Conference Championships Preview – Part 2

See Part 1

SEC Championship

Afternoon: Alabama, Auburn, Missouri, Arkansas
Evening: LSU, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky

The LSU v. Florida show in the evening session of the SEC Championship is the headlining clash across all the conference championships, with neither the #3 team nor the #4 team in the country truly claiming favored status. You know. Because 3 and 4. Early in the season, the SEC title looked to be Florida’s to run away with, Florida as the deeper team with more solidified lineups of 9.9s compared to an LSU team that lost starring routines from last season, had to develop some backups on several events, and suffered multiple conference losses, including to Florida at home. Recent scores, however, have leveled the picture, even allowing LSU to jump ahead of Florida in the rankings this past weekend.

Where I see this thing hinging more than anything else is in the vault landings. Florida’s nemesis this season has been controlling those 1.5s, which has allowed LSU to develop a comparative advantage as it built four reliable 10.0 starts into its own lineup—plus a full from Finnegan that gets overlooked because it doesn’t have the difficulty but provides a solid .075-.10 advantage over fulls from Florida depending on the day. Florida ends this competition on vault, and hopping forward on Y1.5s for 9.825 while LSU is simultaneously on floor is a recipe for losing. Even Trinity Thomas probably can’t expect to hop into the gulf on her 1.5 and still get 9.900 at SECs. Florida is going to need to stick a couple, and keep those hops at .05 size on the rest.

That last rotation will be a thrilling (potentially triggering) comparison because even though floor is floor, LSU’s floor isn’t necessarily the on-lock scoring machine it was in previous seasons. It seems that Edney has worked out her early season landing troubles, but we still don’t really know who the sixth member of the lineup will be (Campbell, Dean…Priessman? [cross yourself]), and there’s some roll-the-dice landing control issues for people like Desiderio early on. That’s why Florida has developed a tenth of an advantage over LSU in floor NQS, an advantage Florida will expect to come through in this meet.

It’s also why those troublesome vault landings are so important for Florida. Because the other events are there. Florida has what should be the more complete lineups on bars and beam, particularly through the middle where LSU has a couple routines they’re hoping to get through for 9.850 without too many form deductions being noticed before getting to the 9.950 sisters at the end, while Florida will view anything lower than 9.9 for any routine in those lineups as an off performance.

Also, Georgia and Kentucky are here. I don’t truly expect them to challenge what Florida and LSU score because Florida and LSU are aiming for 198s here, and Georgia and Kentucky are going to peak out closer in the 197.5 zone, though there is still a scoring chase in play for Georgia. Georgia can pass Michigan for 7th with a 197.400 here (also opening up a slight chance to catch Utah), but I should note that being ranked 7th or 8th is sort of six of one, half a dozen of the other at this point. Would you rather have to beat Kentucky or Alabama at regionals? Not really sure.

Rotation-by-rotation NQS
Rotation 1: LSU vault, Florida bars, Georgia beam, Kentucky floor
1. Florida – 49.485
2. LSU – 49.350
3. Georgia – 49.305
4. Kentucky – 49.285

A lead after the first rotation is essential for Florida since LSU will be on the lowest-scoring event. Florida must take advantage of bars. Georgia would be thrilled about being this close to LSU after completing beam.

Rotation 2: Kentucky vault, LSU bars, Florida beam, Georgia floor
1. Florida – 98.930
2. LSU – 98.780
3. Georgia – 98.680
4. Kentucky – 98.485

Florida is supposed to take the lead after 1 and extend it after 2, though I can’t imagine LSU is going to be in with a great shot at a victory if it’s losing ground in both of the first two rotations. LSU probably needs to gain the lead or get really, really close after the second rotation because rotation 3 favors Florida.

Rotation 3: Georgia vault, Kentucky bars, LSU beam, Florida floor
1. Florida – 148.490
2. LSU – 148.225
3. Georgia – 148.045
4. Kentucky – 147.755

If Florida mimics this scoring progression and has something verging on a three-tenth advantage on LSU going into the final rotation, the game is squarely in Florida’s favor. It’s also interesting how close Georgia is supposed to remain at this point. Georgia is closer to LSU than LSU is to Florida and doesn’t really drop off the pace until reaching bars, where Georgia’s NQS is still quite low.

