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Monday, Mar 20

   by Larry Ness - 03/20/2006

The NCAA field is down to just 16 teams with tournament play resuming on Thursday and Friday. For the ninth consecutive year Duke will be playing in the Sweet 16, with the next longest active streak of any school sitting at just two! The ACC, the surprising MVC and the SEC all have two schools into the Sweet 16 but the big winner is the Big East.

My free play is on Louisville over Clemson in the NIT at 7:00 ET. I am looking to bounce back from a poor NCAA weekend with a 15* NIT Blowout tonight in college hoops. In the NBA, I'm following my 20* Non-Conf GOY winner on the Nets with a 15* NBA Mismatch, as I look to continue my 62% NBA run since Feb 3.

After getting a record eight invites to the Big Dance, Big East schools promptly went 0-3 on Thursday. However, the conference went 5-0 on Friday and 4-1 yesterday (Pitt lost), sending Connecticut, Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia to the Sweet 16. The Big-10, the highest-rated conference according to the RPI, saw its six entrants go 3-6 over the weekend and will have no teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996!

The MVC saw two of its four teams make it past the tourney's opening weekend. Wichita State (7-seed) is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981 and Bradley (13-seed) has advanced past the second game of this tournament for the first time since 1955, when just 24 teams competed.

George Mason (11-seed) of the CAA beat Michigan State (Final 4 team LY) and North Carolina (defending champs), to become that league's first Sweet 16 representative since Richmond in 1988! I've got the next three days to recap the weekend and preview the upcoming games.

The NIT resumes tonight with six second round games. Three of the four No. 1 seeds are still alive as only Maryland has fallen, 87-84 at home to Manhattan on Saturday (as 12-point favorites!).

Home teams went just 4-4 SU (3-5 ATS) in the eight opening round games but went 14-2 SU and 11-5 SU in the 16 first round games. Colorado, a 79-61 loser to Old Dominion last Wednesday, joins Maryland as the only first round SU losers at home.

ESPN carries the Notre Dame/Michigan game at 7:00 ET. Michigan is one of the three remaining No. 1 seeds and won in South Bend on December 3, 71-67. The Wolverines are favored by four points with a total of 144.

ESPNU airs Hofstra at St Joe's (7:00 ET), a rematch of an NIT game last year. The Hawks beat the Pride last year in Philadelphia, 53-44. Hofstra's 24 wins (now 25 after beating Nebraska 73-62 on Thursday) were the most of any school not invited to the NCAAs. St Joe's is favored by six points (133).

Louisville is the other No. 1 seed in action tonight, as the Cards host Clemson at 7:00 ET. Louisville struggled in its first season as a member of the Big East but is 13-1 this year in non-conference games. The Cards are favored by 4 1/2 points (136 1/2).

Manhattan is at Old Dominion tonight (9:00 ET) and the Jaspers own the distinction of being the only one of the 16 teams that played in the opening round to still be 'alive'. Old Dominion is favored by nine points (144).

Over the weekend in the NBA, the Pistons split two games but still own the league's best record at 52-13. The Heat won twice and have now won 15 of their last 16 but at 45-21, still trail the Pistons by 7 1/2 games.

The Nets knocked off the Mavs on Sunday (100-89) and look like a sure-thing for the East's No. 3 seed. The Cavs own a three-game lead over the Wizards for the fourth playoff seed (the last with home court advantage) but the Pacers and Bucks are just a half-game and 1 1/2 games back of Washington, respectively.

Over in the West, the Spurs beat the Suns Friday night in their only game of the weekend and coupled with the Mavs' loss on Sunday, have taken a half-game lead in the Southwest Division and the overall Western Conference standings (52-14 to 52-15).

The Suns (45-20) lead the Clippers by 7 1/2 games in the Pacific and the Nuggets look like a cinch to capture the third seed by winning the weak Northwest. Right now, the Mavs are looking like the fourth seed, despite their great record.

Tonight's NBA card features just four games. The Pistons, who are just 1-7-1 ATS their last games, host the Hawks at 7:35 ET. Detroit is favored by 13 1/2 points (194). The Lakers are in Boston to take on the Celtics at 7:35 ET as well. There was a time when this was an "event" but no longer.

LA enters off a three-point loss at the Nets (Friday) and a one-point loss at the Cavs (Sunday), dropping them to 34-34 (tied with the Kings for the West's final playoff spot). Boston is just 28-39 on the year and 3 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot in the East. The Celtics, who beat the Lakers 112-111 in LA on Feb 26, are favored by 2 1/2 points (202 1/2).

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

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