There’s something devilishly delightful about NCAA regionals, a trio of tournaments that many coaches confess are the toughest to play of any during the college season. It’s a competition where the best strategy is not obvious, what with the fact that finishing 10th means just about as much as coming in first. Indeed, with the top 10 teams in each regional getting to tee it up at the NCAA Championship—this year at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort’s Crosswater Course May 31-June 3—while the rest call it a season, it’s not so much about winning as it is surviving.
So which top schools will advance and which ones might be left behind this weekend? Here’s a breakdown of each regional to help you get set for all the action:
__EAST REGIONAL (for Golfstat's live scoring, click here)
Lake Nona GC, Orlando__
Locks to advance: Georgia, UCLA, UNLV
All five players in the lineup for the defending national champion Bulldogs have the game to take medalist honors, so there’s not much to worry about in Athens, Ga. … The Bruins haven’t finished outside the top 10 in any of their seven spring starts. … Rebels coach Dwaine Knight typically has his teams ready to play this time of year.
Safe bets: Georgia State, North Carolina, Texas Tech
Hard to say whether the Panthers,Tar Heels or Red Raiders have had the more impressive run in 2005-06. All three have multiple wins this season and come with a lunch-pail crew that isn’t afraid to grind things out. Interestingly, the Panthers have the most recent post-season experience, with appearances at nationals the past two years.
Sweating it out: Southern California, Wake Forest, Coastal Carolina, South Carolina
The Trojans and Gamecocks are very familiar with the perils of regionals as both were involved in a three-team playoff a year ago for the final spot at nationals out of the West. USC escaped to play at Caves Valley while South Carolina were sent back to Columbia. … The Demon Deacons are still a tough troop to figure out, winning against a standout field at the Hootie’s at Bulls Bay while failing to crack the top 12 in Las Vegas and at the Hall of Fame Invitational. … The Cinderfellas at 2005 nationals were the Chanticleers, who have been playing well this spring with a pair of victories.
Will have work to do: Charlotte, Tennessee, Auburn
Kudos to Jamie Green’s 49ers squad, which has four wins and hasn’t finished out of the top five all season, but they will have to step up in a big way to play in Oregon. … It’s surprising nobody in Knoxville, Tenn., has filed a missing persons report considering the __Volunteers__have no better than a T-7 finish this spring. … Winning their own Billy Hitchcock Invitational in April was a nice lift for the Tigers, but the presence of Lee Williams has been tough for Auburn to replace.
Dark horses: Indiana, Notre Dame
The Hoosiers looked poised to claim the Big Ten title only to have a major fourth-round collapse that should give pause. Still, IU has won twice in six weeks. … It’s the third straight year into regionals for the Fighting Irish, 52 years removed from their lone national title.
Wait until next year: Florida State, Maryland, Jacksonville, Western Illinois, Wichita State, Rhode Island, George Washington, Richmond, Liberty, Army, Binghamton.
CENTRAL REGIONAL__(for Golfstat's live scoring, click here)__
Sand Ridge GC, Chardon, Ohio
Locks to advance: Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Clemson
With a streak of 59 straight years playing at nationals for the Cowboys, it’s more likely George W. Bush’s approval ratings jump to 55 percent than OSU not making it to Oregon. … Yellow Jackets coach Bruce Heppler tried to sell me that this likely would be a “rebuilding” year for his program. Do you know how many coaches would kill for three wins and a piece of an ACC title later while “rebuilding”? … The Tigers had been lost for a while since finally getting Hall of Fame coach Larry Penley his elusive national title in 2003. However, his young squad has gained confidence of late and with a couple blue chips coming in next year (Kyle Stanley and Sam Saunders), teams better get Clemson now or face the consequences.
Safe bets:__ Texas A&M, Lamar
Aggies coach J.T. Higgins has quietly built a great infrastructure in College Station; the program has advanced to nationals last two years and should sweat out No. 3. … Might be an 11th seed entering the tournament and their spring schedule might not have been Grade A, but five wins in seven starts for the Cardinals is something that should get everyone attention. Plus, his best player, Dawie van der Walt, hasn’t even been on his game.
