Thursday, May 18

Midwest teams ignored by NCAA

Last spring another brouhaha related to NCAA sports cropped up.  It’s called the VIPs, the broadcasters, their staff, and big names not doing their cush jobs.  It’s not the first time. Their egos assure it will continue to happen. That doesn't mean we have to like it.

It doesn't seem to matter if  Mid-
west teams are impressive. Broad-
casters tend to focus on brand  name
teams on the coasts rather than take
the time and effort to investigate an
unfamiliar team west of Michigan.

The infamous ESPN basketball 'expert', Jay Bilas, inspired me to go all drama queen when the self-professed smart guy didn't know what he was talking about.

In previewing the NCAA tournament, Bilas said Nevada would beat Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA tournament because Nevada had a pro-level guard. Grrrrr.

He didn't know ISU had an all-American guard. He  never saw the Cyclones play. He never watched a tape. Not his fault, he doesn't do his own research. Whatever.

He focuses on the big names expected to win. Kentucky. North Carolina. Michigan types. If Jesus and his disciples played on a team located in Ames, Iowa, broadcasters wouldn't notice. Too much drama? You get the idea.

Minnesota Gophers softball not on NCAA radar

Here we go again. The latest brouhaha deals with the NCAA and college softball. When the committee seeded the top 16 out of 64 teams in the NCAA tournament, they snubbed a top-ten team with the best record in the country. The Minnesota Gophers.

The Gopher's softball team posted the best record of the season with 54 wins and 3 losses. In the latest NCAA poll, Minnesota ranked #3. The coaches' poll rated the Gophers #1.  Although Minnesota's dominance is questionable for legitimate reasons, the Gophers should be hosting a region. They definitely deserved one of the 16 seeds.

The NCAA looks way foolish on this one. They messed up. Big time. Actually, the Gophers should also thank their AD for being slighted.  MN needs to play in a highly regarded tournament or two before conference play starts. It's better to go 2-2 against ranked teams than to go 4-0 against nobody.

Four Five reasons the Gophers missed tourney spotlight

     Minnesota's strength of schedule is 114th
     Weak-really weak, non-conference schedule. More mediocre teams than
     you can shake a stick at
   Weak Big 10 Conference
       Big 10 consists of 14 teams with only 5 qualifying for tournament. 

 Not enough quality wins
     2-2 record against quality teams (Top 25). 
        Does that translate to winning half of games against quality teams?

    VIPs are not fans of location
         Not fact checked. Broadcasters, cameras, sports TV programs tend to avoid winter fun, 
         20 inches of snow and 6 inches of ice and 22 degrees below zero. Meh.
       Thumbs down on attire
          Uniforms. Is there a good way to strut down the runway in maroon and gold? 

      Photos byCBSi. SEC Network, NCAA creative commons, Flickr, 



Senior Sara Groenewegen, a Minnesota Gopher pitcher/utility player, 
At 50-3 Minnesota’s record is impressive.  When you take a closer look, it’s not quite so pretty. That’s a big WHOOPS.  You can’t play non-conference games against unknown schools and conferences and expect rewards. Even if you run rule them every game, it doesn’t mean much.

Minnesota played so many lower quality teams it’s difficult to measure how they’ll compete against the best conferences.   We’re talking the Summit League  and North Dakota State or Troy and the Sunbelt Conference or the Florida Atlantic Owls. Playing such teams helps rack up a record but it eventually it leaves some doubt about the Gophers competing against top teams. Does their record reflect their talent or is it because of collecting easy wins? Not saying MN's talent isn't at the level their record indicates, but how would you decide? Fans
seem to be overlooking the easy schedule and focusing on the record collected by playing that schedule. It's a huge discrepancy.

The NCAA released a statement regarding Minnesota's seeding situation. Here's part of it:

As a part of the selection criteria, the committee reviews each team’s body of work individually when selecting the field of 64 teams for the softball tournament.  When selecting the top 16 seeds, the committee emphasizes a team’s performance against Top 25 teams along with other variables including strength of schedule.

Several articles complaining about the seeding committee's choices reflect the anger of the community. Some are filled with emotion and lack objectivity. Stop and give it some thought. Minnesota’s strength of schedule is ranked 114 nationally. 114. There's a huge difference between the other Top Ten teams (strength of schedules rank 1-36).  That means there are 78 teams with a tougher schedule than MN. That's only counting up to #36.  

If  a team played quality teams with tough schedules, or if they play in a conference filled with ranked teams, how would they fare against MN's schedule? If Kentucky or Alabama or another team in the middle of the SEC standings faced teams like SD, ND State or a team like Troy University with a record of 20-34 (most of their games against Division 1-A- or AA teams) wouldn't those teams run up long winning streaks? Think about it.

Minnesota grabbed two quality wins. Total. The Gophers do not have a win against a Top 10 team but their quality wins were against decent teams. They beat LSU and Cal. LSU is 5th in the SEC and Cal is 8th (second to last) in the Pac 12.  Both teams are from power conferences but far from the top of their conference. When MN played against Top 25 teams they went 2-2. Does that mean they should win half of the games they plan against quality teams? Based on their schedule that's what it looks like. 

Through no fault of their own, Minnesota plays in a weak conference.  The Big 10 has 14 teams with only 5 advancing to the field of 64 teams in the NCAA tourney.  

