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Men’s preview: Atlantic Coast Conference

How good can Virginia be this season? It depends largely on its two best players, its ideal blend of youth and experience.

Ben Kohles, a two-time ACC Player of the Year, was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Collegiate because of a lingering back injury. (Virginia went on to finish 13th.)

“Hopefully he’ll be healthy in the spring,” Cavs coach Bowen Sargent said. “He’s been fighting it for more than a year.” When Kohles is healthy, Virginia possesses one of the steadiest lineups in the ACC, if not the entire country. In three starts with Kohles in the lineup, the Cavs played the 15th-most difficult schedule and didn’t finish worse than fourth.

That also has to do with the spectacular play of freshman Denny McCarthy, who has three top 10s in four starts. Sargent, for one, isn’t surprised.

“It’s just his tenacity,” Sargent said of McCarthy, a semifinalist at the 2010 U.S. Junior who was the seventh-ranked incoming freshman. “He loves to win, and he wants to compete every day, whether it’s a tournament or just a putting and chipping contest. He’s a born winner, and you can’t coach that.”

Last year, the Cavs finished eighth at the East Regional, snapping a streak of three consecutive NCAA Championship appearances. It was a missed opportunity for a team that finished the season ranked 21st in the country.

Will the Cavs suffer a similar fate this year? Not likely.

Yes, they are relying heavily on McCarthy (No. 66 in Golfweek’s rankings) and another newcomer, Ji Soo Park, who in the final weeks of the fall season solidified himself as the No. 5 player. But a healthy Kohles makes this team a serious national-title contender.

“‘This team is as talented as any we’ve had, from top to bottom,” Sargent said. “I just don’t know if we have the experience yet. We’ll find out.”

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Top of the class: Georgia Tech

Best player this fall: Brooks Koepka, Florida State

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Past champions

2007: Virginia Tech

2008: Florida State

2009: Georgia Tech

2010: Georgia Tech

2011: Georgia Tech

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Conference capsules

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Complete coverage

Wondering how your favorite conference is shaping up headed into the spring season? Who is our favorite to pick up the automatic qualifier? Check out our conference-by-conference break down with our complete coverage page here.

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