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The Syllabus: Is Duke ready for more Ws?

THE FAB FIVE
My look at the top five teams in the country right now

Men
Texas logo.jpeg1. Texas (Last week: 1)
You don't want to make too much out of the Longhorns' upcoming appearance in Las Vegas, but with 10 teams currently ranked in the top 25 of the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll, UT has a chance to reassert itself as the front runner in the national title race with a good performance. Or it also could have its confidence challenged with a so-so appearance.       
Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate Invitational, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 9-11

Alabama logo.gif2. Alabama (3)
If you strictly look at the Golfstat Cup ranking, you might think the Crimson Tide men aren't all that deep. Only Justin Thomas (13th) is in the top 75, with Cory Whitsett, Bobby Wyatt and Hunter Hamrick coming in at 100th, 148th and 154th, respectively. Overlook them at your own risk, though. These guys have an intangible doesn't seem to be measured with stats.
Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate Invitational, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 9-11

Auburn logo.gif3. Auburn (2)
It tells you where the Tigers program stands right now when you look at a third-place finish at the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate as a disappointing showing. Only real disappointment from the West Coast trip was Dominic Bozzelli's tepid play after winning in his previous start, but there is plenty of bounce back time for everyone to get back on track.
Next event: Schenkel Invitational, Forest Heights CC, Statesboro, Ga., March 16-18

UCLA logo 2008-09.gif4. UCLA (NR)
Now this was the way the Bruins had hoped to play in match play at nationals last spring. UCLA's victory in the championship match over Washington at the Del Walker was a good team victory that can be something the team feeds off of if it can get into the Elite Eight at NCAAs this May.    
Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate Invitational, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 9-11

UNLV school logo 2009-10.gif5. UNLV (NR)
En route to their fourth victory of the season at the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate, the Rebels improved on their score at Classic Club in Palm Desert, Calif., by 40 strokes (-20/844 in 2012 vs. +20/884 in 2011). Suffice it to say, Dwaine Knight's squad knows how to go low, a handy skill come the postseason.
Next event: Southern Highlands Collegiate Invitational, Southern Highlands CC, Las Vegas, March 9-11


Women

UCLA logo 2008-09.gif1. UCLA (1)
It's hard to find a statistic that the Bruins aren't doing well in. Most interesting is the most basic: UCLA leads the country in average individual score with a 72.52 mark, nearly a full stroke better than second-place Alabama. Also is No. 1 in par-3 and par-4 scoring, birdies and fairways hit. Only significant stat they're not ranked in top-10: sand saves. 
Next event: Bruin Wave Invitational, El Caballero CC, Tarzana, Calif., March 5-7

LSU logo.gif2. LSU (2)
The Tigers have their final round individual scoring average down to 73.32, which is second-best in the country. Austin Ernst individually has a 71.4 final-round average, ranking her seventh. If you like stats, these are some pretty important ones in my book.
Next event: LSU Tiger Golf Classic, The University Club, Baton Rouge, La., March 9-11

Arizona 2009-10.gif3. Arizona (3)
The Wildcats will be truly tested in the next month as their next three starts (ASU Ping Invite, Pacific Coast Intercollegiate after Rancho Bernardo) are all events that I had ranked in the top eight in terms of strength of field before the start of the spring season.
Next event: Battle at Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Bernardo GC,
Rancho Bernardo, Calif., March 18-20

Alabama logo.gif4. Alabama (5)
Crimson Tide looked a bit rusty from a far in the first two rounds at the Sugar Bowl, but a closing surge from Jennifer Kirby and Brooke Pancake (helping U of A post the low rounds of the tournament) allowed the squad to rally for a fourth-place finish, just seven back of victorious Duke. Quick turnaround to this week's tournament in South Carolina, but this veteran squad should handle that. 
Next event: Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island, March 2-4

Auburn logo.gif5. Auburn (4)
Just when I had my spot on the Tigers bandwagon secured, they post a so-so T-8 finish at the Sugar Bowl. Sometimes it's just not your week. Key is to make sure that sometimes doesn't happen too many times.    
Next event: Lady Gator Invitational, Mark Bostick GC at U. of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., March 16-18




STAT OF THE WEEK

10.63
Difference in the average team score per round at the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate this week compared to last year's event. Ideal weather conditions greeted the participants at the Classic Club in Palm Desert, Calif., compared to windy, cold weather in 2011. Thus the  average round score in 2012 dropped for the 17 teams was 294.10, down from 304.73 for the 20 teams that played the previous year.

