Irish eyes are, in fact, smiling. A week ago, that probably wasn’t the case.
At first glance at the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings on Sunday night, one might assume Notre Dame would be a shoo-in to gain an invitation into the NCAA postseason regionals.
After all, the Fighting Irish held down the No. 60 position, which certainly should be good enough for an at-large spot no matter what they did in the Big East Conference Championship.
But a closer look shows that Notre Dame was out of the running as an at-large pick, falling under the required .500 rule with its 49-57 won-loss record.
So the only way coach Jim Kubinski’s Fighting Irish could extend their season was to win or finish second at the Big East Championship. They knew that was the situation going into the event at Reunion Resort’s Watson Course near Orlando, Fla.
So, on Tuesday, the Irish went ahead and captured the title.
Led by tournament medalist Max Scodro, who finished at 6-under 210 for a one-stroke victory over Justin Dorward of Louisville, the Irish captured their second consecutive Big East crown.
They did it impressively, too, finishing at 12-under 852 for a 16-shot victory over Louisiville.
The win was especially rewarding for Kubinski and his squad after a trying regular season. It was one which saw them finish 11th at Royal Oaks, 12th at the Schenkel and T-13 at the All-American.
Just before the Big East event, the Irish hosted four other teams and won The Battle at Warren, obviously giving them a bit of a boost.
“We started this roll a couple of weeks ago and kept getting better,” Kubinski said after winning the league title. “The timing was perfect. We had our peaks and valleys this season, but when I look at these five players over the two-year stretch, I’m proud of them. There were times when they got frustrated and disappointed, but they never quit.
“They always believed they could do great things. (Winning Big East) was a great example of a team that kept looking forward,” Kubinski said. “They had a great attitude, which can lead to good scores.”
This was Notre Dame’s eighth Big East crown since joining the conference, and it marks the first time the Irish have repeated as champions since winning three in a row from 2004 to ‘06. It’s also the first time in their 17 years of conference play that the Irish have broken par in each of the three rounds.
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IN WITH WINS: Like Notre Dame, Sacramento State and UC Davis were on the outside looking in for NCAA postseason play going into their respective conference championships.
And, also like Notre Dame, both will be compete in one of the six regional championships May 17-19.
Although Sacramento State did have a winning record (66-29), it was ranked 99th and had no chance of gaining an at-large selection, But an impressive showing in which the Hornets shot 14-over 878 and won by 42 strokes over Houston Baptist to win the America Sky Conference title.
UC Davis was in much worse shape, taking a ranking of 126th and a 32-87 record into the Big West Conference Championship. But the California school somehow put it together and captured the Big West Conference crown in a huge upset, shooting 6-under 858 to win by one over Long Beach State, which at No. 39 remains a shoo-in for an at-large berth.
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DOMINANT DUO: When this year’s NCAA postseason gets under way, the Pac-12 will lead the way among the 81 teams spread out over the six regional sites. The conference is just about guaranteed to send 9 of its 12 teams to the festivities.
The Pac-12 will send a top-heavy contingent into regionals, with six teams ranked in the top 13: UCLA (4), USC (5), Oregon (6), California (7), Stanford (8) and Washington (13). Those six should be joined by Oregon State (48), Arizona (60) and Colorado (68). Cal beat Oregon in a two-hole playoff Sunday to claim the Pac-12 title.
The Southeastern Conference has an outside shot at matching the Pac-12 with nine teams, with seven of those slots locked up. League champion Alabama, No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, leads the way for the SEC and will be joined by Auburn (3), Arkansas (10), Florida (17), Georgia (25), Tennessee (45) and South Carolina (53) at regionals. Two other teams, Vanderbilt (77) and Kentucky (80), still have slim hopes of receiving berths.
Interestingly enough, the SEC might have had 11 of its 12 teams in the postseason. However, No. 56 Mississippi and No. 71 Mississippi State fell just under the required .500 record.
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CONFERENCE RUNDOWN: Both the Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences also will be well-represented. Expect eight teams from each to be playing that third week in May.
League champion Georgia Tech leads the way for the ACC. The No. 9 Yellow Jackets will have company in Duke (18), Clemson (19), Virginia (20), Florida State (24), Virginia Tech (50), Wake Forest (59) and North Carolina State (62).
No. 11 Texas A&M captured the Big 12 crown, edging top-ranked Texas by three strokes. They should be joined by Oklahoma State (27), Baylor (29), Oklahoma (30), Texas Tech (46), Iowa State (57) and likely Missouri (66).
Next among conference representation will be the Big Ten and Conference USA, with six teams each.
League champion Illinois leads the Big Ten, which should also bring Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State.
Conference USA champ Memphis leads the way in that league and should have the company of Central Florida, East Carolina, SMU, Alabama-Birmingham, Tulsa and Houston.
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SELECTION MONDAY: This weekend, the final three conference champions and automatic qualifiers will be determined from the Mountain West, Mid-American and Northeast conferences.
On Monday evening, the NCAA Golf Committee will announce the 52 at-large selections who will join the 29 automatically qualifying conference champions at the six NCAA regional sites.
It could get pretty interesting, especially when it comes down to those final half-dozen or so selections.