comes to the "integrity" of the game. I'll give just a few examples because more would be just PILING ON!

The pass interference call on Asante Samuel of the Patriots, late in the second quarter of a game in which New England led 3-0, was nothing short of 'criminal!' The flag came in LATE and was made by the official who was blocked from seeing what kind of contact there was, was not or who was making the contact, by the two players themselves. His ABSURD call (on the replay it looked more like OFFENSIVE pass interference than defensive!), changed the 'tone' of the game.

In the Pittsburgh/Indy game the following day, with Pittsburgh already up 14-0 in the 2nd quarter, a Steeler WR had beaten the Indy 2ndy on a deep route. Roethlisberger underthrew the ball and with the Pittsburgh receiver slowing down to catch it, the Indy player bumped him. That's an OBVIOUS pass interference call. However, the on-field official 'swallowed' his whistle. The TV commentators wondered aloud how the play they just saw was NOT pass interference, when the play in the NE/Den game the night before, WAS?

Are they really that naive or are they just being good "company" men? I'm afraid the answer is fairly simple. A pass interference call on Indy in that situation would have put Pittsburgh in a great spot to go up 17-0 or 21-0. So, the call was NOT made! Later, the "over-rule" of the Manning interception by Polamalu followed the same "theme."

In the Carolina/Chicago game, the Panthers scored on their second offensive play of the game and led 7-0. When Julius Peppers returned a Justin Gage fumble 37 yards for a TD later in the first quarter, the Bears were 'saved' by a replay official who ruled Gage's knee was down (and he was touched), before the fumble. Is that what you saw CONCLUSIVELY on the replay? What's a better game situation? Carolina up 14-0 or just 7-0? I think we all saw the answer.

Later in the game (4th quarter), Chicago's Thomas Jones was ruled to have scored a TD on a seven-yard run. Replays CLEARLY showed that not only did he lose the ball before it crossed the goal line but that the ball also went into the end zone for a touchback. However, just as clearly, there was a face-mask penalty on the Panthers. That 'saved' the replay officials from having to rule it would be Carolina's ball at their own 20. We'll never know what kind of 'story' they may have come up with if not for the face-mask penalty?

Anyway, it's back to work this weekend and I'll get off my soapbox with NFL coverage Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Ness Notes is available Monday through Friday by 1:00 ET and on Saturday and Sunday at 7:00 ET.

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