Saturday night meets? What, do they think we all have no lives? Oh wait, that is correct.
Top 25 schedule
Friday as usual, probably with special attention to the Perfect 10 Challenge since I’ve seen so much of the SEC this year and less of Denver and GW. Saturday is also sort of making Friday look like an idiot this week, so I’ll be all over that with LSU/Georgia and then again later for the glut of Pac-12 action. It’ll get crazy. Sit back and let the insanity wash over you like a fine breeze or the knowledge of your own insignificance.
-The most competitive meets on Friday will probably end up being Missouri/Kentucky and Minnesota/Nebraska. The higher-ranked team will be favored in both, but upset potential exists. I’m particularly curious to see how Missouri fares away from home after that unexpectedly huge score last weekend. The next away meet is always the best test of how realistic home scores are.
-Among the big girls, Alabama against Auburn is the showcase on Friday. Apparently, this is kind of a rivalry or something, but in spite of meeting three times last season and this already being the second meeting of 2016, Auburn is still yet to record a victory against Alabama since turning good. At home and coming off a season-high, this is the best chance they’ll have. That said, Alabama should win the meet and is the better team on every event, but that doesn’t mean it will be a blowout. The Tide has displayed inconsistency this season, and while there haven’t been any implosions since the loss to Arkansas, counting medium mistakes or weak landings has become commonplace, including on two of the four events in the last meet. Relying on those mistakes will be Auburn’s hope.
Alabama has two meets this weekend, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect to get any answers about postseason lineups quite yet. Dana has been jumbling people all over the place and will likely do the same this time in order to keep everyone relatively rested and avoid over-pressing the fragile ones. I would bet on more depth exploration for the time being.
We should also be on Beers Watch 2016, not just because it’s important to start drinking during beam but because even though Lauren Beers has competed a remarkable amount for someone who spent the preseason in several pieces in a shoebox, she has been very up-and-down, occasionally starting to look like herself and then immediately falling a bunch of times. How much will they push her in a double-meet weekend, and will we see GoodBeers or DarthBeers?
-Nadia and Bart’s Perfect 10 Challenge (get it, because Nadia got a 10?) is Oklahoma’s home-away-from-home competition, basically a home meet that counts as an away score, though the meet hasn’t necessarily exhibited silly home scoring in the past so it essentially is an away meet. The Sooners looked serious last weekend, so I’m not worried about them. I’m more interested in the other teams competing for second place. Both Denver and George Washington have had their share of impressive scores this season, but those scores have not been achieved against major opposition in a higher-profile setting, so this is an excellent opportunity to evaluate how 9.875y those routines really look directly compared to an Oklahoma.
This is also a podium meet, which is always valuable experience, but for teams like Denver and GW that don’t go to nationals or a conference championship on podium, this is an even rarer and newer experience that may show up in the performances.
I’m mostly worried about what Kathy is going to do without Bart on Friday. It’ll be like that thing where you’re holding one half of an enchanted locket but can’t find the other half.
-Florida is also in action on Friday at the usual time, in need of a comeback meet after a burned-up mess on the last two events at Georgia. The Gators are at home, so the potential for a memory-wiping 198 is high. I’m not that worried about beam, even though they counted a fall last weekend, but floor is becoming more and more fascinating by the week. How can a lineup that has three legitimate 9.950s and is 4th in the country be such a worry? Viability hinges on Bridgey. Grab your spellbooks and pentagrams.
-Saturday’s early session is headlined by the LSU/Georgia showdown. Georgia enters the meet in an odd narrative position because beam is not getting any better and was a river of salty tears again last weekend, and yet, they beat Florida. Does that give the team a boost of confidence to remember that I may or may not have described this as a top-5 beam roster in my preseason preview? Or is the epidemic even worse than we possibly feared?
LSU has had its own beam problems, sprinkled with a garnish of bars problems (can you tell I just finished watching Top Chef?), but last week’s meet was by far the team’s most refined, confident, and complete meet across four whole events, with just Sarah Finnegan going breaking our hearts on bars. It was LSU’s first meet without counting a fall in a month, which is both slightly horrifying and ultimately encouraging. Just like NCAA gymnastics.
The Tigers should take this one, even on the road, but if both teams actually hit, this will be a closely run affair. LSU gets the edge on vault. Georgia is a very strong vault team with superior difficulty and ideally would be competitive with LSU, but the landings the last couple meets have not inspired that level of confidence. There is a rumbling that we may get BATTLE DTY at this meet if Brittany Rogers decides to throw hers to match up against Ashleigh Gnat’s, which should be pretty fun. But the most important thing is that Gymdogs other than Brandie Jay show up with their landing pants on this time.
