Don't ask me how any handicapper in his right line could have made North Carolina the favorite to win the national collegiate basketball championship this year.

It made no sense, before, or after. Yet that is precisely what betting's bright boys did early last week, apparently overwhelmed by Dean Smith's presence in the original field of 40.

I hate to write an after-the-fact column. It is too easy, from the pointspread point of view. But the 9-to-2 favoritism bestowed on the ACC champions in the future book was one of the dumbest moves in many a moon, as Penn quickly proved, 72-71.

Now we are left with the second choice of many experts, Notre Dame. If Smith coached the Irish they would be 3 to 5 to take the title game at Salt Lake City on March 26. Notre Dame is probably the best them in the nation, albeit in a season that lacks an intimidating club.

Digger Phelps coaches Notre Dame. Digger is beautifully named, because somewhere along the tournament way you can count on him to bury his squad.

What Phelps does best is oversubstitute. He is wondrously adept at breaking up a winning combination just as it begins to jell. If he would restrict himself to putting his best team on the floor, and permit it to play without repeated interruptions, Notre Dame would capture this NCAA.

But no, that is not likely to happen, even though the Irish were fortunate enough to draw unholy Toledo in the round of 16 Friday night in Indianapolis.

The Irish are a nine-point favorite. Take Toledo to cover, while not to win.

The luck of the NCAA draw this season points up the luck of the Irish. Notre Dame gets the winner of the Michigan State-Louisiana State game in the Mideast regional final Sunday. State versus State figures to be tough, and enervating.

Likewise, the DePaul-Marquette and Arkansas-Louisville matchup in their regional semifinals figures to work to the advantage of UCLA and Indiana State. The pairings favor Indiana State, UCLA and Notre Dame arriving in Utah, along with something dragged in from the East.

I am not at all confident that these three will get there, even though their prescribed path is the easiest. UCLA, in particular, is going to have a heck of an argument with DePaul or Marquette in the West Regional. I am taking the "dog" in that one. I will also string along with Arkansas or Louisville against Larry Bird.

As for the East, well, there is always Syracuse, except that the Orangemen, for all their talent, have a difficult time beating a smart team. That means either Penn or the Rutgers-St. John's winner could upset them, although they shouldn't. I certainly would not be giving points with Syracuse, in any event.

A handicapper, in fact, could do worse than to give token support to all the underdogs this weekend. That is what I intend to do.

The point spreads as provided by the Castaways "Hole in the Wall Sports Book" follow: East -- Rutgers 1 over St. John's, Syrcause 3 over Pennsylvania; Mideast -- Michigan State 7 over Louisiana State, Notre Dame 9 over Toledo; Midwest -- Arkansas 3 1/2 over Louisville, Indiana State 3 1/2 over Oklahoma; West -- Marquette 1 1/2 over De Paul, UCLA 6 1/2 over San Francisco.