Rotation 4: Florida vault, Georgia bars, Kentucky beam, LSU floor
1. Florida – 197.770
2. LSU – 197.685
3. Georgia – 197.230
4. Kentucky – 197.075

The final rotation is where LSU is supposed to be able to make a move, so LSU won’t necessarily mind trailing Florida for most of the meet. That’s supposed to happen. But, LSU will have to keep it closer than this NQS picture prescribes because cumulative event NQS gives the meet to Florida despite LSU’s higher ranking.

It’s so strange to talk about the SEC Championship title race without that rote “and also Alabama on any given day as your #3 team in the conference…” addendum. But this year, Alabama is relegated to the afternoon session, a reflection of the team’s scoring potential peaking in the low 197s, which is not an SEC Championship-contending number. For Alabama, the aim here will be to win the afternoon session with a season high over 197.250 to at least send the message that Alabama is the #3 regionals seed you absolutely don’t want in your meet. Which is probably already true, but still.

With Auburn assured a regionals seeding, Missouri and Arkansas ranked well enough to avoid play-ins, and none of these teams likely to figure in the race for the team title, the first session of SECs is mostly about evaluating which teams are going to be the most dangerous at regionals. Which ones can best pounce on a seeded team that might have to count a fall. Aside from Nebraska (currently at #17), Missouri and Arkansas are the geographically placed schools the other teams most want to avoid. Going to be very interesting if they both get assigned to LSU’s region.

Rotation-by-rotation NQS
Rotation 1: Alabama vault, Auburn bars, Missouri beam, Arkansas floor
1. Auburn – 49.365
2. Arkansas – 49.300
3. Alabama – 49.225
4. Missouri – 49.085

A lead after one rotation is critical for Auburn if it hopes to upset Alabama for the session 1 victory. Auburn will be looking for one of those stick-a-thon bars rotations from earlier in the year. That would do it.

Rotation 2: Arkansas vault, Alabama bars, Auburn beam, Missouri floor
1. Auburn – 98.470
2. Alabama – 98.460
3. Arkansas – 98.420
4. Missouri – 98.345

Um, please be this close after two events? That would be excellent.

Rotation 3: Missouri vault, Arkansas bars, Alabama beam, Auburn floor
1. Alabama – 147.670
2. Auburn – 147.655
3. Arkansas – 147.410
4. Missouri – 147.365

This is where Alabama and Auburn are supposed to separate themselves because Arkansas and Missouri compete on lower-scoring events. Though with Alabama finishing on floor, Auburn would need to be leading at this point following its own floor rotation to have a shot, otherwise…

Rotation 4: Auburn vault, Missouri bars, Arkansas beam, Alabama floor
1. Alabama – 197.045
2. Auburn – 196.830
3. Arkansas – 196.570
4. Missouri – 196.450

Big Ten Championship

Afternoon: Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan State, Rutgers
Evening: Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Illinois, Iowa

The 2019 edition brings a slight, refreshing departure from the old Michigan v. Nebraska storyline that has dominated the Big Ten Championship, the two schools combining to have won the last 12 conference titles. Instead, Minnesota enters as the 2nd-ranked team in the conference and quite probably the best challenger to Michigan, having outscored Michigan by a tenth just last weekend.

Now, don’t go crazy with the newness. Michigan has won the last 5 conference titles (as well as 23 of the last 27) and is the favorite to win again this year. Michigan is ranked #1 in the conference overall, as well as on every apparatus, and has the highest peak score of the ten teams. Expect this to be the Michigan show. For this thing to get truly interesting, Michigan would have to open the door, probably on bars or beam since those are the most open-door-able events and also Minnesota’s strengths this season, the events where Minnesota could truly open up a margin against a Michigan team that’s a little off. That’s what happened last weekend, when Michigan counted a 9.425 on bars. Coupled with that, Minnesota would also need the scores to deliver on floor, the team’s lowest-ranked event and the one that can get a little 49.1y if not careful, which would pale against the presumed Michigan floor score.

