With the 2017 NCAA Division 1 Softball Tournament about to start, it is time for some predictions. We have four predictions below, which are a combination of some likely and unlikely scenarios.
1. An Unseeded Team Will Make The WCWS
As noted prior to the start of the 2017 season, it has been five years since a team outside of the top 16 national seeds has meandered their way to the Women’s College World Series. Back in 2012, LSU and South Florida were the two teams who went to the WCWS as unseeded squads.
Who will be the teams this year? There are actually plenty of candidates starting with Minnesota. They were completely disregarded by the Selection Committee and sent to the top quadrant. They have a road trip to the Tuscaloosa Regional followed by a probable three-game set in Gainesville if they can make it out of the Regionals. That will be a very tough test for the Gophers.
How about Louisiana-Lafayette? They too were ignored by the Selection Committee, but at least they stay within the state. They go to #13 LSU and they could conceivably win that Regional. A big hurdle is the potential Super Regional against Florida State, but the Ragin’ Cajuns have the bats to knock some big names out of this tournament.
The #6 and #11 quadrants have probably the highest potential to send an unseeded team to Oklahoma City. #11 Utah has to face three solid teams in Fordham, Mississippi State, and BYU. #6 Washington welcomes a surging Fresno State team, Montana, and a Michigan. The Wolverines know all about making the WCWS as they have reached that destination three of the last four years.
Could there be a bigger shock in store in the Regional and Super Regionals rounds? Or will the national seeds hold sway and make it to the Super Regional round? Stay tuned to find out.
2. Minnesota Wins The Tuscaloosa Regional
This is hardly going out on a limb, but the Gophers will be determined to show the Selection Committee how badly they messed up. Minnesota’s pitching led by Sara Groenewegen, who is 30-2 with a 10-1 strikeout to walk ratio. She has struck out 280 batters, allowed 28 walks, and has an ERA of 0.59. The Gophers’ main competition will be Alabama, but they must make sure not to overlook Louisiana Tech in the opening game.
Alabama is a team that has struggled to score runs this year averaging just 4.40 per game, which ranks 121st in the nation. The pitching and defense are stellar at 10th and 12th respectively. The Tide have only scored more than five runs four times since April 1, but consider their opposition they achieved that against: Missouri, Lipscomb, UAB, and Samford. Alabama may not be as lucky to survive a close game against Minnesota if the offense continues their struggle.
3. At Least One National Seed Does Not Win A Regional Game
This is somewhat similar to the first prediction and this also has not happened since 2012 when UCLA lost to Hofstra and Florida State in back-to-back games as the 12 seed. Before that, it was Northwestern in 2009 that lost their first two games to Texas State and Louisiana-Lafayette also as the 12 seeds.
The reason this rarely happens is that the seeded teams face the lowest seed in the region for the opener, which is almost always weaker opposition. On paper, this year seems no different as most of the national seeds look likely to win the opening game, but this tournament is pretty deep especially if the selection committee mis-seeded more teams than just Minnesota.
We think at least one or two teams might be able to scratch out a close victory over a national seed in the first game (DePaul, Fordham, Albany, Southern Illinois, or Kent State?) to give this prediction a chance of coming true.
4. The National Champion Will Be A Top 8 Seed
Since 2001, no team outside the top 6 National Seeds has won the Championship. That happened in 2008 when Arizona State won the National Title as the #6 seed and only once has a double-digit seed even made the Championship or Championship Series. Arizona did so in 2010 but was swept in the Championship Series.
It is likely that the champion will once again be from the top 6 of Florida, Arizona, Oregon, Florida State, UCLA, and Washington. We will also include #7 Auburn, last year’s runner up, and #8 Tennessee, a team that has the ability to go on a run to win it all.
Two teams outside the top 8 who definitely could win the title are #9 Texas A&M and #10 Oklahoma. The Sooners are the defending National Champions and could eliminate Auburn once again if the two meet up in the Super Regional round. Even a team like #12 Ole Miss could pose problems if they continue to play as they did in the SEC Tournament.
Still, we think the winner is likely coming from the top of the seeding even in a tournament as strong as this years. Florida’s defense and pitching, Arizona’s offense and pitching, and Oregon’s late-season sweep of Florida State (another strong contender) all look poised to lift the trophy.
Photo Courtesy of Arizona Athletics