09/19/2004 11:00PM

Finding the middle is a win-win situation

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Part of handicapping is figuring out what the linemaker is thinking.

As mentioned last week, the purpose of listing the early line moves at the Stardust is to get a glimpse of the direction at which the lines might be headed, especially in relation to odds available at offshore books. Often, professional bettors are playing both markets and trying to catch middles in which they win both bets. Early bettors went 11-5 against the Stardust openers last week, which leads one to think that the offshore numbers were a little sharper.

But I think there was a more telling trend that I noticed last week but didn't mention until I saw the same thing happen Sunday night, when the Stardust put up its openers for this weekend's games.

Last week, 14 of the 17 college line moves were on home teams (the California-Southern Miss. game was postponed, so that's the discrepancy in the number of games). This week, if you look at the accompanying chart, eight of the 11 college line moves are on the home teams.

Coincidence? Maybe. It could be a statistical anomaly, just like red coming up 14 of 17 times on a roulette wheel, or flipping a coin and having it land heads eight times out of 11. It might not mean a thing.

But what I think it shows is that offshore oddsmakers are giving more weight to teams playing at home.

What does this mean for bettors?

Well, if you're betting in Vegas, you might be able to find more value on college home teams if the oddsmakers aren't giving enough credit to the hosts. And offshore bettors could be finding a little more value on road teams.

Which side is right?

The arbitragers will continue to hope the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

NFL line moves

Conversely, all three NFL early point-spread moves the past two weeks (Bills +4 vs. the Raiders and Vikings +4 vs. the Eagles last week, and the Buccaneers +4 vs. the Raiders this coming week) have been on road teams.

Of course, this is an even shorter sample - and another coincidence is that all three point spreads were the same - but maybe the Vegas oddsmakers are giving more credit to NFL home teams than the offshore books.

Whatever the case may be, the oddsmakers continue to have more differences in totals wagering, as again far more early movement came in Sunday night on the over/unders.

Hopkins's KO highlights weekend

Football was the focus Sunday, but the sports books in Las Vegas were still buzzing from Bernard Hopkins's ninth-round knockout of Oscar De La Hoya on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

A sold-out crowd of 16,112 was in attendance, and an estimated 30,000 more people viewed the fight in town on closed circuit at $50 a pop. When the pay-per-view figures are released later this week, it's expected to be the richest non-heavyweight fight in boxing history.

Las Vegas sports books reported brisk business, with most six-figure wagers coming in on Hopkins, who was defending his middleweight belts for the 19th time, while a far greater number of smaller bets came in on De La Hoya. The line went as high as -240 (risk $2.40 for every $1 you want to win) on Hopkins, but the tourist crowd drove the price down to -180 on Saturday afternoon before the big money came in late on Hopkins and drove it back up to -220; De La Hoya was offered at +180, or odds of 9-5.

The popularity of De La Hoya was obvious by the cheers he received when he entered the arena, as well as by periodic chants of "Oscar, Oscar" during the fight.

The two battled evenly through the first six rounds. I had it even at three rounds apiece, while one judge had Hopkins ahead five rounds to one, another had Hopkins ahead 4-2, and the third inexplicably had De La Hoya ahead 5-1. But at the end of the sixth round, Hopkins had a telling smile as he headed back to his corner that said he knew he had taken De La Hoya's best shot and he was in control.

Hopkins won the seventh and eighth rounds on all judges' scorecards, and then sealed the deal midway through the ninth round with a shot to De La Hoya's right side that sent him to the canvas. As referee Kenny Bayless counted him out, the Golden Boy pounded his fist on the mat as he knew he wouldn't be able to continue. It was the first time in his pro career that he had been knocked out.

The place went nuts, as Hopkins did a somersault in the ring and then jumped up on the ropes to cross his arms in the form of an "X" to symbolize his nickname, "The Executioner."

The fight will be replayed by HBO this Saturday night.

The stoppage at 1:38 of the ninth round made winners of bettors who took under 12 rounds in the over/under rounds prop. The over had been a popular bet, since most people expected the two champions to go the distance, betting the over up to -165, with +145 offered on the under. The prop closed at -145/+125. A Hopkins KO was also offered at odds of 8-5, and those who predicted a ninth-round knockout were rewarded with payoffs of between 8-1 (the closing price) and 15-1 (the opening price).

Sports book notes

Following the failure of the U.S. men's basketball team, bettors who decided to go against America's spoiled athletes in international competition were rewarded again when the European team upset the United States in the Ryder Cup at the Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Mich. Of course, the foreign pros are doing pretty well for themselves, too, but Las Vegas sports books had Europe, which won 18 1/2 to 9 1/2, as a 1/2-match underdog heading into the competition.

* On Sunday, Kurt Busch won the Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire International Speedway as the co-favorite at 7-1 and moved into a tie with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Nextel Cup points standings.

* The Yankees won two of three from the Red Sox in the biggest baseball series of the weekend, but Las Vegas Sports Consultants still have both teams as co-favorites to win the World Series at 2-1. The Cardinals, with the best record in the majors, are right behind at 11-5. The Cubs and Twins are distant co-fourth choices at 7-1, and it's clear the Twins are the better bet, since they just need to win one game vs. the White Sox this week to clinch the AL Central, whereas the Cubs are in a heated race just to get an NL wild-card berth.