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Friday, Mar 3

   by Larry Ness - 03/03/2006

There was some good-ol' March Madness at work last night in the MVC tourney, as Indiana State scored just 10 points in the first half of its game with Drake. However, Drake wasn't much better scoring just 19 first-half points and when the Sycamores shot "lights-out" in the second half (going 23-of-30 from the floor), their 62-point second half was good enough for an easy win and cover (72-63). No. 3 Memphis, like Duke the night before, fell on the road to a conference opponent, when the Tigers lost in Birmingham to UAB, 80-74.

My free play for Friday is Canisius over Loyola-Maryland at 9:20 ET. Indiana State's great comeback gave me my third straight 20* winner in CBB to open the week. I had a 20* earlier today in the Southern Conference but have yet another one with my Ivy League GOY later tonight. Already 2-0 with my 15* plays in CBB to open March (A&M and Mich St), I feature an afternoon 15* on Bradley/Creighton and an evening one as well. Also, check back for a late-night Bailout release in college hoops. In the NBA, it's my 10* Situational Game of the Month.

The loss ruined Memphis' perfect league mark in C-USA, its 10-0 road record this year plus ended the team's 15-game overall winning streak. The Tigers' conference loss leaves only No. 7 George Washington, still perfect in the A-10, as the only school still capable of joining Bucknell (Patriot) and Gonzaga (WCC) with perfect regular season records in 2005-06. Four other top-25 teams were in action Thursday night and all four won.

No. 14 Washington won easily at Arizona State, 91-64 and No. 15 UCLA overcame an 11-point halftime deficit at Cal, winning 67-58 in OT. UCLA leads Washington by one game with one game remaining. UCLA has already clinched at least a share of the Pac-10 title (its first in nine years), but if the schools were to tie for first, the Huskies' season sweep of the Bruins would give Washington the No. 1 seed in the Pac-10 tourney.

No. 24 Nevada cruised to an 83-60 win at home over San Jose State, giving the Wolf Pack their second straight outright WAC title (Nevada shared the crown with UTEP two years ago). No. 25 Michigan State, led by Paul Davis' 27 points and nine rebounds beat Wisconsin 74-65, giving Tom Izzo's Spartans their fifth 20-win season in seven years.

Eight more conference tourneys get underway this weekend, with the CAA, MAAC, SBC and WCC joining tonight's 29-game college basketball 'board'. The America East and Patriot League also start tonight but their games will not have 'lines' posted. The Big Sky (part of the added board) and the Mid-Continent Conference (no lines) open on Saturday. Saturday's schedule is as usual, very busy. There are 59 regular season games scheduled plus 18 tournament games. Sunday's action includes 10 regular season games and 12 more tournament contests.

It's a rare night without any TV games on Friday but Saturday's schedule will see at least 10 games aired. ESPN has two big games, as No. 7 George Washington will host Charlotte at 2:00 ET. The Colonials own the nation's longest current winning streak at 17 straight and can become just the fourth team to complete a winless A-10 regular season with a win. At 9:00 ET, No. 1 Duke hosts No. 13 North Carolina. This game has some lost some luster, as the Blue Devils were upset by Florida State on Wednesday but ESPN plans coverage above and beyond the call of duty (or sanity!).

CBS features No. 2 U Conn (soon to be No. 1 if the Huskies win) hosting Louisville at 2:00 ET. ESPNU will cover both semifinal games in the Horizon League and ESPN2 carries the OVC championship game at 4:00 ET. Sunday's 10-game regular season schedule will have CBS carrying No. 17 Florida at Kentucky and No. 4 Villanova at Syracuse regionally at 12:00 noon ET. No. 19 Oklahoma is at No. 6 Texas at 4:00 ET (also on CBS). There will be 12 college tourney games on Sunday, including the title games of both the MVC and the Southern Conference.

Last night's NBA saw Cleveland blow a 25-point lead at Chicago but escape with a 92-91 win when Ronald Murray drained a three-pointer with just 3.9 seconds left. In the TNT nightcap, the Spurs beat the Mavericks 98-89. The win marked Greg Popovich's 500th career win and allowed San Antonio to tie Dallas at 45-12. Only Detroit (47-10) has a better record than these two Southwest Division teams but the team that wins the division will get the West's No. 1 seed (and maybe the overall No. 1 seed if the Pistons falter?), while the division runner-up will get only the West's No. 4 seed!

Tonight's NBA card features 10 games, with ESPN carrying a doubleheader. The Pacers are in Boston to meet the Celtics at 7:35 ET in the first game, while the Clippers are in Utah to take on the Jazz at 10:05 ET. The Pacers went 8-3 in February with Peja averaging 19.8 PPG since coming over in the Artest trade. Boston's Paul Pierce averaged a club-record 33.5 PPG in February and opened March with a 38-point game in a home loss to the Heat. Indiana currently owns the East's fifth-seed, while Boston sits a No. 10, 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. Indiana is favored by two points (190 1/2).

The Clippers enter tonight's game in Salt Lake City on a three-game winning streak. While this could be the franchise's best season in a very long while, the Clippers are a very streaky team. From Jan 10 through Feb 7 the team won nine of 10 games but prior to their current three-game streak, had lost six of seven. Utah is the league's second-lowest scoring team (90.3 PPG) and has failed to reach 90 points in five of its last seven. More bad news comes in the form of Kirilenko (15.2 PPG) expecting to miss this game (does his wife know where he is?). The Clippers are favored by 4 1/2 points (181 1/2).

Other games of note on Friday are the Bulls at the Knicks (7:35 ET), the Bobcats at the Mavericks (8:35 ET), the Magic at the Suns (9:05 ET) and the Pistons at the Sonics (10:35 ET). The Knicks have lost 21 of 23 and are three-point home underdogs to the Bulls (200). The Mavericks will try to extend their club-record 15-game home winning streak against the Bobcats and are favored by 12 1/2 points (191).

The Magic have lost 15 of 17 (also own a 10-game road losing streak) and face the Suns, who own the league's longest active winning streak at eight straight. The Suns (the NBA's top-scoring team at 107.8 PPG) have also topped 100 points in 19 straight games, the longest such run since the Spurs topped 100 points in 22 straight games back in 1994-95. Phoenix is favored by 14 points (211). Detroit, the league's best team at 47-10, puts its 21-8 road record on the line against Seattle, the owners of the NBA's worst pointspread record (20-36-2). Detroit is favored by 7 1/2 points (196).

Ness Notes is available by 1:00 ET Monday through Friday. A feature story runs Saturday and Sunday. This week's title is "Countdown to the madness."

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