Even though the rankings are a little different this time around, we absolutely still need to keep an eye on Nebraska not only as a title contender, but also because of Nebraska’s hunt for the top 16, and simply because Nebraska has been among the most fascinatingly mercurial teams in college gymnastics this year. What’s going to happen next? This is a team with easily top-5 potential on vault, and too many big-money routines from Crouse and Houchin to be sloshing around at #17 in the country. And yet here we be. That’s largely due to a bars lineup where the depth just hasn’t been there to deliver six countable scores, though the late-season return of Orel has allowed Nebraska to remove a 9.6 and swap it out with a 9.8, which helps a ton.

Nebraska also has one of the largest discrepancies between its home and road scores. To bring that home/road split…home, some examples. On bars Nebraska has recorded a 49.375, a 49.425, and a 49.600 this season—but no scores higher than 49.050 on the road (and that came at UCLA on the first weekend). On floor, Nebraska has a 49.500 and a 49.425—but no scores higher than 49.250 on the road. Showing the ability to get more than just a meh low 196 on the road at Big Tens is essential if Nebraska is to have any hope of reaching the top 16. That goal requires scoring a 196.700 here, which should not seem like a huge number for Nebraska (I mean, it’s Nebraska), but it’s something we haven’t seen on the road this year.

And the rest. It was a close battle there for a while, but both Iowa and Illinois have climbed to safety and are not in danger of losing regionals spots based on their performances here. The most likely scenario still has both teams participating in play-in meets, and because neither team can get higher than 29th even if they hit a season high, I’m not sure there’s much they can do at this point to avoid participating in the play-in (potentially even against each other because of their geographical proximity—and wouldn’t that be fun for the rest of us?).

Penn State (safely in the top 25), Illinois, and Iowa may just be competing for pride here and biding time for when the meets really matter at regionals.

Ranked higher than all three, Ohio State has been stuck in the early session because of a weak performance at the Big Five meet, and a troubling recent tendency to get dropped into the 194s is what Ohio State will have to work against here, as well as that injury to Jamie Stone last weekend. What will these lineups look like on Saturday and how competitive can they be now?

Maryland will also be eager for the chance to lead the early session and set the pace heading into the evening group. At #27, Maryland is already assured a spot at regionals, but unlike Illinois and Iowa, Maryland has a good shot at avoiding the play-in meets if it can follow up those recent 196s with another edition.

EAGL Championship

NC State, New Hampshire, George Washington, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Towson

This year’s EAGLs should produce one of the better title races across the conference championships. NC State comes in with the ranking edge and the peak scoring edge, having gone as high as 196.400 this season, but it’s worth noting that both of NC State’s 196s have come at home. NC State’s road high is 195.850, recorded when the team fell to conference #2 New Hampshire by .150 in New Hampshire just three weeks ago. And who’s hosting the EAGL Championship this year? Why, it’s New Hampshire!

No one would be that surprised if the much-lauded New Hampshire beam rotation and much-fortified New Hampshire floor rotation —thanks in large part to freshman Hailey Lui—are able to snatch scores over 49 and upset NC State.

And then there’s George Washington. We can’t pretend that this year’s GW team is as strong as the teams of the last couple years, which makes it pretty impressive that GW is still in a fight for a regionals spot despite losing all of its important routines after last season. That 196.025 recorded away against Maryland last weekend could indicate that GW is more of a title contender here than originally anticipated, though the significant focus will be on the score rather than the result.

As the bubble team with the lowest max NQS of the quartet, GW doesn’t yet have a goal score it is trying to reach, but following the MIC Championship on Friday, we will at least know if it’s still possible for GW to advance to regionals. Basically, George Washington is going to be watching MICs and rooting for some disasters from Lindenwood and UIC. That would clear up the path to regionals quite a bit.

MAC Championship

Central Michigan, Kent State, Northern Illinois, Ball State, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green

It did not always look inevitable for Central Michigan. Through mid-February, this team absolutely wasn’t making regionals, but with the way the team has started performing in the four meets post-Reighard (no scores lower than 195.775), CMU has climbed its way to safety in the race for regionals and has become the favorite to win the MAC Championship once again.

Most eyes, however, will be on the performance of Kent State, and not just because Kent State is likely the most compelling challenger to Central Michigan. Kent State is also one of those four bubble teams fighting for the two remaining spots at the regional championships.

