Raleigh Regional Preview

Over the next few days, I’ll be taking several moments to preview the Regional Championships, providing analysis and predictions as to what we might see come Saturday, my favorite day in the NCAA calendar. The Raleigh Regional boasts top seed Florida and will be the first to start on Saturday (4 ET / 1 PT), so it seems a logical place to begin. Our competitors will be [1] Florida, [12] Ohio State, [13] Penn State, [20] NC State, [26] Kent State, and [31] North Carolina.

The Favorite:

The Florida Gators once again find themselves in the 1/12/13 Regional, highlighting how nonsensical the seeding process is. If the goal is to finish in the top two at each Regional, why does the top-ranked team in the nation get the most difficult #3 seed? But this issue has been well covered, so I’ll stop there.

Last year, Florida barely eked its way into Nationals after imploding on beam when Boise State just missed the necessary score in the last rotation, but I don’t expect to see a repeat of those nail-biting conditions this year. While the Gators of 2012 are a bit less polished, they are also much less likely to incur a fall than were the Gators of 2011, which makes all the difference for qualifying. Lack of polish never prevented a top team from advancing. That’s the job of falls. As we saw at SECs, Florida can be a little off and still go into the low 197s, which should certainly be enough to win the group. I’m going to give this one to Florida in a landslide.

However, there are still issues we need to keep an eye on as we evaluate the Gators’ chances heading to Nationals. At SECs, the tumbling was uncontrolled and inexact, and there needs to be much more sticking across all the events. As Suzanne rightly pointed out on the SEC broadcast, Florida’s delayed training schedule has put them behind some of the other teams in terms of focusing on sticking. This is not necessarily a problem, in fact it’s probably a good thing, but it could become a problem if they haven’t made any progress on this front by Regionals.

Another concern of mine, as I’ve mentioned before, is the lineups. Florida is a very deep team on paper, but they have a self-imposed shallowness because of sticking to the same lineups. Who would go in on beam if there is an injury? What’s the vault situation? There’s Spicer in the first position and a slightly injured Ellis up second (or Shisler if Ellis can’t go), so there will likely be little progress above 9.800 in those spots. Now, as we saw at SECs, the final four for Florida can still make it a big rotation, but there is little margin in that lineup. If one of the last four takes a big landing deduction, they won’t be able to keep pace. At Nationals, Florida needs to be top 3 on vault. But this does go to show that Florida’s problems are relatively minor at this point, and having to count a couple 9.775s will not be a problem for another three weeks.

More interesting than the expected Florida romp, though, will be the fight for the second spot.

The Contenders:
Unlike most of the other Regionals, where we see a likely second qualifier and a #3 seed that might challenge on a good day, the Raleigh Regional has three legitimate choices for the second spot for Nationals.

Throughout the season, Penn State had the edge over Ohio State in the rankings, but given the performance at Big Tens, the favorite for this position based on momentum is Ohio State. Penn State didn’t exactly struggle at Big Tens, but they had so very many 9.7 performances throughout the lineups that the degree to which they rely on Sharaya Musser to bump up the scores was really exposed. Madison Merriam will have to nearly match the scores from Musser for Penn State to contend. However, on a good day, they can go mid-196s, which may be enough.

Ohio State is in a rather different position. The Buckeyes do not have that one big scoring leader, which can hurt them in some of the anchor positions, but they have more people throughout the lineups who are capable of scoring 9.850s. The performance at Big Tens was also a turning point for Ohio State because it was the first time they put up a 196 on the road this season, which was one of the major questions marks surrounding their potential performance at Regionals. They had recorded big home scores before (and we all still question that 197.625 from the middle of the season), but proving the depth through the 4th and 3rd positions on the road was a major step.

We also can’t count out the hosts, NC State. Normally, I would say that they are just a step below the rest of the teams and wouldn’t have a clear shot at one of the top two spots, but the Wolf Pack has recorded a few high home scores this season, which gives everyone reason to pause and consider their chances. Now, if the meet is scored consistently, I don’t see NC State advancing because they don’t have the cleanliness of the teams ranked above them, but a little home boost could put them right in the hunt for the second position.

