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Monday, Mar 27

   by Larry Ness - 03/27/2006

How are your brackets looking this Monday morning? An article in Friday's newspaper reported that of the more than three million people entered in the espn.com NCAA brackets, not a single person had correctly predicted all of the Sweet 16 teams. Only 12 of more than three million, even had 15 of the 16 teams. Conversely, 533 entrants didn't have a single Sweet 16 team right. And that was all before this past weekend's games!

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Not a single No. 1 seed advanced to this year's Final 4 for the first team since the tournament expanded to a 64-team field (1985). However, the 1980 Final 4 (seeding began in 1979) was also contested without a No. 1 seed in attendance. To prove just how long ago that was, consider these interesting tidbits from the Final 4 of 1980.

The Final 4 participants that year were Louisville (two-seed), Iowa (five-seed), Purdue (six-seed) and UCLA (eight-seed). Louisville won the title that year (the first of Denny Crum's two) led by Darrell Griffith and "the Doctors of Dunk," a team that preceded Houston's "Phi Slamma Jamma" by a few years.

The Cardinals beat UCLA for the title 59-54, a team coached by Larry Brown (yes, that Larry Brown!). As for the two other Final 4 teams, Iowa was coached by Lute Olson (yes that Lute Olson!) and Purdue was led by the always-lovable Joe Barry Carroll.

Adding up the seeds for 1980 gives you a total of 21, one more than you get when you add up the total of this year's seeds of Final 4 teams. Of course the fact that George Mason is an 11-seed this year accounts for more than half of this year's total. UCLA is a two-seed, Florida a three-seed and LSU a four-seed. The highest total of any year's seeds came in 2000 (22), when Michigan State (one-seed) was joined by Florida (five-seed) plus two eight-seeds, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Here's a quick look at this past weekend's carnage, beginning with the Sweet 16. NCAA favorites had gone 26-7 SU and 18-15 ATS in the first round of play (including the play-in game). It became tougher on the favorites in round two, as they went 11-5 SU and only 7-9 ATS.

In the Sweet 16, favorites did win seven of eight games but went only 2-6 ATS (or 2-5-1), depending how you did with Wash/U Conn. In the Elite 8 favorites pulled an O-fer! All four favored teams (all higher seeds) lost OUTRIGHT!

While there is not a single No. 1 seed in this year's Final 4, it would be hard to argue against the statement that the four best teams have advanced to this year's "ultimate stage." Surely, in alphabetical order, Florida, George Mason, LSU and UCLA are PLAYING the best! Just in case you missed it, here's how the four No. 1 seeds did.

Memphis, the lowest-ranked of the No. 1 seeds, was the only top seed that played up to its billing. The Tigers won each of their first three games by exactly 16 points but critics could point out that their wins came over a 16-seed, a nine-seed and a 13-seed. When faced with its first real test of the tourney, Memphis scored an NCAA tournament shot-clock era low of 45 points against UCLA! As for Duke, the overall No. 1, it was hardly a good tourney.

Duke was uninspiring in its 16-point first round win over Southern, as Redick and Williams combined to score 58 of the team's 70 points. The Blue Devils beat GW in the second round but the Colonials played terribly and Mensah-Bonsu was hardly 100%. In its Sweet 16 loss to LSU, Duke was man-handled up front and 'led' by Redick's 3-of 18 shooting, shot 27.7 percent from the floor, while scoring its fewest points since 1996 (54).

As for the two 'beasts' from the Big East, U Conn and Villanova didn't play a good game between them in eight tries. Both struggled against lightly-regarded teams in the first round and then added matching four-point wins in the second around against No. 9 seeds. In the Sweet 16, both survived OT games in which they easily could have lost. In the Elite 8, U Conn blew a nine-point lead at the half to George Mason (losing in OT 86-84) and Villanova shot a pathetic 18-of-73 (24.7 percent) in an eight-point loss to Florida.

Meanwhile, George Mason (0-3 in three previous NCAA appearances) became just the second 11-seed to advance to a Final Four (LSU did it in 1986) by beating two of last year's Final 4 participants (MSU and NC) plus a No. 1 seed (U Conn). LSU dominated both Duke and Texas over the weekend and the No. 4 seed is back in the Final 4 for the first time since its back-to-back appearances in 1986-87.

As for Florida, the Gators are easily the tournament's best team to-date (4-0 SU and ATS) plus own the tourney's MVP to this point, Joakim Noah. Noah's averaged 17.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.5 APG and 4.8 BPG. After five consecutive NCAA exits on the tournament's opening weekend since losing in the title game to Michigan State in 2000, Florida (a three-seed) returns to the Final 4.

Then of course there is UCLA, the highest seed remaining (No. 2). The Bruins are back in the Final 4 for the first time since winning the national title in 1995. You may have heard that the Bruins won 10 national title under John Wooden from 1964 to 1975 but now have a chance to win just their second title in the three decades since the "Wizard of Westwood" retired.

We have a week to talk more about the tournament and will on a daily basis. Early lines for Saturday's Final 4 games show LSU a two-point favorite over UCLA (total is 121) and Florida a five-point choice over George Mason (total is 132). The NIT resumes tomorrow with Old Dominion taking on Michigan and South Carolina playing Louisville (more tomorrow).

NBA over the weekend

The Pistons still own the league's best record (55-14) after splitting two games over the weekend but saw their 16-game home winning streak come to an end with a 79-74 loss to the Nets on Sunday night. Despite its great record, Detroit is just 2-9-2 ATS over its last 13 games. The Nets have now won eight straight (longest active winning streak in the league) and at 40-28 are giving some the impression that they may be a bigger threat to Detroit in the East than Miami (46-23).

The Wizards, Pacers and Bucks are fifth, sixth and seventh in the East, separated by just one game. Philly owns the final playoff spot, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Bulls and four games ahead of the Celtics.

The Spurs and Mavs are tied for the West's best record at 54-16. However, the Suns (47-21) are the "sleeping giant" in the West. Stoudemire is back after missing the season's first 66 games and the Suns will claim the West's second seed, thereby avoiding having to beat both the Mavs and the Spurs in the postseason. The loser of the Southwest Division race between Dallas and San Antonio will get the West's fourth seed, meaning Dallas and San Antonio would have to meet in the second round.

On that note, the Clippers (41-28) and Grizzlies (41-29) are in a dog-fight for the fifth spot in the West, with the 'winner' drawing either the Mavs or Spurs in the first round, while the 'loser' gets the Nuggets! The Lakers are two games up on the Kings in their battle for the seventh playoff spot and the Kings (who saw their 14-game home winning streak ended last night by the Warriors) lead the Hornets by two games and the Jazz by 2 1/2 games for the West's final playoff spot.

Tonight's four-game schedule is highlighted by the Suns visiting the Nets at 7:35 ET.

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

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