Wildman's Corner: 5 teams to watch this spring

Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Theo Sliman and Ragin' Cajun senior Andrew Noto.

Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Theo Sliman and Ragin' Cajun senior Andrew Noto.

Spring is the time when a college golf team can truly make a name for itself with a strong postseason push. Here are five men’s teams to watch this spring as they make their cases for postseason berths.

1. Louisiana-Lafayette

Golfweek/Sagarin Rank: 50

Overall record: 50-12-2 (3-7-2 vs. the top 50)

Best finish so far: Second, Kansas Invitational

What to watch: So far this year, the Ragin’ Cajuns have failed to finish in the top 5 of only one tournament this season. Coach Theo Sliman’s squad finished ninth at this week’s Mobile Bay Intercollegiate, but it continued to get strong play from senior leader Andrew Noto, who tied for 19th. The senior has done all he can for his team, but if the Ragin’ Cajuns want to be a factor in the postseason, the bottom half of the starting five will have to step up. Fellow senior Phillipp Fendt has played well too, but the inconsistency at the bottom of the lineup could haunt the team later. Louisiana-Lafayette should push MTSU and UNT at this year’s Sun Belt Conference Championship. As long as this team can rebound from this week’s finish, they should be safely in to the postseason.

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2. Augusta State

Golfweek/Sagarin Rank: 52

Overall record: 24-41-1

Best finish so far: Fourth, Royal Oaks Intercollegiate

What to watch: Despite being the reigning back-to-back national champions, it will be impossible to go for a three-peat if the Jaguars fail to qualify for the postseason. First-year coach Kevin McPherson has done his best with a roster he has had to completely overhaul. Only Taylor Floyd remains from the team’s first national title, but he was in and out of the lineup last year. With a sub-.500 winning percentage, the Jags would not qualify for the postseason if the season ended now. And the two-time champs’ schedule this spring isn’t an easy one. This spring, Augusta State plays at the Charleston Shootout, Cleveland Golf/ Palmetto Classic, General Hackler Championship, Hootie at Bulls Bay and its own Insperity Augusta State Invitational. The Jags have their work cut out for them, but their schedule and current record may be too much to overcome.

3.) Arizona State

Golfweek/Sagarin Rank: 56

Overall record: 40-42-1

Best finish so far: T-1, Bill Cullum Invitational

What to watch: Like McPherson at Augusta State, first-year Arizona State coach Tim Mickelson entered a program that was basically starting from scratch. Not only did Mickelson inherit a team with little experience, but he also took over a program that already had its recruiting class in place before he stepped in the door. With five freshmen on the roster, the Sun Devils have done a good job just being competitive. With three freshmen in the starting lineup at the Bill Cullum, the Sun Devils tied for first with Long Beach State. To open the spring, ASU finished a respectable eighth at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii. Arizona State will not compete for a Pac-12 title this year, but the fact that Mickelson has them contending for a postseason bid is pretty remarkable. Pac-12 teams may want to get their licks in now, because this team could be a big-time contender in a couple of years.

4.) South Florida

Golfweek/Sagarin Rank: 61

Overall Record: 23-10-1

Best finish so far: T-2, Golfweek Program Challenge

What to watch: In only his second year as head coach of the Bulls, Chris Malloy has made USF relevant not only in the Sunshine State but in college golf. When Malloy took over at USF, the Bulls were coming off a ranking of 180th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings in 2009-2010. At the end of his first season, the Bulls had dropped even lower to 196th, but after his second fall in Tampa, the team is a legitimate postseason bubble team. Only one other team from the Big East – Notre Dame (57th) – is ranked ahead of the Bulls. This year, the Bulls will have an opportunity to win the Big East Championship, and even if they don’t, they still could make a postseason run. USF’s schedule gives the Bulls opportunities to pick off a few wins, as well as be challenged by several top teams at the Gary Koch Intercollegiate in April. Going from obscurity to the postseason would be a nice accomplishment if the Bulls can stay focused.

5.) Ball State

Golfweek/Sagarin Rank: 67

Overall record: 48-21-1

Best finish so far: First, Mid-American Match Play at Lake Jovita

What to watch: The Cardinals are one of those teams that is very close to getting over the hump. Despite a win at the Mid-American Match Play, the Cardinals have had opportunities to pick up a few other marquee wins for their program but haven’t quite converted. Mick Fleck’s team has four other top-5 finishes in strong fields but has yet to pick up a big time win. Ball State has a strong head-to-head record, but to help their ranking, the Cardinals will have to start beating more teams ranked ahead of them. Ball State will get that chance in strong fields this spring at the Pinehurst Intercollegiate, Arizona State Thunderbird and Robert Kepler Intercollegiate.

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