03/22/2004 12:00AM

March Madness: Sweet 16 lines released

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Las Vegas's sports books were packed with college basketball fans all weekend long, and from all reports it appears everyone got their money's worth, even if they were tearing up their brackets and losing tickets after all of the upsets.

Tourists tend to bet the favorites and the over, so sports books fared well for the most part as underdogs went 27-21 (56 percent) against the spread through the first two rounds and in totals wagering the under had a 26-23 (53 percent) advantage. Note: the difference in the number of games is because the North Carolina-Texas game on Saturday closed at pick-em.

The weekend concluded with Alabama-Birmingham's shocking 76-75 upset of No. 1 seed Kentucky as a 10 1/2-point underdog on Sunday, and then handicappers' attention started turning toward the Sweet 16 matchups this Thursday and Friday.

During the course of the weekend, the Stardust posted opening numbers as soon as each regional semifinals was set. Within 10 minutes of the final gun of the UAB-Kentucky game, at 4:26 p.m., the Stardust made Kansas a 4 1/2-point favorite over upstart UAB.

The only line to move after the conclusion of Sunday's action was Oklahoma St. being bet from -1 1/2 over Pittsburgh to -2. On Saturday, the Stardust opened St. Joseph's -3 over Wake Forest and saw that bet down to 2 1/2. Other than those two Thursday games, both of which coincidentally are in the East Rutherford bracket, the other six lines remained unchanged through the night Sunday. In the Phoenix bracket, also on Thursday, Syracuse opened -1 over Alabama and Connecticut was -8 1/2 over Vanderbilt.

That was the largest opening line, though it was nearly matched by the first game on Friday's slate, Duke -7 1/2 over Illinois in the Atlanta bracket. Texas is a 2 1/2-point choice over Xavier in the other Atlanta game, while Georgia Tech opened as a 4-point favorite over Nevada in the St. Louis bracket along with the Kansas-UAB game.

"The lines are pretty tight at this point,? said Tony Sinisi, senior oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants. "We had five oddsmakers working on the lines and it didn't take long to reach a consensus.?

Sinisi said the biggest difference of opinion was on the Oklahoma St.-Pitt game,

"Most of our guys had the game as Oklahoma St. -1, -1 1/2, -2, but then a couple thought Pitt should be (favored by) 1,? he said. "It gets a little hairy when you factor in sites. Pittsburgh isn't too close to New Jersey, but you have to credit them a few points? since they should have a little more crowd support.

Sinisi said that just like handicappers, the oddsmakers have to adjust to how well teams are playing at this time. The performances of No. 10 seed Nevada and No. 8 Alabama-Birmingham have raised their stock.

"A few weeks ago, if you made a line on Georgia Tech-Nevada, that number would have been around 7,? Sinisi said. "You have to respect what Nevada has done, especially in what was close to a home game for Gonzaga in Seattle.?

The over/unders posted for the Sweet 16 were much more volatile. The Georgia Tech-Nevada total opened at 145 and was bet up as high as 150 on Monday morning before settling back to 149. To a lesser extent, the totals on St. Joe's-Wake Forest got bet from 156 to 157 1/2, Syracuse-Alabama went from 134 to 135 and Kansas-UAB went from 153 to 154. Moving in the opposite direction was Texas-Xavier, which got bet down from 144 to 142 1/2.

Updating of NCAA futures odds

Another adjustment had to be made Sunday to the odds to win the whole tournament. With No. 1 seeds Kentucky and Stanford out of the tourney, LVSC made Duke and Connecticut the co-favorites at 2-1.

The tough East Rutherford bracket, in which the top four seeds all survived the opening weekend, provides the next three choices with Oklahoma St. at 5-1 and No. 1 seed St. Joseph's and Pittsburgh both at 6-1. Kansas and Georgia Tech, both in the St. Louis bracket, are next at 8-1, with five teams - Wake Forest, Alabama, Syracuse, Illinois and Texas - listed at 12-1, the longshots Nevada, Xavier and UAB at 30-1 and Vanderbilt at 40-1.

The question came to mind about why Vanderbilt, a No. 6 seed, would have longer odds than the other Cinderella stories, No. 7 Xavier and especially No. 8 UAB and No. 10 Nevada.

"The seeds have nothing to do with it at this point; we're basing it on the odds of coming out of the regional,? Sinisi said. "Vanderbilt has the toughest road. To get out of the regional, they'll have to get by Connecticut, which we have rated very highly, and then they would probably have to face Duke just to get to the final.?

The numbers that LVSC send to its clients are then adjusted by each book, which have had future books posted since last summer and might need to shade numbers one way or another because of the books' liability.

Since 2001, when it became legal for Nevada sports books to take bets on its state schools, the futures lists at most books usually include UNLV and Nevada. Since neither team has been given much chance in recent years, it's been assumed by most people that the teams were offered just so locals could buy souvenirs for friends and family. But Nevada's run this postseason has several bettors holding some potentially lucrative tickets.

Jay Kornegay, race and sports book director of the Imperial Palace, shares that Nevada opened at 300-1 last summer and attracted no tickets. The odds were bumped up to 500-1 during the season and one ticket was bought for $5. After being lowered to 300-1, another ticket was bought but that was it.

When the tournament started and despite Nevada being in the field of 65, the IP offered them at 1,000 and two tickets were bought for $5 apiece. After the Wolf Pack's 72-66 upset of Michigan St., the odds were dropped to 500-1 and got another taker for $5.

After the upset of Gonzaga, Kornegay said he was still leaving Nevada at 50-1 (higher than the 30-1 mentioned above) because his future book only had a large liability on Oklahoma St. and a smaller one on St. Joseph's. "They're the only two that can hurt us,? he said.

Bankroll looks better on paper

My bankroll plays published last Thursday and Friday in Daily Racing Form went 4-2 both days for a record of 8-4 (67 percent) and a net profit of 3.6 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

It was someone's crazy idea - OK, it was mine - to have yours truly attempt to pick every tournament game against the spread on the www.drf.com website. Anyway, I went 4-4 with my plays on Saturday and Sunday to lower my bankroll record to 12-8 (60 percent) for a net profit of 3.2 units. It got even worse with the rest of the games as I went 12-16-1 - the push was Stanford -26 vs. Texas-San Antonio in the first round - to lower my record to 24-24-1 on all games.

But I guess that's the way you're supposed to do it, only make wagers on your best opinions and pass when you're less sure.

This week's selections will again be available in the respective print issues on Thursday and Friday, but also will be posted early at drf.com on Tuesday.

With the matchups for the regional finals on Saturday and Sunday being determined after presstime for those day's papers, analysis of those games will also be published exclusively on drf.com on the prior day (Friday for Saturday games in East Rutherford and Phoenix; Saturday for the Sunday games in Atlanta and St. Louis).

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