Spartans and Izzo look Final Four ready

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With March Madness closing in on us each week leading up to the huge tournament I will go over a few key conferences and opine on which teams look to have a shot at the Sweet Sixteen, Great Eight and Final Four.

ACC

We have a real dog fight for the conference title. Right now we see North Carolina sitting atop with an 11-3 conference record and 22-5 overall, but sitting in second and third we have a real log jam.

Miami, Florida, one of the teams tied for second with a conference record of 10-4, just got crushed by the Heels on Saturday, 96-71. Virginia is right there at 21-5 overall and comes off several good wins plus a hard luck loss to Duke, 63-62, two Saturdays ago.

The Cavaliers met up with Miami this past Monday night. Also sitting in a tie for second with a conference record of 10-4 is surging Louisville, coming off a big win vs. Duke this past Saturday, 71-64. After that we have Duke and Notre Dame tied for third at 9-5.

We see all of these teams making it to the Big Dance. This handicapper sees North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville and Duke no more than a point apart.

Big Ten

Somehow Indiana sits atop of the conference at 12-3 and an overall record of 22-6. Iowa sits second at 11-3 and an overall 20-6 with Maryland right on the Hawkeyes’ heels with a conference record of 11-4 but an overall mark of 23-5. Ohio State somehow is sitting in the fourth spot at 10-5 (18-10 overall). That will change after Tuesday.

The best team in the conference, and national championship contender, is Michigan State, which sits in a tie for fifth at 9-5 in the league and an overall record of 22-5. All five losses have been against conference teams. The Spartans are tied with Wisconsin at 9-5 but the Badgers are only 17-10 overall.

If I were making lines for these teams on a neutral court I would have the Spartans as a 7-point favorite vs. both Indiana and Iowa, an 8-point favorite vs. Purdue and a 9-point favorite vs. Wisconsin and Maryland. At this point I see the Spartans not only the best team in the Big Ten but in the nation. Izzo says Final Four here we come.

Next week we will take a look at the Big 12 and Pac 12 conferences.

Derby update

This past weekend we had one big Kentucky Derby prep, the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds, one of this writer’s favorite places to visit. Trainer Steve Asmussen sent out Gun Runner, making his 3yo debut, with the hot riding Florent Geroux in the irons. Geroux gave this colt a perfect inside, groundsaving trip to get the half length win in front of long shot Forevamo, handled by top Fair Grounds trainer Al Stall Jr.

Forevamo, a 40-1 longshot, paid $33.80 to place. Third place finisher Mo Tom, trained by my friend Tom Amoss, had a hard luck trip. First of all, he was too far back on this speed-favoring track, and when he looked to be making a big winning run down on the inside he had to check very hard.

When the runner in front of him drifted right in his path he did regain his momentum to finish like a freight train but it was just too late. Put Mo on your horses to watch list. By the way, he did go off as the second choice in the race.

The 7/5 chalk and highly touted Mark Casse colt Airoforce, making his highly anticipated 3yo debut, finished next to last in this field of 11, faltering badly. Trainer Casse said Airoforce is off the Derby trail.

One for Thursday

We now have won back-to-back weeks running our Thursday record to 2-2, so let’s get over the .500 mark.

Florida State at Duke: Just a horrible spot for the Seminoles as they come off a bad road loss to Virginia Tech and now travel to Durham, North Carolina to take on an angry Blue Devils team coming off a loss at Louisville, Kentucky. We will lay the wood in this game as it looks like a blowout in front of a wild crowd at Cameron Indoor Arena of 9k strong. DUKE.

Don’t wait till Thursday to get off that couch and make a bet, you could be walking around lucky on Tuesday and not even know it.

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GT’s horse racing and sports handicapper. Twitter: @SabesBet. Email: [email protected].

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