03/15/2004 1:00AM

March Madness: Oddsmakers go back to futures


LAS VEGAS - Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed at 3:30 p.m. Vegas time on Sunday, just in time for handicappers to dive right into their NCAA tournament pools with being announced during the 3 o'clock hour.

It was also time for oddsmakers to re-examine their NCAA future-book odds, which have been up since last summer at many properties. Even though it would seem easy enough to just keep the same numbers that have already been pounded into place, local oddsmakers say they start from scratch when analyzing each of the 65 teams' chances to win it all.

"It's a totally separate betting proposition," said Ken White, CEO and co-owner at Las Vegas Sports Consultants. "After we set the opening-round odds, we figure out the probabilities of each team to win their six games."

White pointed out that several factors come into play after the brackets are set, things that weren't possible to know months ago when future-book odds are originally set, including each team's potential opponents, plus where they'll be playing the games.

"Some team's road to the Final Four is easier than others, and it's also very important to see who will be playing close to home and if they'll be in front of a friendly crowd," White said. "We come out with our recommendations and then obviously each book will make changes depending on any liability they may have from their futures during the season. We also build in a 30-percent hold, and books can adjust that, too."

LVSC made (18-1).

The Mirage mixed it up a little by making Kentucky the 3-1 favorite, with Duke and UConn at 7-2, Oklahoma St. at 5-1, Stanford and Pitt both at 8-1, and No. 1 seed St. Joe's at 10-1.

"No. 2 seeds UConn and Oklahoma St., and No. 3 seed Pitt are as good as the No. 1 seeds," Robert Walker, director of race and sports for MGM Mirage, said. "That's why I have them all ahead of St. Joe's."

Walker said his company's biggest liability is on Pitt. The Panthers opened the season as a 75-1 longshot, but Walker said he took several bets at big odds with the most recent surge being last month when they were still 18-1.

"When we closed the future book this weekend before the tournament field was announced, Pitt was down to 5-1," Walker said. "After going through the brackets, we put them back up at 8-1. Gonzaga is another team that was bet heavy in our futures. The most damage was at 20-1 and they closed at 8-1, but we just put them back up at 12-1."

Even though the Stardust hadn't posted its future-book odds as of 7:30 p.m. Sunday, race and sports book director Bob Scucci said he was looking to make Kentucky the 3-1 favorite and Oklahoma State the 7-2 second choice.

"During the conference tourneys, they got bet the most and I expect we'll continue to see that," said Scucci. "But as the conference tourneys showed, anyone can win it."

Well, maybe not anyone. A No. 16 seed has yet to upset a No. 1 seed, and LVSC lists this year's sacrificial lambs - Liberty, Alabama St. and Texas-San Antonio - at odds of 4,000-1. The field - which amounts to the survivor or Tuesday's play-in game between Lehigh and Florida A&M - is 5,000-1.

Among the intriguing longshots would have to be (125-1), another talented team that is getting healthy at the right time.

The Mirage was also the first book Sunday night to put up odds to win each region. For the most part, the odds reflected the seeds - Kentucky the 5-9 favorite to win the St. Louis Region, Duke the 5-6 favorite to win the Atlanta Region - with the notable exceptions that No. 2 Oklahoma St. is the 9-5 favorite to win the East Rutherford Region over No. 3 seed Pitt at 2-1 and St. Joseph's at 3-1, and No. 2 UConn the 7-5 favorite to win the Phoenix Region ahead of No. 1 seed Stanford at 17-10.

As for which conference the champion would come from, The Mirage made the (11-1).

Breaking it down by seeds, the odds are 2-3 that a No. 1 seed wins the title, No. 2 seeds are 7-5, No. 3s are 4-1, No. 4s are 10-1 and the odds increase up to 475-1 for a No. 13-16 seed.

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