What difference can one win make?
If the Alabama softball team ends up hosting an NCAA regional, it can point back to Sunday’s victory over Auburn at Rhoads Stadium as the one that tipped the scale in its favor. After dropping the first two games in the series to its cross-state nemesis, Alabama salvaged a split with a 3-2 victory.
The Crimson Tide (40-15) moved up two spots to No. 14 in the NCAA’s official RPI (ratings percentage index), a key criteria used by the committee that seeds the teams in the national championship tournament. The top 16 seeds host, and while a top-16 RPI doesn’t guarantee anything, Alabama appears to be in better shape than it did before the weekend.
UA will play Arkansas on Wednesday at 11 a.m. CT in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the SEC Tournament. The winner will play Texas A&M on Thursday. A victory in the league tournament would enhance Alabama’s resume, and wins over both Arkansas and an Aggies team that’s ranked in the top 10 would be a big boost heading into Sunday’s selection show, when the 64-team field is unveiled.
“It’s just amazing, one win over a top-five team bumps you up two spots,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “I don’t’ want to say I’m certain, but we’re getting closer.
“I think a win over Arkansas would really help, and then playing A&M is going help regardless of result. I think we’re on the right path.”
Alabama has hosted a regional every year since 2005.
The best guess here is that Alabama will host, as somewhere around the No. 14, No. 15 or No. 16 seed.
As it stands, if teams were seeded according to their RPI rankings right now, the winner of the Tuscaloosa Regional would visit Auburn if it wins its regional for a best-of-three super regional. Auburn is No. 3 in the current RPI, the last RPI rankings that will be released before the field is set.
Alabama, LSU (No. 15 RPI) and Kentucky (No. 17 RPI) are all looking to enhance their chances of hosting with a strong showing in the SEC Tournament. It could be that two of those three teams host, with one left out, and the league tournament could be the deciding factor. LSU plays Missouri on Wednesday and Kentucky plays South Carolina. That makes the opening day of the SEC Tournament a high-stakes proposition.
If Alabama does host, best guesses for which team might be seeded No. 2 in a Tuscaloosa regional would be Michigan (No. 21 RPI) or Arizona State (No. 20 RPI), although Louisiana-Lafayette (No. 19 RPI) would also be a possibility, the Ragin’ Cajuns would more likely be sent to LSU if the Tigers host. ULL could also end up at Baylor – part of the selection committee’s mandate is to create a bracket with the fewest teams flying, and teams within a 400-mile radius of a regional are considered to be within driving distance.
As for the lower seeds if Alabama hosts a regional, keep the 400-mile rule in mind. Jacksonville State would be a good possibility if it wins the Ohio Valley Conference tournament (Jax State won the regular-season league title), as would Furman (if it wins the SoCon tournament), South Carolina Upstate (which should get a bid even if it doesn’t win the A-Sun tournament) and either Alcorn State or Alabama State from the SWAC. Of course, it’s possible that Alabama could get a fly-in for a No. 3 or 4 seed in a regional (especially from one-bid conferences in the Northeast) depending upon where some of these teams are sent – South Carolina Upstate or Furman (or both) could end up at James Madison, for instance, the SWAC champion could go to Auburn or LSU (if it hosts), Jacksonville State could be sent to Auburn or Knoxville. But those are some strong possibilities.
UA softball second baseman Demi Turner played for the first time in more than a month, albeit only as a pinch runner, against Auburn. Murphy said Monday that she will continue in that role in the SEC Tournament and that he’s hopeful she can hit in the NCAA Tournament.
“She’s getting closer,” Murphy said. “It’s taken longer than I’d thought, frankly.”
Senior outfielder Chandler Dare sustained a right biceps tendonitis injury while rounding first base after a hit last Friday. Her status is day to day.
“It was about 30 or 40 percent is what she said she was,” Murphy said. “Just didn’t want to chance it.”