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The Loop

Upsets abound at men's regionals

May 18, 2008

Sorry for the delay in writing a post-men's regional blog â¿¿ I had to talk my way out of having my prediction privileges revoked by the union. My argument that conventional wisdom was worth about as much as a win ticket for any horse other than Big Brown at the Preakness this weekend--explaining how my team to win the East Regional, Duke, finished in 19th place--somehow bought me another couple weeks to pontificate before promising I'll go to summer school.

Coming on 24 hours removed from an unpredictable men's regional weekend, I'm still not sure what's the bigger storyline, really. Is it the 10 teams in the top 25 of the final spring Golf World/Nike Golf coaches' poll that failed to advance to nationals: Florida State (No. 7), Georgia Tech (9), South Carolina (11), Tennessee (12), Duke (13), Chattanooga (14), UNLV (17), Michigan State (20), North Carolina (24) and Central Florida (25)? Or is it the seven of teams outside the top 45 of the Golfstat ranking that did advance: Augusta State, Middle Tennessee State, Virginia, Illinois, Oregon, UC Irvine and Saint Mary's (Calif.)?

Give Georgia, Wake Forest and Southern California their due for winning the East, Central and West regionals, respectively, the Bulldogs doing it in so impressive a fashion (school-record 269 in the first round and school record 41-under 811 overall) that you wonder how they hadn't won a tournament since October. But what made me smile are the stories like the one from Middle Tennessee State, which qualified for its first-ever appearance at nationals with the school's second-best 18-hole score in the final round (282). Leading the way was junior Rick Cochran (nephew of former PGA Tour pro Russ Cochran), who shot a career-low 67.

"I am so proud of these guys. They not only deserve this, but they also went out and earned it," Middle Tennessee first-year coach Whit Turnbow said afterward. "They have worked hard for this opportunity and it is a great accomplishment not only for them, but also for our athletic department, our university, and we are looking forward to representing the Sun Belt Conference on the greatest stage in all of college golf. There are only 30 teams left playing and we are one of them. That's a pretty good statement for our program."

Looking for another good story? I gave a lot of love to the Virginia women's team last week but how about the Cavalier men, who were in 16th place entering the final day at the East Regional but shot an eight-under 276 at Council Fire GC to to jump into 10th place and secure the final berth to nationals. Propelling the UVa, ranked 69th in the latest Golfstat ranking, was freshman Will Collins who posted a four-under 67 of his own. Making the Cavaliers' feat all the more impressive is that they had to win their final tournament of the season just to having a winning record and qualify under the .500 rule for the postseason.

Meanwhile, San Diego State isn't a surprise team to advance to nationals, but the way they finished out the West Regional was pretty amazing. The Aztecs were in 20th place to start the final round only to shoot a tournament-low five-under 283--a round that included an eagle from Johan Carlsson and a birdie from David Palm on SDSU's final hole of the day, the par-5 ninth--to finish T-9. That got the school into a playoff with Texas and Pepperdine for the final two spots; SDSU went two under in the playoff and secured their berth to nationals.

More to come in the next week on what the wild and crazy regional weekend means for the NCAA Championship. But one last thought â¿¿ I'm sorry we're not going to get to see Boise State senior Troy Merritt play in West Lafayette next week. The Fridley, Minn., native lost in a playoff for one of the two individual spots out of the West regional, ending his 2007-08 season with seven wins in 13 starts.

Merritt likely won't win any national player of the year awards (the Ben Hogan Award went to Oklahoma State's Rickie Fowler tonight) because the strength of Boise State's schedule this season (or lack there of), but here's hoping his spot as a first-team All-American is locked and secured.