In 2011, no team broke par in any single round. In 2012, there were 20 team rounds under par and one even-par round.
 


TWEET OF THE WEEK

Tweet of the Week 3:1:2012 Vandy.jpgDarius Rucker has his name on a new college tournament that's being played this weekend in South Carolina. I interviewed Darius/Hootie two years ago for Golf World story about golf in Myrtle Beach. Very nice guy but to be on the safe side, I'd call him Mr. Rucker first.
 

RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
Is anyone else surprised Hallmark didn't sell Leap Day cards?


WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. With Kristen Park's decision to turn pro this week, the USC women, ranked third in the latest Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll, now have just five eligible players on their roster. Is it cause for concern? Sure, since that means the team's margin for error (and nervousness about an injury) on a 10-point scale now measures about a 12. It doesn't, however, mean the Trojans' postseason ambitions have been totally squashed. Recall that Duke played with just five players on its roster during the 2004-05 season and won the NCAA title.

What's interesting, though, is that this isn't the first time in Andrea Gaston's coaching career that her lineup has gotten rather thin. I recall the first NCAA Women's Championship I covered in 2002 at Washington National outside of Seattle, the Trojans played only four players (Mikaela Parmlid, Becky Lucidi, Anna Rawson and Yon Yim) at that tournament, as they had at the West Regional two weeks earlier.

A similar situation transpired that season when a player left the team in February for personal reasons (Anna Lee). Then senior Leila Chartrand, who had been out of the lineup for much of the season with a sciatica, had to pull of competition just two days prior to regionals. USC earned the last spot our of the West Regional that year, then finished 14th at nationals.

The players that week said that the experience helped bond them, which might have been a nice way to spin a difficult situation, That said, Parmlid, Lucidi and Rawson were all core members of the 2002-03 USC team that won the NCAA title, so maybe it wasn't making lemonade out of lemons.


Duke wins Sugar Bowl.jpg2. "I couldn't be more happy. It's been long time." —Duke women's coach Dan Brooks after his team's victory at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate on Tuesday.

Indeed, the Blue Devils had played 21 tournaments without a win, the longest stretch in Brooks' 28-year tenure overseeing the program. A 13-over 877 at English Turn G&CC in New Orleans, however, was good enough to hold off Colorado by three, USC by four and a hard-charging Alabama by seven strokes.

The natural question that arises is: Was the victory A) a fluke or B) a sign the Blue Devils are ready to return to the prominence?

My answer is B, with a couple caveats. The first is that the ACC appears to be a bit of a down conference this year, which helps Duke's chances. Virginia and Wake Forest aren't playing the way they have been in recent years. North Carolina is having a nice season and should be the favorite with the Blue Devils in the conference championship, with N.C. State emerging as the surprise team and the dark horse contender for the title.

The second is that Courtney Ellenbogen needs to play the ways she did this past week. The highly touted junior golfer has struggled with consistency this season, but her T-16 finish (moving up 14 spots on the last day with an even-par 72) was critical in Duke hanging on for the victory. You know Lindy Duncan's play is a constant, but if Ellenbogen lends a hand along with Laetitia Beck and Stacey Kim, that becomes a more dependable lineup.

Where I hedge my best on Duke, however, is with this comment from Brooks after the recent win. "The passion was maybe down a litlte bit from last year. It seems like it has picked up in the spring and eveybody realizes how special it is to be on a team that's got the talent to do this kind of thing."

To hear him admit the passion was down on the group is a concern. Duke fans must hope that Brooks isn't just being optimistic about the spring turnaround and has a sense that the group has turned the corner. The performance in New Orleans suggests that is the case.



TOURNAMENT PREVIEWS
MEN
USF Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Lake Jovita G&CC, Dade City, Fla.
March 4-6
Host: South Florida
Defending champion: Middle Tennessee State (-26/838) by 19 strokes over Florida State; Middle Tennessee State's Hunter Green (-11/205) by two strokes over UCF's Greg Eason
Field: Arkansas State, Cincinnati, DePaul, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida State, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisville, Marquette, Middle Tennessee State, North Carolina, Troy, UCF, USF, Villanova
Skinny: Curious to see if Middle Tennessee State keeps its momentum going this week after its Mobile Bay win. There isn't a team in this field that the Blue Raiders can't beat.

