News & ToursMay 3, 2012

The Syllabus: May Madness

__THE FAB FIVE

____My look at the top five teams in the country right now

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1.____Texas (Last week: 1)

Last week I wrote the Longhorns could have an off day yet still win a big tournament. They almost proved me right when they started poorly at the Big 12s yet nearly pulled out the title. The three-stroke loss to Texas A&M will sting, but as long as the squad--particularly senior Dylan Frittelli--use the experience to motivate and focus themselves, the loss won't be remembered quite so bitterly.

Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 17-19

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2. Alabama__ __(2)

The scary part about the Crimson Tide is how young a squad it really is. Just one senior (Hunter Hamrick) and the core starters (Justin Thomas,Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt) are just a freshman and sophomores. If Jay Seawell can keep them in Tuscaloosa, this could be a scary bunch in a year or two.

Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 17-19

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__3. California (5)

Brandon Hagy__'s clutch putting at Trysting Tree GC will go down in school lore as the Golden Bears claimed their first Pac-12 title. Any hope of this group quietly entering Regionals as a dark horse has now gone out the window. While Cal teams have always been able to play well as an underdog, it will be interesting to see how they handle being a favorite.__

__Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 17-19

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4. Oregon (NR)

The Ducks' season has reminded me of a doughnut—great start and a nice finish (three spring wins before losing to Cal in Pac-12 playoff) but with a bit of a hole in the middle. Still, you'd rather be playing well in April than in February, which is the case for Casey Martin's crew. It's an experienced team that has reached match play at NCAAs before so they shouldn't be overlooked.

Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 17-19

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__5. Auburn __(3)

A few spoils for the Tigers, who had a school-record five players receive some type of All-SEC honor (Blayne Barber, Will McCurdy, Dominic Bozzelli, Niclas Carlsson and Michael Johnson). Barber is first Auburn player to be named first team in back-to-back years since Jimmy Green in 1991-92.

Next event: NCAA Regionals, May 17-19

Women

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__1. UCLA __(1)

Prior to Pac-12s, the Bruins had been beaten by just three teams all season, posting a 133-3 head-to-head mark. That's why it was so surprising to see the defending NCAA champs lost to three teams last weekend at Palouse Ridge en route to a fourth-place showing. Doesn't mean they're not still the favorites to repeat at nationals, but invincibility factor does take a hit.

Next event: NCAA West Regional, Colorado National GC, Erie, Colo., May 10-12

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__2. Alabama __(2)

The Crimson Tide don't have anybody who has competed at the Blue Course in State College, but the players will have taken the majority of their finals already so school won't distract them from learning the course when they arrive next week.

Next event: NCAA East Regional, Penn State GC (Blue course), State College, Pa., May 10-12

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3. USC (3)

Andrea Gaston seems to have NCAA Regionals all figured out, having coached the Women of Troy to victory five of the last six years, including three times at the Central Regional. She's also got a group that seems to be finding its groove, with freshman Doris Chen winning medalist honors at Pac-12s while the the squad fell just one-stroke shy of the team title.

Next event: NCAA Central Regional, Scarlet Course at Ohio State, Columbus, Ohio, May 10-12

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__4. Auburn __(4)

There is no go-to player on the Tigers' squad, like Celeste Troche, Nicole Hage, Maria Martinez, Candace Schepperle__or most recently Cydney Clanton__ but they do have four players who have won individual titles (Marta Sanz, Victoria Trapani, Carlie Yadloczky and SEC champion Patricia Sanz). More importantly, it's a group that seems as team oriented as any in the country.

Next event: NCAA Central Regional, Scarlet Course at Ohio State, Columbus, Ohio, May 10-12

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5. Duke (5)

A year ago the Blue Devils failed to advance out of Regionals to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 1997. I doubt that Dan Brooks mentions it even once in the next few days, but don't for a second think his players don't remember what it felt like to have the season end early—and will do everything in their power to keep the feeling from happening again.

Next event: NCAA East Regional, Penn State GC (Blue course), State College, Pa., May 10-12

STAT OF THE WEEK

__1

__Number of golf balls used by Washington senior Ty Chambers for the entire 72 holes of the Pac-12 Championship. Husky coach Matt Thurmond noted via Twitter that Chambers had told him on the 60th hole he had played just the one ball, saying that "I've gotten a lot of really good bounces with that ball." Chambers shot rounds of 75-75-76-71, including a birdie on his final hole, at Trysting Tree GC to finish T-39.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

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It's a cool gesture to hear a player thank the folks that came before him. While upperclassman can be tough on freshman when they first arrive, the guidance they provide does play a big influence in their development.

