Ringler: Regional focus is on the middle of the pack
The number of teams that advanced to the national championship each year from outside the top eight seeds is listed below:
2001 – 6
2002 – 1
2003 – 6
2004 – 7
2005 – 6
2006 – 5
2007 – 3
2008 – 7
2009 – 7
2010 – 8
2011 – 8
2012 – 7
Women’s regional play begins May 9 at three sites across the country. Here are some random thoughts heading into postseason:
Sure winning is important, but that has never been the point of a regional. Regionals are a qualifier for the national championship, so finishing in the top eight and advancing to the grand finale is the focus this week. For many teams, that is the goal each year: Earn a spot in the NCAA Championship. Only a few teams have a shot at winning the title, but advancing to the finals is is what most programs consider to be a successful year.
Speaking of winning the title, the eventual NCAA champion has won the regional title seven times in the past 11 years. There is certainly some stock in winning a regional. Odds are a regional winner will win the championship this year.
That brings us to regional victories. Since the NCAA went to a three-regional format in 2001, top-ranked USC and UCLA have each won seven regional titles. Those teams are followed by Duke, with five regional titles. No other team has won more than two.
Now back to the qualifying point about regional play. The women’s game continues to get deeper, and there is more parity than we have ever seen before. If that is true, and the numbers are indeed trending that way, could this be the year when we see more teams outside the top eight seed advance to the national championship?
Since the 2008 season we have seen at least seven teams each year seeded outside the top eight advance, and in 2010 and ’11 there were eight teams. Could there be nine or more this year?
In case you were wondering what is the worst-seeded team to advance? That would be Nebraska in 2003 when the Cornhuskers were a No. 19 seed in the Central Regional – a regional they hosted at Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln.
From the been-there-done-that department, Indiana and Coastal Carolina have advanced to the NCAA finals as a No. 17 seed. In the past 11 years, a No. 17 seed has advanced out of regional play seven times. Indiana did so in 2005 and Coastal Carolina in 2011. Take note, East Carolina.
If we do see a record breaking nine or more teams advancing from outside the top eight seeds, which top seed is likely to miss? There has never been a No. 1 seed to miss out on advancing, but five times a No. 2 seed has missed and three of those five belong to Auburn. Georgia and Duke also have missed from the No. 2 position.
Top seeds Alabama, Duke and USC are nearly certain to advance, so many eyes should fall to the middle of the leaderboards because that’s what this week is all about: Advancing to the national championship.