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Thursday, Feb 9

   by Larry Ness - 02/09/2006

NINE top-25 teams were in action last night with THREE losing. No. 7 Florida lost at home 71-67 to South Carolina, ending the nation's second-longest home winning streak at 20. The Gators are now 3-3 since their 17-0 start, with two of those losses coming at the hands of the Gamecocks. No. 18 Iowa lost at Northwestern (51-48) and No. 24 Indiana got hammered at Wisconsin (72-54).

Ranked teams that didn't lose, included No. 1 U Conn, which trounced Syracuse 73-50 for its 10th straight win and No. 8 George Washington. For the Colonials, the win kept them a perfect 9-0 in the A-10 (one of seven teams still unbeaten in conference play), gave them a current 11-game streak (nation's longest) and gave them a 19-1 start, matching the school's best-ever 20-game start (tying the 1953-54 team). Bucknell, not ranked but one of the seven Division I conference unbeatens (10-0 in the Patriot League), beat American 74-57 for its 10th straight win.

My free play for Thursday is in college hoops. Take North Texas over Mid Tenn St at 8:00 ET. The Suns blew a 16-point 4th quarter lead last night, costing us a win but I'm back at work with a STRONG 10* in the NBA tonight! In CBB, I'm releasing just my FOURTH 22* play all year (already 3-0!), a game you DON'T want to miss!

Thursday night's 36-game college 'board' schedule sees SEVEN ranked teams in action, including two games in which ranked teams are playing each other (both games are on ESPN). No. 19 Ohio State is at No. 22 Michigan at 7:00 ET, with the wolverines favored by two points (total is 141 1/2). At 9:00 ET, No. 9 West Va (lone Big East team unbeaten in conference play) is at No. 14 Pitt. The Panthers are 2-3 since opening 15-0 but are perfect at home this year and have won 13 straight home games. West Va has won 15 of its last 16 games this season but Pitt is favored by 4 1/2 points with a total of 134 1/2.

The ESPN2 doubleheader opens with No. 15 Georgetown hosting St John's at 9:00 ET. St John's owns wins over ranked teams at home this year (Louisville and Pitt) but has lost 14 straight games on the road to ranked opponents. Georgetown is favored by 11 points with a total of 120 1/2. At 11:00 ET, Pacific is at CS Fullerton, where the Tigers are favored by two points (total of 146).

The two remaining ranked teams in action are Pac-10 schools, No. 13 UCLA and No. 21 Washington. UCLA is at Washington St (8:30 ET) where the Bruins are favored by 1 1/2 points with a total of 113 1/2. The Bruins have beaten the Cougars in 24 of the last 25 meetings, including 12 straight in Pullman. Washington, after going 11-0 in its non-conference schedule, is just 5-5 in Pac-10 play. The Huskies, who beat the Trojans 86-77 in LA on Jan 12, are favored by 12 1/2 points with a total of 150 (10:30 ET).

Checking in on some 'lovable losers', South Florida lost its 11th straight game last night (70-65 to Seton Hall) and Texas State lost its 10th straight (83-71 at Lamar). South Fla (0-9 in the Big East) and Texas State (0-9 in the Southland) remain two of FIVE schools still winless in their respective conferences. St Bonaventure (0-9 in the A-10), losers of 10 straight games, is in action tonight at home versus Fordham (7:00 ET). The visiting Rams are favored by 3 1/2 points with a total of 140.

Wednesday night NBA highlights saw the Pistons stop their losing streak at two, by beating the red-hot Clippers (had won 9 of 10), 97-87. The Nets won their 12th straight home game (9-3 ATS), beating the Knicks 96-83. New York has now lost seven straight and 13 of 14. The Bobcats set a franchise record last night by winning their THIRD straight game (yes that's a record!), 100-92 over the 76ers. The 'winning' streak comes on the heels of a franchise-worst, 13-game losing streak. Speaking of losing streaks, Denver's 110-107 loss last night to Chicago, marked the Nuggets' NINTH consecutive ATS loss!

