Going into the weekend, we have a tight three-way race for the #1 ranking, and it’s imaginable that any one of LSU, Oklahoma, and Florida could emerge with that coveted status when the day is done. All three teams will be competing at the same time on Friday, which should make for an exciting back-and-forth of score watching to see who is inching ahead. Even though the Gators currently sit at #3, they look to be the favorites to take over as #1, given that they have the chance to drop a 196.650 and jump up multiple tenths. In fact, if they score a 197.625 or greater, they are guaranteed sole possession of #1. Otherwise, it may just come down to which team scores higher on the given day.
The big showdown on Friday will see Florida face off with Alabama in one of the most anticipated meets of the season. Florida has been the better-performing team overall this year, but is still trying to deliver that big score away from home. Alabama has no trouble competing at home, as you might have heard. In case you’re keeping track, Alabama has not lost a home meet since February 13, 2009, falling to LSU 196.625-195.750 after multiple mistakes on both beam and floor. So that’s the streak the Tide must defend tomorrow night against a Florida team coming off a home 198. It’s a clash of favorites.
For Florida, replicating the home success on floor will be crucial in the quest for victory. The Gators’ home average on floor is a 49.650, while their road average is a 49.200. Some of that is home boosting, but a lot of it is also the quality of performance. They must be more like home performers to win against an Alabama team that has started to put it together on the event with the Jacob/Milliner dynamic duo at the back making 49.5s realistic. Hunter and Sloan will have to be on their tumbling game to match routine for routine.
For Alabama, the fight will be on bars. The Tide has been perfectly fine on bars this year, 6th in the nation, with lots of 9.850s and 9.875s, but one of the concerns for this team is the lack of that big 9.9 performer who can save otherwise lackluster rotations with a huge exclamation point routine. Florida has several of those performers, and if they can get sticks, will look to build up a lead on that event early on to hold them through to the end. A Florida 49.500 on bars will be tough for Alabama to match, but if Florida is giving away bits and pieces and scores in the 49.350-49.400 area, there will be a lot of chop licking going on in Alabama.
Also on Friday, we have the annual Nastia Liukin “The Fritos go ON the sub?” Cup, a showcase of the top L10s from around the country to give us all a look at people we may never have seen before but from whom we will instantly begin expecting 9.9s in NCAA once they arrive. There are also always a couple gatecrashers like Kennedy Baker that it’s kind of strange to see in this venue. She’s competing L10 this year before going to Florida, but come on, you’re an elite. When Nastia meets the competitors, she should be saying, “Hey girls, remember how you looked up to me when you were an infant?” not “Hey, remember how you beat me on bars at Trials?”
Below is the competitor list for the event along with the NCAA verbal or signed commitments for those who have already taken the plunge (that we know about).
On Saturday, the attention turns to the elite world for a moment for the American Cup, which is always a bit jarring to watch right in the midst of NCAA mania. It takes a moment to readjust execution expectations, from a wobble on a layout stepout being the difference between a great routine and a disaster routine in NCAA, to its being barely even a blip in elite. Saturday will also feature Georgia, looking for another statement score after falling back to the 196 pack lately; UCLA, a team that is slowly getting it together but still in a desperate, clawing search for a 197; and a Nebraska/Oregon State/Arizona State showdown to round out the day. With elite and NCAA colliding, it’s going to be a busy weekend.
Top 25 Schedule
Friday – 2/28/14
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Kent State, BYU @  Michigan
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Auburn @  Kentucky
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Bridgeport, Western Michigan, Yale @  Penn State
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Denver @ Michigan State
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Nastia Cup
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Missouri @  LSU
8:00 ET/5:00 PT –  Illinois @  Oklahoma
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Washington @  Utah
8:30 ET/5:30 PT –  Florida @  Alabama
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Iowa @  Boise State
10:00 ET/7:00 PT –  Southern Utah @ San Jose State
Saturday – 3/1/14
11:30 ET/8:30 PT – American Cup
4:00 ET/1:00 PT –  Arkansas @  Georgia
6:00 ET/3:00 PT –  UCLA @  Arizona
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Iowa State @  Minnesota
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  Nebraska, Arizona State @  Oregon State
Sunday – 3/2/14
3:00 ET/12:00 PT –  Central Michigan @ Northern Illinois
3:00 ET/12:00 PT –  Ohio State @ West Virginia
Monday – 3/3/14
10:00 ET/7:00 PT –  California @  Stanford
Nastia Liukin Cup Competitors
Nikole Addison – Denver – 2014-2015
Kennedy Baker – Florida – 2014-2015
Mackenzie Brannan – Alabama – 2014-2015
Brianna Brown – Michigan – 2014-2015
Stefani Catour – Oklahoma – 2014-2015
Anna Glenn – UCLA 2016-2017
Grace Glenn – UCLA 2016-2017
Olivia Karas – Michigan – 2015-2016
Maddie Karr – Denver 2016-2017
McKenna Kelley – LSU – 2015-2016
Kari Lee – Utah – 2014-2015
Brehanna Showers – Oklahoma – 2016-2017