Because Kent State has a higher peak potential NQS than Lindenwood or George Washington, Kent State controls its future with this performance, needing to score 195.675 to advance to regionals regardless of what anyone else does this weekend. Normally, that would seem a simple task. It’s not a super-high score by any means, Kent State has hit that mark 3 times this season, and any team hoping to qualify to regionals must have proven the capability to score a high 195. But, Kent State’s last two scores have been 192.550 and 193.900. The first one was a six-fall disaster, but the second score may actually be more troubling because it includes only one counting fall and yet is more than three falls off the necessary pace. Kent State is far from assured of reaching that 195.675, and as the lowest-ranked of the four bubble teams, doesn’t really benefit from the other bubble teams missing either. Kent State must do its own work.

In the title race, it’s also worth keeping tabs on Northern Illinois and Ball State. If Central Michigan puts up another 196 performance, that’s probably the title sealed, but Northern Illinois and Ball State are both very capable of mid-195s. If CMU doesn’t run away, we have about four teams here in the chase for the win.

MPSF Championship

UC Davis, Air Force, San Jose State, Alaska, Sacramento State, Seattle Pacific

At #39 in the country, UC Davis has the unfortunate title of being the top-ranked team…that has already been eliminated from regionals competition. None of the teams competing here are still in the running for the top 36 (though Air Force and Seattle Pacific will be participating in the USAG championships the week following regionals), so this one is all about conference honors.

The clear favorite is UC Davis, which has finished second in this meet each of the last three seasons but will expect to turn that into a first place finish this year. Davis enjoys a significant ranking advantage over the other competitors here (more than 2 falls ahead of #2 Air Force by NQS) and is the only team in the conference to have hit 195 this season, which it has done on 5 separate occasions.

Two-time defending champion San Jose State is in this—and Taylor Chan is probably the only one who can knock off Kelley Hebert in the AA race—but a depleted team this year after Pascoe-Long went down with a torn Achilles and then Carli Orcutt got injured on vault a few weeks ago, has left the team vulnerable, not just to UC Davis but to a squad like Air Force that can use not-so-secret bars weapon Anna Salamone to get up into the higher scoring echelon.

Also worth noting that the strong season being put up by Alaska has given the team a solid shot at its best final ranking in a decade.

DIII Team Final

Brockport, Ithaca, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Stout, Cortland, UW-Whitewater

Not a conference championship but certainly a trophy on offer this weekend, the DIII team final provides the opportunity for some history to be made.

Top-ranked Brockport is the only team from the east region to have won the NCGA team title in the last 20 years, winning its lone title as a shared champion with UW-Whitewater in 2012. With perennial winner UW-La Crosse already eliminated and two-time defending champion Whitewater advancing in third place out of the west with the lowest regional score of the six qualified teams, the chance to crown a less-venerated champion in 2019 is ripe.

The odds are on Brockport following that record-smashing 193.700 at regionals, but could the upset queens instead be west regional winner UW-Stout, which has never won the NCGA title? Or the host UW-Oshkosh, which last won the title in 2007 and has made a dramatic comeback from the bottom of the DIII heap this season? It’s not at all unusual for the eastern teams to have higher scores throughout the year and come into nationals as the better-ranked sides, but then fall to the western teams when they’re actually in front of the same judging panel. In fact, that pretty much always happens. So are #1 Brockport and #2 Ithaca, which won its lone NCGA title in 1998, really that far ahead of the western teams, or is everything suddenly going to even out this weekend?

4 thoughts on “Conference Championships Preview – Part 2”

  1. Anyone know what’s going on with Reagan Campbell? She didn’t do floor last week and after her dismount on beam she limped off and looked concerned and in pain. Is it just a minor injury or will she not compete at sec’s? lsu really needs her on beam and floor

    1. No one really knows because apparently LSU is trying to keep it a “secret” from the rest of the conference. As if Florida’s just going to change its entire strategy because of an injury to a 2 event gymnast.. :/

  2. I’m bummed that PAC 12s and SECs are at the same time. In previous years I’ve watched secs and then PAC 12s started later. Much less stressful for us fans. I wish the conferences would plan together so there is no overlap. it would be a benefit to all sides. Network and fans!

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