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Thursday (Mar 9)

   by Larry Ness - 03/09/2006

Monmouth and Montana can make tournament reservations as the Hawks and Grizzlies gained automatic berths to the Big Dance last night. Monmouth captured its second NEC title in three years with a 49-48 win over Farleigh Dickinson and Montana won at Northern Arizona (ending the regular season champs' 11-game home winning streak) 73-60, for its second straight Big Sky title (seventh all-time NCAA bid). No NEC school has won an NCAA tournament game in 23 tries, although Robert Morris did win a play-in game back in 1983 to earn a 12th seed, in what was then a 48-team field.

My free play is on Buffalo over Kent State at 4:00 ET in college hoops. Early risers caught my 15* play on Clemson/Mia-Fla and my first Triple 10* Tourney Report of the postseason (1st game went at noon ET) . Still available are my evening 15* play (9-3 entering Thursday''s action since Mar 1), my 20* ACC Tourney GOY (won ACC GOY on 3/1 when FSU upset Duke!) and another exclusive Ls Vegas Insider Play (1-0 in tourneys!).

Conference tourney action on Wednesday saw the Big East's four-game schedule open with a game-winning three-pointer by Syracuse's Gerry McNamara with a half-second remaining in the contest. McNamara's game-winner came after a length-of-the-court drive and gave the Orange a 74-73 win over the Bearcats.

The night ended with No. 15 Pittsburgh almost blowing a 25-point against Louisville. The Panthers led 47-22 with 13:40 left but failed to score a FG over the game's final 13 1/2 minutes, yet held on to win (and cover!), 61-56. In between, No. 23 Georgetown edged Notre Dame (67-63) and Rutgers beat Seton Hall 61-48, likely ending any hopes the Pirates had of an at-large selection.

Temple opened A-10 tourney play with an easy win over Rhode Island (74-45) but all that gets the Owls is a date with No. 6 George Washington today at 12:00 ET. Another highlight (or should we say lowlight) of the tourney was Fordham's 45-37 win over Richmond. It marks the lowest-scoring (82 points) A-10 Tourney game in history. There is little worthy of reporting from C-USA's four games.

Dick Bennett of Washington State coached his last game on Wednesday night in the Pac-10 tourney, a 66-55 loss to Oregon. While Bennett was just 36-49 in three years at Pullman, he won 490 career games in 27-plus seasons, leading Wisconsin to a Final Four appearance in 2000.

The ACC, Big-10, Big-12, SEC, SWAC and WAC become the final six conferences to get their respective postseason tournaments underway on Thursday. It's a busy 45-game college 'board' tonight and the cameras of ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU are out in force, televising 13 games.

Coverage includes all four games in the Big East, all three in the Big-10 and all four in the Big-12. Also covered are Va Tech versus Virginia in the ACC (7:00 ET) and Utah versus BYU in the MWC (12:00 midnight ET). FSN airs all four games in the Pac-10 tourney.

Conference notes

The ACC has four 'locks' for the tourney with 19-8 Florida State and 18-11 Maryland (current streak of 12 straight bids) likely to go. Since the advent of the 64-team field in 1985, the ACC owns the most tournament wins of any conference (215), has had the most teams advance to the Sweet 16 (56), had the most Final 4 representatives (20) and the most national champs (5).

The Big-10 has sent the most teams to the tournament since its inception in 1939 (172) and has placed two teams in the Final 4 four times in the last 14 years, after Illinois and Michigan State made it last season.

The Big-12 is in its 10th year and has only three locks for this year's Big Dance (Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma). The conference sent six teams last year (tied with the Big East for the most) and has sent six teams to the tournament in five of the last six years. Looking to get in this year are Texas A&M (20-7) and Colorado (19-8). Kansas' streak of 16 straight NCAA appearances is second to only Arizona's 21. The total of five teams sent to the last four Final Fours by the Big-12 is the best of any conference.

The SEC sent six teams to the tournament from 1999 through 2004 and five teams last year. Florida, LSU and Tennessee are locks this year but neither 17-11 Alabama, 21-8 Arkansas nor 19-11 Kentucky are absolute certainties this year.

Southern of the SWAC won its first regular season title in 16 years and will attempt to earn its first NCAA trip since 1993. The WAC has sent two teams to the tournament in four of the last five years but may only send Nevada (24-5) this year. However, Utah State (21-7) and La Tech (19-11) are in the running.

LeBron James' three-pointer at the buzzer gave the Cavs their second straight win over the Raptors (98-97) and their fourth straight win overall. The Pistons and Bulls played a 65-point fourth quarter last night (Det 38-37), as Detroit held on to win 106-101. Detroit is now 27-2 at home and a league-best 49-11 overall. The Heat have quietly won 10 straight, after Wade' 40 points (had missed last two games) led them to a 118-112 win over the Wizards last night.

Kobe had another 40-point night in New Orleans, as the Lakers beat the Hornets 113-107. Of even more significance was the fact that this was the first professional sporting event played in the city (at the New Orleans Arena), since Katrina hit on August 29. The Hornets have played home games in four different sites this year, making the team's 31-29 record quite impressive (Hornets were just 18-64 last season!).

It's just a three-game schedule tonight but both Dallas and San Antonio are in action. TNT has a doubleheader, starting with the Nuggets in Philadelphia to take on the 76ers (8:05 ET). Dallas and San Antonio must shake their collective heads (both are 47-13) when they realize Denver leads the Northwest Division by three games with a record of just 33-28, while Philly's 30-30 mark has them just two games behind the first-place Nets in the Atlantic Division. Denver is favored by 1 1/2 points (209 1/2).

The Mavs are in Portland to meet the Blazers, a team they just beat in Dallas on Tuesday, 93-87. This begins a stretch in which Dallas will play 10 of its final 13 games of the month on the road. Portland has lost eight of nine since the break and 14 of its last 17. Dallas is favored by eight points (186 1/2).

The nightcap on TNT (10:35 ET) has the potential to be a great game, but injuries and illness have clouded the picture. The Spurs are in Phoenix to host the Suns but Nash is questionable with a sprained ankle plus both Marion and Tim Thomas have had bouts with the flu. Phoenix has won 11 straight games (14 of 15) and has topped 100 points in 22 straight games (the longest stretch in the NBA since San Antonio went 22 games with at least 100 points back in 1994-95).

The Spurs are the NBA's best defensive team, allowing 88.1 PPG and have gone 20-4 since losing to the Pistons back on January 12. The game is listed at 'pick' with a total of 200.

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

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