In tracking which of these teams will advance, watch the floor scores throughout the meet. If the judges are convinced by Ohio State’s tumbling and start giving them a few 9.875s, Penn State is going to have a very difficult time coming back from that because they will likely already have given away a few tenths on vault (I see bars and beam as pretty equivalent between the two). NC State is in the advantageous position of finishing on floor, where building scores and home benefit just might help the judges overlook some form issues on dance elements and allow them to journey over 9.850 as well. If NC State goes 49.200+ on floor, all bets are off.

The Others:
I think we can safely assume that lightning will not strike again for Kent State. Ohio State drastically underperformed at Regionals last year and still finished just a tenth behind Kent State, and OSU has gotten better while KSU has not. The lack of Lenny in particular will keep Kent State’s scoring potential lower than last year in this deeper meet. While I’d love to see another surprise this year, I don’t think it will come from this team again. If we do have a drastic shakeup at the top with some falls, expect NC State to grab the open position.

I have seen only bits of North Carolina this season (during the dual meet with Alabama), but what I saw was a lot of 9.650 gymnastics. Expect UNC to score in the low-mid 195s with a good meet, but that will not be enough to leapfrog the higher ranked teams. Making the Regionals was the victory for them.

SEC Championships Broadcast

Here we go. Bart, Kathy, and Suzanne were on hand as always to bring us the SEC Championships. I’m really impressed with how Suzanne has come along as a commentator. She always has insightful things to say, but she seems much more comfortable on camera now and less nervous than she used to. It’s definitely an acquired skill.

Reports are the everyone was just a little tight and wobbly across all the teams, so I’m interested to see how that played out in the competition itself. We had tennis run over into the original broadcast, so my DVR didn’t catch all of it. I may have to catch up with the end of the competition at some later point, but at least we know what happened.

Rotation 1:

We start with Florida on beam. Stageberg is a little tentative with a wobble on a switch split, but it was by no means a problematic routine. Alaina Johnson is much the same. There is no wow factor in this routine, but only minor deductions as well. These routines would all be getting a tenth higher at Pac-12s. Dickerson has a pretty significant wobble on her series, which accounts for her score. Not her most confident performance. Hunter would have been better on beam as an elite had she not needed to add in difficult dance elements that she was ill-prepared to complete, but she’s much better in NCAA. Good lift on her acro. Suzanne agrees with me. The switch side is not strong and emphasizes the weakness in dance elements. King anchors the rotation with an extremely solid performance. Based on the scores, this seemed like a weak rotation, but I was perfectly fine with the showing. It’s not nearly the disaster from last year.

Georgia has Chelsea Davis start on vault with just a little lack of distance and a minor hop in place. It’s a nice performance overall, especially since vault was her weakness as an elite. Perfect type of vault to have in the leadoff spot. Noel Couch follows with her usual stick. Has her air form improved a little bit this year? She still needs to get those legs together and get some more distance, though. Hires has a pretty significant bounce back for 9.800. The judges are very landing conscious. Kat Ding also has trouble controlling her landing and seemed almost taken by surprise that it wasn’t great.

Alabama on bars. This is the biggest question mark for them because of handstands at the beginning of the lineup. Kim Jacob continues this trend by missing a couple of handstands, but the DLO dismount is very nice. We see Stack-Eaton in split screen have a pretty solid bar routine with a step on the double arabian dismount, followed by Priess. I somewhat question adding the Markelov to this routine because she has trouble with the handstand right after it.  A little piking and a low landing on the dismount as well. Fine, but not her best routine.

We didn’t see any of the Arkansas meltdown on floor, but we do see Pisani being excellent. Certainly could have won this event.

Rotation 2:

Yokay for Auburn on vault is extremely low on her handspring pike front half, nice to see that vault, though. Auburn is saved on vault by Guy’s good amplitude on her yfull.

“Kathy, I don’t know what Sarah’s doing on beam!” – Suzanne. Ha. Suzanne definitely likes to establish her beam lineup early and stick with it, like we’ve seen from Florida this season, but I am much more of a proponent of mixing things up. I think it’s a good decision for them to get Kayla Williams into the lineup because she’s solid and sturdy. Geralen looked very nice until a major balance issue on her walkover. Unexpected. Another wobble on her onodi. A very nervy routine. Followed by a really unusual error from Priess on her Korbut. Very strange mistakes but not something I would worry about if I were an Alabama fan. Fluke-y.

Courville on floor has an excellent double arabian, good position on her dismount as well. Nice routine.  She’s followed by Hall. We’ve already been through it.

