Events to watch: Puerto Rico, Central, Mobile Bay
With tournaments being staged every few days, it’s safe to say the college season is in full swing. Here are three tournaments to keep an eye on next week.
Puerto Rico Classic (men)
Date: Feb. 20-22
Field: Alabama, Clemson, ETSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Michigan, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Texas, UNC Greensboro and Virginia Tech
The scoop: This field is stacked with four teams from the top 10, and seven teams from the top 25. The field is Big Ten-heavy and headlined by Northwestern, a team coming off a win at the Big Ten Match Play Championship. The Big Ten schools haven’t been able to play a lot of golf this winter, but hopefully the match-play tournament allowed them to shake off some rust. Oklahoma State is the No. 1 team in the country and is looking to win its third tournament of the year.
Wildman’s pick: Oklahoma State. It’s hard to go against the top-ranked team in the country. Even without Peter Uihlein in Hawaii, the Cowboys beat a handful of the teams they will now see in Puerto Rico. By the way, how sweet is OSU’s travel schedule this year? The Cowboys have been to Chicago, Orlando, Hawaii and now Puerto Rico. Is this a golf schedule or a bucket list of places to visit and play golf? UCLA recently won at the Battle of the Beach, and the Cowboys will need to respond with a win of their own if they hope to remain atop the college golf rankings.
Sleeper: Northwestern. The Wildcats defeated some talented teams at the Big Ten Match Play Championship. Pat Goss’ Wildcats defeated Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, but remember that was all head-to-head. Now the Big Ten schools are back to playing stroke play, but the Wildcats closed out the fall strong. A top-5 finish would be great for Northwestern, but teams travel to win. If Northwestern can put in a solid first round then perhaps it can carry momentum over for two more days. A win by any Big Ten school would be impressive at this event.
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Central District Invitational (women)
Date: Feb. 21-22
Field: Arkansas, Baylor, Indiana, Iowa State, Kent State, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, TCU and Texas A&M
The scoop: Iowa State nearly pulled off the upset over Alabama at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic, but now will have the chance to defeat two more SEC Schools in LSU and Arkansas. LSU is ranked fourth in the country and Arkansas is No. 12. The Cyclones are having a really strong year and will be playing this event with a lot of confidence after their performance in Puerto Rico. LSU started the year strong with a runner-up finish at the Preview and win and the Mason Rudolph. If Golfweek’s top-ranked individual, Megan McChrystal, plays well for the Tigers then the Bayou Bengals will be tough to beat in this one.
Wildman’s pick: Iowa State. Hurricane season doesn’t occur in Florida for a few more months, but that doesn’t mean a Cyclone couldn’t come through and disrupt several teams at this event. After nearly defeating top-ranked Alabama at the Lady Puerto Rico, I think Iowa State is for real and ready to prove it. One thing we see often, however, is a team playing well one week and then following it up with a less-impressive performance. If Iowa State doesn’t come to this event over-confident, I think the Cyclones could pick up that marquis win in a top-notch field.
Sleeper: TCU. One thing the 30th-ranked Horned Frogs are known for is playing well down the stretch. TCU has had a solid year, but were only 12-13 against teams ranked inside the top 50 before their eighth-place finish at the Lady Puerto Rico. The Horned Frogs really could use a win right now, and will have their chance to do so against several of the top teams in the country.
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Mobile Bay Intercollegiate (men)
Date: Feb. 21-22
Field: Akron, Arkansas State, Charlotte, Illinois State, Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisville, Memphis, MTSU, Mississippi State, South Florida, South Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Troy, Vanderbilt
The scoop: Coaches are either going to be leaving this tournament ecstatic or demoralized – there will be no in between. The top -nked teams in this field are Charlotte (46), MTSU (66), Memphis (76), and Vanderbilt (68). These teams will be facing several teams that are ranked right outside the top 100. If some of these top-ranked teams slip up and fall to the lower-ranked teams then their own ranking could take a severe hit. A win for a team ranked higher than 100 might result in a ranking worthy of postseason consideration.
Wildman’s pick: South Alabama. Jaguars fans have had more and more to cheer about as the season has progressed. South Alabama started the year with a T-13 and a 12th-place finish, but followed that up with a fourth, third and a win at the Memphis Intercollegiate. Now the Jags will be looking to continue the trend as they host an event nearby. South Alabama is ranked 79th in the country, but a win against some quality opponents will right their ship a bit more and help them start to climb in the rankings.
Sleeper: Kentucky. The SEC is so strong this year, its hard not to take Kentucky. Wildcat fans need to realize the time is now or never with this team if they hope to make a run at the postseason. Kentucky is ranked 118th in the country, and needs to start winning soon. In five events this year, Kentucky has two top-5 finishes with zero wins on the year. This will be Kentucky’s first event of the spring and hopefully will serve as a fresh start.