When the NCAA softball regional match-ups were announced Sunday, the selection committee somehow forgot to about the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the team riding a 25-game winning streak, with the best record (54-3) in the nation. It was a world-class snub that has created a great story line.
As a result the angry Gophers are coming to Tuscaloosa determined to show they are a top tier team. I spoke Andy York of SBN’s Minnesota community, the Daily Gopher, to answer a few questions for us.
- This week USA Today/NFCA has Minnesota listed as the #1 team in the country. How ironic is that?
We did get a kick out of it. Once Florida lost in the SEC quarterfinals you could see the writing on the wall. There is plenty wrong with a coaches poll being the ‘be all end all’ ranking system, but I still trust 32 coaches from around the country to have a better eye for softball team quality than ten administrators who probably have watched 10 games all season.
2. When you look at Minnesota’s record (54-3,) and that the team won the B1G regular season and conference tournament, is there any acceptable answer as to why the Gophers didn’t get chosen to host a regional?.
No there is not. Minnesota got absolutely screwed. You could make the argument that the Gophers schedule was not up to snuff, and I can't disagree compared to a lot of the SEC teams. But Minnesota played their first 34 games on the road. Minnesota beat ranked LSU in Baton Rouge. Minnesota beat the teams they were supposed to beat in the Big Ten. So, yeah if you wanted to say Minnesota wasn't deserving of a Super Regional top 8 seed, I can see that argument and not fight it too much, but to not be in the top 16 is complete and utter bullshit.
You can hear a lot of conspiracy theories. But one that probably does ring true is that softball is a southern sport. Alabama's stadium is 3 times the Gophers stadium. That's more money for the NCAA and a better audience for ESPN. So I'm sure that was in the back of the committee's mind.
3. The excuse being given by the NCAA selection committee is that Minnesota's strength of schedule is only 114th, well behind the seeded teams in the regional. Does that excuse hold water?
As I said before, you can make that argument for why the Gophers shouldn't be a top 8 seed, but its not like they played an SEC football non-conference soft schedule. They played at Texas, at LSU, At Washington, at Cal, at Oregon State. The Big Ten schedule gods were not kind to them in that they missed Michigan and Ohio State--the teams that finished 2nd and third in the regular season.
Minnesota still is ranked #11 in the RPI even with their weak schedule. Yes, they only went 2-2 against the RPI Top 25, but they are 19-3 against teams in the tournament.
The eye test has to countfor something.
4. How great is it for the sport to have Gopher head coach Jessica Allister go to bat for her girls so publicly? (no pun intended)
It is great. It was a huge hire for the Gophers when they got her six season ago. Minnesota she has taken the Gopher program to places it has never been before, and their recruiting is now competing on a level with the SEC schools. Minnesota will not be a flash in the pan under Allister...this is just the beginning.
5. I see some disgust (on the national level) directed at Alabama, but Alabama isn’t the issue. Wouldn’t you say the Gophers deserved better than a #16 seed anyway? Because at the end of the weekend, whoever escapes Tuscaloosa still has to go to Gainesville and face the top-seeded Florida Gators. So, for the Gophers this is the ‘gift’ that keeps on giving. Agree?
It’s not Alabama's fault they got the #16 seed. But I think the committee definitely was more friendly to the Tide then they may have been to another team--which you can argue based upon Alabama's credentials that last decade or so might not be unfounded.
I think the Gophers would have been right around their RPI level--so 10-12 or so. Can Minnesota compete with Alabama and Florida, yes I think they can. But it sure will not be an easy road. It is fairly obvious that whatever team makes it out of that Super Regional has to be one of the favorites to win it all in OKC.
6. Some in the SEC say Minnesota’s record is padded by wins against mediocre B1G teams. What’s your response?
It is. The Big Ten is lightyears behind the SEC in competitiveness as a conference. But the SEC teams don't have to play the first two months of the season on the road because its too cold to play at home. So again, would Minnesota have the best record in the country if they played in the SEC--not even close. But I bet you they would be in the top 5 in the conference. Plus, they traveled across the country to play teams. Did Alabama or many other SEC teams take anything but a bus to any road games this season?
7. Alabama prides itself on its pitching this year, which has held the team together, yet Minnesota's ERA is No. 2 in the country, second only to Florida. Tell us about Sarah Groenewegen.
Sara Groenewegen is out of this world. She is 30-2 with an era of 0.59 on the season. She does not have the huge eye-popping strikeout numbers that some of the other pitchers have, but her changeup is arguably the best in the country (or all of North America since she is Canadian and the ace of the Canadian national team).
She has seven no-hitters in her career including the first even in the Big Ten Tournament last week against Northwestern. She does not give up a lot of hard hit balls, the way to beat her is to string a series of bloops and well placed hits.
Is she beatable...of course. But she will not be beaten easily and will keep Minnesota in any game she is in the circle for. I wouldn't be surprised to see Groenwegen start Friday's game but hit the bench fast if Minnesota gets up a large lead--which since they are one of the best offensive teams in the country is very likely. The I fully expect Allister will bring her back for the presumed game against the Tide Saturday.
8. Another eye-opener about Minnesota is the Gophers are third in the country in team batting average at .348. Are you convinced the Gophers can come to Tuscaloosa and score some runs?
I am. I don't think they will necessarily run rule teams like they did often in the Big Ten, but I'm not worried about the Gophers bats going cold.
Freshman Kendyl Lindaman is one of the favorites to win the National Freshman of the Year Award and has 20 home runs on the season and ranks 3rd in the country in RBI. She also set a Gopher school record for walks in a season because teams started giving her the Barry Bonds treatment about midway through the season. That was OK because Sydney Dwyer who hits right behind her finished 2nd in the nation in RBI and hit three home runs in the semifinal and championship game of the Big Ten Tournament last weekend.
Make a mistake, and the Gophers offense will make you pay.
9. Lastly, it seems there is a bunch of whining that the Gophers are gonna have to play Florida. Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?
It is a bit. Alabama will probably be the third toughest team the Gophers have faced this season behind Washington and LSU. Minnesota lost a pair in Seattle to Washington, and the Tide lost a pair at home to the Huskies. Minnesota beat LSU in Baton Rouge while Bama went 2-1 against the Tigers again at home.
All the pressure is on the Gophers this weekend to prove to everyone that they are as good as they think they are and that the committee screwed up. I think they can handle that pressure. Alabama has the right to be confident too, home field advantage is nice and they definitely have played a schedule that has them battle tested and ready.
But Minnesota is the hottest team in the nation having won their last 25 games while Alabama has gone 6-9 since mid April. They have the hitting, they have the pitching, and frankly, they should be the higher seed. Bama will give them a hell of a test. They may even beat the once, but I think Minnesota gets out of the Regional and heads to Gainesville to face the Gators.
We shall see. The teams don’t play each other until Saturday at 1:30pm CT.
The Friday schedule is as follows:
Louisiana Tech vs. Minnesota | 1:30 p.m. CT | ESPNU
No. 16 Alabama vs. Albany | 4 p.m. CT | SEC Network