• WIN A PRIZE! Pick which teams will advance to the NCAA Championship
That dreaded time of the year is here: Time to consult with the annoying, arrogant Mr. 8-Ball on what teams will advance out of the NCAA women’s regionals and compete for the national championship May 18-21 in Wilmington, N.C.
In years past, we have had to meet him poolside in Las Vegas, hunt for him at the Kentucky Derby and search various red-carpet venues. Last year, Mr. 8-Ball was available only via conference call. One could only guess where this year might take us.
We have been trying for the past several weeks to arrange a meeting, with no luck. Apparently, he has been away from his home office in Boca Raton, Fla., for weeks. After searching several social-networking sites, we came across a Facebook page talking about a strange 8-ball that was in play at a pool hall in Coon Rapids, Minn.
This sounded peculiar, and, of course, turned out to be him. We quickly made the appropriate travel arrangements, and were on our way.
Long-story short: With many people watching their dollars and curbing their spending, Mr. 8-Ball hasn’t been getting his normal gigs – birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, celebrity appearances at town festivals, etc. He has had to go back to basics, back to where it all started: being a regular 8-ball.
We did not know what to expect. His attitude and demeanor in years past would lead observers to think he was on a level equal to Hollywood’s biggest stars, but he obviously has sunk to the lowest of low.
When we first saw him he had just been double-banked into the side pocket by a 300-plus-pound Harley rider who collected $10 on a friendly wager for the victory. Mr. 8-ball got the standard 10-percent tip of $1, and he informed us he has been working for $6 per hour. He was happy with the tip, because it was under-the-table cash.
We offered him a night at the local Motel 6, bought him a steak dinner at the 24/7 diner and asked if he would make some postseason picks for us. He was cordial and delighted to take a break from the action, and soon we had set up shop in a corner booth.
Mr. 8-Ball told us that, because of his new job, he had not been following the game as closely this spring as he normally does. But he had overheard a few Minnesota fans the other day complaining about the Gophers not getting a regional invite from the NCAA Women’s Golf Committee. The last thing he recalled was a big Michigan State win at the Tar Heel Invitational last fall. After that discussion, we knew the Spartans would be one of those advancing.
On with the picks:
Starting at the top, he quickly told us that Wake Forest would win this regional in Greenville, N.C., with Duke and Auburn close behind. We reminded him that Auburn did miss qualifying for NCAAs last year. He replied: “Not worried about it. Each year is independent from the other.”
First question: “What about Pepperdine, which is making the trip across time zones?”
Answer: “Signs point to yes.”
That leaves four spots remaining from this regional. And the next three seeds are from the SEC. He circled Vanderbilt, and of course he liked Tennessee – his favorite team. We asked if he remembered that year he sung “Rocky Top” to us. He just smiled.
Answer: “Very doubtful.”
The next grouping of teams in the East is quite balanced. He told us he thought several of those teams could earn one of those last two spots. But, to him, two stick out when comparing their entire body of work this season.
We wondered where he was getting this information when he told us earlier that he had stopped paying attention last fall. He pointed to a empty table in the far corner, where the cue ball, the 7-ball and the 11-ball were gathered around an iPad.
Apparently, the trio had lost a bet the day before and was being forced to do research and communicate with Mr. 8-Ball via his Bluetooth. We did not ask about the bet.
He told us that TCU had finished no worse than fourth in its past four events and were better than a No. 8 seed. He also liked Tulane, and not because New Orleans is one of his favorite places. He said when the Green Wave play to their ability, they easily are one of the top eight teams in this region. He is counting on the roller coaster being up and not down this week.
Not bad. One region down, two to go. And I must say, this visit with Mr. 8-Ball has been much better so far than years past. Amazing what a little humble pie can do.
• • •
After reviewing the field, Mr. 8-Ball asked how two of the “Big Three” schools ended up at the same site in Columbus, Ind..
We told him about the illness of two Arizona State players that forced them to be disqualified from team competition at the Pac-10 Championship and also how USC had a few tournaments in which they were not at full strength.
Mr. 8-Ball told us to go ahead and book their flights to Wilmington. The Sun Devils and Trojans just need to make it to the tee on time.
He went on to chuckle at the fact that the Big Ten’s best two teams were close to home, then said this would be a walk in the park for them. Circle Purdue and Michigan State.
Nobody could argue with those four selections, all inside the top 14 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
There was silence for the next few minutes while he was focused on the rest of the Central field and obviously listening to his research assistants.
We figured we would go ahead and ask a question: Mr. 8-Ball, you have been solid in years past in picking Central Regional teams. You even nailed Nebraska the year the Cornhuskers were a No. 15 seed. Do you see the No. 15 seed Mississippi advancing this year?
Answer: “Don’t count on it.”
He went on to tell us: “There is clear separation here. And if my memory serves me correctly, this field is always tightly packed in the middle, but I am not seeing it this year. I like Georgia and Denver simply because I don’t think any team outside the top 8 can beat them. Eleven-ball just told me about the big wins Florida State has had this spring, so I’ve got to push them through.”
We would have to agree, the winner of the Bryan National Collegiate always makes it to the NCAA Championship and Florida State won that event in early April.
That leaves one team. What about No. 7 seed New Mexico?
Answer: “Most likely.”
Good enough. That would mean the seedings in this regional hold form and advance accordingly. A first time for everything.
• • •
Quickly, Mr. 8-Ball told us that Stanford would be the only host team to advance and said he thought that the Cardinal playing at home was a big part of that. He added that he views this regionals the strongest.
He told us that UCLA not only would advance but post a double-digit victory in Stanford, Calif. No reason to debate: The Bruins are the top-ranked team in college golf and have the fewest head-to-head losses this year with 10.
Before Mr. 8-Ball would take any question, he informed us that Arizona and California also would move on. The Pac-10 teams have invaluable course knowledge, a huge factor when you add that to the fact that three top-7 teams in the rankings – No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Virginia and No. 7 LSU – will be playing the Stanford Golf Course for the first time.
Mr. 8-Ball said the only one in that ACC-SEC grouping that would advance would be Alabama.
What about Ohio State, third-best team from the Big Ten?
Answer: “As I see it, yes.”
The Buckeyes, the No. 4 seed, have played twice this year on the West Coast and should adapt well. Ohio State advances.
Mr. 8-Ball then told us that he is big on comfort, and thinks that Texas will finish in the top eight, largely because Longhorns coach Martha Richards will share all of the secrets to having success at Stanford, as she did when competing for the Cardinal as a collegian.
That was good logic, we thought. After all, the Longhorns are the No. 10 seed this year and did make it out of the West Regional last year as the No. 17 seed.
One spot left, so who will get it?
Texas A&M won the Big 12 Conference. Will the Aggies qualify?
Answer: “My sources say no.”
Arkansas is coming off a third place at the SECs. What about the Razorbacks?
Answer: “Outlook not so good.”
UNLV has made it to the NCAA Championship in even years since the program began at the start of the decade. This is an even year, right?
Answer: “Ask again later.”
We did not have time and needed an answer quickly. One more try.
UC Davis has had a talented team the past few years and advanced to the finals before. Will the Aggies make the top eight at Stanford?
Answer: “It is decidedly so.”
There you have it: UC Davis advances for the second time in three years.
Just then, a man reached into the booth and told us that he had been “looking all over for that,” referring to our hard-to-find friend.
“Back to work,” said Mr. Eight-Ball.
See you next year . . . somewhere. Or perhaps even for the men’s regionals?