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Sunday, May 14, 2006

The NCAA Division I softball selection show ended a short time ago on ESPNews. In this posting, I link to the official brackets for the 64-team field, and provide some initial reaction.

The official list of the 16 regionals (each a double-elimination affair), the teams comprising them, and the host sites is available here. Most of the regionals start this Friday, May 19, although a few start Thursday, May 18. Within each region, only one team has been given a national seeding, anywhere from 1 to 16.

The 16 regional winners are then paired off to compete a week later in eight super-regionals, each a two-out-of-three series. The winners of the super-regionals go to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. As shown in the linked brackets (above), the regionals feed into the "supers" such that the national seed of the top team in one region, when combined with that of the top team in the "partnered" region, add up to 17 (e.g., 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, ..., 8 vs. 9).

Here are the 16 nationally seeded teams (arranged by potential super-regional match-ups, barring upsets). Unless noted otherwise, the listed team will host its region.

16 Florida

2 Arizona
15 LSU

3 Texas
14 Washington (at BYU)

4 Northwestern
13 Texas A&M

5 Alabama
12 Stanford (at Fresno)

6 Arizona State (at Hofstra)
11 Georgia

7 Oregon State
10 Cal (at Iowa)

8 Tennessee
9 Michigan

For each of these 16 teams (plus a few others), you can access their official pages at their home universities via the links section in the upper right-hand portion of this page. Deviations from nationally seeded teams hosting may be based on inadequate facilities at the seeded schools and/or a desire to spread the tournament throughout the country.

Vigorous discussion of the brackets has now gotten underway at Ultimate College Softball (UCS). As suggested by one of the UCS discussants, teams' RPI profiles (rankings, best known in conjunction with college basketball, that take strength of schedule into account) appear to have played a large role in the seedings.

Northwestern, which beat a trio of Pac 10 powers -- UCLA, Cal, and Oregon State -- during the regular season (game-by-game log), really seems to have been rewarded by RPI. How else to explain the sizable gap between Northwestern's national seeding (4) and Michigan's (9)? Though edged out by the Wildcats in the Big 10 regular-season standings, the Wolverines captured two of the three head-to-head meetings between the teams, including in yesterday's conference tourney final.

Not only does Michigan get a fairly difficult initial regional -- featuring Big 12 tourney runner-up Oklahoma, probably one of the better non-seeded teams in the nation. If the Wolverines win their regional, they would then be matched up against Tennessee -- probably in Knoxville -- in the super-regionals. As one of the UCS discussants pointed out, last year Michigan and Tennessee advanced into the deep rounds of the World Series (the Wolverines winning it all, and the Vols being the last team Michigan beat to make the final round against UCLA), but this year, it is guaranteed that we will not see both maize-and-blue and light-orange uniforms at the WCWS (it's also possible, of course, that we could see neither).

As a Michigan alumnus (Ph.D., 1989), perhaps I'm viewing the brackets through maize and blue-colored sunglasses. Some of the UCS discussants seem to agree that Michigan got short-shrifted, however. Tennessee similarly didn't seem to glean much benefit from winning the SEC tournament.

I will continue previewing the NCAA tournament over the next few days, and then do a lot of updating once play actually begins, so keep coming back! You can e-mail me comments via my Texas Tech faculty webpage, at the top of the links section. Unless you indicate otherwise, I'll assume I can quote your comments in my future postings.