By Paul Arnett

Friday, March 12, 1999

NCAA picks
might become
a nice payday

I was sitting at the back bar of Binion's in downtown Las Vegas early Monday morning fretting over a seven-team parlay.

Part of me knew it didn't matter if I took Duke minus-45 in today's NCAA Tournament game with Florida A&M. Or drop the Blue Devils from my most-favored status and replace them with Big Ten champion Michigan State.

Hitting seven teams is about as likely as winning MegaBucks on the first pull of the handle. And on this card, it paid only 190-1.

But there I was, buried underneath various tout sheets that reveal not only how each team has done for the season -- straight-up and against the spread -- but how they fared in their last five games, information on overs and unders, how a team competes within its conference and what it has done at home and on the road.

The problem is finding the right combination of straight bets and totals from among the 32 games played in the opening round to produce a winner.

I only had a few hours before catching a plane back to Honolulu, so I didn't have a lot of time to pore over each bracket.

What I needed was a gimmick to help narrow my focus. I thought about calling my good friend Riley Wallace down at the California Hotel to provide me with some powerful insights.

But just as I was about to ask the bartender for the telephone, I thought better of it. Coaches usually can't pick a thing, and anyway, Riley might not appreciate this early wake-up call.

UST then, it occurred to me how many NCAA Tournament teams Hawaii played during the regular season -- New Mexico, Utah, NC-Charlotte, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Texas -- and how many teams competed in other island-wide events.

They were Syracuse, Indiana, Evansville, Washington, Michigan State and Tulsa. In all, about 20 percent of the NCAA Tournament field came to Hawaii to play this season.

Now, I had something to work with. I remember talking with Oklahoma State head coach Eddie Sutton and how he was one player away from a Final Four berth.

Oklahoma State was getting two points in its opener with Syracuse, a team that won the Maui Classic all those months ago by beating back Indiana.

The only think I liked about the Syracuse-Oklahoma State game was the under, so I skipped it, opting for Indiana as a 21/2-point favorite over George Washington.

New Mexico was too unpredictable and Utah was giving too many points (131/2) to first-round foe Arkansas State. So those two didn't make the cut.

The other six that did land on my parlay were Michigan State, Auburn, Tulsa, Texas, Washington and NC-Charlotte. As you may know, two of those babies are in -- Indiana and Auburn.

The remaining five play today. Charlotte is favored by one over Rhode Island as is Washington over Miami of Ohio. Texas is a two-point choice over Purdue, Michigan State is a 27-point pick over Mt. St. Mary's and Tulsa is a 21/2 point underdog to College of Charleston.

MOST people stupid enough to pick that many teams don't bet more than a sawbuck. I slapped down $40 much like Seinfeld's Kramer after he failed to be the master of his domain.

"I've got to get permission from my boss because the potential payout ($7,600) is so big," the ticket writer said. "Not that I expect you'll win. Heh-heh-heh."

They approved it. The sports book manager even said, "You can make it 10 teams if you want."

We all shared a laugh as I folded the ticket and turned to walk away. Now, I'll be the first to admit hitting these five remaining teams isn't likely. A bucket here or there could cause me serious emotional distress.

But I like my Hula Hoops parlay. And while I might not be able to retire should the ticket come in, I'll be the most popular man at the back bar of Binion's the next time I pay the boys a call.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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