Pac-12 Championship Preview

On to the Pac-12!

Like the SEC and Big Ten, the Pac-12 conducts its championship in two sessions, the first beginning at 1:00 PT and including Cal, Arizona, Stanford, and Arizona State, and the second beginning at 6:00 PT and including UCLA, Utah, Oregon State, and Washington.

For the rotation order, the Pac-12 did things a little differently this year, just to make everyone confused. Rather than a predetermined draw, teams were given the opportunity to choose which even they’d like to start on, picking in seeded order. So for the evening session, UCLA chose vault, then Utah chose bars, then Oregon State chose floor, then Washington was left with beam and went, “We’re all going to get 9.875 anyway, so eat that SUCKAAASSSS.”

For the afternoon session, Cal chose vault, then Arizona broke with convention and took beam with the second pick, Stanford took bars, and Arizona State was left with floor.

Session I – Cal, Arizona, Stanford, Arizona State
It’s not completely ridiculous to expect a good score to come out of the first session, a score that at least challenges a couple of the teams in the top group. The scoring potential UCLA and Utah have displayed this year should see them pull away with hit meets, but a team like Cal having a good meet and finishing third is entirely within the realm of possibility.

Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State’s season will end with this meet regardless of performance, so there’s nothing tangible riding on it. This season was all about fresh starts, new beginnings, spring metaphors, flower similes, and birth tropes following the years of Doctor R. Like when WALL-E finds that weed in that fridge. The 195s and the victory over Arizona are signs of life for future seasons, so the goal here is continuing to show those signs of life. Life good?

Stanford Cardinal
Stanford, or as it is more commonly known this season, Jesus Christ Stanford, currently ranks 7th in the Pac-12 and just lost to Yale with a 193. So the season’s going great.

Basically zero members of the team aren’t injured or dying of the plague right now, and it’s showing in the performances. It’s hard to imagine this Stanford roster being anything more than a 196.2-on-a-good-day kind of team, and yet 1) it’s Stanford. Stanford does this, then suddenly resurrects 20 routines and shows up in the postseason scoring five-tenths better than during the season, and 2) Elizabeth Price. She can single-handedly Mustafina/Iordache-style drag a team a competitive finish.

The problems with that: 1) Five-tenths better than Stanford has been scoring this season still isn’t that great, and 2) even with Price, you need four other hit routines on each event, and maybe five on beam if she’s not back there. That has been an issue. Still, if Stanford were to get four 9.825s and then a 9.950 from Price on each apparatus, that’s a 197. I don’t actually think that’s too much to ask. It’s clearly within the capability of this team, even right now with the current levels of brokenness. Just 9.825s!

I do expect Stanford to be more competitive and show more top-level routines than in the 193 debacle from last weekend, but we haven’t seen anything yet to encourage higher expectations than a team that’s happy to hit the 196 mark.

Arizona Wildcats
Arizona has suffered its own parade of injury problems that turned a team that was marching resolutely toward 196-land into a team that has been scoring mid-195s, just dropped to 30th (one spot above Stanford), and lost to Arizona State. We won’t see a score from Arizona that challenges the evening session teams, but I’d consider hitting for 196 a victory here, which should be more than attainable.

The struggle (once again) has been coming up with a competitive vault rotation that isn’t counting a bunch of 9.7s, with the added wrinkle of now straining to come up with six floor workers. Arizona will hope to use a clean bars rotation and an impressive beam team, with several potential 9.9s, to overcome some expected 9.7s on the other pieces. Because beam is a strength, it’s not too surprising that Arizona chose to begin there, but it may handicap their ability to take advantage of score building. Krysten Howard will be one of the strongest beam workers in the whole competition, but she leads off the lineup. Will the beam judges give it up for the first of 48 routines that day?

