Knight joins tourney 'party'

What do a talking aardvark, a dwarf running the high hurdles, Fabio playing the banjo and Bob Knight watching NCAA Tournament games inside a Las Vegas sports book all have in common?

Until recently, they were on a list of things we never expected to see. One of them is no longer on the list.

Knight will be at the Wynn Las Vegas today, and he'll be hanging with Billy Packer as college basketball takes center stage with 48 games over the next four days.

Knight won three national championships as coach at Indiana, berated countless officials, threw at least one chair and punched a cop in Puerto Rico. But he had not viewed the NCAA Tournament from a front-row seat on the Strip, and it's finally reality.

In fact, he's part of a reality show of sorts. Knight and Packer, the former CBS analyst, will co-host "Survive and Advance," a television series on the NCAA Tournament.

Knight will analyze games, but not for the purpose of revealing point-spread winners. Knight and Packer will meet with customers and hold a question-and-answer session after tonight's games.

"If anyone tries to ask them, 'What do you think the spread should be on this game?' they're not going to answer it," Wynn sports book director John Avello said. "It's not about gambling as much as it is just talking about basketball.

"We're going to throw a party, and they will be circulating through the party. I'm expecting a good crowd."

Every NCAA Tournament produces a highlight reel of unlikely moments, and the wagering element makes the event a roller coaster of emotions. What might seem like a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer in Boise, Idaho, could be a priceless shot in Las Vegas.

To survive the first weekend of the tournament and advance with a bankroll intact, gamblers need discipline, handicapping acumen, money-management skills and luck.

A selection committee of seven handicappers offers best bets for the first round:


• Memphis (-191/2) over Cal State Northridge: There is a huge difference in the level of competition that both teams have faced. The Tigers are 18-6 against the spread this season when laying double digits. Memphis' defense ranks as one of the nation's best, and guard Tyreke Evans is one of the nation's top freshmen. The Matadors are missing two key players and won't be able to keep pace. -- Joseph D'Amico,

• Purdue (-8) over Northern Iowa: The Boilermakers are far better than their 25-9 record indicates and, in fact, have enough talent to get to the Final Four. Purdue struggled during the early season because it had two starters on the bench with injuries and then had its best player, Robbie Hummel, on a game-to-game basis.

A healthy team now, the Boilermakers come in as Big Ten tournament champions, and they have such a dramatic edge in talent that Northern Iowa is severely overmatched. -- Kelso Sturgeon,

• Radford (+26) over North Carolina: The Tar Heels are arguably the best team in the tournament, but they are 0-4 against the spread this month after finishing February with a 2-5 ATS record. They are 2-7 in their past nine when favored by 20 or more points.

Ty Lawson, the Tar Heels' outstanding point guard, still has an injured toe that kept him out of the Atlantic Coast Conference tourney. North Carolina will not exert a great deal of energy, and Lawson's time probably will be limited. -- Doug Fitz,

• Western Kentucky (+5) over Illinois: There almost always is a No. 12 seed upsetting a No. 5 seed, and this one is the most likely. Illinois, which has lost three of its past four games, has struggled shooting the ball all season.

Western Kentucky is on a roll, winning 12 of its past 13 games, including seven straight. The Hilltoppers have not faced many top-notch opponents, but they did beat Louisville 68-54 in November on a neutral court. -- Mark Franco,


• Missouri (-121/2) over Cornell: The Tigers present one of the tournament's most difficult matchups for Cornell. Missouri substitutes regularly and uses nonstop pressure to wear down opponents. Cornell has limited weapons and cannot match Missouri's speed and athleticism. Critics cite the Tigers' 5-5 road record, but a Big 12 schedule poses more challenges than an Ivy League cupcake on a neutral court. -- Doug Kezirian, KTNV (Channel 13) sports director.

• Arizona (+1) over Utah: Many people questioned why the Wildcats got invited to the tournament, but it says something that they are favored as a No. 12 seed. Arizona has three big-time scorers in forwards Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill and guard Nic Wise. The Wildcats are happy to be here and will play their hearts out. The Utes won the Mountain West, but they are not in the same class with Arizona, from the better Pacific-10 Conference. -- Mike Scalleat,

• Wisconsin (+3) over Florida State: Badgers coach Bo Ryan has had a week to prepare for an overrated Seminoles team. Wisconsin's defense will find a way to contain Florida State's one star, guard Toney Douglas. -- Chuck Edel,

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at or 702-387-2907.