03/31/2003 1:00AM

Books like Texas-Kansas in title game


Bettors who were heading to the windows to cash their tickets after Texas' 85-76 victory over Michigan State on Sunday afternoon didn't have to wait long if they wanted to wheel their winnings right back on the Longhorns in this weekend's Final Four.

In just over a minute - barely enough time for anyone to walk to the window and get his money - the Stardust opened Texas as a 3 1/2-point favorite over Syracuse, which had upset Oklahoma 63-47 earlier in the day, with the total set at 151. But that point spread wasn't a slam dunk for sports book director Bob Scucci and his staff.

"We had discussed possible lines with our consultants, and when the game started we were looking at making the line Texas -4 1/2 if they won," Scucci said. "But they weren't as dominant as we expected, so during the course of the game we lowered them to 4 and then down to 3 1/2."

Bettors looking to wager on just who wins the game straight up will either have to lay -170 (bet $1.70 for every $1 you want to win) with Texas, or take +150 (bet $1 to win $1.50) on Syracuse.

The odds for Saturday's first semifinal, between Kansas and Marquette, were put up after that matchup was set early Saturday evening. Kansas, a 78-75 victor over No. 1 seed Arizona, opened as a 4 1/2-point favorite over Marquette, which had knocked off No. 1 seed and tournament favorite Kentucky 83-69. The line was bet down to 4 before going back up to 4 1/2, where it remained as of Monday morning. The total was set at 149 but by Monday it had been bet up to 152 at the Stardust and as high as 153 at Station Casinos and other books around town.

Kansas is -200 to beat Marquette straight up, with the buy-back on Marquette at +170.

Scucci said the Stardust came out ahead on the weekend, thanks in large part to the Kansas-Arizona game.

"It was the biggest decision of the weekend, and one of the biggest of the year," Scucci said. "Everyone was on Arizona, but we stood our ground with the line at Arizona -2. The bigger the game is, you don't want to move the line or you risk getting sided or middled."

Scucci and his staff were hoping that Arizona wouldn't tie the game at the end of regulation and give the Wildcats the chance to cover in overtime. But there was another reason they didn't want OT. The total had opened at 153 1/2 and was steamed all the way up to 158 after bettors pounded the over.

With Kansas leading 78-75 (153) and only 7.1 seconds remaining, Arizona had to go for a 3-pointer. Jason Gardner had his shot blocked by Kansas's Kirk Hinrich, but then Arizona's Luke Walton grabbed the loose ball and fed Gardner, who clanged his second attempt off the iron as time expired, causing a lot of Arizona and over bets to be torn up.

Looking ahead

Within 15 minutes of the Texas game ending Sunday, the Stardust also adjusted its odds to win the title with Kansas as the 7-5 favorite, Texas next at 2-1, Syracuse at 3-1 and Marquette at 9-2.

When odds went up last fall, Kansas and Texas were among the top contenders, but that wasn't the case with either Marquette or Syracuse. Marquette was listed as a 75-1 longshot. As the team improved, they were bet down to 50-1, 40-1, and lower. Syracuse was at 50-1 before its youngsters started living up to their potential.

"Our future book is in pretty good shape," Scucci said, "but we don't really want Marquette or Syracuse to win it all because there are a number of tickets at pretty high odds."

Looking back

In Saturday and Sunday's regional finals, underdogs were 3-1 both straight up and against the spread. That followed Thursday's and Friday's action when the games were split 2-2. That leaves the underdogs with a slight 31-28-2 edge for the tournament.

It hasn't been much better for bettors following the money. Of the 46 games that have moved off the opening number, bettors have been on the winning side only 19 times (41 percent) while losing 27. This past weekend there were two more losers as bettors took Kentucky from -6 1/2 to -7 vs. Marquette and Michigan State from +5 1/2 to +4 1/2 vs. Texas.

The over/under was 2-2 on Thursday, 2-2 on Friday, and 2-2 in Saturday and Sunday's combined games. For the overall tournament, the under is 30-29-2.

* My bankroll kept the 2-2 trend going with a 2-2 record on Thursday (winning with Marquette and Arizona and losing with Kentucky and Duke), while adding another 2-2 mark on Friday (winning with Oklahoma and Texas and losing with Syracuse and Maryland). For the tournament, I'm 13-7 (65 percent) with a net profit of 5.3 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

Poker the new spectator sport?

For years, the Discovery Channel has had a popular show with its annual World Series of Poker coverage. Now the Travel Channel is going with a weekly series called the World Poker Tour.

The series began Sunday night with the Five Diamond World Poker Classic held at the Bellagio last June. The World Poker Tour moves to its regular time slot this Wednesday at 9 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific time) and will air for the next 12 weeks.

The show hopes to make celebrities of the world's top players and develop rivalries as they battle for prize pools that range from $250,000 to $2 million. Cameras are placed under the table so viewers can see the players' cards, and the positioning also serves as an education tool as the announcers give play-by-play and discuss high-stakes poker strategy.

Another interesting twist is that anyone who makes it to the final table at one of the tournaments can be a TV star.

Unfortunately, the only tournament left in the initial 13-show run is the World Poker Tour Championship at the Bellagio on April 14-17 - and the entry fee is $25,000.

The schedule for next year's tour is expected to be released at worldpokertour.com in June.