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NCAA softball roundtable: Who has the easiest and toughest roads to the WCWS?

Entering the 2022 NCAA softball regionals, Oklahoma ranks first in the country in batting average (.367), runs per game (9.26) and ERA (0.81). At 49-2, the No. 1 seed Sooners seem primed to defend their Women’s College World Series title.

But there are 63 other teams that want to prevent that from happening.

There’s second-seeded Florida State, which lost to the Sooners in three games in last year’s WCWS. There’s third-seeded Virginia Tech, which is hosting its first NCAA regional in program history. There’s seventh-seeded Oklahoma State, which defeated Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game Saturday.

Is there a James Madison in this year’s tournament field? Do any unseeded teams have what it takes to shock the college softball world? Are any seeded teams more vulnerable than their seeding suggests?

Our analysts break down the NCAA softball tournament field leading into Friday’s regionals, which will air across the ESPN family of networks.

Which team’s seeding surprised you the most?

Amanda Scarborough: One thing that surprised me is Missouri grabbing the 15 seed — not because the Tigers didn’t deserve it, but because of how they turned their season around at the end of March. They earned that seed over the last six weeks by winning more SEC games and playing their way into the SEC tournament finals. In the middle of March, a seed wasn’t looking like a possibility for them.

Jenny Dalton-Hill: Again, the Pac-12 seems to get slighted a little with Arizona State getting an 8-seed after winning the Pac-12’s automatic qualifier without a conference tournament. That tournament will begin next season, but I think the labor of winning the Pac-12 is a big deal and the Sun Devils didn’t get rewarded with a high enough seed. Knowing that they beat UCLA two of three times and finished conference play 20-4, the 8-seed was a little too low.

Kayla Braud: The seeding that surprised me the most was Missouri sneaking into the 15th seed. After starting 0-5 in conference play, the Tigers had to perform extremely well down the stretch to play their way into a host position. I wouldn’t have expected them to be a national seed a few weeks ago.

Madison Shipman: Missouri’s seeding surprised me in a good way. If you would have told me in the middle of SEC play that Missouri would be a national seed, I wouldn’t have believed you. The Tigers turned a corner halfway through the season, and I like that they were rewarded for how well their team is playing heading into the postseason.

Which seeded team has the toughest road to Oklahoma City?

Scarborough: I think Washington has the toughest road to OKC. The Huskies have to get through a Texas team that could’ve easily been seeded, and then if they win their regional and Arkansas wins its, they have to face the SEC champs in Fayetteville. Arkansas has the SEC Player of the Year in KB Sides and SEC Pitcher of the Year, Chenise Delce, plus last year’s co-SEC Pitcher of the Year (Mary Haff) and three other players who had legitimate cases for SEC Player of the Year this year.

Dalton-Hill: I think it goes without saying that UCF will have the Goliath of a task to take on Oklahoma if it advances to supers. I love that UCF is hosting for the first time in school history, but the next round would be a tall order for the talented team.

Braud: The seeded team with the toughest road is Arkansas. Not only do the Razorbacks have a tough regional that includes a good Pac-12 team in Oregon, but they also host one of the most dangerous offenses in the country, Wichita state, home to Addison Barnard, who leads the nation with 32 home runs. That’s before they even advance to supers, where they’d potentially match up with Washington, which beat them twice this season.

Shipman: UCF has a tough road to get to OKC. Any team that has the possibility of playing Oklahoma is going to have its hands full figuring out a way to take down the Sooners. However, UCF is going to come into its regional with a ton of energy looking to make some noise as a national seed for the first time in program history. The Knights will be facing several tough teams in their regional, including Michigan, which beat them earlier this season.

Which unseeded team can be this year’s James Madison?

Scarborough: Nebraska. The Big Ten, as a conference, took a step forward this season, and Nebraska has played with a revived energy. The Huskers have a tremendous coaching staff, and Billie Andrews, who is having a breakout season. They seem like a team that’s playing well at the right time and is truly playing together and for one another.

Dalton-Hill: Liberty is a team that has challenged itself all season. The Lady Flames started the year with some of the toughest opponents out of the gate and took their lumps. Those losses will help as they now match up against Duke in their regional, having beaten them in the regular season. And if they do advance, can Dot Richardson beat her alma mater UCLA? While I would like to see a Cinderella team this year, and I think this postseason will have some parity, I think mostly the usual suspects will find themselves in OKC.

Braud: An unseeded team that has a chance to make it to OKC is San Diego State with the pitching to get them there. Maggie Balint leads the Aztecs with 18 wins on the season and a 1.50 ERA.

Shipman: I’m also going to keep my eye on San Diego State. Maggie Balint has been outstanding in the circle this season. I’m a firm believer that if you have dominant pitching, you have a chance to make a run in the postseason.

Who are the eight teams that will make the WCWS?

Scarborough: Oklahoma, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Duke.

Dalton-Hill: Oklahoma, ASU, UCLA, Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma State and FSU.

Braud: I’m calling the games, so I’d rather not pick who I think goes, but I think this could be the most balanced tournament field this year spread out among the conferences. I wouldn’t be surprised if two teams from each of the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 get in.

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