Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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Gophers could be seeded among top 16 for NCAA softball field

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Sports, Gophers Updated: May 11, 2014 - 12:14 PM

The Gophers are 41-9 after winning the Big Ten softball tournament on Saturday night.

They came into the conference tournament in Evanston, Ill., ranked No. 15 in one of the two major national polls, No 16 in the other. And they were No. 17 in the RPI rankings.

All those numbers should at least stay the same and probably improve a bit this week.

What does that mean? It means they have a chance of being a No. 1 seed at one of the 16 regionals around the country.

That's right, 16 teams will be seeded, Nos. 1-16, and all put at different regionals. The field and sites will be announced at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

The key number is RPI, or how strong a team and its schedule are. That carries a lot of weight as the NCAA seeds teams. And Minnesota is on the cusp of breaking into the top 16 there.

In all, 64 teams will make the NCAA field (out of 283 Division I programs). Thirty-two of the teams will be automatic qualifiers, teams like the Gophers who won their conference tournament. Thirty-two teams will receive at-large bids. Big Ten co-champions Michigan and Nebraska should get two of those. And the conference could have as many as five teams in the NCAAs.

The Big Ten Network softball analysts predicted Michigan, which has a strong tradition of making the NCAA field, will probably get a regional. Hosting one, of course, improves a team's chances of advancing. Most teams play better at home. They said nothing about Minnesota getting to host.

Here are the key dates coming up:

May 16-18: 16 regionals, four teams at each, double-elimination format determines a winner

May 22-25: 8 super regionals, two teams at each, they play best-of-three series, winners advance to College World Series

May 29-June 4: College World Series in Oklahoma City, eight teams. Teams are split into two four-team groups who play double-elimination.The winners then meet in a best-of-three series for the NCAA title.

The Gophers have made eight previous appearances in the NCAA tournament, the most recent a year ago when they were at the Seattle regional and went 1-2. In between two 3-0 losses to Hawaii, the Gophers beat Portland State 5-0. That experience should serve the players well this year.

Minnesota's overall record in those eight postseason trips is 8-16. They have never advanced to the College Softball World Series.

After beating No. 10/11 Michigan 3-2 in the title game of the Big Ten tournament, the Gophers are 8-5 against top 25 teams. And their confidence should be at a season high.

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