The Weekend Ahead – March 14-16

Don’t be alarmed, but it’s the final weekend of the regular season. How did we get here? This season is negative 16 seconds old. Unacceptable. We’ve barely had time to decide which beam lineups are the least acceptable, and now it’s almost over.

The anticipated confrontation between Georgia and Utah on Saturday night will be the showcase meet of the weekend, but we have plenty to attend to before that.

This week, the #1 ranking is open for business and ready to be taken by several different teams. It gets around town, this #1 ranking. LSU, Oklahoma, and Florida all could end up with it by the conclusion of shenanigans on Friday, and with all three of those teams competing at the same time, it will be another thrilling day of multiple scoreboard windows and ctrl+R-ing. Ctrl+R is the national pastime of the NCAA gymnastics fan. Well, that and assigning 9.825s to everyday objects and mild acquaintances.

The three contenders for #1, along with Alabama, will headline the action on Friday with a number of different agendas and storylines. Florida is up first, visiting Missouri in a meet they should win comfortably. Even though the result is not interesting, the scores will be significant for both teams. Missouri is currently stuck in a three-way tie for the final Regionals spot with Utah State and West Virginia (so keep an eye on those teams as well). Making the top 36 will be a challenge for Missouri since Utah State has an extra meet remaining and Iowa, just a spot behind, still has a 193 to get rid of to move up. Missouri is hanging onto a 194.525 as a low score right now, so they’ll probably need a mid-195 at this meet to feel anything resembling comfort going into SECs. For the Gators, it’s all about the road scores right now. With a 197.075 to drop, they have the most room to improve of the top three teams and can put some serious pressure on LSU and Oklahoma with a high 197+.

The remaining top teams competing on Friday are heavily favored as well, though we can expect Arkansas and Auburn to give their opponents (Oklahoma and Alabama, respectively) a bit more of a challenge. It will be very tough at this point for Arkansas to move into the coveted top 12, but the Razorbacks are coming off a big road victory and their second-highest score of the season, so they should still improve somewhat on that #16 ranking. This is Arkansas’s last home meet of the season, and it will be a preview of how dangerous a Regionals host the Razorbacks are going to be, or not be. Auburn has several stronger scores than Arkansas does, so they are in a more comfortable ranking position but could still move into the top 10 with a 196.600. Oregon State, however, may have something to say about that in later action.

As for the four top-ranked favorites on Friday (Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, and LSU), they all have plenty of high scores already and have secured strong rankings regardless of the order they end up, so while we do have an exciting race for the regular-season #1 going on right now, that’s a fairly cosmetic topic. Being ranked #1 or #4 going into the postseason doesn’t make it more or less likely that one of these teams will win the championship. For these top teams, the score this weekend is almost entirely a matter of bragging rights, so it will be interesting to see how that factors into their lineup decisions. Will some teams use this relatively unnecessary occasion as a final opportunity to rest important contributors, or will they want to ensure their lineups are set and comfortable going into the stuff that really matters? That’s a story to watch. There are arguments either way, and it just depends on the style of coach. But, if there are people who still need to get into lineups because of injury or what have you, that needs to happen immediately. 

Saturday action begins with a pair of Big Ten quad meets, which is a new tradition that sees the eight teams split up into two mini Big Ten Championships the weekend before the real deal. Note the times of these meets below because they have changed since the original schedules were released. The results of this meet will be fairly important in terms of dictating Regionals placement, given the relative importance of being a top 8 team right now and the fact that three of those teams are currently on the cusp between being a second seed and a third seed.

But come nightfall, we have the main event with Utah and Georgia in their annual clash, which could go either way. It’s on the Pac-12 Network, and I’ll be back to live blog it. Be sure to place your bests on how high the scores will go at this thing, but no matter how many 11.775s we see, it should be a treat to watch because these teams have different styles and strengths, which means we could see the meet go back and forth as the rotations pass. Georgia will need to be on task right from the first routine because UB is their main asset. The Gym Dogs have been offensively good on bars. They can outscore Utah by multiple tenths there and will need to do just that to even think about winning this meet. On the other side, Utah will have the late edge because of floor. The Utes are strong on floor, especially at home where we’ve seen some 9.9 parades, whereas Georgia has been much weaker than they can afford. Counting a fall last weekend is just the latest example.

Both teams are excellent on vault, so that will come down to which manages more sticks, and both teams are worthy of downing some prescription medication on beam. Perhaps the vault edge to Utah for being at home and tending to stick more consistently, but then perhaps the same consistency edge goes to Georgia on beam. Translation: It’ll be a good one.

Not to be outdone, we have UCLA as the lone stalwart on Sunday, hosting Bowling Green and Utah State (remember, a team to watch in the race for the top 36). The Bruins are coming off two improved road scores and will look to bring that same quality to the friendly confines on senior day for a chance to nestle into an even more comfortable ranking spot.

Be sure to indulge and enjoy as I will in one of our final marathon weekends of gymnastics.

Top 25 Schedule
Friday – 3/14/14
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – [3] Florida @ Missouri
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Kentucky @ [1] LSU
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [2] Oklahoma @ [16] Arkansas
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – [11] Auburn @ [4] Alabama
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [24] Southern Utah @ Utah State
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [12] Oregon State, Seattle Pacific @ Washington
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Northern Illinois @ [22] Arizona State

Saturday – 3/15/14
1:30 ET/10:30 PT – [13] Minnesota, [15] Penn State, Iowa @ [8] Michigan
1:30 ET/10:30 PT – [9] Nebraska, [14] Illinois, [23] Ohio State @ Michigan State
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – Western Michigan @ [18] Central Michigan
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [25] BYU, Texas Woman’s, Bridgeport @ [20] Arizona
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [25] Kent State, Centenary @ Pittsburgh
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [17] Boise State, Iowa State @ [21] Denver
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [6] Georgia @ [5] Utah
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – UC Davis @ [19] California

Sunday – 3/16/14
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – Utah State, Bowling Green @ [7] UCLA

Monday – 3/17/14
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [20] Arizona @ Air Force