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Monday, Mar 6

   by Larry Ness - 03/06/2006

Six schools clinched automatic bids to the NCAA tournament over the weekend, beginning with Penn on Friday night when the Quakers secured the Ivy League's regular season crown. The Ivy League is the only one of the 31 Division conferences that doesn't hold a postseason tournament. Five other schools received automatic bids by winning their respective conference tourneys and three more conference titles will be decided tonight, as part of Monday's nine-game college basketball schedule.

My free play for Monday is the LA Lakers over the SA Spurs at 10:35 ET. Join me for my 10* NBA Non-Conf Game of the Month, as I look to continue my 66% NBA run (since Feb 3!). I'm coming off a 3-0 sweep this weekend, winning with the 76ers (Fri), the Lakers (Sat) and the Suns (Sun). Check back after 1:00 ET, as I should have some college basketball tournament plays!

Clinching bids on Saturday were Belmont of the Atlantic Sun, Murray State of the OVC and Winthrop of the Big South. Murray State will be making its 13th NCAA appearance and Winthrop won its sixth Big South title in Gregg Marshall's eighth year as head coach (Eagles have lost all five times in the first round).

Belmont, unlike Murray State and Winthrop, will be making its first-ever NCAA appearance. The Bruins, a Nashville-based school, only entered Division I in 1997. After tying Lipscomb, also located in Nashville and a Division I member since just 2000, with identical 15-5 records during the regular season, it only seemed fitting that Saturday's final was decided in OT.

Davidson won the Southern Conference title game on Sunday, beating Tenn-Chattanooga, 80-55. It was sweet redemption for the Wildcats who went 16-0 last year during the regular season but lost in the semifinals of the conference tourney. Southern Illinois entered the MVC tourney the last four years as that league's No. 1 seed but each time came up short. However, the Salukis did receive an at-large bid to the NCAA's, each year.

Southern Illinois won't have to wait around for Selection Sunday this year, as the Salukis ran away from Bradley in the second half on Sunday, capturing the MVC title 59-46 and securing the school's fifth consecutive tournament bid. Speaking of Selection Sunday, it will be interesting to see just how many bids this very good conference receives. The MVC sent a conference-record five schools to the postseason last year, including three to the NCAA tournament.

In other action this weekend, No. 8 Pitt was the only top-25 team not in action. There were three double-ranked games, with No. 1 Duke losing for the second time this week (this time at home!). The Blue Devils lost to No. 13 North Carolina on Saturday, 83-76. No. 6 Texas avenged an earlier loss this year in Norman, crushing No. 19 Oklahoma on Sunday (72-48), while No. 10 Illinois won at No. 25 Michigan State on Saturday, 75-68.

Three top-25 schools lost to unranked teams, all on the road. No. 16 West Va lost at Cincinnati (78-75), No. 20 Georgetown lost at South Florida ((63-56) and No. 22 North Carolina State lost at Wake Forest, 76-63.

Georgetown's loss at South Florida (the Hoyas fourth loss in six games!) allowed the Bulls to end a school-record 17-game losing streak and gave them their first Big East win of the year. The Bulls were the only Division I school still without a conference win this year (Campbell of the Atlantic Sun, at 0-20, was the only school to go winless last year), and they avoid joining the 1993-94 Miami Hurricanes as the only school to go winless in the Big East in the last 25 years.

The ending to Saturday's George Washington game was incredible and if you didn't see it, you missed something. The seventh-ranked Colonials extended the nation's longest active winning streak to 18 consecutive wins with an improbable 86-85 overtime win against Charlotte. GW completed the A-10's regular season at 16-0, just the fourth perfect season in that league's history (Temple's done it twice, St Joe's once).

The Colonials join Bucknell (Patriot) and Gonzaga (WCC) as the only three schools to go undefeated in their respective conferences this year. That's not an easy feat to accomplish, as just nine schools had done it over the past five years heading into this season.

Speaking of Bucknell and Gonzaga, both were in action on Sunday in their respective conference tourneys . Bucknell won 64-50 over American but Gonzaga struggled (at home) to beat San Diego, winning in OT, 96-92. Adam Morrison scored 24 points as the Bulldogs won their 39th straight home game and 17th straight overall.

It's hard to mention Morrison and not think of Duke's Redick. They are the nation's top-two scorers and the top-two candidates for the player of the year award. Redick has taken quite a 'hit' these last two weeks, as he's shot just 23-of-80 from the floor (28.8 percent) and just 8-of-37 on threes (21.6 percent), plus Duke went 0-2 this past week!

Tonight's nine-game college basketball schedule features nothing but postseason tournament games. The MAC's first round features four games, with the higher seeded team owning the home court edge in each game.

The SBC is playing its semifinal games at Murfreesboro, which is a neutral court with Middle Tenn State getting eliminated yesterday. ESPN carries the CAA final, Hofstra vs NC-Wilmington (7:00 ET) and the WCC final, Loyola-Marymount at Gonzaga (9:00 ET). ESPN2 carries the MAAC final at 9:00 ET, as St Peter's takes on Iona. Wilmington is favored by 3 1/2 points (126), Gonzaga by 12 points (150 1/2) and Iona by eight points (151 1/2).

Over the weekend in the NBA, the Pistons edged the Sonics on Friday (98-96) but then lost to the Lakers in LA on Saturday, 105-94. While Detroit still owns the league's best record at 48-11, the Pistons are just 3-8 ATS in their last 11 road games.

The Spurs got crushed by the Pistons back on Jan 12 in San Antonio trying to avenge their Christmas Day loss in Detroit and the defending champs were so devastated that they've gone 19-3 since! At 46-12, San Antonio owns the West's best record, a mere half-game better than Dallas (46-13).

The Mavericks led the Suns yesterday by 11 at the half but Phoenix won the 4th quarter, 34-18! The 115-107 win by Phoenix ended Dallas' franchise-record 16-game home winning streak.

As for the Suns, they have now won 10 straight (13 of 14) and at 41-17, just may be the "team to beat" in the West. Phoenix has topped 100 points in 21 consecutive games and can match the longest streak of 100-point games in over a decade, in their game with the Hornets tonight in Okla City. The Spurs scored 100 points or more in 22 straight games back in the 1994-95 season.

Speaking of the Spurs, they are in LA tonight to face the Lakers at 10:35 ET, in the marquee matchup of tonight's six-game NBA card. LA is just 31-19 on the season but has risen to the occasion as of late at home, when facing the league's elite. LA has won its last three games when installed as a home underdog. Those wins have come over Dallas (112-90), Miami (100-92) and Detroit (105-94). Tonight, the Spurs are favored by 4 1/2 points with a total of 187.

Ness Notes is available by 1:00 ET Monday through Friday. A feature story runs Saturday and Sunday.

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