Cal Bears
It was a close-fought thing to make the evening session. There’s really not a huge difference between Cal and Washington this year and it could have gone either way, but Cal lost and now has to trudge to the afternoon session. This season, Cal has done a pretty good job of making do without Williams and Keelen. The lineups still look realistic, not like they’re being scraped together, which preserves Cal’s chances to hit the 197 mark and rank among the evening teams, at least in theory. Since the Pac-12 went to two sessions, the high total from the weaker group is 196.550. That’s not great, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that total broken this year.

Because Cal is still in the #3-seed contention zone for regionals, the actual score is important here, though it would take only 195.900 for Cal to clinch a regionals seed, which should be very doable.

Like most of the teams in this conference, beam is Cal’s most impressive event (that’s what happens when you take all the beam queens, turn them into coaches, and put them in the same conference), but this is a pretty even team across the events. They have a solid supply of 10.0 vaults and 9.850s on bars and floor as well, which is what makes challenging the teams in the evening look quite possible.

Session II – UCLA, Utah, Oregon State, Washington
It’s tempting to think of this as yet another edition of the UCLA/Utah battle that has suddenly become rather testy this season—if the live blog comment sections are anything to go by—but also remember Oregon State’s existence. Sometimes Oregon State shows up at Pac-12s and gets 197.7. Over the past six years, UCLA, Utah, and Oregon State are all tied with two conference titles.

Washington Huskies
Like Cal, Washington is capable of getting into the high 196s, maybe touching the 197 mark, and challenging the standings here. To win would require major help from the three teams ranked above, but for the most part, getting into the evening session was the victory and that’s already done. It’s a significant step and one that few of us picked before the season, opting for Cal or Stanford in this position. Evening session glow also probably gives Washington the inside track for a 197 compared to Cal if the scores do rise as we go.

There’s less riding on Washington’s total, however, because Washington is set as a regional host and #3 seed (almost guaranteed). We already know that some unfortunate #2 seed will begrudgingly have to go to Seattle and face an upset threat regardless of how Washington scores here. The focus is mostly on seeing just how much damage the Huskies can do in the standings if one of the top seeds screws up.

Beam is the highlight for Washington, and while based on precedent I don’t expect the rotation to score the same as UCLA’s, there isn’t a cleaner or better executed beam rotation in the conference. The six routines against Seattle Pacific were perhaps the most impressive beam rotation I’ve seen this season. Finishing second on that event is a real possibility, even starting there in the evening session.

They’ll have to watch the bars and vault scores. Bars can get a little nickel-and-dime-y (a less aggressive version of regionals last year) and vault doesn’t have the 10.0 starts except for Roy, which makes it easier to keep the scores down in the low 9.8s.

Oregon State Beavers
Oregon State was always supposed to be good this season (starting at 7th in the returning routine rankings) but has unexpectedly become really good, even without major contributions from that huge freshman class. It’s amazing what happens when McMillan, Gardiner, Aufiero, and Dessaints are all actually healthy at the same time. Miracle of miracles! The Beavs remain a dark horse for the Pac-12 title, not at the same position as UCLA or Utah, but the upset looms nonetheless. On the other side, getting caught by Washington and Cal also looms since all three are pretty high-196y.

A significant difference for Oregon State this season has been vault, usually a weakness, with the 1.5s from McMillan and Dessaints at least providing the potential for a more competitive rotation, one that isn’t necessarily giving away multiple tenths to everyone else. The biggest and most important scores for OSU should still come from McMillan/Aufiero on bars and Gardiner on beam, but since it’s going to take four events of 9.9s to challenge the top of the standings here, getting big vault scores from McMillan and Dessaints is equally important because it would separate OSU from Washington (and also maybe from UCLA—we’ll get to that in a second).

Because of a few more 9.7s that creep into the beginnings of lineups, the most likely outcome has Oregon State scoring well, but also a tenth or so less than UCLA/Utah on each event, staying behind the leaders but within a fall and ready to pounce on some mistakes.

