The Division I NCAA team championship fields for the women and men were announced a couple of hours ago, and before I get to the selections, I want to compliment the NCAA on the show, which was streamed on their website. It was a big improvement over past years, when the announcement has been telecast on ESPNews in what can only be described as a haphazard fashion. Today's show was easy to follow, the graphics were clear and easy to understand, and although there wasn't a any informed commentary, the host didn't make any egregious errors (he did refer to Stanford as the "top-ranked" team in the country, rather than the top-seeded, but I don't consider that anything but a technicality). The pace allowed time to write and post the occasional tweet, and I hope this is an innovation that sticks.
As for the selections, well, let's start with Stanford being given the top seed in the tournament. If any more evidence was necessary to show that the current ranking system needs to be fixed, this is it. The NCAA committee could not rely on the ITA rankings to seed the college sport's most significant event. Congratulations to the committee for recognizing that Stanford as the No. 2 seed just wouldn't be right and making the change.
The Top 16 seeds for the women are as follows, with their ranking in parentheses:
1. Stanford (2)
2. Florida (1)
3. Duke (3)
4. North Carolina (4)
5. Baylor (7)
6. UCLA (6)
7. Miami (5)
8. Georgia (8)
9. California (9)
10. Michigan (10)
11. Virginia (11)
12. Florida State (12)
13. Tennessee (13)
14. Georgia Tech (16)
15. Clemson (15)
Of the top 16 seeds, only Florida State and Clemson will not be hosting regionals May 13th through May 15th. I do not know if both submitted bids to host, so I don't know the details behind No. 21 Arkansas and No. 31 Texas A&M receiving approval to host.
Florida State, who came within a point of winning the ACC women's conference championship over North Carolina, will be traveling to College Station, while Clemson goes to Arkansas. As for the shuffling of the rankings vis-a-vis the seedings, I thought head-to-head was responsible for some of the changes in the past, but now I don't think so, as Baylor lost to UCLA this year and jumped over them to the No. 5 seeding. It may be related to the geographical restraints that seek to keep as many teams as possible in regions they can drive to, while still maintaining the integrity of the draw.
The first two rounds are usually pretty straightforward for the top 8 seeds, but there are opportunities for some of the 17-32 seeds to earn a trip to Palo Alto. Northwestern will have its hands full with 20th-ranked Notre Dame; the Fighting Irish took a 3-0 lead over the Wildcats in Evanston less than a month ago, before Northwestern stormed back, as they did at Michigan Sunday, to win 4-3. Vanderbilt, ranked 19th, could challenge Tennessee, Southern Cal(18) will have another crack at Cal, and Arizona State, ranked 17th, will challenge Georgia Tech in that regional.
The complete women's bracket is here.
The top 16 men's seeds, with ranking in parentheses.
1. Virginia (1)
2. Southern Cal (2)
3. Tennessee (3)
4. Ohio State (4)
5. Baylor (5)
6. Georgia (6)
7. Florida (8)
8. Stanford (7)
9. Texas A&M (9)
10. Kentucky (10)
11. Duke (12)
12. UCLA (11)
13. Texas (14)
14. California (15)
15. Georgia Tech (16)
16. North Carolina (18)
The two Top 16 seeds not hosting are Texas and North Carolina. Texas will go on the road to No. 20 Oklahoma, who for the second straight year has hosted a regional without being ranked in the Top 16. Last year it was 14th-ranked Texas Tech who had to travel to Norman (is there a pattern there?), and the Red Raiders lost to the Sooners after having beaten them three times during the season. North Carolina will go to Illinois, who at No. 17, is actually ranked one spot above them, but I have no clue to the thought process that went behind seeding North Carolina Top 16, but letting Illinois host. Nor do I know why Florida and Stanford switched places, although Florida does have a win over Stanford this year. Duke and UCLA's switch is not based on that, as they didn't play this year, so again, I don't know the reasoning.
Obviously the Illinois regional will one of the most competitive, with North Carolina and Illinois settling the question on the court. No. 29 Michigan has a split its two matches with Duke this year in Durham, losing 7-0 in January and winning 4-3 in late February. Minnesota(19) could challenge California in Berkeley, and Mississippi State(21) has a very good chance at Georgia Tech.
The complete men's bracket can be found here. The links to the lineups submitted can be found here.
The Tennis Recruiting Network is again hosting a roundtable, so I'll have more comments there next week, but I welcome your comments and predictions.
I'm excited to announce that this year I have received two copies, one XBox 360, the other Playstation3, of the TopSpin4 video game from 2K Sports, to use as a contest prize. The reader who picks the men's and women's champions and finalists this year will have his or her choice of the two formats, with the second place finisher receiving the other copy. The tiebreaker will be the score of the championship match. You may enter here in the comments, or via twitter. You need to use the name option when posting a comment here; for a twitter entry, use an @zootennis reply and the hashtag #topspin4. The contest will end at midnight EDT May 18th, 2011. I ask that you please refrain from entering more than once.
Those of you who do longer, more detailed predictions, which I love to read, will also be entered, but to be considered for the prize, make sure you give at least the men's and women's finalists and scores. For example:
Jupiter State over Mars U 4-2 and University of Saturn over Venus College 4-1.
It's the best time of year in college tennis, so bookmark this entry, check back to see what others think and join the fun.