The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

NCAA Week 6 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee meets

[18] Minnesota @ [16] Nebraska
Saturday, 5:00 CT, ESPNU

The weekend is packed with meets that carry bits and pieces of potential intrigue, fledgling sprouts of urgency as we put the first tentative toe into ranking-implications season, but few of the top-25 teams head into meets with truly uncertain outcomes. An exception: Minnesota’s visit to Nebraska.

Minnesota’s scores have skyrocketed the last two weeks into the high 196s, indicating that one of the favorite criminally underscored teams might not be so criminally underscored anymore—and that this roster has the score to upset a team like Nebraska. Minnesota’s number last weekend was a full point better than Nebraska’s, so while the knee-jerk assumption may be that Nebraska is the favorite simply because Nebraska, this one is not clear.

At the same time, Minnesota’s recent 196s were recorded in relatively minor meets that Minnesota should win, where Minnesota had the best routines on the floor and was free to create its own scoring ceiling. That won’t be the case against Nebraska. This meet, then, is a new proposition that presents both a test and an opportunity—a test of Minnesota’s actual competitiveness against a team that tends to make nationals, and an opportunity to show that competitiveness in front of many more eyes than usual. This is the “Hmm, who is this Lexy Ramler I keep hearing about?” meet.

For its part, Nebraska has managed one strong meet so far this season, the 197.250 home victory over Illinois, and will be looking to return home for a repeat of that score. If that happens, if the vaults are as excellent as they were against Michigan and everyone stays on the other apparatuses, Nebraska should get through this one with a victory and a very much needed score (considering there are four non-keeper numbers already on the slate). But we’ve also seen the dips, we’ve seen the falls and the 195s, and it wouldn’t take even a counting fall to lose to Minnesota here. A 9.6 on beam might be enough.

For sheer closeness, this one—along Stanford’s visit to Arizona State on Sunday as both teams try to prove they’re seriously, legitimately 196s for realsies this time—should be on your list.

[14] Cal @ [4] Utah
Saturday, 1:00 MT, Pac-12 Network

One of the very best meets of 2018 saw Cal score an unlikely upset over Utah by a margin of just .050 on the strength of a crowning Toni-Ann Williams 9.975 in the final floor routine.

With Utah hosting the dual this time around, a repeat of that result is more unlikely than it was last season, but there are nonetheless some contextual similarities. MyKayla Skinner was rested on two events in the meet last year and is unlikely to compete the all-around again this weekend because of ankle fluid (ew?). That means we will see a Utah team that is noticeably roster-limited, with Isa and Reinstadtler also continuing to deal with their injuries. As was the case last week, however, the lineups are still there to get a solid number. Bars is pretty much intact, and vault and floor are sturdy enough to withstand an absence or two. Beam is probably the most stretched event, so getting through that may still be a bit of a nail-biter, but if beam is clean, we’ll see a 197 again.

The problem for Utah is that, when the top 3 teams are getting astronomical scores, these lower 197s that the Utes keep getting are solid and good and fine and useful, but certainly not the same. We’ve yet to see Utah get that 197.7, that 197.9, and without full lineups, it’s going to continue to be hard to do so.

Cal doesn’t yet have a super-solid road number, the highest being the 196.075 in Anaheim, so the primary goal here—if Utah doesn’t have a counting error to bring the score into beatable territory—will be to continue growing the sureness of performance, which we saw on beam last weekend and now needs to manifest in more landings more often to get all the events out of the 49.0s and snatch that necessary road 196.5+ in a prime location to do just that.

[1] Oklahoma @ [7] Denver
Sunday, 2:00 MT, Denver streaming ($)

Our best-ranked clash of the weekend sees Oklahoma visit Denver, Oklahoma still reveling in the glow of that 198.325-while-being-just-OK last weekend and Denver coming off its own historically impressive 197.450. Both victories, and both teams that will have different contexts for what constitutes a victory in this one.

When they met at Metroplex two weeks ago, Oklahoma beat Denver by more than a point and a half. While Denver will be looking to clean up beam and floor, while also enjoying the bounty of being at home, this one is about the scores. Actually for both teams. Oklahoma doesn’t need any kind of number and is already going to float into regionals easily as a top seed, but after last week, the Sooners will still be eager to clean things up and say, “We don’t need cheating scores to get 198s.”

Then there’s Denver. Compared to preseason expectations, Denver is overranked at #7 and therefore must use every opportunity to prove that being ahead of Michigan and Alabama isn’t just a quirk of early meets but an actual reality. Anything in the 197s here is a victory in that quest, even if we don’t expect a low 197 to challenge Oklahoma.

SEC Things

[12] Auburn @ [2] Florida
[8] Alabama @ [22] Arkansas
[6] Georgia @ [13] Missouri
[5] LSU @ [17] Kentucky
Friday, SEC Network & SEC+

While there’s always the potential of a stumbling block for the favored road teams since all of these schools are capable of 196s, the SEC meets this weekend all have a built-in favorite and a built-in underdog.

Auburn’s conference win streak will face its largest test in a visit to Florida, but since Auburn’s home scores have far outpaced its road scores this year, the opportunity of a meet at Florida to get that big road score will be welcomed regardless of result. Georgia is also looking for a road number. Despite getting a solid 196.400 at its most recent road meet, Georgia has not scored on the road at nearly the same rate as home meets (or at a rate that’s going to maintain that #6 ranking for RQS) and will look at this Missouri meet as a chance to change that.

What else?

Most importantly of all, George Washington is hosting a wine tasting in association with its meet on Friday night. Well played. This is meet marketing I can finally get on board with. None of these “dress your niece like Ariel or whatever” meets.

Score watch: Kaylee Quinn of Nebraska has scored 9.750 for all five of her vaults this season, and Esperanza Abarca of West Virginia has scored 9.800 for all five of her bars routines this season, so if you’re a score nerd, those are streaks to watch out for this weekend.

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