If there are several conference teams ranked, beating those teams means more than simply winning against a conference foe.  Take a look at the top conferences. The Pac 12 is represented in the tourney by 8 teams, while the SEC breaks a record. All 13 teams are tournament bound.

Minnesota plays in the region at Tuscaloosa, AL.  The Gophers (54-3) will play Louisiana Tech (37-22). If they win, they’ll most likely face Alabama (42-16) as the Tide plays Albany, NY (27-16).

Alabama is about as bad as they’ve ever been. The Tide is at the middle of the pack in the SEC.  Teams playing in the SEC won’t go undefeated in conference play. They are too even.  That’s why you’ll see teams with mediocre records and high seeds. They play in a high quality conference constantly playing rated teams. 

That doesn’t take anything away from Minnesota. They can prove the NCAA wrong.  According to newspaper reports, the Gophers have moved on from the snub to focus on softball.  That shows 
Hometown girl Kendyl Lindamin (Ankeny Centennial High
School) is a catcher/utility player for the  Minnesota Gophers.
team  character. Whining or complaining about not getting seeded won’t help their cause.  The best way to remind the NCAA of making a huge mistake is to win and keep winning.  It can be done. None of the regions are easy and the super regions will be packed with top tier teams. Every team needs to focus on one game at a time.

Weak schedule, weak conference or whatever the excuse, it shouldn't have kept the Minnesota Gophers from earning a seed. The seeded teams host regions. Other than that, seeding doesn’t do much.

The #1 team plays the lowest rated team but any team will face the highest seeds sooner or later.  You need to win those games to move on. In other words, not hosting or thinking your region is tough gets a big, "So what?" If you got what it takes, it doesn’t matter who the other team is. The location shouldn't be an excuse to lose. You know what they say:  If you can't run with the big dogs stay out on the porch, right?

.As far as seeding is concerned, Gopher fans will probably call me bad names, but I think Minnesota should be seeded somewhere in the 11-14 range.

It's all about parity 

How do the Gophers compare with other rated teams? An example puts this dilemma in perspective. Take a look at the SEC, considered by most 'experts' as the best softball conference. My daughter played at Kentucky, an SEC school,  so I’ll use the Wildcats as an example.

 Kentucky is tied for 7th place in the SEC with a record of 36-17. Their conference record is 12-12. The SEC counts for 8 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Half of the Top 16 seeds. The Pac12 grabbed 5 seeds, the Big 12 got 2 seeds and the Atlantic Coast Conference earned 1 seed.

Even though KY's record isn’t great, they are rewarded by toppling Top 10 teams. Through conference and non-conference games UK has shown they can compete with the best teams in the nation. From their conference the Wildcats beat the Top 10's #1 Florida Gators (50-6) and they took a game from a rated team in the Pac12. UCLA (42-13).

In the NCAA tournament, Kentucky is the 14 seed while Alabama is seeded 16. Most of the complaints I hear are about records. How many wins. How many losses. How  can teams with more losses get a seed when Minnesota didn't? Does Minnesota’s record make the Gophers equal to or better than those middle of the conference SEC teams?  If an SEC team played the same weak schedule as the Gophers (#114) wouldn't those teams make some long undefeated runs and bump up their records? If MN plays AL we'll find out if the Gopher's record beats a team playing about half of their games against ranked opponents.  If MN's record reflects their ability, the Golden Gophers should stomp all over the Crimson Tide.

In any case, it should be a great game to watch. If you consider the difficulty of schedules, weigh the strength of the conference, look at Top 25 and Top 10 quality wins PLUS record of wins and losses, does that achieve parity? Obviously, the selection committee thought it was fair. With Alabama seeded 16 and Minnesota rated 17 out of the 64 team field, the committee considers those two teams to be almost even.

Nobody really knows who is right until the umpire hollers, Play ball!  If Minnesota gets out of the double elimination region and continues to super regionals, it's likely they'll face some tough
challenges. None of the other teams have a record like the Gophers. If MN is as good as their record, then the gophers should be able to find success in any region on the bracket. Beating Alabama would validate the credibility of their record and keep confidence strong.

The Gophers definitely have a strong combination of pitchers to catcher. One of the new stars for MN is freshman catcher Kendyl Lindamin from Ankeny. She graduated from Centennial High School (across the street from my address). If new recruits match her skills, MN will continue to be the team to beat.

Tournament notes
.*Depending on the source, Florida, Oregon,                      Minnesota each rated #1 in post season rankings.
*Ole Miss won its first ever SEC tournament
 by shocking  #1 Florida.
*Minnesota pitcher Sara Groenewgen tossed
 the first ever Big 10 no hitter against
 Northwestern in the Big 10 tourney.

The Pac12's Arizona Wildcats played in the NCAA Softball
Tournament for a record 31 consecutive years.
*The NCAA Tournament started in 1982 but
 only 12 teams have claimed championships.
*There are 291 Division 1 schools sponsoring
*Arizona has appeared in the tournament for
a record 31 years in a row.
*For the first time in history, all teams in the SEC
 qualified for the tournament.
*Florida sophomore Kelly Barnhill's ERA of
 .0.33 is the best in the country.
*2016 was first tournment when no Pac12
 wins in the World Series.
Click on tournament brackets to find game
times and locations.

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