Louisiana Classics
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Oakbourne CC, Lafayette, La.
March 5-6
Host: Louisiana-Lafayette
Defending champion: Illinois (-10/854) by six strokes over LSU; Kent State's John Hahn (-10/206) by four strokes over LSU's Andrew Loupe and Illinois' Luke Guthrie
Field: Houston, Illinois, Kansas, Kent State, Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, SMU, South Alabama, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Mississippi, Texas State, Tulsa, UT-San Antonio
Skinny: Tournament is being held for the 27th time

Fresno State Lexus Golf Classic
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Fort Washington CC, Fresno, Calif.
March 5-6
Host: Fresno State
Defending champion: San Diego State (+3/1,083) by 26 strokes over Pacific; Pacific's Alex Johnson (-6/210) in a five-hole playoff over UC Irvine's Bryan Harris
Field: Arizona, Boise State, BYU, CSU Fullerton, CSU Northridge, Fresno City College, Fresno State, Kansas State, Long Beach State, Oregon State, Pacific, Sacramento State, San Diego, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Washington State
Skinny: New venue for this year's event after being previous held at Sunnyside CC in Fresno.

Cleveland Golf Palmetto Invitational
Palmetto GC, Aiken, S.C.
March 5-6
Host: USC-Aiken
Defending champion: Alabama (+9/849) by 11 strokes over Virginia; Alabama's Bud Cauley (-9/201) by five strokes over East Carolina's Harold Varner
Field: Akron, Augusta State, Chattanooga, Clemson, College of Charleston, East Carolina, Elon, Francis Marion, Furman, Georgia Southern, Liberty, Maryland, Presbyterian, South Carolina, USC-Aiken, Wofford, Vanderbilt, Virginia
Skinny: I'm always impressed that an event hosted by a Division II program boasts an all-Division I field the way this one does each year.


WOMEN
Darius Rucker Intercollegiate
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Long Cove GC, Hilton Head Island
March 2-4
Host: South Carolina
Defending champion: New event
Field: Alabama, Arkansas, Coastal Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Notre Dame, South Carolina, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, UCF, USC-Beaufort, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wake Forest
Skinny: First-year tourney has helped getting quality field by the fact that Rucker is helping host the event and it's being played at a standout course in Long Cove. Curious if this tournament will take hold and become an annual event. Don't doubt that it will.

Bruin Wave Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
El Caballero CC, Tarzana, Calif.
March 5-6
Host: Pepperdine/UCLA
Defending champion: UCLA (-4/860) by 20 strokes over Arizona; UCLA's Lee Lopez (-4/212) by one stroke over UCLA's Glory Yang
Field: BYU, CSU-Northridge, Long Beach State, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Pepperdine, San Diego State, Sonoma State, Stanford, UCLA, UNLV, Washington State, Wisconsin
Skinny: Pepperdine jumped into the Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll this week. Now the question is whether the Waves can hang with their co-hosts?

Juli Inkster Spartan Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Almaden CC, San Jose, Calif.
March 5-6
Host: San Jose State
Defending champion: California (+17/881) by 18 strokes over UC Davis; California's Emily Childs (E/216) by one stroke over California's Joanne Lee
Field: California, Colorado State, Fresno State, Gonzaga, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, San Francisco, San Jose State, UC Davis, UC Irvine, Washington
Skinny: California looking to win the team title for the fourth straight time. The Golden Bears won in 2008, 2010 and 2011. The 2009 event was postponed.

Hurricane Invitational
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)
Deering Bay Yacht & CC, Miami
March 5-6
Host: Miami (Fla.)
Defending champion: UCF (+30/894) by one stroke over Georgia State; San Diego State's Christine Wong (+1/217) by three strokes over Coastal Carolina's Aruka Felgueroso 
Field: Arkansas State, Boston College, Campbell, Daytona State, Florida Gulf Coast, Georgetown, Georgia State, James Madison, Kansas State, Kennesaw State, Longwood, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Ohio State, Oral Roberts, Princeton
Skinny: Event resumes after a one-year hiatus in 2011.
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