Two weeks of normal competition until the conference championships. Two. The ranking and RQS situations are currently urgent, verging on EEEEEE, for more than a few teams. Plus, we have the elite world barging in this weekend. If you plan on doing things this weekend that aren’t watching gymnastics while making vaguely snarky yet harmless observations, we’re not friends.
Top 25 schedule
7:30 ET/4:30 PT –  Iowa @ Iowa State
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Like a Men’s Thing? With John Orozco?
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – Utah State @  Nebraska
Whew. We’ve got a Friday in front of us during which every little thing on Earth will happen. All the top 10 teams except UCLA (always gotta be different…) have overlapping meets on Friday, which is either exciting or really poorly planned. Get all 20 of your screens ready. That doesn’t even count Nastia’s Athletic Cup, which I probably won’t blog since so much NCAA action will be happening simultaneously, but I’m sure others will be all up in that business. Pink things. I already blogged it. I usually end up watching it in about October, when all the competitors are starting NCAA and I need to remember who they are.
Utah/Michigan will be broadcast on tape delay on BTN, four hours after the actual meet, which normally would be annoying but in this case may be some built-in prioritization and scheduling. This weekend is a women’s basketball whatever, so there will be far fewer live TV meets than usual. It’s an internet weekend. Or as I call it, a weekend.
The big deal on Saturday is American Cup. I’ll be tweeting. Obviously. Then back to blogging on Sunday for the Georgia/Stanford/UCLA threeway.
We have a theoretical chance for movement at the top of the rankings, but just theoretical. Florida would need to score a 198.175 away at Kentucky AND Oklahoma would need to score 197.475 or lower at home against Arizona for Florida to take over the top ranking spot. Both teams are safe at 1-2 even if they do end up flip-flopping.
We could see some spot exchanges as we go down the top 10, with Utah and Michigan meeting on Friday with the higher ranking on the line and Auburn preparing to drop a fairly low road score and looking to leapfrog UCLA. #10 Georgia has the most to gain/lose this weekend with two meets, the Sunday meet away at UCLA being significantly more important. Georgia is still counting a 195.675 road score right now, and with even just a normal meet and a hit beam in both of the weekend’s endeavors, the Gymdogs will expect to zoom up, potentially as high as 7th, though a lot would need to go their way with the other teams for that actually to happen.
That UCLA Sunday meet is the most critical ranking meet of the weekend since it will also determine Stanford’s ceiling and decide whether the Cardinal are in the running for a #2 regionals seed. With a mid-196, Stanford is right in it, but with another 195, it will be exceedingly unlikely if not impossible.
Eyes on Denver as well, coming off that 197.5 and with two meets this weekend, one at home and one at almost-home against Air Force. I would honestly not be bowled over to see Denver knocking into the top 10 at the end of the weekend if Arkansas and Georgia don’t perform.
Iowa is also looking to drop a 194.900 this weekend in a big rivalry meet against Iowa State and could move as high as #12 if things fall just right. Fall being the operative word.
Florida heads to Kentucky and Oklahoma hosts Arizona on Friday, and neither meet should be a mystery as to the result. The interesting thing will be the race for scores and watching the two teams comparatively as we start to anticipate the inevitable postseason battle.
More interesting will be Utah/Michigan, Auburn/Georgia, and Alabama/LSU. For Michigan and Utah, there’s not a ton to differentiate the teams and no event where either looks like blowing the opposition away. Michigan probably gets the edge, primarily because of higher scoring potential on vault and beam, and bigger floor tumbling that will also enjoy the benefit of being at home. Michigan has a tad more difficulty on vault and the Karas 1.5 that can score a 9.950, which Utah hasn’t done for any vault this year. Similarly, we’ve seen beam routines from Chiarelli, Artz, or Marinez get occasionally huge numbers, while Utah has Stover to match that but otherwise will probably get stuck in the 9.850s.
