11/22/2001 12:00AM

College competition, a prep atmosphere


It felt a little strange Wednesday night to be headed to a high school for a Division I-A men's basketball game. Oklahoma State, ranked No. 15 in the nation in the latest AP poll, was taking on Texas Christian in the championship game of the Las Vegas Tourney.

The tournament originally was scheduled to be held at the Paris hotel-casino on the Strip. But the NCAA applied pressure to change the venue because it was getting heat from politicians involved in the bid to ban college sports betting in Nevada. The politicians, primarily Sen. John McCain of Arizona, thought it sent a bad message to have games played on casino grounds. (The NCAA had approved the site, and organizer Chris Spencer had gone through all the proper channels.)

Eight teams played in the tournament Monday through Wednesday. With the intimate setting (fewer than 3,000 seats), the atmosphere was like a high school game.

But there were definitely differences. The most noticeable were the players, who were probably on average six inches taller than high school players. It makes you understand why some argue the court should be expanded to give today's players more room.

It was also nice to stretch out on the bleachers instead of being crammed into an assigned seat in a packed, larger arena.

I was wondering if there would be any bettors yelling at the players to cover the spread. This game was on the betting boards in Nevada, but it never became as issue because Oklahoma State, an 8- to 9-point favorite, broke open the game late in the first half and coasted to a 95-77 victory. In fact, the lead was as big as 30 points in the second half.

If you think you missed all the action, you have a second chance. The Las Vegas Invitational (also run by Spencer's company, Worldwide Basketball Inc.) started Thursday, and there are four games slated for Saturday. The seventh-place game is at noon, fifth place will be decided at 2:30 p.m., third place at 5 p.m., and the championship at 7:30 p.m.

Like the Monday-Wednesday tournament, this one is at Valley High School on Eastern Avenue, two blocks south of Sahara.

Illinois, ranked No. 2 behind Duke in the current AP poll, highlights the eight-team field, which also includes Penn, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Saint Louis, Southern Illinois, Eastern Illinois, and Hartford.

It's not often you get to see top college programs in this type of setting, and there are plenty of Jack Nicholson seats available. And even the Bob Uecker seats won't give you a nosebleed.

Spenser said he would like to bring his tournaments back to the school next year.

Sports book notes

File this under the "Let the bettor beware" category. Parlay cards are among the worst bets in a casino, but they get even worse on special cards, such as some that were used by many casinos for the Thanksgiving Day games.

These "ties lose" cards have a lot of propositions and post numbers that are very likely to land (meaning both sides lose).

Some samples from cards around town: In the Packers-Lions and Broncos-Cowboys games, both point spreads were 7; the score-by-quarter totals were 7, 10, 13 or 14, depending on the teams and the quarter, making them likely to hit; combined field goals were 3; combined interceptions were 2; fumbles lost were 2; and quarterback sacks were 5.

This is written before the games were played Thursday, but you can check to see how many of these numbers got hit. These cards are also very popular on Sunday and Monday night and for the Super Bowl. Proceed at your own risk.

* With Tiznow's retirement, the Park Place Entertainment properties have updated their odds on the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic. Sakhee is the 10-1 favorite, followed by Monarchos (15-1); Congaree, Macho Uno, Lido Palace (20-1); and Captain Steve, Include, Johannesburg, Officer and Siphonic (30-1). Tiznow had opened as the 12-1 favorite after winning his second straight Classic last month.

* The King of the Hill contest at the Coast Resorts properties returns to its Thursday schedule after being moved to Wednesday for Thanksgiving Week. The contest runs through Dec. 13.