May 6, 2014 10:48:25 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State men's golf coach Clay Homan came to the NCAA Regional selection party Monday morning with a clipboard, pen, and a wish list.
By the end of the selection show, Homan and his players received everything they wanted: a second-straight postseason berth and a destination that kept them away from defending national champion Alabama and a site without a home-course advantage for the host.
MSU will be the No. 9 seed at the NCAA Illinois Regional at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois, which is an hour west of Chicago. The Bulldogs are coming off a ninth-place finish at the Southeastern Conference Championship last week. While their seed suggests they will be a long shot to be one of the top five teams from the regional to advance to the NCAA Championship, the Bulldogs were thrilled with their draw. None of the top six seeds in the Illinois Regional -- California, Illinois, Southern California, Alabama-Birmingham, UNLV, and Clemson -- is a conference tournament champion, while second-seeded Illinois is the closest school. The Fighting Illini, who had their string of five-straight Big Ten Conference championships snapped last week, will bus 123 miles from their campus in Champaign, Ill.
"You always want to avoid playing somebody in a NCAA Regional on their home course because you assume they'll play well and get one of the spots to advance because of their comfort," Homan said. "By not having a lot of local teams in this regional situation, we're on the equal playing field as everybody else. We didn't want Eugene (Ore.) and we didn't want Columbia (Mo.)."
The second host site announced Monday on Golf Channel's selection show was the Auburn Regional. Alabama earned the top seed at that regional and is the favorite to advance to the NCAA Championships on May 23-28 at the Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kansas. When MSU learned it wouldn't be in that regional, it delivered the loudest cheer from a team that didn't see its name called in a regional that included Big 12 Conference champion Texas, Auburn, and Virginia Tech.
"All of the top seeds will be tough and we understand we'll have to play our best golf to get one of those top five spots to advance, but by missing Auburn and Alabama we feel like there's one more spot available to us," Homan said. "We're capable of beating anybody if we play our best, but you'd like to have those type of odds in our favor before we tee it up."
Said MSU senior Chad Ramey, "We knew the Auburn Regional would be stacked with great teams and despite the fact we haven't played much golf up north, I think it'll be an excellent draw for us. We'll play anybody in the country, but sometimes you need a good draw in any tournament to get you in the right mind-set, too."
The Illinois Regional will begin May 15, which gives the MSU players ample time to finish their final exams and fly to the site to begin preparing for the bent grass greens and fairways that aren't common in the Southeast.
The postseason berth is MSU's ninth. Four have come with Homan as coach. MSU will send four seniors to the event and hopes to rely on the experience it gained last season from finishing 10th in the Baton Rouge (La.) Regional.
"That regional experience left a sour taste in the mouth of these four seniors, and we're really playing well since our tournament win at Old Waverly," Homan said. "We will go ahead and prepare like it is any other tournament, but this year the expected pressure is off and we're coming in under the radar."
Ramey, who is from Fulton, shot a 6-under-par 64 in the final round of the SEC Championship. The bogey-free round helped him finish fourth and boosted his season-ending 71.00 scoring average.
"Chad ended his SEC career with one of the best rounds in our history at Sea Island," Homan said. "He (and) our other seniors have meant so much to this program, and I am so proud of them."
By getting everything it could've hoped for before it tee it plays in its second0consecutive NCAA regional, MSU has to like its chances to qualify for its first NCAA Championships since 2007-08.
"We think we can finish in the top five of a regional and possibly win the thing if we all play well," Ramey said. "It's going to be a good tournament. I really feel we're playing our best."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.