Oklahoma @  Michigan
Saturday, 12:00 ET, BTN
The big-ranking clash of the weekend pits Oklahoma against Michigan, and most interestingly of all, the meet is in Michigan. I say most interestingly because this weekend we’ll have to reconcile the narrative of Michigan not enjoying the same spoils of super-high home scoring that other top teams receive (often true, but not exclusively this season) with the narrative that Oklahoma gets 9.950s showered upon it anywhere the team goes. Tight or loose, what will it be? On senior day, with Oklahoma coming to town, it’s hard to imagine Carol laying off the clear alcohols, but it might happen…
While Oklahoma’s performance last weekend against UCLA was not ideal (mostly because of beam), it was still a victory over the most compelling title challenger this season and continues to set Oklahoma up as the one to beat heading to nationals. This season, however, is a little different. In recent years, we’ve seen what has looked like an impervious Oklahoma team, one that seems ready for the postseason by about mid-February—with little for us to focus on in those late-season meets other than whether the scores are going to be high enough to set a new RQS record. That’s not the case this season. Oklahoma has done exceptionally well, of course, but we haven’t yet seen a “that will win the title” performance (even in that bonkers meet against Florida), nor have we seen the 24 best-case-scenario routines all compete at the same time.
There remains a sense of uncertainty around Oklahoma’s lineups because of the absences from meet to meet. Bre Showers is out for the season, Nichols hasn’t done floor in two months, Trautman was out on beam last week—we’re seeing depth imbalances in lineups, and as long as we’re seeing those, Oklahoma can look vulnerable. It’s going to be worth watching, then, how Oklahoma manages a Saturday-Monday turnaround this weekend without a ton of bonus routines and with several gymnasts who need to be managed.
For Michigan, this one is a little bit more about the score since Oklahoma comes in as the major favorite. Some straggling mid-196s are currently keeping Michigan on the cusp, in danger of falling down to an unbecoming regionals seeding. Those scores need to be removed in the coming weeks, and Michigan will be looking for at least something in the 197.3s here to keep its ranking the same for another week. Unlike some of the teams about to be discussed, Michigan would be pretty pleased if the season ended exactly as it is now—UCLA, Minnesota, and Cal coming to town as the seeded teams for regionals. Among the potential options, that one isn’t too bad.
Elevate the Stage
 Georgia,  Minnesota,  Arkansas, Michigan State
Friday, 7:00 CT, Flogymnastics
How legit is Minnesota? That’s the question this Friday’s session of Elevate the Stage in Birmingham can answer. A host of high 196s (and last week’s massive 197.500) has allowed Minnesota to make an aggressive assault on the rankings in the last few weeks to get up to the top 10, just two spots below Georgia. That 197.500 means that Minnesota actually has the higher peak score than Georgia this season, and if things go just right here, Minnesota can pass Georgia in the rankings come Monday.
But what we haven’t yet seen from Minnesota is that impressive comparative win against a nationals-contending team, where the two go head-to-head with hit meets and Minnesota comes out on top, proving that it can win that kind of meet in the postseason. If Minnesota is truly to be considered a challenger for nationals, we need to see the scores (especially on vault and floor where you would expect Georgia to gain a clear advantage) to keep pace with a team like Georgia head-to-head. Not an easy ask.
Aside from, you know, winning and further entrenching itself among the favorites for nationals, Georgia has an important task in this one —getting a big road score. Georgia absolutely needs two high 196s from its remaining two road meets because the current ranking situation is not ideal. If the season ended right now, Georgia would go into the same regional as both Oklahoma and Alabama. Super fun for us, not so much for Georgia and Alabama, fighting each other for a single spot at nationals. Right now, the best apparent path for Georgia to avoid a dangerous #3 seed like Alabama is by trying to snatch that #7 ranking from Michigan. But there’s still much maneuvering to come, including the potential for Alabama to drop spots.
Arkansas is in a bit of ranking purgatory right now in that reaching the evening session at SECs is off the table, and there’s no chance to move up any higher than 20th place regardless of the score this week. Right now, Arkansas’s task is mostly to the streak of 196s from the past few weeks going to continue establishing itself as a compelling regionals spoiler.
Perhaps the most urgent performance in this whole meet will be from Michigan State, coming off a gigantic 195.850 last week but still sitting outside the promised land in 39th place (.160 out on NQS—the equivalent of .800 behind in pure meet totals). MSU desperately needs at least a 195 if not a repeat of last week’s score to avoid getting dropped behind in the race for regionals.
Elevate the Stage
 Alabama v.  Auburn
Saturday, 7:00 CT, Flogymnastics
For Alabama, 197 197 197 197 197. It’s an artificial marker, sure, but Alabama’s desperate quest for a 197 reflects that the peak scores just haven’t been high enough this season to get the Tide to anything resembling a comfortable ranking. Alabama is the only team in the top 13 that has not yet scored 197, and unless that changes immediately and twice (one big score is no good because it gets dropped for NQS), Alabama is looking at #3-seed status at regionals, forced to upset a higher-ranked team in order to advance to nationals. There’s more: If Kentucky notches some big results in the next two weeks, Alabama could also be in danger of missing out on the evening session at SECs, which would be….I mean it’s Alabama.
