Monday, May 16, 2016

2016 NCAA Tournament Bracket/Seedings Announced

The NCAA tournament selection committee announced the field of sixty-four teams that will ultimately whittled down to one National Champion.

The Top 8 seeds will host a Regional and, if they emerge victorious, a Super Regional. The top eight seeds are:
#1 Florida
#2 Michigan
#3 Oklahoma
#4 Auburn
#5 Oregon
#6 Alabama
#7 James Madison
#8 Florida State

Teams seeded 9-16 will host a Regional, but will have to travel to their bracketed opponent's home park should they make it to Supers. The remaining Regional-hosting teams are:
#9 Kentucky
#10 LSU
#11 Washington
#12 UCLA
#13 Tennessee
#14 Louisiana-Lafayette
#15 Missouri
#16 Georgia

The SEC picked up three of the top eight seeds and eight of the top sixteen.

You can find the bracket in full here.

The defending champion Gators welcome SWAC champion Alabama State, UCF, and Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic into Gainesville. This is a surprisingly-tough regional for the back-to-back national champs. FAU (RPI #23) and UCF (#31) both have put together impressive campaigns this season. UCF continues to be led by the stellar arm of Shelby Turnier, while FAU relies on junior hurler Kylee Hanson (28-3, 0.73) and are riding a twenty-one game winning streak that dates back to the first weekend of April.

Michigan picked up a bit of a more manageable grouping, though they do bring the ACC's 41-11 Notre Dame to town. ND earned the #16 overall seed last season and were upset in South Bend. The Wester sisters lead the Fighting Irish at the plate and on the basepaths and could make some work for the Blue pitching staff. Valpo holds the tournament's worst record with just eighteen wins, but earned a berth by virtue of a Horizon League tournament championship. Miami, Ohio could make some games interesting out of the MAC.

Norman, Oklahoma is the site of the regional hosted by the #3-overall squad. The Sooners bring Ole Miss, Tulsa, and Wichita State in. The berth is the first-ever for Mike Smith's rejuvenated Ole Miss squad, while Tulsa and Wichita State, both conference champions, stay relatively close to home or in familiar territory. Though the Sooners should ultimately escape to the Super Regional round, there could be some serious noise in the process of that in Norman.

Fresh off an SEC championship, their second in a row, the Auburn Tigers bring in a PAC-12 team of their own in Oregon State, as well as Atlantic Sun champs and perennial mid-major power USC-Upstate and Ohio Valley champions Jacksonville State. For the Upstate Spartans, this is their fourth consecutive Regional berth in the state of Alabama but the first outside of Tuscaloosa.

Oregon earned the PAC-12's highest seed at #5... the conference champions will certainly be tested as Baylor, Fordham, and Long Beach State come to town. LBSU earns an at-large bid on the Big West's behalf while the Bears get a surprisingly-tough draw after they were thought to be a bubble candidate for a high-seed hosting gig. Geography may be the determining factor in this one, as the Ducks use wet, West-Coast Eugene to their advantage.

Former National champs Alabama get the #6 seed and are the third SEC team in the top six. They bring in-state rival Samford into TTown, accompanied by the Golden Bears of California. Annie Aldrete, formerly the star catcher for Tennessee, makes her return to SEC country, while former Crimson Tide great Kelly Kretschman returns on the other side of the diamond, as an assistant coach for Texas State.

James Madison, one of the best stories of 2016, not only pulls a National seed but were one of the few teams not to get a high-seeded opponent brought to town - Power Five squad North Carolina are the #2 seed in the regional, followed by Big South champion Longwood and Princeton. Longwood finally gets a regional placement that isn't in Knoxville vs. the Lady Vols, while UNC can't rely too much on their Power Five credentials against an exceptional JMU Dukes pitching staff and a solid offense.

Florida State earned the 8th and final National seed and bring in two in-state squads in South Florida and Florida A&M, as well as the SEC's South Carolina. The Noles will have to be cautious and on the ball against USF and are on high upset alert against Ken Eriksen's jumpstart club. Despite a dismal in-conference record, South Carolina put together a resume that equaled a high RPI ranking and earned their way into the tournament.

Kelsey Nunley's Kentucky fell just short of a National seeding, but still played their way into the top ten and will have as close to an easy ride as a team might have in the regional round - Big East champs Butler, the PAC-12's Utah, and Illinois, a surprise out of the B1G, will flock to John Cropp Stadium. Riding the arm of Nunley, and finally with a formidable staff behind her, the Wildcats should have a fairly simple road to Supers.

Riding a somewhat-surprising surge that took them to the conference championship game, LSU earned the first double-digit seed at #10 and bring in-state rival tough-to-beat McNeese State to the Red Stick. LIU-Brooklyn and Arizona State will join them there. Buoyed by sophomore stud Erika Piancastelli, the Cowgirls of McNeese will be no easy pickings. The Tigers will have to maintain consistency in all facets of the game, including offensively, defensively, and in the circle and they'll need Sandra Simmons to keep up her hot streak into the tournament. Arizona State's selection may be the biggest surprise of the night after a dismal record in conference play and finishing just five games over .500 overall and shouldn't repeat the fits they gave LSU in this same scenario last year.

Washington brings regional play back to Seattle and along with them come Minnesota, the walk-off Big Ten champions; red-hot Summit League champs North Dakota State; and Big Sky twice-defending champs Weber State. NDSU has been to the Supers before, so they're no cakewalk, and Minnesota has gotten used to hosting duties in recent years and won't like having to travel every round of the tournament. Expect them to be hungry. Heather Tarr's Huskies squad will have some work to do, but Casey Stangel will help lead the pack, possibly en route to Supers.

