After dropping an extra-innings battle with Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship, the Michigan Softball team drew into the NCAA Tournament’s Orlando Regional. There, the Wolverines will face Villanova, South Dakota State and the host, No. 16 University of Central Florida. Michigan will face the Jackrabbits first on Friday at 11 a.m. in the double-elimination bracket. If the Wolverines are able to make it through their region, they’re set on a crash course to face the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 seed, Oklahoma, in the Super Regional. Read more to hear The Daily Softball Beat’s predictions for the tournament.
How far does Michigan go?
Joey Goodsir: Super Regional
Coming into the 2022 season, the Wolverines were locked into a pattern of Big Ten Championship dominance and NCAA Regional collapses for the past four seasons. Yet another repetition would be unacceptable for a program of its caliber, and Michigan coach Carol Hutchins actively adjusted her program in pursuit of a breakthrough.
Then suddenly, what was once a given positive wasn’t earned. After the Wolverines went winless through the first four Big Ten games and failed to find a single weekend sweep in Big Ten play until its finale, the regular season title left the picture for only the second time since 2007.
But within those uncharacteristic hiccups, Michigan had to grow uncharacteristic resilience — and the results have shown in its recent flurry of comeback victories that galvanized an upset of No. 1-seeded Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal.
Far more dominant Wolverine teams have come up short on that particular weekend, but I can’t lie — I believe this team has lived through enough pattern breaking (good and bad) to go down to Orlando this weekend and shatter the big one. Unfortunately, Michigan will have to be No. 1 Oklahoma’s pawn to knock aside in the Super Regional, but they can at least enter another long offseason with quite the monkey off their back and some valuable experience to build on.
Joshua Messe: Super Regional
Heading into the Big Ten Tournament, I was sold on Michigan’s momentum — and I still am. This team is playing really good softball. The win against Northwestern proved that the team can get it done even against a premier pitcher in one-game scenarios, which is a crucial component to winning a regional. On top of that, I think that the loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game will serve as a motivator for the Wolverines and propel them through Orlando.
In terms of seeding, I think the Wolverines got an extremely favorable regional draw. The committee gave Michigan the unwritten 17-seed, which is interesting considering the circumstances that occurred last time the team was that seed. Michigan already beat UCF one time this season, and although they are both entirely different teams compared to that previous outing, it will certainly play into the psyche of the matchup.
UCF is a quality team though, and it’s going to be Michigan’s primary barrier to escaping Orlando. The Knights have extensive experience with tournament teams and have some high-profile wins. But I still don’t think it will be enough to topple the Wolverines as they reach their first Super Regional since 2016.
Michigan will run into a woodchipper in Oklahoma next, which it is simply not equipped to deal with. I think its run gets summarily ended there as the Sooners’ incredibly deep roster shows why they’re a cut above the rest of the softball world.
Noah Kingsley: Super Regional
Though Wolverine-faithful Twitter seems to think that Michigan got a very easy regional draw, I’m hesitant to make that assumption.
UCF is a very strong team that doesn’t necessarily excel in one particular area but is just extremely well rounded. The Knights limit their mistakes and capitalize when they put runners on base, which they do at a very high rate with a .404 team on-base percentage. It takes a lot for a non-Power 5 team to prove to the committee that they should host, and UCF proved it.
Meanwhile, South Dakota State and Villanova are both threats to take at least one game, both possessing strong pitching staffs and some explosive batters. While the Knights are certainly the team to beat, the Wolverines can’t afford to lapse and drop a game against either of those two. In a double elimination tournament, they will need to have a loss available to knock UCF out.
That being said, Michigan beat the Knights earlier this season, and I expect it to do that again. Both teams are different than they were, but the tougher-than-normal Big Ten schedule hardened the Wolverines. I think they’ve shown lately that they’ve grown and changed for the better.
Of course, unless Minnesota, Texas A&M or Prairie View A&M pulls off a ridiculous upset in Oklahoma’s regional, Michigan will run into the best team in the country. The Sooners lost twice all season, so it’s unlikely the Wolverines can take one game from them; winning two games out of three would be barely short of a miracle.
Charlie Pappalardo: Regional
Someone has to play devil’s advocate.
I agree with almost all of the reasoning my beatmates have for picking Michigan to move on to the Super Regional. Because yes, the Wolverines are playing some of their best softball. And yes, they received the best possible bracket placement to make it through to the Super Regional.
But at the same, I think UCF and South Dakota State need to be recognized as legitimate competition. My concern doesn’t stem from the Wolverines recent history of falling short in the Regional. It stems from just how well the Knights are playing. Like the Wolverines, they started slow. But in their last 41 games, they are 36-5 with a victory over the NCAA Tournament’s No. 3 seed, Virginia Tech.
This UCF team is not one that can be taken lightly. They’re hot, they have a deep batting order and they have an ace. In my mind, they’re practically the mirror image of Michigan, and they’re playing at home.
You could argue that their schedule wasn’t as tough as the Wolverines’, and you could argue that they faltered against Florida and twice against the Hokies. But when push comes to shove, they’re hot, and so is Orlando.
And heat isn’t something Michigan is used to. Because of these things, I think UCF blocks the Wolverines path to the Super Regional one more time.
Which eight teams will make the Women’s College World Series? (Winner Bolded)
Goodsir: Oklahoma, Northwestern, UCLA, Washington, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Florida State
Messe: Oklahoma, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington, Florida, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State
Kingsley: Oklahoma, Arizona State, Georgia, Arkansas, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Florida State
Pappalardo: Oklahoma, Northwestern, Duke, Arkansas, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Florida State