Conferences Calls—Men, fourth edition
This too is posted a little later than expected, but hopefully offers a nice preview of some of the conference championships that are currently underway.
Site: Southern Hills GC, Tulsa, Okla. (Par 71, 7,016 yards)
Dates: April 24-25 (For live scoring, check out Golfstat.)
Defending champion: Oklahoma State; Anthony Kim, Oklahoma
Field: No. 11 Baylor, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, No. 2 Oklahoma State, Texas, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 23 Texas Tech
Skinny: During any given tournament, a half dozen teams in the Big 12 could get hot and win an event against a comparable field. Still, most of those same squads have potential flaws and on a tough course such as Southern Hills, they’ll likely be exposed. Beyond Anthony Kim, Oklahoma can be inconsistent. Too much turmoil at Colorado to believe they can be taken seriously this week. Baylor’s Ryan Baca is likely the best player you’ve never heard of, and his supporting cast is underrated, yet there’s still a question of who will show up in a big spot for the Bears. Ditto with Texas Tech, where Oscar Floren has help but just how reliable it is remains. Texas A&M has a solid core group, but is still searching for a leader to carry the team through lean rounds. Then there’s the frustrating case of Texas, a team loaded with talent that hasn’t just hasn’t clicked (For Cliff Notes version of the season, see Matthew Rosenfeld). Which leaves Oklahoma State, the conference’s bellwether. The Cowboys won 48 conference titles in 54 years between 1947 to 2000 but only one since. It will be two by week’s end as OSU focuses on what it does best: win when the pressure is greatest.
As for medalist, no conference has more candidates to choose from. In addition to Kim, Baca and Floren, there’s Oklahoma State’s Pablo Martin, a leading candidate for national player of the year, and a dark horse candidate in Kansas’ Gary Woodland. My instincts says to go with Kim, who when he gets out of his own way off the course is as good as we’ve seen on the course in some time.
__[#image: /photos/55ad703eadd713143b421781]|||Big_west_1|||Site: Tijeras Creek GC, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. (For live scoring, check out Golfstat.)
Dates: April 24-25
Defending champion: UC-Riverside; Travis Bertoni, Cal Poly
Field: CSU-Northridge, UC-Irvine, UC-Riverside, UC-Santa Barbara, Cal Poly, Long Beach State, Pacific
Skinny: Seems as if this will be a three-team fight between UC-Irvine, Long Beach State and Cal Poly. The latter has the best individual player in Travis Bertoni, our pick to repeat as medalist. However, the Anteaters solid core of players—led by Brian Edick and Garrett Sapp—will prevail, earning the school its fourth conference title in the last six years but first since 2003.
Dates: April 24-25
Defending champion: IUPUI; Brian Stuard, Oakland
Field: Centenary, Chicago State, IUPUI, Missouri-Kansas City; Oakland, Oral Roberts, Southern Utah, Western Illinois
Skinny: Western Illinois is the top-seed entering the event and a big favorite to take the team title, after winning four times in 2005-06 and finishing second in three other events. Southern Utah and Oral Roberts likely to make only cursory charges at the top of the leader board. Leatherneck junior Tim Streng is your best bet to win the individual title, after posting a 71.7 stroke average this season and placing 69th in the Golfstat Cup ranking.
Dates: April 24-25
Defending champion: Illinois State; Kris Wildenradt, Illinois State
Field: Bradley, Creighton, Drake, Evansville, Illinois State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Missouri State, Wichita State
Skinny: Wichita State and Illinois State have claimed the last seven MVC titles, and there’s no reason to believe 2006 will be any different. Drake may well also be in contention, but ultimately it’s the Redbirds who will be victorious and receive the conferences automatic bid into the NCAA regionals. While Kris Wildenradt’s senior seasons hasn’t been a standout one, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the hunt for the individual title. Still, expect Wichita State’s Cameron Bishop and Drake’s Kane Hanson to be in the mix, with Bishop ultimately claiming top honors.
Dates: April 24-26
Defending champion: TCU; Colby Beckstrom, TCU
Field: Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida, East Carolina, Houston, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, SMU, Southern Mississippi, UTEP, Tulane, No. 18 Tulsa
Skinny: With four-time champion TCU off to the Mountain West Conference, a foursome of schools are set to take advantage of the Horned Frogs absence—a rising squad in Memphis, led by Canadian standout Keven Fortin-Simard; a traditionally solid program in SMU, with triple threats in Colt Knost, Brandon DeStefano and Will Dodson; a resurgent team in Houston, as Pablo Acuna and Ricky Romano continue to develop; and new challenger Tulsa, playing in the C-USA final for the first time and anchored by Sam Korbe. Our pick is the Golden Hurricane sweep into Old Waverly and claim the title in a playoff with SMU, making for poetic justice after how the two teams bowed out of their final appearance in the WAC Championship a year ago. As for the individual winner, I would have gone with Fortin-Simard six weeks ago, but he’s actually posted his two worst finishes of the season in the past month. Lets make it a Tulsa sweep by having Korbe claim the medalist title as well.
Dates: April 24-26
Defending champion: Washington; Erik Olson, Washington
Field: Arizona, No. 8 Arizona State, Cal-Berkeley, Oregon, Oregon State, No. 17 Southern California, Stanford, No. 5 UCLA, Washington, Washington State
Skinny: Last year’s miraculous 17-shot comeback by Washington in the final round, where the Huskies shot a five-under 350 and tied Arizona State, earning the title thanks to a tie-breaker, will be nearly impossible to top. Although both teams should be back in contention this time around, UCLA figures to be the team to beat. The way Bruins coach O.D. Vincent has handled a young squad, giving everybody a chance to prove themselves in tournament conditions during the fall and letting the players truly earn their way into the line-up, is impressive enough to warrant serious national coach of the year consideration. (It becomes particular helpful given the Pac-10s unusual play six, count five scoring system.) Standout freshman Erik Flores won’t be intimidated by the setting and Daniel Im and Chris Heintz are too solid not to bet against UCLA. Flores will be in the hunt individually as well, although I see a former NCAA champion being the man who prevails. Give Arizona State’s Alejandro Canizares his seventh career victory.