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Thursday, Mar 23

   by Larry Ness - 03/23/2006

The Sweet 16 gets underway tonight with four games, followed by four more games on Friday. While Duke is a regular attendee to this party (ninth straight Sweet 16 appearance), it is the only one of the nation's 10 winningest programs to be part of this year's regionals. St John's, Temple and Utah went uninvited this year, while Indiana (2nd), Kansas (1st), Kentucky (2nd), Indiana (2nd), North Carolina ((2nd) and Penn (1st) have already lost.

My free play for Thursday is on the Pho Suns over the Por Trailblazers in the NBA. The Pistons "D' came through and gave me a 22* winner last night in the NBA and tonight I'm offering another 22*, this time in college hoops. It's a rare opportunity to cash back-to-back 22-stars, my highest-rated releases!

However, I'm not done in college hoops, as I have two Las Vegas Insider Plays as well, on LSU/Duke and West Va/Texas. I released two Las Vegas Insider Plays last Friday and went a perfect 2-0, winning with Arizona (over Wisconsin) and NC State (over Cal). NBA fans, I'm looking to continue my 63% run since Feb 3 with a 15* NBA Blowout winner!

The last eight national champs have all advanced past the tourney's opening weekend by winning each of their first two games by at least double digits. Only five of this year's Sweet 16 teams have been able to do that. The list includes Boston College, Duke, Florida, Memphis and West Virginia. Noticeably absent from this group are No. 1 seeds U Conn and Villanova. Does that mean something?

The NCAA defines a "major upset" as one in which the winner is seeded at least five spots lower than the loser. There have been 10 major upsets so far in this year's tournament but there are no possible major upsets in any of the eight Sweet 16 matchups.

Major upsets possible over the weekend would be Duke (1) vs West Va (6) and Bradley (13) vs either UCLA (2) or Gonzaga (3). U Conn (1) vs either Wichita State (7) or George Mason (11) is another, as would be Washington (5) vs George Mason. One last major upset possibility in an Elite 8 matchup would be Villanova (1) vs Georgetown (7).

There have been eight mid-major schools that have advanced to the Sweet 16 (since 1985) as at-large teams. There are three schools that fit that description this year in Bradley, George Mason and Wichita State. The previous eight schools have gone 0-8 in their Sweet 16 appearances, losing by an average margin of 14.1 PPG. However, that losing streak has to end this year, as George Mason and Wichita State meet on Friday!

Tonight's games are LSU vs Duke at 7:10 ET (Duke is favored by six with a total of 147 1/2), Bradley vs Memphis at 7:25 ET (Memphis is favored by six with a total of 142), West Va vs Texas at about 9:40 ET (Texas is favored by five with a total of 131 1/2) and Gonzaga vs UCLA around 9:55 ET (UCLA is favored by three with a total of 138).

Three of the NIT's Final Four are set as Old Dominion, Michigan and Louisville won last night, meaning all three will head to New York next week. ODU ended the nation's second-longest active home winning streak, winning at Hofstra 61-51. The Pride had won 21 straight home games but after beating the Monarchs twice during the regular season, couldn't make it three-for-three last night. Ironically, Old Dominion was also the last team to beat Hofstra on its home court, back on Jan 19, 2005!

ODU will meet Michigan next Tuesday in one of two semifinal games in MSG, as the Wolverines advanced last night with a 71-65 win over Miami-Florida. Michigan is now 16-0 in home NIT games and has won eight straight postseason games (went 5-0 in winning the 2004 NIT and has added three wins this year). The meeting between Michigan and Old Dominion next Tuesday will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

Louisville, like Michigan a No. 1 seed in this year's NIT, had little trouble dispatching Missouri State (74-56), as the Bears shot a pathetic 27 percent in their Wednesday night loss. Louisville awaits the winner of tonight's game for its semifinal opponent for Tuesday, as the Cards will face the winner of South Carolina at Cincinnati (6:00 ET). The Bearcats are favored by 3 1/2 points (132) over the Gamecocks, who are the defending champs of this event.

The Pistons scored a season-low 35 points in the first half of last night's game against the Heat but shut Miami down in the second half, holding the Heat to only 30 points (while scoring 47). The 82-73 win gives Detroit its 16th straight home win and ups its home mark this year to 30-2 (54-13 overall). For Miami, Wade was held to a season-low 13 points and the 73 points for the game, also marked a team season-low.

Detroit started its usual "cast of characters" for the 67th consecutive game, becoming the only team since 1980 to open the season with the same starting-five for that many games. The 2002-03 Warriors opened that season with the same starting-five for 66 straight games!

The Nuggets beat the Spurs 104-92 in Denver (dropping the Spurs into a tie with the Mavs at 53-15) and the Lakers beat the Kings 87-80 in LA, moving them just ahead of the Kings (36-34 to 34-34) as they battle for the 7th and 8th playoff spots in the West.

In the huge shadow cast by tonight's NCAA action, the NBA will play six games. Of interest are Minnesota at New Jersey (7:35 ET), Houston at New Orleans (8:05 in Okla City), the Clippers at Memphis (8:05 ET) and Golden State at Dallas (8:35 ET).

Kevin Garnett has posted 24 consecutive double-doubles but Minnesota takes an eight-game road losing streak into the Meadowlands tonight. The T-wolves have lost 21 of their last 24 games away from the Target Center and will meet a New Jersey team that's won six straight overall (5-0-1 ATS) and 18 of its last 21 in the Meadowlands. NJ is favored by seven points ((183 1/2).

The Rockets are 2-19 without T-Mac and play the Hornets, fresh off ending an eight-game losing streak (both SU and ATS) on Tuesday vs the Clippers. The Hornets are 32-33, just a half-game back of the Kings for the West's final playoff spot. New Orleans is favored by six points (178 1/2).

The Clippers (39-27) lead the Grizzlies (38-29) by 1 1/2 games in the West's playoff picture but one has to wonder if Memphis really wants to catch LA for the fifth spot. The team that gains the fifth seed will have to play either Dallas or San Antonio in the first round, while the sixth-place finisher gets the Nuggets! Who would you prefer?

Memphis is favored by four points tonight with a total of 187. Speaking of the Mavericks, they can move a half-game ahead of the Spurs with a win tonight at home over the Warriors. Dallas is favored by 10 points (193).

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

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