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RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE WEEK__

Yesterday was the 209th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. Might be the most underappreciated part of American history, post-revolution.

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WHAT TO WATCH FOR__

1. I'll save my in-depth analysis of the NCAA Women's Division I regionals until next week, but I had a couple quick thoughts to share. It seems like a fair number of teams are making long trips to play in regionals this year. Arizona State, Arizona, Washington and San Diego State are all headed to the East Regional at Penn State. USC is going to Ohio and the Central Regional. LSU and North Carolina are headed to Colorado for the West Regional.

At the risk of speaking out of both sides of my blog, however, the Women's Committee appeared to do a nice job of making sure each Regional had a equally balanced field. Using the Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll, there are eight ranked teams in the East and West regionals and nine at the Central regional. There are three top-10 teams in the East and West, and four in the Central. That said the average ranking of the ranked teams in the Central Regional is 14.11, while the East and West are 12.625 and 12.125, respectively.

2. Given Texas A&M's recent success under J.T. Higgins, most notably the NCAA title claimed in 2009, it caught me a little by surprise that last weekend's victory at the Big 12 Championship was the team's first in the league and the first since winning the Southwest Conference crown in 1987.

That the Aggies did it without one of their top players, Cameron Peck, made it even more impressive. The junior from Olympia, Wash., is the second on the team with a 71.76 average but has fought back issues all semester. With the team getting set to play at Whispering Pines last week, the pain was too much to risk trying to gut it out at such a big event. On Twitter, Peck noted that this was the first tournament he's ever had to sit out. "But I know my team will be fine."

Sure to Peck's word, A&M rallied to defeat top-ranked Texas by three strokes. Freshman Ty Duncan finished second individually, the best finish by an Aggie in the history of the event. Johannes Veerman and__ Jordan Russell__ were T-6 and T-9 respectively. (It was the third time in his career that Russell had posted a top-10 at Big 12s.)

Interestingly, Higgins said afterward that while Peck wasn't in the lineup at Whispering Pines, his never-give-up attitude was present with the entire squad.

"The thing we knew about Cam is that mentally he's the toughest guy on the team," Higgins said. "He fights for every shot, never gives up and nothing phases him. Nothing changes his approach. What we talked about is we have to take that attitude on as a group. Everyone had to be that tough to win this thing, and they did. Top to bottom, no one ever gave in. They fought all way through. It was never easy all week. The wind blew every day, the greens were fast and the course was set up tough. We overcame a lot of adversity. We gutted it out. We are so strong top to bottom-I know every guy on our team could make any lineup in the country, no doubt. That was the advantage we had this week and we played to it, and it was great."

With Peck expected to sit out the rest of the postseason, the question now is whether A&M can repeat its Big 12 performance without one of its main stays in the lineup. My brain says that Peck's loss will keep the squad from being able to win an NCAA title, that his presence (and more importantly his stroke average) will be too much to overcome. My heart, however, says otherwise. Higgins indeed has a deep team that can rally around the idea of playing well for Peck. Plus, I've seen first hand a Texas A&M team that didn't appear to be a world beater  rise up to the challenge before back at Inverness in 2009. Suffice it to say, don't sleep on the Aggies in the next few weeks.

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TOURNAMENT PREVIEWS

__MEN

__Mountain West Conference Championship

__   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Omni Tucson National Resort, Tucson

May 4-6

Defending champion: San Diego State (-5/847) by two strokes over TCU; UNLV's Derek Ernst (-6/207) in playoff over Colorado State's Ryan Peterson and New Mexico's Travis Ross

Field: Air Force, Boise State Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, Wyoming

__Skinny:__UNLV and San Diego State seem like the heavy favorites, but I have a hunch TCU might play the spoiler part in the team's final MWC appearance before moving to the Big 12.

__Mid-American Conference Championship

__   (For live scoring, click here to link to Golfstat)

Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove, Ill.

May 4-6

Defending champion: Kent State (-1/1,151) by 29 strokes over Ball State; Kent State's Mackenzie Hughes (-4/284) by two strokes over Kent State's John Hahn

Field: Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green State, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo

__Skinny:__Not sure there's much standing in the way between Kent State coach Herb Page and the 17th MAC title of his career this weekend.

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