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Thursday, Mar 16

   by Larry Ness - 03/16/2006

The 2006 NCAA tournament gets underway today with the first of its 16 opening round games beginning at 12:20 ET with Seton Hall taking on Wichita State in Greensboro, North Carolina. The last game of the day is scheduled to tip around 9:45 ET in San Diego, as Utah State takes on Washington. There will be 16 more first round games on Friday. All games are being carried by CBS.

My free play for Thursday is on Gonzaga over Xavier at 7:20 ET. Off a dreadful 0-3 Wednesday, I'm glad the NCAA tournament brings a fresh start. I have four tournament games for Thursday, including an exclusive Las Vegas Insider, my 1st Round Underdog Shocker and two 15* plays. While I'm admittedly off to a bad start in the NIT, I'm intent on bouncing back big with my 20* 1st Round NIT Game of the Year, tonight!

The NIT played seven first round games last night and home teams did much better than the night before, when in the tourney's eight opening round games they went just 4-4 SU and 3-5 ATS. Colorado was the only home team to lose last night (79-61 to Old Dominion) and home teams finished the night 5-2 ATS. Four more first round games are being played tonight with the first of this year's No. 1 seeds (Michigan) finally joining the fray.The Wolverines will host UTEP at 7:00 ET.

Hofstra, whose 24 wins were the most of any team not included in this year's NCAA field, hosts Nebraska, also at 7:00 ET. In this somewhat strange format, both Rutgers (at St Joe's 7:00 ET) and Akron (at Creighton 8:05 ET) are both playing for the second time in this tournament before three of the four No. 1 seeds in this tourney (Cincinnati, Louisville and Maryland), even play their first games. In relative obscurity, Cincinnati and Louisville play tomorrow, with Maryland playing its first game on Saturday.

NCAA tournament notes

Everyone knows that No. 1 seeds have never lost a first round game (84-0) and that just four No. 2 seeds have lost in the first round. However, while the top-two seeds may be 55-1 SU the last seven years, they have gone just 29-27 ATS! Favorites have posted losing pointspread records in each of the last five years in the NCAA's first round (including the play-in game). The closest they came to a winning mark was in 2002, when they went 17-16, or minus-.6 units! Overall, favorites are just 73-91-1 ATS the last five years.

"Non-board" teams have posted a respectable 50-47-2 ATS the last six years, including a 17-10 mark the last two years! Among the six "power conferences", Big-10 teams have been the best favorites, going 24-14-1 ATS since 2001, while SEC teams own the worst mark, going just 12-28 ATS when favored. However, SEC 'dogs' have posted a 9-5 ATS mark, just ahead of Big East dogs, which whave gone 15-9. Teams out of the CAA have gone 5-1-1 ATS the last five years with MVC teams not far behind, posting a 9-2-1 ATS mark.

Over the last 15 years, the title has been won 12 times by a school from either the ACC, Big East or SEC. Only two Pac-10 teams, UCLA in 1995 and Arizona in 1997 plus Michigan State of the Big-10 in 2000, have broken through. While all four No. 1 seeds have never made it to the Final Four in the same year (seeding began in 1979), only one Final Four has been played without a single No. 1 seed. That was in 1980, when Louisville (a two-seed) beat UCLA (an eight-seed) in the national title game. The two other Final Four teams that year were Iowa (5) and Purdue (6).

The Pistons won 105-98 in Toronto last night and at 51-12, continue to own the NBA's best record. The Mavericks won 95-81 in Houston and upped their NBA-best road record to 22-9 and more importantly, moved a half-game up on the idle Spurs (51-14 to 50-14). The Rockets are now 2-16 in games without McGrady.

The Suns easily took care of the Clippers, winning 126-95, a night after scoring 129 points in Seattle. Phoenix leads the Clippers by 7 1/2 games in the Pacific Division and at 108.4 PPG, is the league's highest scoring team again this year. Even without the injured Stoudemire (not to mention the traded Johnson and Richardson), Phoenix is averaging a mere two PPG less than last year's 110.4 PPG average. The Suns also own a plus-6.9 PPG differential, the third-best figure in the league and only slightly lower than the plus-7.1 PPG they posted last year.

While the Magic entered last night's home game with the Jazz having lost 19 of their previous 23 games and the Knicks entered their home game with the Hawks losers of 24 of 28, both teams won. Orlando beat Utah 114-108 in overtime and New York edged Atlanta 121-117 in double-overtime. Things did not go as well for two other struggling teams, the T-wolves and the Blazers. While Minnesota did cover in its 95-92 loss to the Lakers, it marked the team's sixth straight loss, its seventh straight on the road and its 20th in its last 23 road games!

The Blazers lost in New Jersey to the Nets, 78-65. The league's lowest scoring team (88.4 PPG) had scored just 66 points the night before in a loss to the Bulls but outdid themselves in this one. Portland scored just five fourth-quarter points against the Nets, the second-worst 4th quarter in NBA history. Almost unbelievably, the Warriors scored just two points in the 4th quarter of a game against the Raptors back on Feb 8, 2004.

It's a short three-game card in tonight's NBA, including a TNT doubleheader. The Celtics are in Miami to take on the Heat at 8:05 ET and the T-wolves continue their road trip in Oakland against the Warriors at 10:35 ET. Opposite a busy NCAA tournament schedule, one wouldn't expect much interest in these rather ordinary matchups. However, that's why God created pointspreads! The Heat are favored by nine points (208) and the Warriors are favored by six points (199).

Ness Notes is available by 1:00 ET Monday through Friday.

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