Utah Utes
As always, Utah is in it to win it and enters as a realistic champion. The current competition squad is not at all a deep team, but they have endured departures and injuries to put together six useful and believable routines on each event. On bars and beam, Utah does not have the collection of 9.950+ routines to expect to outscore UCLA, so Utah’s game will be to make this a fight of VT/FX versus UB/BB and hope that it’s an even fight. They’ll have to create enough of a margin on vault and floor, where they rank ahead of UCLA, to overcome any deficit from bars and beam, where UCLA ranks ahead.

A lot of this comes down to Skinner. Her vault has the highest scoring potential of any vault in this meet, and her auto-9.900 is what separates Utah’s vaulting from UCLA’s. Her score must come through. A floor advantage may be more difficult to execute because Utah will go there before UCLA, which makes landing control of paramount importance to ensure that the Skinner “smash you in the face with difficulty” strategy holds up.

Starting on bars and beam is not a bad deal for Utah since they’ll rise toward their asset events as the meet progresses, but they must avoid the kind of tight start and form errors on bars that put them in a hole against Georgia last weekend.

UCLA Bruins
Given the sheer number of 10s UCLA has received this season (tied with Oklahoma for the national lead with eight) and the monopoly the Bruins have on 9.950+ scores, the scoring ceiling belongs to UCLA. UCLA has shown the highest scoring potential, the capability of running to the high 197s and putting up a score no one else can match, and the power to define how this meet plays out. Positively or negatively.

The UCLA outlook/strategy is pretty much the exact opposite of Utah’s, which makes this a compelling showdown. All eight of those Bruin 10.0s this season have come on bars and beam, two rotations that can beat any team in the country. UCLA must run up the score on those two pieces and create a significant margin, then go through cleanly on floor and utilize final-rotation floor scoring to maintain a lead that has already been created.

The worry for UCLA is vault. The 1.5s from Kramer and Hall are extremely risky. Risks worth taking in the postseason, but risks nonetheless. Those two vaults can’t really be counted on for 9.9s the way other 1.5s can, which means UCLA must get high scores on the fulls from Ross, Kocian, and Preston (at least 9.875) in the first rotation to avoid creating so much of a deficit there that it can’t be erased with bars and beam.

Rotation-by-rotation RQS
Rot 1 – UCLA vault, Utah bars, Washington beam, Oregon St floor
1. Utah – 49.315
2. Oregon State – 49.255
3. UCLA – 49.250
3. Washington – 49.250

Vault is supposed to be UCLA’s lowest-scoring event, and it’s far from silly to think UCLA could be in last after the first rotation. Their hope will be minimizing damage there.

Rot 2 – Oregon St vault, UCLA bars, Utah beam, Washington floor
1. UCLA – 98.710
2. Utah – 98.660
3. Washington – 98.500
4. Oregon State – 98.405

Moving to bars is when UCLA will expect to form its assault on the rankings. Utah will be hoping to limit that assault and keep a lead. If Utah has a lead after its two lower-ranked events, it will look like a very good day for the Utes heading to floor and vault.

Rot 3 – Washington vault, Oregon St bars, UCLA beam, Utah floor
UCLA – 148.165
Utah – 148.085
Oregon State – 147.620
Washington – 147.505

UCLA beam versus simultaneous Utah floor should be a fascinating battle, both expected to be strong scores for those teams. The last time we had UCLA on beam and Utah on floor at the same time…things got freaky.

Rot 4 – Utah vault, Washington bars, Oregon St beam, UCLA floor
UCLA – 197.555
Utah – 197.370
Oregon State – 196.865
Washington – 196.605

The team that finishes on floor will always have the advantage there, and while UCLA is a little more prone to throwing things away with crazy landings than, say, LSU, the other teams will want to score well enough on the previous events to keep UCLA from a lead heading to the fourth rotation.

