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Balicki places his NCAA bets

Here’s my tout sheet for next week’s NCAA Division I Men’s Championship:

THE LEAD HORSE

Oklahoma State: Ranked No. 1 heading into NCAAs – again – and playing at home; time for the Cowboys to put the stroke-play and match-play pieces together for an 11th NCAA crown.

NEXT-BEST BETS (3-1)

UCLA: West Region champion is solid in spots 1-5 and has not finished out of top 5 all season, including a second at Ping/Golfweek Preview at Karsten Creek.

Georgia Tech: Atlantic Coast Conference champion has what it takes to make a strong run toward school’s first NCAA golf title.

Alabama: With five wins this season, Tide have shown they can hang in there with any team in the country.

Florida: Gators just seem to go quietly about their business and come in with victories at SEC Championship and Southeast Regional.

LEADING CHALLENGERS (5-1)

Augusta State: Jags look to be in about the same position as they were last season at this time – and all they did was win the whole shooting match.

Texas A&M: 2009 NCAA champion has plenty of talent, but needs for it to all rise to the top in the same week. Who knows? This could be the week

Illinois: The Big Ten champion seems to play its best on difficult courses, and Karsten Creek certainly fits that bill.

San Diego State: Aztecs, winners of the Mountain West and Southwest Regional, are having the program’s best season ever and are still out to prove they belong among the nation’s elite.

USC: After a sluggish fall and early spring, Trojans seem to be peaking at right time, with two wins and two seconds in their past four starts.

DON’T COUNT ’EM OUT (10-1)

Georgia: Not the Bulldogs’ best season, but if the senior trio of Russell Henley, Harris English and Hudson Swafford play to their potential, watch out.

LSU: Tigers struggled a bit in their past two starts, but with four victories this season they could be ready to pounce.

Texas: Longhorns squeaked in at fifth in the West Regional, and that might have served as a wake-up call.

Duke: Beat Georgia Tech to win the East Regional, and if Blue Devils can make it to match play they’ll have plenty of confidence after winning the Callaway Match Play Championship this spring.

Iowa: Hawkeyes need to bring the game that produced four consecutive victories to close out the fall campaign.

NEED A HOT WEEK (20-1)

California: Bears have been up and down all season, but when they are in up mode, they’re as strong as anyone.

Arkansas: Razorbacks are a streaky team; won three in a row this spring, but come in off a sixth at SECs and a fifth at the Southeast Regional.

Tennessee: Vols always seem to fall under everyone’s radar and haven’t won this season, but they have been known to get hot on certain weeks

North Carolina State: Can the Wolfpack win it all? Probably not. But they are good enough to get to Elite Eight, and who knows what might happen then?

San Diego: For some reason, the Toreros don’t seem to get a lot of respect, but last season they just missed match play, losing in a playoff after tying for eighth.

IF THEY CATCH LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE (30-1)

Oklahoma: Second-year coach Ryan Hybl has the Sooners back at the NCAA finals for first time since 2006, and they appear ready to make the most of it

Arizona State: It has been a bland season for the Sun Devils – one of those rare years in their storied history in which, so far, they have no tournament wins.

Kent State: The Golden Flashes don’t come out with a lot of bells and whistles, despite their nickname, but the Mid-American champions know how to get the job done.

Ohio State: Coach Donnie Darr is getting this tradition-rich program back to the national heights it once enjoyed year-in and year-out.

Michigan: Wolverines played their best golf of season in winning the Central Regional, but can they do it again at Karsten Creek?

WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR (50-1)

Pepperdine: Waves opened season with a win at the Husky, but show just four top 5s in their next 11 starts. They need a tidal-wave performance, like in 1997 when they won it all.

Northwestern: Won Big Ten Match Play title, but getting to match play at the big dance may be too much to ask.

Arizona: Just getting here is a huge positive for the Wildcats, who battled against the NCAA’s .500 rule for a major portion of the season.

Kennesaw State: Does this season’s feel-good story have any magic left? If you’re looking for a Cinderella team, the Owls are it.

Colorado State: Rams will come back to earth after soaring to new heights by finishing second to Oklahoma State at South Central Regional.

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