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Monday, Jan 23

   by Larry Ness - 01/23/2006

The NFL conference championship games have had a tendency of not being close since the 1970 merger. Entering yesterday's games, 35 of the previous 70 conference title games had been decided by 14 or more points and Sunday's results followed that theme.

The Steelers became the first No. 6 seed (since 1990) to advance to a Super Bowl with its 34-17 win over the Broncos in Denver and joined the 1985 Patriots, as the only teams to reach a Super Bowl by winning three consecutive games on the road.

My free play for Monday is in college hoops, Loyola-Marymount over St Mary's (10:00 ET). In Monday's CBB, I'm featuring just one game, a 15* play (71% in '06). In the NBA, I'm releasing one of my exclusive 22* plays (highest-rating!), representing my 22nd year in the business. In 20* NBA plays (or higher) TY, I'm 4-1!

Over in the NFC, Seattle's 34-14 win over Carolina ended the Panthers' record-tying four-game road winning streak in the postseason and put the Seahawks in the Super Bowl for the first time in that franchise's 30-year history. The 17-point and 20-point wins makes it four straight years (eight games) in which both title games have been decided by at least 10 points and over the last six seasons, 10 of the 12 games have been decided by at least double digits.

Home teams are now 4-6 SU and ATS in this year's postseason, with all 10 SU winners also 'covering' the pointspread. Six of the first eight playoff games had gone 'under' but both of Sunday's games went 'over'. Visiting teams have done fairly well since 1990 ATS in conference title games, going 18-14 ATS (14-18 SU). That's in stark contrast to the 1980s, when home teams went 16-4 SU and 15-5 ATS!

The early Super Bowl line has the Steelers favored by 3 1/2 points with a total of 47. Of note is that the AFC's No. 6 seed (Pittsburgh) is favored over the NFC's No. 1 seed (Seattle), a team that went 15-3 this year, including its two postseason victories (much more NFL stuff on Tuesday).

Monday's NBA action features a six-game schedule but wanna bet that no player tops Kobe's performance from last night or that no single game will top last night's "scoring-fest" between Seattle and Phoenix? For those of you who didn't get the late west scores last night, Kobe scored 81 points in LA's 122-104 win over Toronto and in two overtimes, the Sonics beat the Suns, 152-149.

Kobe's point total is the second-highest in NBA history (to Wilt's famous 100-point game in Hershey, Pa circa 1962), while the Sonics/Suns game was the NBA's highest-scoring game since Dallas beat Houston 156-147 (also in 2 OTs) back on April 11, 1995!

Kobe had 26 points at the half but his team trailed by 14! LA fell behind by as many as 18 points in the 3rd quarter (laying 6 1/2 by the way!), but led by Kobe's 27 points, the Lakers outscored the Raptors 42-22 in that quarter. In the 4th quarter, Kobe scored 28 of LA's 31 points, as LA won 122-104 (too bad if you had Toronto!).

Tonight's college hoops features a 15-game schedule, just two days after all three of Division I's remaining unbeaten teams (entering the weekend), lost. No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Florida and No. 9 Pittsburgh all lost for the first time on Saturday. Pittsburgh leads off tonight's big Monday on ESPN. The Panthers host Syracuse at 7:00 ET, a team that's lost two straight games to No. 3 U Conn and No. 8 Villanova. Pitt is favored by 4 1/2 points with a total of 133.

No. 5 Texas hosts Oklahoma St at 9:00 ET. The Longhorns have won eight straight games since losing to Tennessee 95-78 on December 17, holding opponents to an average of 51.9 PPG, limiting them to 31.4 percent shooting and forcing an average of 17.3 turnovers per game. Those are some pretty AWESOME stats! The Longhorns are favored by 12 1/2 points with a total of 134.

In the WAC at 12:00 ET, Utah St is at Nevada. The Aggies are in their first year in the WAC, after dominating the Big West (84-20 in conference play) the last six years. Nevada has won 25 games in each of the last two seasons, reaching the Sweet 16 two years ago and the NCAA's second round, last year. However, both teams are trailing La Tech in this year's WAC race. Nevada, 8-0 at home this year, is favored by 4 1/2 points with a total of 134.

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