03/06/2008 1:00AM

UCLA best in the land, oddsmakers say


LAS VEGAS - It's March, and the madness in college basketball has been going strong the past month.

Kansas, Memphis, Tennessee and North Carolina have held the No. 1 spot in the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls, but if you surveyed the oddsmakers, bookmakers and professional bettors here, the consensus top team would probably not be any of those. Instead, the "wise-guy" pick clearly is UCLA.

The Bruins are getting a lot of buzz on local radio shows and they're the favorite in most future books here in town to tear down the nets in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on April 7. The Las Vegas Hilton has them at 9-2, followed by North Carolina (5-1), Kansas (6-1), Memphis (8-1), Duke (10-1), Louisville (12-1), Tennessee (12-1), Georgetown (12-1), Texas (18-1), and UConn (25-1).

In addition, UCLA is atop the Oddsmakers' Top 30 by Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the oddsmaking firm that supplies lines to 90 percent of the sports books in Nevada. LVSC gives UCLA a power rating of 143.1, while North Carolina is at 142.8, so those two teams would be pick-em if they meet on a neutral court. Other ratings of top teams include Kansas (142.0), Tennessee (141.4), Memphis (140.0) and Duke (139.6). The Bruins would be -1 vs. Kansas, -1 1/2 vs. Tennessee, -3 vs. Memphis and -3o1/2 vs. Duke.

The full poll, including a list of teams that LVSC says are overrated in the traditional polls (Butler, Vanderbilt, Xavier and Drake), can be accessed at Viewfromvegas.com on the Oddsmakers' View page.

Favre worth weight in odds

During football season, a lot of discussion goes on in the sports books about how much a player is worth to the point spread. Just like in baseball where the starting pitcher has the most impact on the odds, the starting quarterback carries the most weight in football handicapping. If the first-string quarterback is injured, you have to determine not only how good he is but also the depth of the dropoff to the backup. In some cases the line might move a touchdown or more while in other cases it might just be a few points.

Brett Favre started 275 consecutive games for the Green Bay Packers and was rarely even considered "questionable" on the league's injury reports. He retired this week, and now we know how much he was worth in future-book odds.

On Monday afternoon, the Hilton had the Packers at 14-1 to win the Super Bowl. After the team announced his retirement on Tuesday morning, the Hilton adjust the odds to 25-1 on the assumption that relatively untested four-year backup Aaron Rodgers will take over the starting job.

With a lot of free-agent shuffling still taking place and a lot of uncertainly about who will pick whom in next month's draft, Super Bowl futures are still in a state of flux, but it looks like the Patriots will be the favorite heading into the season. They're currently at 7-2 after re-signing receiver Randy Moss. The Pats are followed by the Colts, Chargers and Cowboys (all at 6-1), the Jaguars (14-1), the Eagles and the defending champion Giants (both at 20-1), and then the Packers.

The generic Super Bowl line has the AFC -6 1/2 with a total of 52 points.

Race declared official

The Las Vegas Motor Speedway, located on the north end of the metro area, was the epicenter of the stock-car racing world last Sunday with the UAW-Dodge 400, or the Las Vegas 400, as locals still call it. Shock waves were felt throughout the valley as Nascar fans from all over the country came to town to watch, cheer and, yes, bet their favorite drivers.

Carl Edwards, who had won the previous week's Auto Club 500 in Fontana, Calif., won again as the fourth choice at 7-1 at Station Casinos. Edwards failed a post-race inspection and his crew chief was later fined and the team was docked points in the standings, but the results stood for gambling purposes.

Chevrolet is assumed to be the top manufacturer on the Sprint Cup (formerly Winston Cup and Nextel Cup) circuit but failed to win for the third time in three races this year. Edwards drives a Ford and made a winner of a proposition bet that pitted Chevy at -135 vs. the coupling of Ford/Dodge/Toyota at +105. Stations also offered exacta wagering with Ford-Chevy paying off as 9-1 as Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second.

Scandals aplenty

While the race brought a lot of publicity to Las Vegas, not all the recent publicity has been good. There's the news about a hospital where up to 40,000 patients could have been exposed to potential deadly diseases because of the practice of reusing syringes and vials of medication, and there's the hospitalization of a man who was found in a hotel suite with the deadly toxin called ricin.

Along those same lines, the Las Vegas Review-Journal had a feature last Sunday called the "Top 10 Scandals in Gritty City." Among the list: the murder of Bugsy Siegel in 1947, Howard Hughes's mysterious disappearance in 1970, UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian's battles with the NCAA, the 1998 murder of casino executive Ted Binion, the skimming of profits by the mob at the Stardust in the 1970s, the unsolved murder of rapper Tupac Shakur in 1996 after a Mike Tyson fight, and the O.J. Simpson break-in at the Palace Station last September.