03/25/2006 12:00AM

NCAA selections and analysis for Sunday


LAS VEGAS - On Friday, for the second straight night, three of the four games went down to the wire.

Just like with Memphis' rout of Bradley on Thursday, the one blowout was early as George Mason, as a 2 1/2-point favorite, jumped out to a 9-0 lead over Wichita St. and never looked back on the way to a 63-55 victory.

The other three games were much more competitive, to say the least. Villanova, a 2 1/2-point favorite over Boston College, hit only four of its first 17 shots and the Wildcats looked like they might join Duke as No. 1 casualties, but they fought back to win 60-59 in overtime for a non-covering win. Villanova almost got the money for its backers in regulation, but BC's Jared Dudley hit a 3-pointers with 28 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.

In the nightcaps, UConn, a 6-point favorite over Washington, struggled all game but also rallied to force overtime. UConn's 98-92 victory gave a push to those who laid -6, though early bettors who took Washington +6 1/2 (including yours truly) cashed on the underdog. Florida, a 3-point favorite over Georgetown, went from looking like a loser both straight-up and against the spread to a 57-53 winner in the closing seconds, thanks mostly to Corey Brewer's 3-point play with 27.5 seconds left.

Overall, favorites won all four games but were 2-1-1 against the closing numbers at the Stardust. For the tournament, underdogs hold a slight edge at 29-27-1 heading into Saturday's regional finals.

After having three overs and one under on Thursday, the under went 3-1 on Friday to improve to 34-23 in the tourney.

Looking ahead to Sunday's games

After the conclusion of Florida's victory, Las Vegas Sports Consultants sent out Villanova as a 1 1/2-point favorite over Florida in the Minneapolis Regional final, but the Las Vegas Hilton went with Villanova -2, as did Caesars Palace shortly after. On Saturday morning, the MGM Mirage properties, the Palms and Wynn Las Vegas all had it at 1 1/2, but with most offshore books at Villanova -2, that's likely where the line will settle.

When UConn survived. LVSC sent out the Huskies as a 9-point favorite over George Mason, but again the Las Vegas Hilton went its own way and made UConn -7 1/2. Caesars went in the middle at UConn -8, and that seemed to be the consensus line Saturday morning, though the Stardust and Wynn were dealing 8 1/2.

I'd like to pull the trigger with Villanova -2, but I just can't. Besides, I've lost enough going against Florida in the tourney. But I have no trouble going against UConn for the third straight game.

George Mason (+8) vs. UConn

George Mason is the epitome of what makes March Madness great, and the overall parity of college basketball. Here's a team that many, myself included, didn't think deserved an NCAA bid. They just as easily could have gone to the NIT and been knocked out in the first round, yet here they are playing for a spot in the Final Four. It just goes to show you there's not too much difference between the players and teams at this level. UConn is generally considered to have the most overall talent in the nation, yet they very nearly got beat by No. 16 seed Albany of all teams and barely got by Kentucky and Washington. The Huskies continually play down to the level of competition and I'm banking on them doing it one more time (if they didn't get a wake-up call vs. Albany, why should we think they're going to play up to their potential now?). George Mason will have a height disadvantage, but that's nothing new, and the Patriots will come with a ferocious defense and a nothing-to-lose attitude that served them well in upsets of Michigan St. and North Carolina. It'll also be interesting to see if the fact that George Mason's main campus is just 20 miles from the Verizon Center leads to the underdog having a home-court advantage.

PLAY: George Mason for 1 unit.

Selections for March 26 games

At Washington, D.C.

UConn (-8) vs. George Mason Pick: GEORGE MASON

At Minneapolis, Minn.

Villanova (-2) vs. Florida Pick: Villanova

Best bet in CAPS.

Friday's bankroll record: 1-1 for a net loss of 0.1 units (based on laying 1.1. units to win 1). Bankroll record for tourney: 11-10, exactly break-even with the vig. Website record on all tourney games: 28-28-1 through Thursday.