This podium meeting against Auburn is the second clash between these two in as many weeks. Alabama won last week at home by 3 tenths despite counting a fall on beam, which will give the team optimism for another victory. Still, this one is so much more about the score than the result. Anything sub-197—anything where the 9.7s are creeping in again—is not good enough for Alabama regardless of what Auburn does.
Auburn has managed a 197 once this season and is eagerly looking for a repeat in this meet, a score that would keep the team in contention with Alabama and Kentucky for the evening session of SECs—and start doing the work to pull Auburn out of its own potentially ugly regionals situation. If the season ended today, #13 Auburn would head to LSU for regionals along with LSU, Utah, and Kentucky, which is a churning mire of upset possibilities that none of those four teams would enjoy having to contend with. Auburn would much prefer to get up into the top 11 and become a #3 seed in a regional, still having to upset someone to advance, but having to upset someone instead of sometwo.
DIII East & West Regionals
Saturday, 1:00 ET & 2:00 CT, online streaming
On Saturday, the first elimination meets of the season will see the DIII teams in the east (Brockport, Ithaca, Springfield, Cortland, Ursinus, Rhode Island) and the DIII teams in the west (Stout, La Crosse, Oshkosh, Whitewater, Hamline, Winona, Gustavus Adolphus, and Eau Claire) whittled down to 6—the 6 teams advancing to the team final in two weeks. At each regional, the top 3 teams qualify (there will also be individuals advancing from the other schools).
In the west, the story is intrigue. For time immemorial (i.e., as long as I’ve been paying attention), the top teams in the west have been La Crosse and Whitewater, typically ranked 1 and 2 in the region and sharing between them the lion’s share of national DIII titles. Over the last 18 years, La Crosse has won 12 titles and Whitewater has won 5. Those 5 from Whitewater have all come in the last 7 years. They’re the big dogs.
But so far this season, the party has been crashed. Going by NQS, Whitewater is ranked 4th among the west teams, and going by SAS (the system DIII officially uses, which requires fewer counting scores), La Crosse is ranked 4th in the west. With only 3 teams advancing to nationals from this region, the events of the season so far tell us that the favorites might be in trouble at the hands of teams like Stout (host) and Oshkosh. Stout made headlines this year for vault when Shadae Boone stuck a Y1.5 and the judges were like, “nope, try again”—but Stout has also managed to be the best of the west on bars, where scores in DIII can typically get quite low and 8ish. If you’ve got a solid collection on 9.3+ bars routines, it makes a huge difference. Oshkosh, meanwhile, has the highest single score in the west this year with a program-record 191.850 achieved last weekend in an “it’s about to get real” away victory over Whitewater. Watch out. Either La Crosse or Whitewater not advancing would be a “UCLA didn’t make nationals” level upset.
In the east, the status quo at the top has been maintained so far. Brockport is typically the best-ranked team in the region and the one that enters nationals with the most compelling chance to challenge La Crosse and Whitewater (Brockport shared the DIII crown with Whitewater in 2012). This year’s rankings once again see Brockport atop the heap. The ranking favorites to advance with Brockport are Ithaca and Springfield, both having achieved 190s this season. But. Cortland advanced to the final last year over Springfield, we’ve seen Ursinus rise in recent weeks after a slow start (which included a meet with only four scores on bars, which depressed the average for a while), and Rhode Island, typically the low-scoring team in the group, achieved a program record last weekend by a casual 1.400 margin over the previous record.
The DIII team final on March 23, sadly, will run simultaneously with the conference championships from the SEC, Pac-12, and Big Ten, so the eyes of the gym world will be focused elsewhere. This Saturday, then, provides our chance to get super into DIII.
Stanford/UCLA: Stanford heads to UCLA this weekend for the second dual meet of the season between these two. Because Stanford has managed some solid scores over the past three meets, we’re not really on Danger Zone Watch for Stanford anymore, and UCLA is already safe at #2 for another week. This one is more about what the UCLA scores are going to be in Miss Val’s final two home meets and whether Tabitha can even up her bamboo game from last time.
Nebraska/Arizona State/Pitt/Denver: Denver’s score-watch number this week is 197.450, which would take the Pioneers up to 5th in the rankings ahead of an idle Utah. But mostly, eyes should be on whether #18 Nebraska can erase a road 195 and keep hope alive to make it into the seeded places. This is an absolutely critical performance for Nebraska with no margin for missed meets left.
Ranking watch: Illinois is in trouble. Illinois is currently ranked #36, with a lower peak potential score after this weekend than the two teams ranked just below—Central Michigan and Davis. Illinois hosts the State of Illinois quad meet on Saturday and desperately needs a high 195 to set itself up with a chance in the final two meets. Central Michigan, meanwhile, will be licking its chops about opportunity to move into the top 36 by dropping a low 194 against Kentucky. George Washington, Maryland, and UIC all had meets mid-week and none of them managed the 195s they were looking for to help the cause. They’re going to be in danger as well without rectifying that with 195s this weekend.