Sweating it out: Duke, Texas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Northwestern
The Blue Devils just haven’t shown the same spark from 2005, when they earned their first ACC title in nearly 40 years. Win at the Western Intercollegiate shows you they have the potential to succeed; eighth at ACCs shows you they have the potential to implode. … Biggest question for the Longhorns: Is__Matthew Rosenfeld__’s turnaround at the Big 12 Championship a one-tournament wonder or is the former All-American truly back on his game? The answer is likely to determine UT’s fate. … The Ky. Wildcats are inexperienced compared to previous seasons, but their young players aren't lacking talent. … The Sooners’ Big 12 team title made one prognosticator eat some crow (See previous blog entry). They proved they’re more than Anthony Kim and the pips at Southern Hills, but can they do it again? … The N’Western Wildcats have momentum after claiming the Big Ten title, and cold, windy conditions outside Cleveland would play into their hands.
Will have work to do: Tulsa, Minnesota, Kent State, TCU
At mid-season, the Golden Hurricanes and Golden Gophers looked to be solid top-25 programs but each has struggled in the spring. Tulsa has seven top-10s in eight starts, but only three top-fives. Minnesota has four top-fives in seven starts but is still searching for a reliable player in the No. 1 spot. … The Golden Flashes always bring a lot of pride to regionals, but that’s not going to be enough this year. … The good news for the Horned Frogs is they finished second at the Central Preview last September. The bad news is that it was their best finish of the season.
Dark horses:__ Purdue, SMU
Boilermakers coach Devon Brouse might have more of a distraction this year as his women’s team is a legitimate threat for the NCAA title at the Scarlet Course. Still, he has had his men's teams make it to nationals four of the past five years. … The Mustangs are a quiet bunch that has the potential to go low. Four tournament wins, including the Conference USA title, make them tougher than you think.
Wait until next fall:__ Xavier, Texas-Arlington, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas State, Eastern Kentucky, Cleveland State, Sienna, Princeton, St. Francis (Pa.).
WEST REGIONAL __(for Golfstat's live scoring, click here)
Tucson National GC, Tucson
Locks to advance:__ Florida, Arizona State
Gator senior Matt Every, the recently named Ben Hogan Award winner, has an ability to inspire a team (no coincidence he was on the winning U.S. Walker and Palmer Cup teams in 2005), and his teammates can all back him up. … On a desert-type course, the Sun Devils should feel right at home.
Safe bets: BYU, Arizona, Washington
The Cougars have five players with sub-73 stroke averages and good vibes in Tucson, after winning their in February. … The host Wildcats haven’t had a typical stellar season, but familiarity with the course should make trip to nationals a done deal. … The Huskies might be seeded No. 10, but they have a group of players (defending NCAA medalist James Lepp,Alex Prugh and Erik Olson) who seem to come through in the clutch.
Sweating it out: East Tennessee State, Baylor, Alabama, New Mexico, Stanford
The Bucs have solid players to back up All-American Rhys Davies, but for some reason the hole isn’t always greater than the sum of the parts. … The Bears’ Ryan Baca is the best college player no one has heard of, but that’s not for a lack of trying on his part (two wins, five top-fives) or his teammates (Bears have four wins, 10 top-fives). … Going west isn’t to Crimson Tide’s advantage, but has experience of getting through regionals a year ago. … Lobos consistency is an issue, but winning a fourth-straight Mountain West title has them pointed in the right direction. … A year ago the Cardinal rallied late in the final round to grab one of the last spots into nationals.
Will have work to do:__ Pepperdine, San Diego State, N.C. State
The Waves have been crashing, if you will, since late March and there is really no sign that the free fall is about to end. … The Aztecs have two nice wins this spring and strong showings in some more marquee events, but are they ready for primetime? … The Wolfpack are solid in the No. 1 and 2 spots with Stephen Lewton and Jerry Richardson but seem to lack the depth to advance to nationals.
Dark horses: Houston, Louisville, New Mexico State
Getting back to regionals after missing out the past three years is a big step for the Cougars, who can play carefree in Tucson. … Twin brothers Derek and Daryl Fathauer give the Cardinals a good nucleus and both have experience from playing at regionals a year ago. … The Aggies first-ever WAC title provides some momentum and coach Scott Lieberwirth is excited the team is playing relatively close to home.
Wait until next fall:__ Denver, Santa Clara, Fresno State, UC-Irvine, Nevada, San Diego, Cal-Poly, Western Kentucky, Loyola Marymount, Jackson State, Bucknell.