Who’s number 1?

Apr 1, 2003 7:30 AM

When the odds to win the NCAA national championship were released Monday morning, it was evident parity had become a reality in men’s basketball.

Not one of the Final Four teams was granted a "minus" money line, which usually designates an "odds-on" favorite (that is, odds of less than even money, or 1-to-1).

Instead, the finalists’ odds ranged from a generous +450 for Marquette to a reasonable +140 for Kansas (in this instance, Jayhawks backers would win $1.40 for every $1 they risk).

"You have a situation where only one Number 1 seed, Kansas, made it to the Final Four," said the sports book supervisor at a popular locals casino in Las Vegas. "At this point the outcome is probably a toss-up because the ”˜big guns,’ Arizona and Kentucky, have already been eliminated."

Indeed, a survey of Las Vegas sports book directors revealed little to separate the Final Four teams.

Syracuse (+350) came out on top of the polling, but by only one vote over Kansas and two votes over Texas (+180). Marquette, which pulled off huge upsets over Pittsburgh and Kentucky to reach the finals, was last in the polling.

See chart for complete polling results.

Syracuse was given the nod, one director said, because of its stifling zone defense, which completely throttled Number 1 seed Oklahoma.

"The Orangemen are loaded with youngsters who play well on offense and defense," said Eddie Ricca at the Suncoast.

Mike Circosta, sports director of the Riverside casino in Laughlin, liked Syracuse’s freshman sensation, Carmello Anthony, whom he tabbed "as the next top pick in the NBA draft."

Nevertheless, Kansas and Texas had solid support.

"I like the way the Jayhawks responded to Arizona when they made a few runs late in the game," Larry Weiss, of Santa Fe Station, said of Kansas’ win over the Number 1 seeded Wildcats.

There was also support for Kansas because of long-time coach Roy Williams failure to ever win an NCAA title.

However, that was a detraction for some. "Texas is the only Number 1 seed left and if they get by Syracuse, they should take it all," said Casey Lewless at Circus Circus. "Kansas will ultimately fall at some point, because of coach Roy Williams’ inability to win the big one."

For other predictions, see Saber on Final Four on page 23, as well as the GamingToday website (gamingtoday.com) for late predictions and analysis.