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What to watch for at NCAA Men's Regionals

I managed to successfully pick 18 of the 24 schools (take that Golfweek folks!!) that advanced out of the NCAA Women's Regionals into the national championship, so I've decided to feel no guilt in picking the men's team.

Heed my prognostication at your own risk, though, as I've surely jinxed myself by poking fun at my friends at our rival magazine.
 

University of Georgia GC, Athens, Ga.
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Winner: Alabama
Shouldn't have a problem: Georgia
On the good side of the bubble:
North Florida, Iowa, Long Beach State
On the bad side of the bubble: New Mexico, Wake Forest, Augusta State
Will play respectably: East Carolina, Houston, UNC Wilmington
Just happy to be there: UT-Arlington, Loyola (Md.)
Most likely player to advance as an individual: Lee Bedford, Wake Forest

It's hard not to like how Alabama has looked since mid-March, winning three of its last four starts, including the SEC Championship, and posting some impressive scores. Figure there's more where that came from in store in Athens. … Georgia in no way resembles the loaded squad that reached the NCAA final last June at Karsten Creek, with four of the five starters having turned pro. Still, I'm big on horses for courses and since the Bulldogs are playing on their home track, their chances of earning a 14th NCAA berth in the last 16 years increase in my mind exponentially. … Another team that seems to be getting hot at the right time is North Florida, winners of three of their last four starts and five overall. Their team titles haven't come in any marquee events, but the Ospreys' talent shouldn't be underestimated. … Iowa isn't coming off its best season but the experience the Hawkeyes have gained the last few years playing regionals and reaching nationals will help them play better than their roster might otherwise suggest. … New coach Mickey Yokoi has improved the psyche of his Long Beach State squad since taking over as coach mid-season. While the 49ers have the farthest to travel to get to Athens, their return home will arguably be the most enjoyable.    



Grandover Resort (East course), Greensboro, N.C.
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Winner: Auburn
Shouldn't have a problem: UNLV
On the good side of the bubble:
Florida, Duke, SMU
On the bad side of the bubble: Indiana, Liberty, Texas Tech
Will play respectably: Tulsa, Lamar, Charlotte
Just happy to be there: Louisiana-Lafayette, George Washington, Mount St. Mary's
Most likely player to advance as an individual: Robert Karlsson, Liberty

If its closest competition didn't have to fly a couple thousand miles to play in Greensboro, I might have a tougher time making Auburn the favorite at Grandover Resort. That said, the Tigers are a deep bunch that can win any week with junior Blayne Barber eyeing the school's all-time single-season scoring record. … UNLV will be without Hall of Fame coach Dwayne Knight, who recently had successful surgery to remove melanoma cancer from his foot. In a release he said he hopes to rejoin the squad at NCAAs. As if this talented five-win team needed any more motivation, they will want to make sure Knight gets one more tournament in 2011-12. … Buddy Alexander's Florida teams have failed to get out of regionals only once since they began in 1989. This might not be a vintage Gator squad, but there's no reason to think it won't get the job done. … My guess is that a disappointing performance at ACCs (sixth-place finish) for Duke served as a wake-up call for the team. Easy travel to regional also makes tournament feel like a home game. … SMU has overachieved much of this season, posting 10 top-five finishes for a "rebuilding" team. With Josh Gregory at the helm, I have a hunch this group will be well-prepared to surprise some schools and give their coach an opportunity to see if he can win three straight NCAA titles.  



University of Michigan GC, Ann Arbor, Mich.
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Winner: Oregon
Shouldn't have a problem: USC, Virginia
On the good side of the bubble:
Kent State, Oklahoma State
On the bad side of the bubble: TCU, Baylor, Kennesaw State
Will play respectably: Purdue, Ohio State
Just happy to be there: Notre Dame, Navy
Most likely player to advance as an individual: Julien Brun, TCU

With seniors Eugene Wong, Daniel Miernicki and Andrew Vijarro, all of whom played on the squad that reached the NCAA semifinals in 2010, Oregon is probably the most experienced team in any regional. No reason to think this group will be anything but on top of its game in Ann Arbor. … USC might not have the marquee names that its had on past rosters, but this lunch-box crew shouldn't be underestimated. Plus, U of M course should give them good vibes; the women's squad won a regional there in 2007. … Consistency has been a trademark of Virginia's the past few seasons. The Cavaliers might not win a lot, but they always seem to be in the hunt. … Lots of reason to think Kent State will advance to NCAAs for the 16th time under coach Herb Page, including winning three previous Regional tournaments. The Golden Flashes have won three of last four starts and are playing in a classic Midwestern course that should suit them well. … The streak stands at 65 and counting for Oklahoma State in terms of consecutive seasons reaching the NCAA Championship. I say it gets to 66, even if this squad is the sixth seed in the region and has three players (Ian Davis, Patrick Winther and Tanner Kesterson) making their first appearance in regionals. Just too much history for me to bet against the Cowboys here—plus OSU's first NCAA appearance was in Ann Arbor in 1947.      


