Semifinal #1 – April 19, 12:00 CT
The simplest framing of this semifinal has UCLA advancing and LSU and Utah fighting it out for the second spot in the national championship. That is the most likely outcome, but it’s also an overly simplistic characterization. UCLA has to hit and hit well to avoid getting into trouble. The days of “you’re good enough to be bad” ended with regionals. And Michigan, with its 197.275 for an only-OK day in the regional final (a score that outpaced both of Utah’s own regional totals), is not out of this by any means and does not need something crazy to happen to get through.
For that simple framing to be upended, however, UCLA would first need to make a mistake. The precedent of the season tells us that if UCLA goes through this meet 24-for-24 (or 20-for-24 as long as they’re the right 20), then UCLA will have enough leadoff 9.9s and anchor 10s to outscore the rest of the field. It’s still a “hit and you advance” meet for UCLA. What’s changed is the margin for error. LSU and Utah are close enough that even a minor mistake that results in an inopportune counting 9.6 would bring UCLA back to the pack.
For Michigan to upend that simple framing, there’s a degree to which the team will have to outperform its normal. While we have seen big scores this season from Michigan—the kind of scores that will advance from the national semifinals—the typical performance has garnered a lower number than a typical performance from the other three teams. Still, if you look at the assembled score rankings at the very bottom, the two places where Michigan ranks in blue are the regional final scores on beam and floor. Michigan upended the regular season norm there, and now has to keep that going…while adding two more events. Just that.
Turning to the LSU/Utah comparison, so far this season we have seen an LSU team that is consistently just a little shred better than Utah. We saw that at the GQ Invite when LSU finished .175 ahead, and we saw that at the regional final when LSU finished .250 ahead. These are not large or decisive margins—and I wouldn’t anticipate a large or decisive margin in this semifinal either—but they are margins.
Yet in those score rankings at the bottom, you’ll see that the majority of places where Utah does have the advantage are average score categories. Vault average, floor average, season average (by only a smidge, but still higher). That’s because Utah has been the more consistent this season—didn’t have that slow start, didn’t lose conference meets it should have won.
It tells us that Utah is not as likely to reach the same peak score as LSU but will record the more predictable score and more predictable performance, one that LSU will either beat by having an excellent day, or lose to by having a fine day. We’ve seen both of them and we’ve seen both of them recently.
If LSU is to have that excellent day, it will be essential to bridge the vault gap. Utah ranks as the best team in this entire semifinal on vault, while LSU has shown a tendency to lunge for 9.850. In fact, vault is the only event where LSU does not rank in the top 2 in this semifinal despite having the most 10.0 starts of any of these teams. The Tigers must turn those vault landings around because if LSU does find a way to match Utah’s vault scores here, it becomes increasingly difficult to map Utah’s route to a top-2 finish.
For Utah, take that exact project, but swap out vault for beam. Utah ranks last in this semifinal on beam and will have to watch out. And not just watch out for falls (that’s immediate death at nationals), but watch out for OK. Even something like a hit for 49.200 probably doesn’t do you any good anymore. A 49.2 is basically a zero, and a 9.825 is basically a fall when the teams are this strong.
That’s why much of this semifinal will hinge on which team can best minimize its theoretical disadvantage. Who doesn’t get a disqualifyingly low score? Because it’s not about winning the meet. It’s about not losing to two of the teams. So if you’re staying 49.350, that’s not a WOW score on an apparatus that will go down in history, but across the events, it starts to add up to the kind of number that will advance to Saturday.
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