On the other hand, Michigan has looked uncomfortable on beam the last couple weeks, so taking advantage of that edge is not remotely a given. Utah’s path to victory would be built on stuck landings. It’s something that Utah is usually known for, especially on bars (which could make that an asset event for the Utes in this meet), and is something that will need to start developing now that it’s March. If Utah can stick more on vault and take the difficulty edge away from Michigan, it becomes much easier to see the Utes winning.
Auburn heads to Georgia as part of Battle Evening Session as the knock-down, drag-out fight to get into the big-girl session at SECs steers toward a conclusion. That’s part of why the meet is more important for Georgia. It’s also important symbolically for the Gymdogs because they should be better. You put those two rosters next to each other, and you’d pick Georgia’s to be ranked higher any day. Now, the fact that it isn’t can be attributed almost entirely to beam, but note that Auburn is also ranked higher on floor and very close to Georgia on bars. Beyond beam, Georgia needs to take advantage of more difficulty and quality on vault to build up a lead, while Auburn needs to stick the crap out of those fabulous bars DLOs to close that small gap with Georgia and mitigate the possible 9.9s coming from Rogers and Jay.
But for Auburn, so much is about Atkinson. She went 39.6 in two of the last three meets, and Auburn won both of those meets (against Alabama and Missouri), recording the team’s two highest scores of the season. Look how that happened.
Alabama/LSU is the highest profile of the three meets featuring two top-four teams and will be a grind. We all know winning meets at LSU is a challenge, but this meet is critical for Alabama from a psychological perspective if not as much from an RQS perspective. Alabama has been excellent this year, but also kind of…uh…losing. Losses to Florida, UCLA, Auburn, and Arkansas have sullied the season and sullied the record for a team that really shouldn’t be losing four times in a season regardless of the strength of the opposition. This is Alabama’s final meet before SECs, and five losses (four in conference) would not be the most auspicious note on which to head out.
LSU’s ceiling has been higher this season, with a 197.9 and a 197.8, while Alabama has peaked at the 197.5s. That, coupled with competing at home, is enough to make LSU the favorite in spite of the lower ranking. Still, there’s little to choose from between these teams. They’re both potentially phenomenal on beam, and they both have more than enough 9.9s in them on floor. Although, Alabama’s floor is the lineup to watch in this meet because it needs to settle down. To have a shot at keeping relative pace with LSU, Alabama needs to dispense with the depth exploration and bring out all the big guns, which right now are Beers, Winston, Jetter, and hopefully Carley Sims, though only if she’s BACK back, which she wasn’t in her return last week. Beyond them…I don’t even know at this point but the team has way too many big tumblers to accept 9.825s on floor.
We’ll know a lot after the beginning of the meet because while both teams have difficult vaults, LSU’s landings have been more consistent and better scoring, while Alabama’s sudden ability on bars to 9.975 you to death with concentrated Kiana Winston has turned that into a seriously important event. Which one comes through?
I’ve talked about the ranking picture for what will inevitably be known as the UCLA/Georgia/Stanford incident, but there’s also the matter of…who’s even going to win this meet? In sentences you don’t normally hear, UCLA has been the most consistent this year. At home, this is the Bruins’ to lose and would be a crucial milestone in a season that has been fine and solid but not memorable or overwhelming as yet. At this point, I think we can expect UCLA to win beam and floor, especially if Francis and Cipra are back after their little rests last week. The question for the Bruins will be how vault and bars stack up against a Georgia team that has much more difficulty and quality on vault and a Stanford team that has the highest-quality bars work of the three teams. UCLA can pick up a bunch of tenths in the second half of the meet, but UCLA is clearly the weakest on bars. If we’re seeing 48s on vault and bars again, that leaves the door open for Georgia and, more importantly, is not remotely OK for March regardless of how it stacks up against the others in this particular meet.
Stanford has struggled enough on floor this year that it’s hard to see a victory without relying on both of the other two counting falls (a very real prospect), but Georgia’s peak score is actually higher than UCLA’s this year, so if beam does come together, you never know.