NCAA softball regionals: Sleepers, top players, WCWS paths

Which teams can pull off an upset in the NCAA softball tournament? (0:44)

The NCAA Softball Tournament Selection Show panel discuss the teams most likely to upset one of the top seeds. (0:44)

College softball's 64-team tournament field was revealed on Sunday, and Texas is the No. 1 seed. Behind the Longhorns are No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Tennessee and No. 4 Florida.

The Sooners are on a quest to make history as the only team in the NCAA to win four straight Women's College World Series titles. Can anyone keep them from four-peating?

We asked our softball analysts to break down the first stop on the road to Oklahoma City. From sleeper teams to bold predictions, they answer the biggest questions ahead of regionals.

Which unseeded team has the best chance to make the WCWS? Which host has the toughest road? Let's find out.

Jump to:
Toughest road |Sleepers
Potential Super Regionals matchups
Must-watch players | Bold predictions

Which regional host has the toughest road to OKC?

Jenny Dalton-Hill: FSU has a lot to get through to make it back to OKC. The Seminoles lost the ACC championship and have struggled in the circle this season. They love to swing for extra bases though, and led the ACC in doubles again this season. Auburn and UCF both can put together complete pitching performances to win, but I think this regional will be all about who can outhit their own pitching. The circle for every team in Tallahassee are all capable of holding a team to minimal hits but have stumbled through the regular season. My biggest question is which team can show up with a complete and united front with solid pitching, error-free defense and swinging the bats effectively 1-9? If the Seminoles get out of their regional, they face Oklahoma in supers, and who wants to see the Sooners before OKC?

Amanda Scarborough: LSU. The Tigers have a challenging regional with a strong Pac-12 team in Cal and a Southern Illinois team that has one of the best freshman pitchers in the country in Maddia Groff. If they win at home and get out of their regional, they will likely have to face the best pitcher in the country, Stanford's NiJaree Canady, on the road in California. Facing Canady and trying to beat her in two of three in a super regional is a tall task for any opponent.

Michele Smith: Oklahoma State will be challenged in the Stillwater Regional with Kentucky and Michigan being strong Power 5 teams. Kentucky is a team that has performed well at times this season, and if it plays good, fundamental softball, it could be in the hunt for the WCWS. Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament and can do damage. If the seeds hold, that will set up a matchup with Arkansas at the Stillwater Super Regional. Arkansas is a very good team that can hit for power, has speed and good arms in the circle ... this will be a very challenging super regional.

Madison Shipman: Louisiana has a really tough road to the WCWS. Ole Miss has played some of its best ball of the season, winning its last two SEC series. Baylor's Aliyah Binford can be tough against any offense. And the Ragin' Cajuns would have a potential matchup against Florida in the Super Regional, and I don't know if there is a team with an offense more on fire than the Gators.

Which unseeded team has the best chance to make the WCWS?

Dalton-Hill: Utah played well to finish the season winning two games against Washington to conclude the regular season. It made it to the Pac-12 championship game after beating Oregon (a team it lost to twice in the regular season) and Stanford (a team that swept it in conference play) and lost a close game to UCLA 2-1. This is a team that doesn't hit for a lot of power or extra bases, but its speed can wreak havoc on a defense. The Utes are not afraid of playing in close games, and while they have losses to South Carolina (who they will play in the Durham Regional) that loss was early in the year, and they are playing like a different team now. Utah could potentially travel to Missouri for the super regional against a team it lost to in its second game of the season. For the Utes, their opponents on the way to OKC are very familiar.

Scarborough: Virginia Tech. The Hokies have hit 113 home runs, and they're playing on a small field at UCLA, where the ball flies. If they can get to UCLA's pitching and put some runs on the board, they can try to outpace the Bruins' strong offense. UCLA has a small pitching staff, so if (and it's a big if) it can get to Kaitlyn Terry and Taylor Tinsley, it'll find itself in a good spot. Then if seeds hold, it will face a Georgia team that also has given up some runs. Virginia Tech has a chance to outslug everyone on the way to OKC if it can hit like it's capable of and put runs on the board. On paper, the Hokies have some favorable pitching matchups for their bold offense to go up against.

Smith: Washington is a team that plays in a very strong Pac-12 conference and has a lot of experience playing against tough teams. Ruby Meylan is a very good pitcher, and if the Huskies' bats come alive, Washington can do damage in the Columbia Regional. If it wins regionals, it will head to Duke, assuming the Blue Devils come through their regional, and have the opportunity to match up with another strong team.