Tonight's NBA schedule features just two games, with both being televised by TNT. The Heat are in Dallas at 8:05 ET to take on the Mavericks. Dallas owns the league's longest winning streak this year, entering this game on a 12-game winning streak (10-2 ATS). During that span, Dallas has held each one of its opponents to less than 100 points (87.4 PPG average), but tonight faces a Miami team which leads the Eastern Conference in scoring (100.3) and FG percentage (47.2). Dallas is favored by 4 1/2 points with a total of 199.

In the nightcap, the Kings host the Bulls at 10:35 ET. Chicago ended a four-game losing streak last night with a win in Denver (110-107) but will playing its sixth road game of a seven-game trip. The Kings have won six straight at home (3-0 SU and ATS with Artest) and had beaten Chicago 11 straight times before losing 107-102 a year ago February. Sacramento is favored by 5 1/2 points with a total of 196 1/2.

Super Bowl recap Part 2 (the coaches)

Both Mike Holmgren and Bill Cowher began their head coaching careers in 1992. After a 9-7 year at Green Bay in 1992, Holmgren led the Packers to six straight postseasons, including back-to-back Super Bowl appearances following the 1996 and 1997 seasons (Green Bay won the first and lost the second). He then left Green Bay after the 1998 season and has been in Seattle since. While leading Seattle to postseason berths in 1999, 2003 and 2004 prior to this year, Holmgren had not led the team to a playoff win, going 0-3. The team's 27-20 home loss in 2004 to the 8-8 Rams (a team the Seahawks had lost to twice in the regular season), was particularly troubling.

Cowher took the Steelers to the postseason in each of his first SIX seasons in Pittsburgh (92-97). In three of those six playoff seasons, Cowher had the Steelers in the AFC title game (all at home) but won just once. That year (1995), the Steelers went on to lose to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX, 27-17. The Steelers then went three straight years without making the playoffs, twice finishing under .500. However, entering 2005, Cowher had led the Steelers to the postseason in three of the previous four years. That being said, he had also lost two more AFC title games (at home!) in the new century.

Both coaches took different paths to this year's postseason, with Holmgren and Seattle easily qualifying for the playoffs with an NFC-best 13-3 record, while Cowher's Steelers needed to win their final four games after a 7-5 start, qualifying as the No. 6 seed. Then Cowher, 0-3 in his postseason career on the road, led the Steelers to wins at Cincinnati (No. 3 seed), Indianapolis (No. 1 seed) and Denver (No.2 seed). After losing four of five AFC title games at home, Cowher made it one-for-one on the road.

Holmgren had a much easier time of things, winning home games over the NFC's No. 6 seed (Washington) and its No. 5 seed (Carolina). However, the win over Washington was Seattle's first playoff win since 1984, ending an 0-6 playoff run by the franchise and ending a 21-year drought between playoff wins, which was the longest in NFL history. Seattle's impressive 34-14 over Carolina, was hardly insignificant either, as the Panthers came in with the postseason's hottest player (Steve Smith) and a QB (Jake Delhomme) who was 5-1 in his postseason career, including 4-0 on the road.

While clearly both coaches were considered among the NFL-elite, both were looking for validation entering this year's postseason and while both had accomplished much by just getting to the "big game", each needed a win in Super Bowl XL!

Holmgren, while the owner of a Super Bowl ring, had seen his "genius" label get tarnished by Seattle's lack of postseason success prior to this year but now had a chance to become the first-ever head coach to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. As for Cowher, he had lost his only Super Bowl appearance and his three straight playoff road wins this year would have been forgotten with a loss to Seattle.

Both coaches came out tentative in Sunday's game but while Cowher eventually came "out of his shell" (the Randle-El to Ward TD pass was the game-clincher), Holmgren seemingly never did. While clearly the refs did Seattle no favors (my part 4 topic), it would be hard to argue that Holmgren coached a good game. Both he and his QB looked lost in "time-management" situations at the end of the first half plus the end of the game and few could argue that this Super Bowl game was as much LOST by Seattle, as it was WON by Pittsburgh.

In the end, it was an opportunity lost by Holmgren. He looked and sounded sadly pathetic in his "I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts too" speech. As for Cowher, after 14 seasons and 10 playoff appearances, which included six AFC title games and two Super Bowl appearances, he finally got his ring!

I'm stil lcatching up, so Part 3 will run Friday. Ness Notes is available Monday through Friday by 1:00 ET. Saturday and Sunday's notes are available by 9:00 ET.

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