The entire field of sixty-four teams that will participate in the NCAA tournament was unveiled last night. There were some surprises - such as the absence of Maggie Hull & the Kansas Wildcats - but the field is now set. For those of you who haven't seen it yet, here's a copy of the bracket:
And a printable copy, via the NCAA:
One of the biggest surprises came almost immediately, when Arkansas was sent to the Norman, Oklahoma regional, to face the #1 seed for the second postseason in a row.
Granted, a lot of placements for regionals depends on geography, but given Arkansas' #6 seed in the SEC tourney, sending them to face the #1-overall seed doesn't make a lot of sense while Mississippi State, who didn't make the tournament, goes to Mobile (hosted by #13 South Alabama) and South Carolina, the ten seed that was eliminated in the second round, heads to the Austin regional, hosted by #4 Texas.
There are three regionals that could pit a SEC team against a Pac-12 in the first round of the postseason. The College Station regional includes host Texas A&M and Arizona; the Tempe regional includes host Arizona State and Georgia; and the Columbia regional includes host Mizzou and Laura Berg's Oregon State.
I will go on record as saying that ESPN gives their current "top crop" of analysts far too much love... I happen to know that both Cheri Kempf and Amanda Scarborough were in the studio for the selection show last night, but neither of them was featured on the show or even shown on air. I apparently gave too much credit to ESPN when I saw pictures of Scarborough at the "study table" prior to the show, assuming she'd been added to the program for the first time. But sadly, that was not the case. ESPN has a bevy of softball-analyst talent, and Scarborough is the best of the best. To have her in studio and not utilize her excellent on-air skills and knowledge of the game is terrible. Okay, soapbox down.
Now, my picks for the best of the regional round:
Toughest Regional - Columbia/Mizzou
>>> Chelsea Thomas isn't healthy, and last year's almost-Cinderella Hofstra is headed to the Show-Me State. Olivia Galati is pitching better than she ever has, and just threw her fifth career perfect game. Don't automatically count out Oregon State or Stony Brook, either - Laura Berg's Beavers are fighters, and the Seawolves just took home the conference championship.
Best Pitching - Norman/OU Regional
>>> Keilani Ricketts, Michelle Gascoigne, Kimmy Beasley - three of the best in the business right now.
Best Hitting - Knoxville/UT Regional
>>> I was thinking ASU here last night, but decided to go with UT instead. The Knoxville regional features Lauren Gibson, Raven Chavanne, and Madison Shipman of Tennessee; NCAA home runs leader Megan Baltzell of Longwood, who has thirty on the year; and an NC State team that hit almost 90 on the season, including Renada Davis' 26.
Best Storyline - South Alabama
>>> A Sun Belt hosting a regional that includes the ACC regular-season champs and an SEC team? Yup, that oughta make some headlines.
Keep an eye on the Kentucky regional, as well. Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and Marshall head to Lexington, and it'll be a hard-fought battle between all four teams.
If you're interested in a fun bracket challenge, check out the one going on here. I'll be publishing my picks later this week. :)