Auburn Regional Preview

Our sixth and final Regional, hosted by Auburn, is one I’ve been looking toward for a while now in the belief that Auburn would be the most dangerous #3 seed in the event. Now, I’m not so sure. We’ll see. The teams competing in this Regional will be [6] Georgia, [7] Oregon State, [18] Auburn, [21] Michigan, [27] West Virginia, and [32] Michigan State.

The Favorites:
I give the edge to Georgia, but the difference between the Gymdogs and Oregon State is not enough for one team to be the clear favorite. Like in the Utah Regional, it won’t take a fall to separate the two. It may just take one sloppy bar dismount (Shayla!) or one flat vault rotation (entire OSU team!) to decide this one.

Georgia had a fine but unimpressive SEC Championships to score 196.575. A lot of competitors who had been going 9.875 were suddenly going 9.800 due to both some tentative performances and the more contained scoring we saw at that event. I expect the scoring at Auburn to be a bit looser, so anticipate Georgia going much closer to 197.

However, an issue that came to light at SECs was the clear reliance on Noel Couch getting high scores. Noel has improved some of her details since her freshman year, but Georgia has been relying on her to go higher than 9.850 on multiple events this year to get those scores in the 197s. Her RQS on floor is 9.915. Do we see her going close to that at Nationals when compared to all the other floor routines in the country? I don’t. Now, Georgia does have a number of routines that can go 9.900+ at Nationals, Kat Ding on two events, Nuccio and Davis on bars, and Worley on beam. For Georgia to legitimately challenge, those can’t just be potential 9.900s, they have to be 9.900s every time because those scores aren’t going to come from anywhere else. So, watch those key routines at Regionals, because if they don’t get the necessary scores in two weeks time, Georgia could be facing another 7th-8th place finish.

Oregon State hasn’t been able to break that 197 mark with any consistency this year because they are  essentially a three-gymnast team. The scoring onus is entirely up to Mak, Vivian, and Stambaugh to bring in 9.9s. The quality of those three gymnasts is enough to keep OSU ranked fairly high, but nearly all the rest of the routines are going to be 9.8s. The Beavers are strongest on bars (where they should score exceptionally well), but at Pac-12s we saw what happens when one of the big three has an issue. Mak fell on bars, which brought the score down and all of the sudden made bars the worst rotation. There is no one to step up with a big score if one of the top three doesn’t convert.

If Mak, Vivian, and Stambaugh all go at least 9.875 on their main events (which is possible), Oregon State can get to that high-196s or low-197s score that will be unassailable by the lower seeds, but if something goes wrong and Auburn is hitting with home scores, this could get a little interesting.

The Contenders:
Now, that’s a big “if” given Auburn’s last place disaster at SECs. That performance is the primary reason for my new reservations about whether Auburn has any chance of advancing. At SECs, 9 out of 24 routines scored under 9.700, and only one routine (Guy on floor) managed a 9.900. The positive for Auburn is that they have not been amazing on the road all year (no scores reaching 196), but they have put up some significant scores at home, which could certainly happen again if they hit their routines. They got scored a little tightly on bars at SECs, and we know that won’t happen this Saturday. I still believe they will need some help, but it’s help I can imagine being provided. This Regional is all just a bit too similar to 2010 when Georgia and Oregon State went to Missouri, and Georgia was upset by the host #3 seed.

The rotation order is also a bit interesting because Auburn is directly following Georgia on every event, which could go either way. On the one hand, Auburn’s routines may pale in comparison, which could bring down the scores, but on the other hand, high scores from Georgia may serve to bump up the Auburn scores on a traditional score-building trajectory. In most Regionals this year, I think the former will take place and hurt the #3 seeds, but since Auburn is at home, I see the latter happening, which could also make things closer than they might otherwise be.

Let’s also not discount Michigan. I don’t give the Wolverines too much chance of advancing, but it sure would be great to see them do it what with the depleted squad this season. They’re basically running on 2.75 gymnasts this year, which means they’ve had to put up way too many 9.7 routines in competition just because they exist. A few events like vault remain competitive, and I could see Michigan going 49.250 there, but they are just far too likely to count a fall to have much say in the qualification spots. The beam and floor lineups in particular are 9.775 from top to bottom and don’t have any type of score building or elite routines to finish them off.

The Others:
In my mind, West Virginia is probably the strongest #5 seed in any of the Regionals. They have had way too many 194 scores this season to go much higher in the rankings, but based on potential they are consistent with many of the #4 seeds. Hope Sloanhoffer put up three 9.900s to win the AA at EAGLs, which should give the Mountaineers a solid chance at an individual qualifier to Nationals as well as a scoring leader at the end of the rotations (something Michigan could use right about now). And on a weird day, anything can happen, which is a more optimistic attitude than I have for most of our #5 seeds.

Michigan State also advanced to Regionals, but like most of the other #6 seeds, they stand little chance of advancing and would do well to hit 195, which should be the goal for the competition as I don’t see many hopes for individual qualifiers to Nationals. Staying competitive with West Virginia or Michigan would be a nice goal, but more likely than not I think Michigan State got placed with five teams that are  too accomplished, and they won’t place any higher than their seed.