03/20/2006 1:00AM

Odds on high seeds stay steady


LAS VEGAS - After four exciting days of March Madness, with upsets and near-upsets galore, your first thought might be that the college basketball world has been turned upside down.

However, as much as the upsets grab all the headlines and dominate the highlight shows, the Sweet 16 isn't too much different than it was supposed to be. All four No. 1 seeds survived, along with two No. 2's, two No. 3's and two No. 4's. In fact, if you made a future-book bet on the top contenders prior to the tournament, you didn't get much better odds than someone who would bet on them now (and the latecomers didn't have to sweat out two games already).

For instance, Las Vegas Sports Consultants had Connecticut as the 3-1 favorite to win the tournament a week ago and UConn's odds have only dropped to 2-1. Duke, the 7-2 pre-tourney second choice, is virtually the same at 3-1. Villanova is the third choice at 4-1, the same odds LVSC had the Wildcats at a week ago.

(Some books have Duke as the favorite. The Blue Devils are 5-2 at Wynn Las Vegas, for instance, with UConn at 3-1.)

Before the tournament, LVSC had Memphis and UCLA, the No. 1 and 2 seeds in the Oakland Regional, both at 6-1. After two games, Memphis continues to get less respect from oddsmakers as UCLA is now 9-2 to win the title with Memphis at 5-1, despite having the better seed and getting the easier draw facing No. 13 seed Bradley this Thursday. But, again, not much change in their overall odds.

Among the middle tier of teams, Texas and Boston College have had 40 percent drops in their odds. Texas opened 10-1 and is now 6-1, and BC opened 12-1 and is now 7-1. LSU dropped from 15-1 to 10-1, Florida from 20-1 to 12-1, Gonzaga from 30-1 to 20-1, Washington from 35-1- to 20-1, and West Virginia and Georgetown both from 40-1 to 30-1.

The real significant dropoffs were on the true Cinderella stories: No. 7 seed Wichita St., No. 11 seed George Mason, and No. 13 seed Bradley. All three are now listed at 50-1 after opening at 150-1, 250-1, and 700-1, respectively.

Little movement in semifinal lines

As each of the regional semifinal matchups were set Saturday and Sunday, Las Vegas sports books quickly put up odds in hopes of garnering betting handle before the huge crowds left town.

Thursday's Duke-LSU game in the Atlanta Regional was the first one set last Saturday, with Duke installed as a 6-point favorite at Caesars Palace and the Las Vegas Hilton; the line rose to 6 1/2 by Sunday morning. Throughout Sunday, money continued to come in on Duke, and by noon Monday the line had risen to Duke -7 at nearly every book in town.

The other matchup to be determined Saturday was Thursday's UCLA-Gonzaga game. The Hilton opened UCLA -5 late Saturday but when other books posted their lines Sunday morning, the money showed for the underdog Zags. The line was bet down to 4 at most books, then to 3 1/2 at a few others, and even to 3 at Caesars before being bet back to 3 1/2, which was the consensus line as of noon Monday.

The remaining lines were posted during the day Sunday.

The biggest line move came in the Cinderella Special. Some books, including Wynn and the MGM Mirage properties, made Wichita St. a 1-point favorite over George Mason while others posted it at pick-em. Either way, money poured in on George Mason and by Monday morning the Patriots were between a 1- and a 1 1/2-point favorite. Followers of line moves should note that in the opening round there were two such change of favorites - Texas A&M opened as a 2-point underdog to Syracuse and closed as a 1-point favorite on Thursday and North Carolina St. opened as a 1-point underdog vs. California and closed as a 2-point favorite on Friday - and both moves were winners.

The other lines haven't proven to be anywhere near as volatile. Memphis-Bradley was the next line to be posted, and Memphis opened as low as -6 at Leroy's sports books and as high as -7 at the Stardust. It predictably settled at 6 1/2 everywhere by Monday morning. UConn-Washington also opened in the same range, with UConn at either -6 or -6 1/2 at all books, and it appeared that the line also was settling at 6 1/2.

The three late games on Sunday afternoon determined the last three regional semis. Texas opened a pretty solid -5 vs. West Virginia, Villanova open between -2 1/2 and -3 vs. Boston College before dropping to 2 1/2 at most books (with the Palms dealing a city-low line of 2), and Florida opening -3 vs. Georgetown at most books (with Caesars opening -4) and looking like it will settle at 3 1/2.

Trends through two rounds

With all the focus on the big upsets, it might surprise some that, based on the closing numbers at the Stardust, underdogs are just 25-24 against the spread, including the Tuesday play-in game.

That certainly worked out well for the bookmakers as bettors had to pick and choose which underdogs to back, and those that parlayed favorites had a rough go of it. Also hurting a lot of the tourist crowd, which tends to bet favorites and the over, is that unders went 30-19 (61 percent). In fact, the unders were just 8-9 through the end of Thursday, so while the biggest crowds were in town for the weekend, the unders went 22-10 (69 percent).