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Saturday, Jan 21

   by Larry Ness - 01/21/2006

There are 96 college basketball games "on the board" for Saturday, including the added games. It's that time of year and ESPN won't let us college basketball junkies down with FIVE televised games. It starts early (12:00 ET) with No. 23 Iowa (14-4) at No. 11 Michigan State (14-4). MSU is a 7 1/2-point choice with a total of 132.

ESPN continues when Temple visits U Mass at 2:00 ET. The Minutemen are favored by 1 1/2 with a total of 119. It's Nebraska/Kansas at 4:00 ET with the Jayhawks favored by 1 1/2 points (total is 128).The evening action heats up in the Big East with No. 20 Syracuse (15-3) visiting No. 8 Villanova (12-2) at 6:00 ET. The Wildcats are favored by 8 1/2 points with a total of 147. At 9:00 ET, No. 3 U Conn (15-1) visits No. 17 Louisville (13-4), where the Huskies are favored by six points with a total of 144.

CBS' national game (1:30 ET) is No. 1 Duke (17-0) at Georgetown. The Blue Devils are favored by eight points with a total of 136. At 3:45 ET, it's regional coverage of Miss St at Vandy ('Dores are favored by 11 points with a total of 134 1/2) and No. 12 West Va (13-3) at No. 18 UCLA (15-3). The Bruins are favored by two points with a total of 136. ABC has regional coverage of Texas Tech at Oklahoma (1:00 ET) and California at Arizona (6:00 ET). The Sooners are favored by 10 1/2 points (total is 128 1/2) and the Wildcats are favored by 7 1/2 points (total is 142).

No. 2 Florida (17-0) and No. 9 Pittsburgh (15-0) join Duke as the nation's only three remaining unbeatens. The Gators are at Tennessee (7:00 ET), where the Gators are favored by just a single point (total is 157). The Panthers are at St John's (12:00 ET) where they are a five-point choice with a total of 122.

My free play in college hoops for Saturday is Long Beach St over Cal-Riverside at 8:00 ET. Saturday is LOADED with action and I have a HUGE card. Get all of my plays (available by 9:00 ET), including just my second 22* play in this year's CBB season (won my first with UCLA over Stanford on 12/29).

It's the NFL's version of the "Final Four" this Sunday, as Pittsburgh takes on Denver in the AFC title game and Carolina is in Seattle for the NFC title game. Denver and Seattle were the league's only two teams to go through the regular season unbeaten at home and after winning home games last weekend, can advance to the Super Bowl by "holding serve" one more time.

For either Carolina or Pittsburgh to advance to the Super Bowl, they would have to join the 1985 New England Patriots, who are the only team to have ever advanced to a Super Bowl by winning three straight road playoff games!

Home teams have gone 46-24 SU and 39-29-2 ATS since the 1970 merger in championship games. However, after going 16-4 SU and 15-5 ATS during the 1980s, things have changed since the league went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990 (any connection?).

Over the last 30 championship games, home teams are just 17-13 SU, with visiting teams 'covering' 17 of the 30 games, including 11 of the last 16. Going back to 1970, these title games haven't been close. In fact, exactly half (35 of 70) have been decided by 14 points or more! All SIX of the games the last three years have been decided by double digits, as have EIGHT of the last 10!

Since 1990, home teams have won both games four times but not once since 1996. Visiting teams swept both championship games in both 1992 (Buffalo and Dallas) and 1997 (Denver and Green Bay). Since 1998, the last seven years have seen one visiting team and one home team advance to the Super Bowl (the ball's in your court!).

In the AFC, Pittsburgh is the first No. 6 seed (since 1990) to advance to a conference title game. The Steelers broke a string of 10 consecutive No. 6 seeds that lost in the divisional round when they beat the Colts last Sunday, so why can't they win here? Cowher had been 0-3 in playoff road games prior to this year but has now won two straight, so maybe being on the road for this title game is a good thing?

Especially when you consider he's 1-4 in five previous AFC title games (all at home!). However, the Broncos are not only 9-0 at home this year after beating the Patriots, but they are 12-2 all-time at home in the playoffs plus 6-1 in seven previous AFC title games (4-0 at home!). Denver is favored by three points with a total of 41.

In the NFC, Carolina is a No. 5 seed and the Panthers are just the third No. 5 seed (since 1990) to advance to a conference title game (first in the NFC). Both previous No. 5 seeds lost, the Colts 20-16 to the Steelers in 1995 (but they covered) and the Jaguars 20-6 to the Patriots in 1996 (they didn't). In the Panthers favor is Steve Smith (the playoff MVP to this point) and Jake Delhomme (5-1 as a starter in the playoffs), including an NFL record-tying FOUR playoff road wins (matching Len Dawson and Roger Staubach).

Seattle is at home but the Seahawks are playing in just their 2nd title game in 30 years, while the Panthers are playing in their 3rd title game in their 11-year history. With the AFC's No. 1 seed gone (Indy), a loss by Seattle would give us just our second Super Bowl since 1990 (and first since 1997), without ONE of the two No. 1 seeds. Seattle is favored by 3 1/2 points with a total of 43 1/2.

Sunday's Ness Notes, available at 7:00 ET, will have an updated NFL report. Monday through Friday, Ness Notes is available by 1:00 ET.

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