Georgia needs to be ahead at the halfway mark because it’s conceivable that they would have the edge on bars. Both teams have a couple potential 9.9s at the end of the lineup (with some caveats), but Georgia is a bit cleaner at the beginning of the lineup. They’ll have to take advantage of that and create a buffer zone to alleviate the pressure on beam. Beam is obviously what makes LSU the favorite in this meet. That’s not to say that the Tigers have been glorious on beam so far this year, but compared to Georgia, they’re basically a ball of diamonds in a pool of rubies. Even if Georgia were to hit 6-for-6 on beam, right after the unicorns with the Super Bowl with sparkle dust, LSU would still have the advantage because of a greater number of 9.9-possible routines.
LSU will need beam to come through because even though LSU would be considered the stronger floor team at a neutral site, the obscene level of home floor that is sprouting up all over the country this season renders LSU’s theoretical floor advantage null. We’re seeing home teams finish meets with 49.6s all over the place for perfectly well hit, but pretty normal, floor performances, just as Georgia did last weekend. Being better on floor doesn’t look like something the Tigers will be able to rely on, so they’ll have to win the meet because of lovely, hit beam or risk getting Florida-ed.
-In the late session, the showcase meet features Oregon State heading to UCLA. For UCLA, all eyes are on Sophina after she became Sophina in the last week. I’m fascinated to see how she responds because suddenly she’s going to be the name in this meet and the gymnast people are waiting to see, or coming to the meet expressly to see. Sophina certainly thrives in the spotlight, but that’s a whole new level of pressure, especially for a gymnast who has not always been the most consistent (or there) on floor. I mean, you know something is going to go wrong this time. You know it. It’s like when Lloimincia had her moment and you knew she wasn’t going to make the floor final at nationals right after that.
It’s a situation where usually I would argue for moving her to the anchor spot to take advantage of this attention and get her what is basically an automatic 10 if she hits her passes, but in this case it’s probably best just to keep things as normal as possible and not add any extra hoopla.
Attendance will also be interesting to watch. Has UCLA been able to turn this 15 minutes of being internet-famous into people in the seats? Or will it just descend right back into same-old, same-old, like gymnastics after the Olympics every four years? This won’t last. In a couple days, people will see the name Sophina DeJesus and think “Did I used to work with her or something?” so they have to take advantage while they can.
Apparently, there are also other gymnasts in this meet. Oregon State is coming off a 48.8 of a performance against Washington on Monday, which is not going to cut it against UCLA barring a meltdown. With the season-ending injuries to Aufiero and Dessaints, OSU has become a 9.825 team that lacks the big vaults and bars routines to compete with Super Six-contending schools. The same argument might be made for UCLA (is this going to be a good bars week or a bad bars week?), but UCLA’s situation is less extreme. The Bruins also boast big potential scores on beam and home floor—home floor is becoming the fifth event; vault, bars, beam, floor, and home floor—to make up for any 9.800ishness on the first two events.
Utah hosts Washington in what should be a comfortable showing. There are areas where I’m still not sold on for Utah, with a moderate-to-severe case of the Pac-12s on vault, but this should be an easy win. Hopefully Washington will come back after we got all excited about this team and then they had an absolute meltdown against Oregon State. Bars and beam pretty, come back to us. COME BACK TO US.
In the non-nationally-televised meet, Stanford heads to Arizona with Arizona looking to keep the cap on the beam this time and Stanford looking to…be a little less Stanford than last week? I know we all wait to even bother analyzing Stanford until mid-March because we’ve learned our lesson, but the dearth of 9.8s on vault and floor is an anytime problem.
-Michigan went home and got better on Monday, finally breaking the 197 barrier in style and assuring everyone that Michigan-scoring is not a thing you have to worry about. The judges were really happy about that performance, especially the one who decided to give Karas a 10 on vault. Michigan has been moving along fairly well, and we can expect the scores to more regularly hit that mid-197 range as the details are refined toward the postseason. The Wolverines already have an RQS that would put them at a #2 seed at a regional, and it’s February 11th. Ideally, they’ll stop throwing in the random dropped fall on bars and beam that makes me nervous and can’t be afforded when things really matter, but there’s no reason not to expect another 197 this weekend against Michigan State.