03/22/2006 12:00AM

Books show 'em how it's done


LAS VEGAS - Two prominent sports organizations were here last weekend on fact-finding missions.

The NCAA had a representative at the Mirage during the opening round of the men's basketball tournament to get an inside look at how the odds are set, how the sports books here are regulated, and how the books monitor the betting action. This visit has been long overdue. It was last July when Rachel Newman-Baker, the NCAA's director of agents, gambling, and amateurism activities, said the organization was going to work with the sports books here to hopefully protect against potential point-shaving scandals. Nothing was done during the football or basketball regular seasons, but better late than never. The representative is supposed to be watching the goings-on again this weekend.

ESPN also had a crew in town during the opening two rounds, interviewing bookmakers and professional bettors about buzzer-beaters and crazy plays that affect the betting results on games, even if they don't impact the winner on the scoreboard. No air date has been set, but it's expected to be before the championship game on April 3.

It's celeb-city, baby!

It's really hard to be out on the town any weekend in Vegas and not spot a celebrity. This is especially true during marquee events such as March Madness. This past week alone, the following were spotted, according to Norm Clarke's celebrity/gossip column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: Troy Aikman, Tom Brady, Tony Curtis, Harvey Fierstein, Laurence Fishburne, John Goodman, Anthony Hopkins, Steven Jackson, Ron Jeremy, Michael Keaton, Robin Leach, Emmanuel Lewis, Wayne Newton, Joey Porter, Nicole Richie, Dennis Rodman, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Jerry Tarkanian, and Vanilla Ice. Add to that eclectic list the "American Idol" crew featuring Las Vegas Hilton headliner Barry Manilow and the Fab Five from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

So, who knows who will be here this weekend watching the NCAA tournament games as the field is whittled down to the Elite Eight by Friday night, and then down to the Final Four by Sunday afternoon. Let the people-watching and game-watching begin.

Georgetown (+3) vs. Florida
6:40 p.m. at Minneapolis, Minn.

Georgetown was my dark-horse pick before the tournament started, and I had the Hoyas winning this matchup in my bracket, so you know I have to take them with the points. Georgetown certainly hasn't done anything to lose that trust, shutting down Northern Iowa in the first round and then upsetting No. 2 seed Ohio St. on Sunday. Coach John Thompson III has this team built for the tourney, with a swarming defense and a methodical offense that works the ball around for the best possible shot, showing how well the Hoyas plays as a team. Florida has been impressive in its own right. The Gators are the only team to win by more than 20 points in both of their games, but that won't happen here. All four Florida starters have a scoring average in double figures, but the Georgetown defense is capable of shutting down anyone. Roy Hibbert, a 7-foot-2 sophomore, has really stepped up for Georgetown in the tournament on both ends of the floor, and he should have another big game and prove to be the difference.

PLAY: Georgetown for 1 unit.

Washington (+6 1/2) vs. Connecticut
6:55 p.m. at Washington, D.C.

UConn is the most talented team overall and the favorite to win the title, but every time that it seems as if UConn should put it all together and show its dominance, the team seems to go through the motions and do just enough to win. Case in point: UConn is 0-2 against the spread in the tourney. I hope it continues here. Washington has the bulk inside to match UConn and win the battle of the boards and will really be in good shape if it is able to deny passes into the paint and make UConn rely on its outside shooting, which can be sporadic. But the key reason to like Washington is the play of senior guard Brandon Roy, the Pac-10 player of the year. He can hit the open man with a pass to let his teammates get the job done, or he can shoulder the scoring load himself. UConn might again advance based on overall talent, but I really like Washington to stay inside this generous number.

PLAY: Washington for 1 unit.

Bonus NCAA coverage at DRF.com

In addition to the bankroll selections in the print edition of Daily Racing Form, I have been posting recommendations on every NCAA game at drf.com.

Because of deadline restraints and the quick turnaround with Thursday's winners playing again Saturday and Friday's victors playing Sunday, selections for those weekend games will not appear in DRF's print editions but will be available on the website a day in advance.