11/08/2001 12:00AM

Hit the books for college hoops

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The college basketball season tipped off Thursday night with the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, and fans and bettors got their first looks at some of the top teams in the country (Maryland, Arizona, Florida, and Temple).

But most handicappers know what to expect from teams like these . . . it's the middle-of-the-pack squads and teams from smaller conferences that bettors have trouble researching.

That's why Las Vegas sports bettors were flocking to the Gambler's Book Shop (630 S. 11th Street, just north of Charleston) this past week to pick up their copies of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. The Blue Ribbon ($21.95), which is available at bookstores and newsstands nationwide, isn't a gambling book, per se, but it gives an in-depth view of every college team.

Information on minor conferences is invaluable because the Don Best books that list the rotation of games on the betting boards have added the Big Sky, Metro Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and Southern Conferences to the menu. Seven other teams, because they have joined conferences that were already on the betting boards, have also been added: Cal-State Northridge, UC Riverside, Youngstown St., Hofstra, Delaware, Drexel, and Towson.

Back to the big boys, Duke is the 3-1 favorite to win the NCAA tournament. The Imperial Palace, which has odds on 99 teams plus a field bet, had the defending champs at 5-2 but raised the odds after not getting much action on them. Maryland and Illinois are co-second choices at 7-1. One team drawing significant action is SEC favorite Kentucky, which has been bet from 12-1 down to 8-1. Other top contenders are UCLA (12-1), Kansas (15-1), Florida (20-1), and Stanford and Arizona (both 25-1). St. Joseph's, which opened at 40-1, has been bet down and joins two other teams, Boston College and Missouri, at 30-1.

This is the first time that Nevada sports books have been able to accept future book wagering this early in the season. In the past, the books had to wait until UNLV was eliminated because of state regulations that prohibited wagers on state schools or any bets in which they were involved. However, in February, that regulation was overturned. UNLV is 250-1 at the Imperial Palace

Contest of means (by no means)

The Coast Resorts (The Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast) is bringing back its popular King of the Hill contest for the next five weeks, from Nov. 15 to Dec. 13, of the Hollywood Park meet. The contest will be on Thursdays (except Thanksgiving Day, which is replaced by Wednesday, Nov. 21) and will consist of the first five races at Hollywood.

The entry fee is $20 (one entry per person), with $10 going toward the regular contest and $10 going to the King of the Hill.

The regular contest, which will be seeded with $1,000 on top of the entry fees, rewards players with the win, place, or show price of their horse, plus bonus points of 8 for a win, 4 for a second-place finish, and 2 for a third-place finish. The top five contestants will cash with 50 percent of the pot going to the winner, 20 percent for second, 15 percent for third, 10 percent for fourth, and 5 percent for fifth.

In the consistency portion, a player's horses must finish in the top four in the first race, top three in the second, top two in the third and fourth races, and must win the fifth race. Everyone who pulls off the feat will split the King of the Hill jackpot, which will be seeded with $2,000 in addition to the entry fees. If no one succeeds, the people who survived the longest will split 50 percent of the pot with the rest being carried over to the next week until it's hit.

That could make for some huge carryovers, which is the goal of race book director Bob Gregorka. It used to be that you only had to have your horse finish in the top two spots to win the big prize. Another change is that, in the past, contestants could submit different horses in each contest, but now it will resemble the contest at Sunset Station in which a player's top selection goes in both contests. This format keep players from stabbing at longshots in the regular contest while playing favorites to try and stay alive on the consistency side.

"We used a lot of feedback from our players," race book director Bob Gregorka said. "I don't know everything, so we let them tell us what they wanted."

* The Coast Resorts properties are in the middle of the action when it comes to race and sports book workers moving around town. Doug Biel had been working under Gregorka at The Orleans, but he has accepted the job of race and sports book manager at Terrible's Hotel-Casino on Flamingo Road, replacing the recently retired John Williamson. Rick Herron, the race book host who played a huge role in the big handicapping tournaments at The Orleans, has also left to start an independent contest company.

* The Palms, which opens Thursday on Flamingo, across from another Coast property, the Gold Coast, has assembled a fine staff with Perry Swanson as the sports book manager and Jeff Sherman (formerly of The Regent), Marcus Hurd (formerly of the MGM Grand), and Adam Pullen as supervisors who are also proficient oddsmakers.

* In other recent moves, Robert Jaynes has replaced Rico Ruggeroli as race and sports book director for the Stratosphere and Arizona Charlie's properties and Micah Roberts is moving from the Santa Fe Station to run the race and sports books at Palace Station, which acts as the company's hub.