Rotation 3:

We start rotation three with the saga that is Shayla’s bar routine. She’s extremely close on her Ray, missed nearly every handstand after that and then does her piked DLO dismount with a step. Jay is so languid in the way he spotted her on her dismount. Chelsea Davis was going extremely well until a very low dismount. Love her tkatchev as always. Nuccio is excellent to follow. Ding has an uncharacteristic hop forward on her dismount.

Alaina Johnson on floor. I’d like to see her work on the cowboying of the mount, but everything else is nice until a major bounce back out of the double pike dismount. “Gives you a break from the honky-tonk.” – Suzanne. Dickerson has a little lack of control on both of her first two passes and a low landing on the last. Not her best. King is just a little short on her DLO and bounces back out of her second pass. A lot of struggles controlling the landings for Florida. Kytra also bounces out of her DLO, but the following passes are excellent. Florida can be much, much better than this on floor. They need to pull these landings together. Everyone had problems.

Rotation 4:

Moffatt on the beam for Georgia. She has very nice form, but I’d like to see her make a little correction on her switch side. Being as minute as she is, though, she does look a little rickety on some of her skills. Ding is very rushed in her routine and uncertain on a number of her skills. Calm down, Kat. Earls had a wobble and a big step on the dismount, so not quite the cleanliness Georgia would like. Persinger as well is quite tentative. She also doesn’t have a lot of amplitude in her skills, but she gets through it with no real issues. Shayla figured it out on beam, but she did look very nervous at the beginning and had to fix it. A few clear wobbly deductions there.

Now we get to see LSU’s vault rotation where judge #2 gave everybody a 10 (not really) (but almost). That judge really was just judging landings and not body position. Ashley Lee didn’t even really stick. Courville is excellent with a hop back.

Priess is very clean in her routine, which went 9.900. Suzanne wants her to up her difficulty, and it would be nice, though she won’t with her ankles. In scoring Priess and Hopfner-Hibbs this season, the judges have made it clear that they are OK with double tuck mounts. Alabama has not had the problems controlling the tumbling that Florida did. Geralen is very much in control of her routine as well – though  would like to see the legs together on the front layout in her middle pass. Kathy has enjoyed going “Woooo!” tonight.

We see some bits of clean gymnastics from Auburn on bars.

Rotation 5:

Florida on vault. Spicer is clean in the air but can’t control the landing for 9.825. Ellis’s vault was equivalent. Dickerson has a hop in place and some wonky legs on the block. Kathy and Suzanne are pretending she stuck it but she didn’t. Johnson’s vault was the strongest so far, just a little piking and a step back. It’s a 9.900 that can go 9.950 at times. King goes up with an excellent Tsuk 1.5, and the commentators are spot on that she is not usually adequately rewarded for it, but she is here. Kytra finishes with a nice 1.5 with a step, so the 9.975 is mostly inexplicable. She’ll get a 10 for this vault before too long, though.

Rotation 6:

Sledge on vault for Alabama, with more landing issues like many of the teams have been having. Another bounce back. We could attribute this to podium, but it’s not an isolated incident. Alabama has been having trouble sticking for a few weeks. Geralen does a poor vault with a very low landing and a lunge forward. That’s happened a few times this year, and this is the last time they can afford it. Gutierrez makes up for it with a nice stick. Milliner finishes with a huge lunge forward on her Y1.5. They can legitimately go 49.500 on this event, but they were nowhere close to that here.

Kat Ding looks strong enough on floor, but I do think she looked more nervous than usual all night, which translated into some rushed gymnastics. Shayla looks fine on floor but is very low on her dismount. There’s very little tumbling in this routine with two passes that aren’t that difficult, but this probably her best effort choreographically.

We see some clean gymnastics from Morrison on bars for 9.850, but that’s all I have before the DVR cut off. I may try to find the rest of this at some point, but I probably won’t.

Overall, SECs was an equivalent meet to Pac-12s in a lot of ways, and if they had been scored by the same panels of judges, we would have seen very similar scores. I certainly don’t see that much of a claim for low scoring here. I think it was mostly accurate, just Pac-12s was very high.

Every single team in the country needs to work on these landings. No one is in postseason form yet. But I do think SECs had more highs (and more strange lows like Alabama on beam), whereas Pac-12s had more general lackluster gymnastics without the same peaks and valleys. I want to see some significant improvements across the board for Regionals.