UCLA jumps in at #12, the third and final PAC-12 team to earn a top-sixteen seeding. They'll host an all in-state trio, including the continually-hot Fresno State; Cal State Fullerton; and Cal State Bakersfield. Jill Compton and Fresno State have no winning streak to uphold now, having lost on Senior Day this weekend for the first time since March 22. They will surely give the Bruins a lot to handle and are more than worth an Upset Alert acknowledgement.

At #13, the Tennessee Lady Vols pull in. They host MAAC champs Marist; Mike Candrea's Arizona Wildcats; and Ohio State out of the B1G. Led by the Oberdorf sisters, Marist will not be the traditional #4 seed and any team in the regional could find themselves ousted first or headed to Supers in short order. The Lady Vols will surely be handicapped by Rainey Gaffin's injured left arm, which is scheduled to be evaluated again today.

Louisiana-Lafayette earns the #14 seed and has what might be the toughest regional of them all, as Texas A&M, Texas, and Boston U come to town. The Aggies and Longhorns are well used to still playing come Supers weekend and the Cajuns are sure to have trouble with either and both. The famous environment that is Lamson Park will surely play a key factor in the Cajuns' quest to hold their seed and advance past the reigonal round. Alex Stewart will have to be just as on as she was in the Sun Belt conference tournament and the Cajuns offense needs to click on all cylinders if they don't want to bow out at the hands of one of their Power Five opponents.

In the midst of many off-the-field storylines and after an early extra-innings exit at the SEC Tournament, the Missouri Tigers earned the #15 seed. BYU enters CoMo as the #4 seed, meaning this regional will start on Thursday to accomodate BYU's policy of not playing on Sundays. ACC foe Louisville and the Big 10's Nebraska. Missouri undoubtedly has the talent in place to make quick work of their opponents, but will have to work hard to keep the off-field issues just there. If that happens, Ehren Earleywine's squad should pave the road to the Super Regionals.

Pulling out the 16th and final seed were the surprising Georgia Bulldogs. Rarely entering the pre-selection show conversation for the spot, the Bulldogs became the 8th SEC team to host a Regional and got a gift from the committee, to boot. America East champions Maine will face the Bulldogs first, while Northwestern and Oklahoma State will also join the party in Athens. Outside of Arizona State, Northwestern is easily the most questionable inclusion in the field of 64, while Kenny Gajewski continues his impressive first season at the helm of OK State, leading the squad to their first postseason berth since the program's Women's College World Series appearance in 2011.

4. UCLA - (don't let their mid-major status fool you - Fresno State is the real deal and can get the job done against just about anybody.)

The Cajuns will be held to the fire
this weekend.
3. Florida State - (will have their hands full with the streaking South Florida and should be glad that Gainesville got the equally-hot Florida Atlantic.)

2. Tennessee - (Arizona and Danielle O'Toole can never be counted an easy out, and without difference-maker Gaffin, could pull a less-than-surprising upset in Knoxville.)

1. Louisiana-Lafayette - (the committee did the Cajuns no favors; Lamson Park will play a factor, to be sure, but with both Texas and Texas A&M coming to town, they will have to play their best to withstand the test.)

Ask any college football fan who chairs the Playoff seeding/selection committee, and they're likely to quickly respond with the name of Jeff Long, who chaired the committee through the last two playoff seasons (though he has since been replaced as chairman, per committee rules). After the release of every set of rankings, Long went on ESPN and answered questions live on-air and defended the committee's selections and seedings. College football fans were able to put a face, an individual, and some reasoning, whether they agreed with it or not, behind the selections and Long provided transparency and candor on the way the committee worked.

Softball fans are still longing for this kind of transparency and explanation. More than a couple of lingering questions hold over from yesterday evening, including some noticeable snubs and nearly-illogical inclusions. Cases in point:

- The inclusion of Arizona State and Northwestern. Both were noted above, but let's delve into them each a bit more. Arizona State finished at #39 in the RPI with a 30-24 overall record and a 6-17 mark in conference play. They recorded a 9-4 mark against non-conference Power Five opponents, but won just two conference season series' all year, bookending a losing streak that spanned nearly the entire month of April and into May. The Sun Devils were 2-9 in away games did not have a pitcher that recorded below a 3.00 ERA. For the Wildcats of Northwestern's part, they finished the year at #45 in RPI with an even-keeled .500 record, while going 4-9 against non-conference Power Five opponents and won just one season series against a B1G tournament-bound team, a doubleheader victory over Illinois. ASU's inclusion is glaringly awful, but neither pass the eye test.

- The exclusion of Virginia Tech and South Alabama. Thanks to automatic bids and the inclusion of such teams as mentioned above, higher-ranked teams with better records, but of perceived-lower stature were left on the outside looking in. The Hokies and Jags, as the highest-ranked exclusions were the most penalized as both clubs (ranked #42 and #43, respectively) now find themselves done for the year. Despite a 33-18 record and a 17-6 mark in conference play, Becky Clark's USA squad will find themselves at home on Regionals weekend for the first time since 2011. Scot Thomas' Hokies finished the year one game above .500 and with a winning record in conference, yet were excluded in lieu of the lower-ranked, worse-record Wildcats. 

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