Top-seeded Gators, unseeded Gophers and 10 things to know for the NCAA softball regionals
On Sunday, 64 teams were invited to play for the NCAA softball national championship. On Thursday, the whittling begins. The regional round opens in Salt Lake City, when Mississippi State takes on BYU (ESPN3, 6 p.m. ET). Fordham vs. No. 11 Utah concludes the Day 1 action (ESPN3, 8:30 p.m. ET), and the other 15 regionals open their double-elimination tournaments Friday. Sixteen teams will advance to next weekend's super regionals, and eight of those will survive to the final destination: the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City, beginning June 1.
Before first pitch, here are 10 things you need to know.
1. Minnesota has the best record in the country but did not receive a national seed. The Gophers (54-3, 21-1 Big Ten) will be in the Tuscaloosa regional with 16-seed Alabama. Alabama (42-16, 12-11 SEC) led the country with a home average attendance of 2,555 this season. If Minnesota survives, it could be matched up with top-seeded Florida in the super regional. Florida (50-6, 20-3 SEC) is the only team in the country with a better team ERA than Minnesota.
2. The seeds have tasted much success in the regional round of the tournament. Since 2005, top 16 seeds have advanced 81 percent of the time. The top four seeds have gone 47-1 (third-seeded Texas in 2011 is the lone blemish). Seeds 5 through 8 have gone 42-6; Nos. 9 through 12 have gone 38-10; and seeds 13 through 16 have gone 29-19.
3. Oklahoma, seeded 10th, is looking to repeat as Women's College World Series champion and win its fourth title in school history. The Sooners (50-8, 17-1 Big 12) won the Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles this year and have won 27 of their last 28 games.
4. In terms of RPI, the toughest region is the Salt Lake Regional. All four teams in the Salt Lake Regional have a Top-45 RPI. The easiest regional is the College Station Regional, as a result of hosting the team with the lowest RPI in the entire field (Texas Southern, which is 279).
5. The SEC is the first conference to get all of its teams into the NCAA tournament since 2007. The 13 teams in the field breaks the NCAA record of 11 teams, which was also held by the SEC (accomplished in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016).
6. Despite losing in its SEC tournament opener, Florida is the No. 1 overall seed. The Gators are the top seed for the fifth time since seeding began in 2005. No other school has been the No. 1 seed multiple times.
7. Arizona's Katiyana Mauga has 22 home runs this season and 89 in her career -- one away from Stacey Nuveman's (UCLA) 90, and six home runs shy of the Division I career record held by Lauren Chamberlain (Oklahoma), who hit 95 from 2012 to '15.
8. Teams from seven states make up 28 of the 64 teams in the tournament. A team from one of these states has won the national championship in each of the last five years (and six of the last seven). California and Texas lead the way with five each. Florida, Illinois and Louisiana have four apiece, and Alabama and Oklahoma each have three. The other 36 teams come from 26 different states.
9. The Pac-12, which has won the most NCAA titles of any conference with 23, has not won the Women's College World Series since 2011 (Arizona State), its longest drought ever. Last year, the Pac-12 did not win a WCWS game for the first time ever.
10. Florida sophomore Kelly Barnhill has the nation's best ERA at 0.33. Four of her seven earned runs allowed this season were in her last two starts of the season.