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The Instant-Reaction Market . . . Be Quick - Or You're Dead...By Nelson Lardner

Internet communication has resulted in faster dissemination and processing of information than ever before. And there are few financial exchanges that have been affected to a greater extent than the world's sporting markets.

The moves of certain syndicates earn great internal respect from the world's major players. BUT, as previously noted, the web-posted opinions of (a) specific influential touts who've established potent reputations, and (b) certain message-board wizards who have attracted monstrous followings thanks to their level of sustained competence accessible at everyone's favorite price ($0.00) are making the Don Best screen dance to their tune.

No doubt, this is inspiring more frustration than ever for the casual player, who uses a local and enjoys zero access until an hour or so prior to the day's first tip. Day after day, you'll hear him say, "But the paper said that Tech was only - 2 over State, but it was -4, when I called."

This dovetails neatly with the longtime lament of the weekend warrior, who arrives late to virtually every party, and who's often left with the ultimate Hobson's choice . . . the right side, at the wrong price - or the wrong side, at what seems a bargain spread.

NCAA basketball openers are good - but when you're dealing with high-profile games on limited menus, they're not nearly good enough to head off the dedicated professionals. Many of these guys are good handicappers. The best of them are masters of the line-manipulation game within the game, especially when they keep themselves well-informed regarding what the biggest syndicates and most-influential handicappers and net posters are up to.

Exemplifying all of the above, a classic example of the broad dynamic occurred during this tourney's Midwest Regional semis, involving Oregon and (oh, so appropriately) UNLV. Off wins over Miami (O) and Winthrop, the Ducks opened a 1 -1 1/2 point choice over the Rebels, fresh off their upsets of Georgia Tech and top-seeded Wisconsin.

Impressed with Oregon's Pac-10 pedigree, immediate form, and wary of UNLV's having come so far in the public's mind in such a short time, tout techies with large followings loved the Ducks. So did pivotal internet gurus with hefty followings. Word got around fast, and the - 1 1/2 quickly disappeared, and the subsequent -2 was far from long-lived as well.

As the "right-side" word went out in widening waves, the consensus number eventually reached -3. On obvious one-sided key games, not all of these caliber of moves are strictly handicap-driven. In significant part, such moves are inspired by those hoping to propel a specific number from Point A to Point B, with a partial buyback in view. In Mr. Wiseguy's worldview, games that open below -2 which Mr. Sharpie has reason to believe can be driven above -3 are prime meat for timely two-way action . . . especially in the tourney, when so many games tend to evolve/devolve towards the spread neighborhood of a ballpark-accurate opener.

There was plenty of +3 1/2 around near tip, as the public was quacking away on the Ducks. Rebel rooters - and diligent middlers -- who waited it out could get all the +3 1/2 they wanted (and +4, on the buy, if so inclined).

Oregon raced to a double-digit second-half lead, but as so often happens, their focus diffused, and the Rebels got to it, hitting their threes and fouling judiciously - and whittled it down to a 2-point margin with a second left. Original Duck backers were grinning, and nimble middlers were in ecstacy -- until a literal last-second foul call on the heels of the final UNLV three-pointer sent Bryce Taylor to the line with 0.9 seconds left on the clock, and he drained both, establishing the final margin at four.

Tourney games with clear-cut favorites that open below -2 and are likely to be played up are "comp" buffets for the wise guys with no pronounced side preferences who're willing to do the work. Tennessee/Virginia and Louisville/Texas A&M were both worked hard and sided by the clan, when each fell on 3. Many also stepped in it when they embraced Ohio State early and Xavier late.

The seasonal warrior is caught in the whirlwind. With belated line access, he'll get pushed or beaten by enough late line moves to put a severe damper on any positive "runs" he may piece together. Experienced hands who are hip to which way the winds are blowing in each particular situation will fare better . . . though both will find frustration on just how quickly a reasonably-priced right-side favorite will get its price marked up to levels which fail to offer enticing long-term theoretical returns.

Layers, playing defense to the best of the ability, will move numbers swiftly to deflect torrents of action, leaving themselves wide-open to major-league manipulation. And the band plays on, through the conclusion of the NCAAs, through the completion of the NBA season, back to football, and beyond. Education, dedication and alertness are musts to survive in this jungle.

Nelson Lardner

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