All-around
The regular season tells us that this title will come down to a three-sided clash featuring Skinner, Kocian, and McMillan, all of whom rank in the top 7 in the AA. The favorite entering the competition will be Skinner, who has displayed the highest scoring potential of the group. We know Kocian can also get high numbers, but she will be limited by not appearing in the anchor position of any lineups and by not having a 10.0 vault, which renders her ceiling slightly lower than Skinner’s. McMillan looked more 39.5 than 39.6 most of the season, but she has stepped up the scores the last couple weeks to move up the AA pecking order much closer to the other two.

Gardiner for Oregon State and Burleson for Washington should also be toward the top of the list but likely will end up scoring more in the 39.3-39.4 range and having to rely on mistakes from others to move into a high position. Utah should also put forward Lee and Rowe in the all-around, but if Utah is having a big enough day for those two to record scores that contend for an AA title, then we can assume Skinner’s score will be even higher.

Of course, there’s the looming wildcard of whether Elizabeth Price will be able to go on beam, which she hasn’t competed yet this season. Stanford’s situation being what it is, if Price is even remotely capable of grinning and bearing a beam routine, then it needs to happen. If she does compete beam, then she moves right toward the top of the contender list, even from the first session, her scoring potential being what it is.

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27 thoughts on “Pac-12 Championship Preview”

  1. I really hope Skinner or Kocian wins the all around, unless Ebee is doing beam. Then… EBEE FOR ALL AROUND. Also, will Aleeza Yu be back for Stanford?

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  2. “Of course, there’s the looming wildcard of whether Elizabeth Price will be able to go on beam, which she hasn’t competed yet this season.”

    She did compete it in the first meet of the season and scored a 9.4, but yeah…basically hasn’t competed beam and I’m fine pretending that 9.4 didn’t happen.

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  3. I’m all for Ebee doing the AA in the afternoon session and putting up a 39.850 (a 9.850 on beam) for the evening suckers, um AAers to beat. 🙂

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  4. I’m cheering for McMillan in the AA. The big name stars almost always win a conference and/or national title during their careers and they always get the accolades and fan support; meanwhile, the consistent high-scoring athletes from the non-top programs often are forgotten. So, go McMillan, go Mattern, and go Korth/Hyland/Waltz (I prefer Waltz). 🙂

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  5. sorry to be controversial, but I’m not sure Utah’s home scoring is remotely realistic. I think they were a dark horse for the national title at the start of the season, but those two key injuries hurt them significantly in my opinion, particularly Sabrina. I think they are underdogs to UCLA for sure, and if any of the top six don’t make super six, I would bet on them and ‘Bama, who likewise can’t survive Brannon’s injury.

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    1. There was wonky home scoring all around this year. UCLA is the master and Oregon pulled a few holy score uprisings. Everyone seems to bring Utah up in this capacity but truthfully they don’t own it exclusively. I’m pretty psyched to see if the 4 judge scoring evens things out or if there is a bit of fire-ordination going on. Should be a good exciting meet I’m pulling for Elizabeth in the all round. She has been amazing year after year and comports herself with the utmost class. I am praying to the fairness gods today that the judges do a good job and keep it totally on the up and up

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    2. You’re correct that there have been times that Utah’s home scoring has gotten pretty wild this season, but as Jj mentioned, many other schools have had equally wild home scoring. I think the fact that Utah and UCLA ended up neck and neck in the rankings is an accurate portrayal of their performance relative to each other this year. As far as your assessment that they are the most likely team of the current top six to not qualify for the super six, I’d disagree with that. I think the second half of this season has proven that any of the top six teams other than Oklahoma and LSU really has a chance to stumble significantly and score sub-197 or just barely break 197. LSU and Oklahoma are the only two teams who I’d be truly shocked not to see in the super six. With any of the other four, I could easily see a situation in which they compound some errors and end up out of the super six.

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  6. Kocian is fragile and the Bruins have a #1 locked up regardless of what happens in Maples. Are we sure Kocian will participate in the AA?

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  7. Halfway through session 1, Stanford leads Cal and scoring is relatively tight. Most wtf for me so far is Richardson’s bars…not sure how that wasn’t 9.9+.

