In some ways, NCAA regional competition can be more exciting than the national championship. More teams are involved, which creates more widespread interest, and nothing beats the exhilaration of the final round of regional play as teams scramble to make the top 8 and qualify for the NCAA finals.
With that backdrop, here are some commonly asked questions about the women’s regionals on the eve of the postseason:
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Is winning a regional important?
Sure it is. Winning any tournament is the ultimate goal for most teams, but for the 72 regional entries, this week is not really about winning. It’s about moving on and being among of the 24 teams that will compete at the NCAA Championship at Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club on May 20-23.
However, let’s not dismiss the significance of finishing atop the leader board this week. There may be something to winning, even though no trophies will be handed out. Since the NCAA went to a three-region format in 2001, eight of the 13 eventual national champions had advanced to the finals as regional winners.
That’s a strong indicator but no guarantee that a national champion will be crowned at regionals every year.
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We always hear how there is more parity in the women’s game than ever before, but is that really true?
Last year continued a trend of postseason upsets that began in 2010. Across all three regions, eight teams seeded outside of the top 8 earned finals berths. That has been the case in three of the past four years (only seven teams with a No. 9 seeding or worse qualified in 2012). That means roughly one-third of the national-championship field comes from an underdog spot. Before 2010, no more than seven had advanced, and often only a couple of underdog teams crashed the finals.
Last year, Wisconsin moved on with a No. 20 seed – the lowest ever to qualify. A pair of No. 19 seeds advanced in Mississippi State and San Jose State. Only once before had a No. 19 seed advanced: Nebraska, which placed fifth in the 2003 Central Regional.
Those numbers tend to support the contention that the women’s game is experiencing greater parity than ever before, which bodes well for next year’s expansion to four regionals. Those 18-team fields will send six teams each to the NCAA finals, beginning in 2015.
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Many feel hosting an event is an advantage, but is it really?
Play gets underway May 8 at three sites: SouthWood Golf Club in Tallahassee, Fla.; Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.; and Tumble Creek Club at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, Wash. Among the host teams – Florida State, Oklahoma State and Washington, respectively – two would appear to have an edge.
A host team seeded No. 8 or better at its regional has history on its side, which is good news for fourth-seeded Washington in the West and sixth-seeded Oklahoma State in the Central. In the 19 times that a team with a top-8 seeding has hosted a regional, 18 of the home teams have advanced to the finals. Only the 2003 Wake Forest team did not take advantage of the local knowledge.
For East host Florida State, seeded 10th, the odds might not be so favorable. In 16 similar scenarios, and only five hosts seeded outside of the top 8 qualified for nationals.
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Is there a lucky or unlucky seeding?
Obviously, No. 1 is a pretty good spot from which to start the postseason. Never has a top-seeded team failed to advance out of regional play. However, Nos. 2 and 3 teams have missed on four occasions each.
At the other end of the seedings, the results have been just as predictable: only once has a No. 15 team advanced, and no team at Nos. 21-24 has ever qualified for the NCAA Championship.
And here’s a regional head-scratcher: Being the No. 9-seeded team actually has been better than being seeded No. 8. Ninth-seeded teams have advanced 20 times compared with 19 times for the eighth-seeded teams.
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Which regional likely will generate upsets?
Historically, the Central, where 2.3 teams per year have come from outside the top 8 to qualify for the national championship. The other two regionals, on average, have advanced 1.92 teams seeded ninth or worse.
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What has all of this taught us?
A few things: The 2014 NCAA champion likely will win this week; as illogical as it might seem, pick a No. 9 seed over a No. 8 seed; expect to see as many as eight or more teams seeded eighth or worse advance but don’t expect to see a 15th-seeded team or worse in Tulsa in two weeks.