The Club at Olde Stone, Bowling Green, Ky.
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Winner: Texas A&M
Shouldn't have a problem:
UCLA, Arkansas, Clemson
On the good side of the bubble:
Northwestern
On the bad side of the bubble: North Texas, Chattanooga
Will play respectably: Memphis, Virginia Tech, Iowa State, Colorado State
Just happy to be there: Jacksonville State, Penn, Alabama State
Most likely player to advance as an individual: Stephan Jaeger, Chattanooga

Texas A&M will be playing without team MVP Cameron Peck, which can't help the team's chances of winning but doesn't necessarily hurt it either. The Aggies were able to claim the Big 12 title with him missing from the lineup, so they have already shown the ability to win even with Peck on the bench. … UCLA won the regional at Olde Stone in 2009, one of four Regional titles the Bruins have claimed. Needless to say, they know the drill this week: get your top-five finish, don't get greedy and then enjoy the home cooking at Riviera CC. … An impressive seven-win season for Arkansas was slightly dulled by the fifth-place showing at SECs, but the Razorbacks have had plenty of time to get re-focused and show their regular-season play was no fluke. … Twice in the last three years (and four times in the last seven) Clemson has failed to get out of Regionals, but this year's Tigers squad has been more impressive during the regular season than Larry Penley's recent groups. Plus Clemson has only failed to qualify in odd number of years, so they should be safe. … Expecting a No. 9 seed like Northwestern to earn the last NCAA spot might be a tad risky, but I've just got a hunch and I think senior Eric Chun gets one more college event to play in. Three wins this spring suggests the Wildcats are better than their ranking might indicate. Plus they also got a look at the course when they beat UCLA a one-day match there last October.  



Jimmie Austin OU GC, Norman, Okla.
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Winner:
Texas
Shouldn't have a problem:
Georgia Tech, Washington
On the good side of the bubble:
Illinois, Florida State
On the bad side of the bubble: Oklahoma, St. Mary's (Calif.)
Will play respectably: Middle Tennessee State, South Carolina, San Diego, Arizona
Just happy to be there: Sacramento State, IUPUI, Loyola (Ill.)
Most likely player to advance as an individual: Alex Ching, San Diego

My guess is we're going to see a focused Texas team this week after the Longhorns' disappointing second-place showing at Big 12s. The No. 1 team in the Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll since last November knows the slim margin for error at regionals. Having had its best regular season since 1982-83, John Fields' team doesn't want to jeopardize the opportunity of claiming its first NCAA title since 1972 by playing sluggish in Norman. …  Georgia Tech is a young squad but has shown lots of promise with their two wins and nine top-four finishes this season. Is this finally the year Bruce Heppler gets an NCAA title? … The Jimmie Austin course isn't necessarily the best regional site that Washington could have drawn, but the Huskies don't make excuses with Matt Thurmond in charge. No reason to think that this deep squad should have any trouble securing a top-five finish. … It's difficult to overstate how impressive a job Mike Small has done the past few years at Illinois. My gut says the hard work building this program will be rewarded with a fifth straight berth into nationals. … Florida State senior Brooks Koepka has put together an impressive college career, winning ACC player of the year honors twice. Says here that he might single-handedly make sure the Seminoles give him one more tournament to play in before it officially comes to an end. 


Stanford GC, Stanford, Calif.
   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Winner: Stanford
Shouldn't have a problem:
California, San Diego State
On the good side of the bubble: LSU, Wichita State
On the bad side of the bubble: UCF. UAB, Tennessee
Will play respectably: Oregon State, S.E. Louisiana, San Francisco
Just happy to be there: San Jose State, UC Davis
Most likely player to advance as an individual: Philipp Westerman, S.E. Louisiana

Considering how stacked the Pac-12 has been all year, Stanford sort of fell off many people's radar with all the other schools making noise on the West Coast. Yet the Cardinal is a talented bunch and given the chance to play at home, I think they claim their first regional title in school history. … If not for playing on Stanford's course, I would have picked California to win this regional. The Bears not only have won five times this season but learned from watching the Cal women's team win the Pac-12 title then fail to get out of Regionals last weekend, that nothing is going to be handed to them in Palo Alto. … A veteran San Diego State squad will get revenge for its seventh-place showing at Stanford GC when it competed there earlier this spring at the U.S. Intercollegiate. The Aztecs are too talented not to. … LSU has a sleeper feel to me this week. The Tigers have squeaked through regionals with a fifth-place showing in 2010 and fourth-place performance last year, so they know how to get the job done when things get stressful. … Wichita State doesn't play in a marquee conference, but the Shockers have had a fantastic year, winning six times and showing that they're more than good enough to play with the nation's top programs. It would be the first time since 2003-04 that the team makes back-to-back appearances at nationals.
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