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NCAA Week 3 Preview

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Full schedule and links

Marquee Meets

[3] Florida @ [5] LSU
Friday, 8:00 CT, SEC Network

Oooooh boy. It’s a big one. Am I going to try to pick a winner? Of course not. That would be insane. It’s Florida and LSU. They’re both good, if you haven’t heard, and all outcomes are very believable, including the one where D-D transforms into a tiger and ascends to the spirit realm to become one of the Sages of Time after beam, and the meet is immediately canceled.

But before that happens, there are several compelling and unusual dynamics going on in this one worth picking apart—vault and floor chief among them. Typically the go-to events and safely gigantic scores for powerhouse teams, vault and floor are providing the bigger struggles and more pressing question marks at this early juncture. They’re basically the beam of this meet, and the team that’s better able to say, “we’ve got those events figured out now” will win. (He says, right before the meet is obviously decided based on beam.)

And then there are the stakes. It’s only January, but coming directly on the heels of a loss to Auburn, LSU will be especially prickly about even entertaining the possibility of losing to Florida as well.

So let’s call this LSU’s “over my dead body” meet, which presumably means the team will want to pull out its very best lineups. The question: what does that mean at this point, especially with regard to that still-turbid floor squad? Kelley’s ankle problem from last week is not too serious, but is pushing back quickly for a January meet worth it? Same goes for if LSU is willing to go full Priessman already. Desiderio fell in week 1 and did not do floor in week 2. Ferrer looked like she needed more time in her week 2 debut. That’s a lot to work out in a floor lineup that can’t be just 9.850y-rudis against a team like Florida. You have to think LSU needs to be the better floor team to win this thing. As for Florida, the floor lineup scored well for the most part in its opener, though with 80 million options, I wouldn’t classify that lineup as looking anywhere near settled either. I want to see some different options, but that can be a tricky prospect.

In many ways, LSU and Florida mirrored each other in their first-meet performances, putting up three solid events but struggling to open the competition on vault with some very January (December?) Y1.5s that took the score under 49. LSU stuck to its lineup in the second meet and got hits from Harrold and Edwards—they’ll still want more than low 9.8s from those vaults, but it was progress—and Florida will be faced with exactly the same challenge this week.

The Gators absolutely need 1.5s like Schoenherr’s, but after the landings last week, will going safe be the chief priority to avoid giving the meet away, or is the priority a trial by fire to ensure preparedness for when the meets actually matter? You know my answer. (Always fire.)

[17] Alabama @ [10] Georgia
Friday, 7:30 ET, SEC Network

It may not have the “this will decide the best team in the country” oomph this dual brought with it back in the day, but this year’s Alabama/Georgia clash has its own, different level of deliciousness as both teams battle not to get caught by the pack. Auburn and Missouri outscored both of them last week (as did BYU, Boise State, and Denver), and Alabama and Georgia’s presumptive top-tier status has come under attack early on.

Alabama made progress by breaking the 196 mark last week but will still be glad to leave behind the scoring of those two home quad meets, going out onto the road for a competition no one expects to be conservatively judged. It’s only week 3, so nothing matters yet in the scores, but Alabama has just three home meets remaining and no big, juicy scores to lean on yet. That puts a little more pressure on getting those big, juicy scores out of road meets as we go.

In particular, Alabama needs to hit a quick-rhythm beam rotation that actually gets out of the 9.7s. This team should not be scoring 9.7s on beam at any point in the rotation, and beam has no business being a weakness compared to Georgia. Georgia is probably the better bars team, the vaulting is very similar, and Georgia has home floor, so if we’re pinpointing events where Alabama needs to establish superiority, beam is essential.

Georgia hasn’t won its dual meet against Alabama since 2013, and for the first time in a loooonnng time, Georgia has a solid argument for entering this meet as the favorite. That said, we still need to determine which Georgia is the real Georgia. The season started out well in that opener, then got reee-ough in the second meet, meaning this competition provides a sort of “best 2 out of 3, which one is actually you?” opportunity.

I’m very willing to chalk up the counting bars fall from last week as a fluke—it’s like a cough, where did it come from?—because someone like Snead probably isn’t going to fall again on bars all season (and with Megan Roberts expected to come in this week, the lineup gets a boost), but beam and floor do still seem very ragged and very January. “I got a 9.6 because I’m still figuring things out” isn’t going to fly against Alabama.

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