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  8. I found the link to watch the Pac-12 championships, but does anybody know if there’s a way to watch a school specific feed, or can you only get the same thing as they’re showing on tv?

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  9. Coach Val…just embarassing tonight. You should have seen her after session 2 tonight prebtending like they deserved to even finish tied with Washington and griping about scores. How embarrassing for her and that program.

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  10. Oh, UCLA. I have said before that they are the Russia of NCAA, and tonight they competed like it. I love this team. I want them to perform to their enormous potential. And I get so frustrated, because I wasn’t even surprised as they fell apart throughout the whole competition.

    There were some highlights: Ross, and Gerber were fabulous. Hano back on vault was so good to see! I’m awaiting her upgrades next year. Kocian was ok, but, and I’ve said this before, I really think if they remove the stalder before her bars dismount she would stick more often. Or at all??

    But did Val really say they placed so low because of unfair scoring? I would be shocked for her to say anything other than it wasn’t their best night, and the other three teams performed magnificently.

    For postseason, it was particularly disappointing to see every girl on floor under rotate their last pass. The conditioning is seriously lacking.

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    1. I’d add one more highlight: Hall on vault. That was far cleaner in the air than I’ve ever seen her do it before. While there were still some obvious form issues, the leg separation and knee bend were much better than any other time I’ve ever seen her do that 1.5. I was genuinely surprised.

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    2. I was at the meet and Miss Val behaved like a demented cheerleader. She was rousing crowds to yell so loud during other teams performances. It was definitely conduct unbecoming and not worthy of a top level coach. I really felt for the Bruin ladies because of their talent and character but their coach should have spent more effort coaching and less time in sabotage mode. It was really embarrassing. I wish the best to UCLA in regionals and let’s capture the VAL in Valium and use it for the best purposes. Team pride is one thing but this was ridiculous. Also. Can’t the keep her from hovering over the judging tables

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  11. Completely agree with all of this. UCLA’s performance last night was disappointing and embarrassing. The thing that surprised me the most was how the announcers kept saying that these mistakes were “uncharacteristic.” They’ve been competing this way all year. I’d be curious to know how their scores would compete this year if you didn’t drop a score.

    You have to blame coaching for a lot of this. They aren’t conditioned on floor. It pains me to think that they spent part of a practice this week deciding which routine Cipra should do. Bars has easy fixes too. Kocian adding a giant before her dismount is the most obvious. I think by now they should have a more consistent vault line up.

    Of course UCLA is loaded with talent and is capable of doing beautiful routines that deserve 10s. Unfortunately those same 10 routines have also had falls this year.

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    1. Completely agree. The one thing I did think was uncharacteristic, though, was the complete dumpster fire of a bars rotation from top to bottom. Sure, we’ve sometimes seen them have a single gymnast (sometimes even one of their best on bars) fall, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything this season remotely close to that mess. There was only 1 of the 6 who had what you’d consider to be a good (and not great, just good) routine for them.

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    2. Yep, I totally blame the coaching. And, maybe the “culture” around the team, though I know nothing about it.

      I wonder, what kind of season would Kyla be having at OU, Florida, or even Denver? Would she be more consistent, have a single bar release, be fit enough to compete floor and be a nationally top aa? Likewise, If someone like Nicole Lehrmann was at UCLA – would she be a ninja level 10? Broken and not competing? Sometimes hitting for 9.875, and sometimes missing for 9.7?
      I don’t mean to pick on these athletes, just to say it doesn’t seem to be a recruiting issue. With arguable the roster with the most potential – they go and do *this* in the post season. Where is the conditioning? Where is the mental game? I know they can be the best, and I love their style, and I’m just so frustrated by them.

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      1. This. I mean Madison Kocian is legit average on bars. That’s a travesty. The whole team is out of shape. That’s a simple thing to get right. They are perpetually injured. I mean the fact of the matter is UCLA has two of the best gymnasts ever to compete NCAA on the team at the same time and they aren’t even a legitimate contender for the national title.

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