Shipman: I'm a big believer that if you have dominant pitching, you can go far in the postseason. I am excited to watch Jessica Mullins and the Texas State Bobcats to see how far they can go. She already beat Texas A&M this season and pitched in two close games against Texas. Mullins seems to have a bionic arm with already more than 229 innings pitched on the season.

Which potential super regional matchup would be the most captivating?

Dalton-Hill: The rematch of FSU and Oklahoma if the seeds both win out. These teams are familiar with each other, but the pitching for both teams is dynamically different from last season. Will Oklahoma feel the pressure of the four-peat and struggle? Will FSU be able to keep the Sooners' bats quiet? Anything less than OKC for Oklahoma will devastate that group.

Scarborough: Coming from an Aggie, Texas vs. Texas A&M, if the seeds hold. Nothing beats an in-state rivalry with former Big 12 foes and now soon-to-be SEC foes! Interestingly enough, both teams have head coaches who have come from the Pac-12 to central Texas, a lot of players from Texas who are familiar with each other and in any sport, this rivalry is always spicy. There is so much history between these two teams, and they even played each other twice last year in the Austin Regional, including the regional final when Texas advanced.

Smith: If the seeds hold, I think Georgia at UCLA could be a very interesting super regional. The Bulldogs have numerous players who can bash the ball out of the park, and so do the Bruins with superstar Maya Brady. Both teams have been vulnerable to the long ball in the circle, so it could be a very explosive super regional from a hitting perspective.

Shipman: LSU and Stanford would be a very intriguing super regional matchup. The Tigers are a team full of veteran players. They have a ton of lefty bats that don't strike out a ton. They have just a 10.2% swing/miss rate which is the best among all Power 5 schools. On the other side, NiJaree Canady for Stanford ranks second in the country in strikeouts this season with 251. It would be a good matchup between bats that make contact and pitching that gets a ton of swings and misses.

Who is the biggest must-watch player in the tournament field?

Dalton-Hill: I'm watching Oklahoma's Tiare Jennings just like I have been for four years. Yes, it's for selfish reasons. If Oklahoma advances to OKC, there are enough games for her to surpass my RBIs. She's been slow at the end of this season, but you can never count her out. She's so dang good and playing shortstop this season after three years at second base. Keep swinging it, kid.

Scarborough: Texas' Reese Atwood. The way she can string together games and pile up RBIs has been something to watch this spring! She is entering the tournament with 86 RBIs and 22 home runs, and when she gets on a streak, her at bats are must-watch. Back behind the plate, she's a great leader for a unique pitching staff. With a lot of different looks, she handles each game with ease.

Smith: Stanford's NiJaree Canady. Enough said.

Shipman: Miami Ohio's Karli Spaid is the player to watch this postseason. She has 36 home runs already (which puts her one home run away from tying Arizona's Laura Espinosa's single season record of 37) and it brings her career home run total to 103 where she sits in the second-place spot behind Oklahoma's Jocelyn Alo on the career home run leader list.

What is your bold tournament prediction?

Dalton-Hill: Florida is so hot right now, but let's go a different route. . . Duke advances to the WCWS for the first time in program history. I think its regional and super regional path can get them there with Jala Wright, Cassidy Curd and Lillie Walker in the circle. The Blue Devils will have a difficult journey to win it all in OKC because it's overwhelming your first time playing in that stadium and getting all that attention, but this is a group that is clicking right now.

Scarborough: I don't know if this is bold NOW based on how it played the past couple of weeks, but at the beginning of the season coming off the season it had last year and all the key freshmen on its roster: Florida makes it to the WCWS. This team is young in a lot of different areas, which is always a question mark, but the Gators can outscore any team in the country and provide support for their young staff. If they need to win a game 8-7 or 13-12, their offense can step up to score what's needed and these last two to three weeks of the season have proven that.

Smith: I agree with Amanda ... The Gators are in the hunt for the Natty. They're chomping!

Shipman: I am on the same page as Michele and Amanda. Could this be the year that another SEC team comes away with the national title? The odds seem high with the way that Florida has been swinging the bat and the way that Tennessee has pitched this season with Karlyn Pickens and Payton Gottshall.