Intriguing Eight: Softball conference tourneys
Now on to a quick look at eight intriguing conference tournaments.
Host: NC State
Top seed: Georgia Tech
Top challenger: Florida State
Georgia Tech in Twitter length
It's a rare combination, but Georgia Tech is both a great power-hitting team and one of the surest fielding teams in the nation.
Sleeper: North Carolina
No real sleepers, only a sub-favorite. And speaking of defense, the Tar Heels had eight errors in six games against Florida State and Georgia Tech. They had 30 errors in their 48 other games.
Georgia Tech, Florida State and North Carolina are safe, but there could be at least one NCAA seed on the line. With the weakest RPI of the three, Georgia Tech may need to win both the regular season and conference tournament to be among the top 16 in the national bracket.
Host: Stony Brook
Top seed: Stony Brook
Top challenger: Boston University
Stony Brook in Twitter length
Stony Brook led the league in slugging, on-base percentage and ERA, and was second in fielding. It was also last in vulnerabilities.
Leah McIntosh threw four perfect games this season. Considering she has allowed just 77 hits and 17 walks in 149.1 innings, she also threw a lot of near-perfect games.
It's a deep, balanced field of contenders, but this remains a one-bid league.
Top seed: Campbell
Top challenger: Lipscomb
Campbell in Twitter length
Silenced against North Carolina and East Carolina, the offense put up 27 runs in six games against Lipscomb, Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast.
The offense hasn't always been there, but with two of the league's top pitchers in Jenni Holtz and Lacey Richardson, the Bears are built to cause postseason headaches.
Your guess is as good as mine. All three of the top teams are within a few places of each other in the 50-60 RPI range. Any team that doesn't get to the final is probably out. If two of the three make it to the final, the loser has to hope RPI counts.
Host: Neutral (Oklahoma City)
Top seed: Oklahoma
Top challenger: Missouri
Oklahoma in Twitter length
Although it came in limited at-bats, Krystle Huey's .400-plus on-base percentage in Big 12 play added another layer to a potent offense.
Texas and Oklahoma may have been separated by a full three wins in conference play, but they were also separated by all of about nine singles across the statistical spectrum. On paper, Texas is a team with upside.
Oklahoma State needs at least a win to shore up its case. Everyone else looks safe, but a title for Oklahoma might help it host any potential super regional.
Top seed: Tulsa
Top challenger: East Carolina
Tulsa in Twitter length
Tulsa had the best on-base percentage in Conference USA, but in losing two of three at East Carolina, it walked just twice.
Sleeper: Central Florida
Throw out a loss at Florida (and at 3-0, it wasn't a bad loss in its own right) and UCF was 10-5 in its past 15 games. There's no Allison Kime around this season, but junior Ashleigh Cole has allowed just eight earned runs in her past 37.1 innings (1.50 ERA).
If Tulsa and East Carolina get to the final, whichever team loses would have a very strong case for an at-large bid. The math may not be as kind to Marshall and Houston, but reaching the final is probably their only hope of at-large consideration.
Host: Butler (neutral field)
Top seed: Illinois-Chicago
Top challenger: Cleveland State
Illinois-Chicago in Twitter length
The Flames came alive at the plate after a tough early schedule. They don't hit for power, but they draw walks and move runners over.
Sleeper: Wright State
Without a senior on the roster, Wright State may just be setting the stage for next season, but behind Justine Shilt and Jamie Perkins, the Raiders hit the ball hard and field it well.
Only the automatic bid will make it, which is why it's intriguing with so many contenders.
Top seed: Florida
Top challenger: Alabama
Florida in Twitter length
The Gators averaged more than six runs per game in the regular season. Their opponents averaged fewer than six runners per game.
Not exactly going out on a limb with the home team, but the Lady Vols -- fourth in OPS, fifth in ERA and third in fielding percentage -- have the best balance outside of the big three.
Auburn and Arkansas would cement their profiles with monumental upsets, but getting here was probably enough for both. A win against Alabama in a potential semifinal would solidify Georgia's case for a top-eight national seed.
Host: McNeese State
Top seed: Texas State
Top challenger: McNeese State
Texas State in Twitter length
Texas State went 23-6 during the marathon conference season, losing just one series at home along the way -- against McNeese State.
Sleeper: Nicholls State
Only one pitcher worked more innings in conference play than Nicholls State junior Lacey Gros, who struck out 147 batters in 132 innings.
Texas State has an at-large case if it doesn't win, but as it learned last season, that's a route that often leads to disappointment for mid-majors.