The Loop

NCAA Men's: Who will prevail?

__WEST LAFAYETTE, IND.--I know I'm not going out on much of a limb, but I guarantee NOBODY is going to shoot a 60 this week at the NCAA Championship, a la Duke's__Michael Schachner a year ago in Colonial Williamsburg.

I guarantee no scoring record of any kind will be broken.

I guarantee that the team champion will finish 72 holes double digits over par.

All these are made possible by Purdue's magnificently maniacal Kampen Course. If it weren't for all the NCAA signage, you'd think the course was hosting the U.S. Open. That's how brutal the rough is, where officials finally created a first cut that's only about 3¿ inches tall rather than the five-plus inches that are everywhere else

Suffice it to say, the course is a true championship test. It's not tricked up, just tricky if you're not hitting the ball solid or making any putts.

Parents of players are going to have a crucial role this week. They're going to need to act as forecaddies, helping locate errant golf balls that are eaten by the tenacious rough. If I were a coach, I might even take out a classified ad in the local newspaper and hire a couple of "team spotters" for the week.

NCAA officials told coaches yesterday that they would have two spotters on every par 4 and four on the par 5s. They're going to need them.

It's not, of course, just the rough that's going to make the tournament so tough. The course's length--7,450 yards--makes it a radically different course than Golden Horseshoe a year ago when Stanford claimed the team title over Georgia.

One coach told me today that in the moderate breezes that blew during the practice rounds, his team had trouble reaching the greens on some of the par 4s in two when they played into the wind. "And if you hit it in the rough, you're lucky to make a 5."

All this favors the top-ranked teams in the field this week; a tough course will tend to separate the talented schools from the so-so ones much more than a more amenable layout.

So it is that I think this week's title is a race between USC, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma State and Charlotte.

The 49ers won here at the NCAA Fall Preview, so they're not only familiar with the course but familiar with how to win on it. However, I'm not sure if they're games are as sharp as they were then. Oklahoma State has the player most likely to be named player of the year (Rickie Fowler), but Mike McGraw's team is a pretty young one and doesn't have much NCAA experience.

Georgia shot a record 41-under 811 in the East Regional, which is likely good for the confidence but is bad for their preparation. Adjusting mentally to a golf course that is going to play considerable more challenging, requires patience to know when to attack and when to play safe.

So in my mind it comes down to USC and Alabama. And while I think the Crimson Tide have been the "best team" in the 2007-08 season, I don't think they're the hottest anymore. That title goes to the Trojans, who in Jamie Lovemark,Rory Hie and Tom Glissmeyer, have some bombers whose games are well suited to this course.