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Wdnesday, Mar 22

   by Larry Ness - 03/22/2006

South Carolina edged Florida State on the road in OT 69-68 and Cincinnati (one of the three No. 1 seeds still alive) won at home over Minnesota 76-52 on Tuesday. The two winners will meet Thursday night in Cincinnati with a chance to go to New York.

South Carolina won this tournament last year and has a chance to become just the second school to win back-to-back NIT titles. St John's accomplished the feat back in 1943 and 1944, when the tournament was a much bigger deal.

My free play for Wednesday is the LA Lakers over the Sac Kings at 10:35 ET. I've cashed with THREE of my last four NBA 20* plays and tonight I'm releasing a rare NBA 22*! It represents my 22 years in the business and is my highest star-rated release. Get it NOW! In tonight's college hoops, it's my 20* NIT Underdog of the Year.

Three games are on tonight's NIT schedule, with the three winners advancing to New York next week. ESPN2 airs a doubleheader, Old Dominion at Hofstra (7:00 ET) and Missouri State at Louisville (9:00 ET). ESPNU will carry Miami-Florida at Michigan (8:00 ET).

ODU and Hofstra both play in the CAA and have met twice this year with the Pride winning both times. Hofstra is 16-0 at home (11-3 ATS) and owns the nation's second-longest home winning streak (21) next to Gonzaga (40). Hofstra is favored by four points (139).

Tonight's game will be Miami's second visit this year to Ann Arbor. The first was back on Nov 29 when the 'Canes got beat 74-53. However, a check of that game's boxscore shows Miami shot 41.7 percent from the floor while Michigan made just 38.6 percent of its shots. Michigan is favored by four points (134 1/2).

Louisville was in last year's 'real' Final 4 but a win tonight will get Pitino's crew to NYC. Missouri State owns the distinction of owning the best RPI of any team not invited to the Big Dance. The Cardinals are favored by 3 1/2 points (135 1/2).

Dallas beat Houston 88-72 and San Antonio beat Golden State 107-96 last night. The wins leave the Mavs at 53-15, a half-game behind the 53-14 Spurs in the race for the West's top record. In other key games in the West, Phoenix blew a 15-point lead in Utah and lost to the Jazz (107-99), Sacramento won its 14th straight home game beating the Sonics (105-96) and New Orleans ended an eight-game losing streak both SU and ATS when the Hornets beat the Clippers, 120-108.

The Kings sit at 34-33, just percentage points ahead of the Lakers (35-34) for the West's final two playoff spots. The Hornets are at 32-33 (the team was just 15-51 last year through 65 games!), just one game back. As for the Jazz, they trail by two games. Sacramento's win but non-cover last night, was the team's first ATS loss at home since acquiring Artest (10-1).

There wasn't much big news in the East last night, although the Nets did win their sixth consecutive game, 112-100 at Washington. New Jersey looks a like a "sure-thing" to grab the East's third playoff spot and Cleveland looks to be in good shape for the fourth spot. Washington (.515), Indiana (.508) and Milwaukee (.507) are in a dog-fight for the fifth, sixth and seventh-place positions.

Not worrying about making the playoffs are the Magic, who set a team record with their 16th consecutive road loss last night, losing 108-102 at Charlotte. While the Bobcats are just 19-49 this year, it should be noted that they won just 18 games all of last season!

Tonight the NBA features a second straight busy night (nine games) with ESPN televising a doubleheader. The first game features Miami at Detroit (8:05 ET) with the nightcap being San Antonio at Denver (10:35 ET). Also of note, Sacramento will be in Los Angeles to take on the Lakers (10:35 ET).

Shaq was held out of last night's loss with a sore thumb but he's expected to play tonight. The Heat own the East's second-best record (45-22) but they still trail the Pistons by 8 1/2 games. Miami began its current 15-2 run back on Feb 12, when they beat the Pistons 100-98 in Miami. In that game, the Heat outscored the Pistons 29-14 in the 4th quarter with Wade scoring Miami's final 17 points.

Detroit is 29-2 at home this year (has won 15 straight) but is only 15-16 ATS. Detroit also enters on a 1-8-1 overall ATS run over its last 10 games. Miami is 1-10 SU as an underdog this year, going 4-7 ATS. The Pistons are favored by 7 1/2 points with a total of 194 1/2.

The Spurs will try to move a full game ahead of the Mavs in their race for the West's best record by winning tonight in Denver. The Nuggets, despite their 38-30 record, will claim the West's third seed (over either SA or Dallas) by winning the Northwest Division (lead Utah by 5 1/2 games). The Spurs are favored by 2 1/2 points (193 1/2).

The Kings lead the Lakers by percentage points for the West's seventh playoff spot, with the Hornets trailing the two teams by one game and the Jazz just two games back. LA is favored by three points (203).

NCAA notes

All four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 this year but the four teams' average margin of victory in the first round over the No. 16 seeds (14.5 PPG) marked the second-lowest of any year since the advent of 64-team field. The lowest previous mark was set in 1988, when No. 1 seeds beat No. 16 seeds by an average of just 10.5 PPG.

All four No. 2 seeds also won their first round games but except for UCLA's 34-point win over Belmont, the three other No. 2 seeds won by just two points (Tennessee) and by eight points (Villanova and Texas).

Tennessee was the only one of the tourney's top-eight seeds to not make it to the Sweet 16, as the Vols lost their second round game to Wichita State (seven-seed). As I pointed out prior to the tourney, No. 1 and No. 2 seeds were 55-1 SU the previous seven years but had gone just 29-27 ATS! After this year's first round make that 63-1 SU and only 31-31 ATS over the last eight years.

Breaking down the ATS records of the first two rounds looks like this. Favorites went 25-7 SU and 17-15 (giving GW a win over Wilmington) in the first round and 11-5 SU and 7-9 ATS in the second round. Throwing in Monmouth's 'cover' as a favorite in the play-in game, favorites were actually a small winner in the first round.

That may not seem like a big deal but over the previous five years, favorites had gone just 73-91-1 ATS in the first round (including the play-in game). The best previous mark posted by favorites had been in 2002, when they went 17-16, or minus-.6 units!

The NCAA defines a major upset as when the winner is seeded at least five spots lower than the winner. Using that definition, there were six major upsets in the first round (Northwestern State at 14 over No. 3 Iowa being the biggest) and four more in the second round (No. 13 Bradley over No. 5 Pittsburgh being the biggest). The most major upsets in any single tournament came in 1986, when there were 12.

It should be noted that 93 of the last 94 major upsets have come on the tournament's opening weekend, as from the Sweet 16 on it's much more difficult to find that much disparity in the seedings. More tournament history will be available tomorrow, when I begin my Sweet 16 previews with Thursday's four games.

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

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