11/09/2005 12:00AM

Start with 'bible,' then keep digging

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While trying to get caught up on college basketball research, I've been flipping through the pages of the 2005 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.

There are a lot of pages (383) to turn to keep up with all of the teams expected to be on the betting boards this season (235). The season officially started Tuesday with Syracuse beating Bethune Cookman 68-37 to cover the 29-point spread in a first-round game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The tournament's regional finals wrap up this Friday, with the semifinals and finals set for next Thursday and Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The Blue Ribbon is the unchallenged leading resource for oddsmakers, bettors, and anyone following college hoops. It's also the No. 1 seller at the Gambler's Book Shop at 630 S. 11th St. here in Vegas and online at gamblersbook.com.

"They're going like hotcakes," said Howard Schwartz, marketing director at the store. "We've had it for three weeks and we're selling 30 to 40 a day, and sales are picking up as fans get ready for the season."

The Blue Ribbon even gets an endorsement from ESPN's Mike Tirico: "Blue Ribbon is the bible. In the studio or doing play-by-play, I wouldn't think of going on the air without having Blue Ribbon at arm's length."

The yearbook breaks down each team's strengths and weaknesses, notes which players are back and how well departing players will be replaced, and looks at the depth of the bench and what recruits to keep an eye on. The FBI and CIA don't have dossiers that are this complete.

"A lot of the other magazines that come out earlier get generic information from sports information directors, so they all seem to have the same stuff," Schwartz said. "But the Blue Ribbon staff gets more from local newspapers and press conferences and comes out later, so it's more comprehensive and much fresher."

But as good as Blue Ribbon is at offering a comprehensive view of each team, it is still a publication that can only be as current as the day it was printed. Injuries, suspensions, and other factors can change a team's outlook before or even after the season has started. The best place to go for updating your information is to the World Wide Web. Sites such as sportspages.com can link you to the hometown newspapers to get the inside scoop on recent news.

Football 'capping contests continue

Even with hoops moving into our collective consciousness, football season is far from over, and the handicapping contests here in town roll on.

This Friday night, the Leroy's Money Talks Invitational continues with Doc Moseman of Doc's Sports taking on bookmaker Nick Bogdanovich at 8 p.m. in the Riviera sports book, broadcast live on KDWN AM-720. Each contestant in the 16-player field put up $2,500 of his own money (hence the name "Money Talks") to face off in weekly head-to-head elimination battles by making seven plays. The first pick starts at a mythical $110 wager, increasing until the last play is worth $770. Last week, "Chicago" Pete Ventrella showed a profit of $280 on a record of 4-3 to easily advance over the team from statfox.com, which went 1-6 for a net loss of $2,240.

In the Stardust Invitational, defending champion Big Al McMordie of the "Winning Edge" show on WGN and bigal.com faces Marc Lawrence of playbook.com at 9 p.m., also on KDWN. Contestants, who are invited and compete free for the $10,000 winner-take-all prize, also make seven selections, with a best bet to be used as a tiebreaker. Last week, Andy Iskoe of logicalapproach.com went 4-3 to defeat Kevin O'Neill of consumerbet.com, who went 2-5.

Do you think you have game?

If you fancy yourself a college basketball betting guru, Jimmy Vaccaro from Leroy's wants to speak to you. He is in the process of organizing a contest similar to the Money Talks Invitational for basketball season, with a preliminary plan for eight handicappers to put up $1,250 apiece. The champion would receive the $10,000 pot and Leroy's would kick in $5,000 for the second-place finisher. Vaccaro can be contacted through the Leroy's office at (702) 735-0101.

Sports book notes

By Wednesday, I had already fielded several calls from readers wanting handicapper Dave Cokin's plays. After mentioning last week in this space that he was 20-6-1, he posted another 3-0 mark to improve to 23-6-1 (79 percent). His plays this week, given out just before midnight Sunday on the "Stardust Line" radio show on KDWN, are Virginia -4 1/2 vs. Georgia Tech, East Carolina +11 at Tulsa, and Alabama-Birmingham -7 vs. Central Florida. Just keep in mind that with more and more people becoming aware of his hot streak, those numbers quickly disappear: As of noon Wednesday, Virginia had been bet to -5 at most outlets, East Carolina is down to +10, and UAB is -7 1/2.

* Jimmie Johnson is the lukewarm 6-1 favorite in Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Speedway, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants. Series points leader Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, who has won the last two Nextel Cup races, are both listed at 7-1. Former champions Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch are also considered top contenders to throw a monkey wrench in the standings at 8-1. As for the season-long points race, with two races to go, LVSC has Stewart as the 2-5 favorite to hang on, with Johnson at 2-1 and Edwards at 4-1.

* Just a quick reminder that the Vitali Klitschko-Hasim Rahman heavyweight title bout scheduled for this Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center has been postponed. Promoter Bob Arum has said it might be rescheduled for March 11 or 18. That latter date would put it right in the middle of the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.