National Championship Preview: Semifinal of Death

Semifinal #1 – April 19, 12:00 CT
[2] UCLA
[3] LSU
[6] Utah
[7] Michigan

The simplest framing of this semifinal has UCLA advancing and LSU and Utah fighting it out for the second spot in the national championship. That is the most likely outcome, but it’s also an overly simplistic characterization. UCLA has to hit and hit well to avoid getting into trouble. The days of “you’re good enough to be bad” ended with regionals. And Michigan, with its 197.275 for an only-OK day in the regional final (a score that outpaced both of Utah’s own regional totals), is not out of this by any means and does not need something crazy to happen to get through.

For that simple framing to be upended, however, UCLA would first need to make a mistake. The precedent of the season tells us that if UCLA goes through this meet 24-for-24 (or 20-for-24 as long as they’re the right 20), then UCLA will have enough leadoff 9.9s and anchor 10s to outscore the rest of the field. It’s still a “hit and you advance” meet for UCLA. What’s changed is the margin for error. LSU and Utah are close enough that even a minor mistake that results in an inopportune counting 9.6 would bring UCLA back to the pack.

For Michigan to upend that simple framing, there’s a degree to which the team will have to outperform its normal. While we have seen big scores this season from Michigan—the kind of scores that will advance from the national semifinals—the typical performance has garnered a lower number than a typical performance from the other three teams. Still, if you look at the assembled score rankings at the very bottom, the two places where Michigan ranks in blue are the regional final scores on beam and floor. Michigan upended the regular season norm there, and now has to keep that going…while adding two more events. Just that.

Turning to the LSU/Utah comparison, so far this season we have seen an LSU team that is consistently just a little shred better than Utah. We saw that at the GQ Invite when LSU finished .175 ahead, and we saw that at the regional final when LSU finished .250 ahead. These are not large or decisive margins—and I wouldn’t anticipate a large or decisive margin in this semifinal either—but they are margins.

Yet in those score rankings at the bottom, you’ll see that the majority of places where Utah does have the advantage are average score categories. Vault average, floor average, season average (by only a smidge, but still higher). That’s because Utah has been the more consistent this season—didn’t have that slow start, didn’t lose conference meets it should have won.

It tells us that Utah is not as likely to reach the same peak score as LSU but will record the more predictable score and more predictable performance, one that LSU will either beat by having an excellent day, or lose to by having a fine day. We’ve seen both of them and we’ve seen both of them recently.

If LSU is to have that excellent day, it will be essential to bridge the vault gap. Utah ranks as the best team in this entire semifinal on vault, while LSU has shown a tendency to lunge for 9.850. In fact, vault is the only event where LSU does not rank in the top 2 in this semifinal despite having the most 10.0 starts of any of these teams. The Tigers must turn those vault landings around because if LSU does find a way to match Utah’s vault scores here, it becomes increasingly difficult to map Utah’s route to a top-2 finish.

For Utah, take that exact project, but swap out vault for beam. Utah ranks last in this semifinal on beam and will have to watch out. And not just watch out for falls (that’s immediate death at nationals), but watch out for OK. Even something like a hit for 49.200 probably doesn’t do you any good anymore. A 49.2 is basically a zero, and a 9.825 is basically a fall when the teams are this strong.

That’s why much of this semifinal will hinge on which team can best minimize its theoretical disadvantage. Who doesn’t get a disqualifyingly low score? Because it’s not about winning the meet. It’s about not losing to two of the teams. So if you’re staying 49.350, that’s not a WOW score on an apparatus that will go down in history, but across the events, it starts to add up to the kind of number that will advance to Saturday.

For Michigan, qualification to the final is too realistic to relegate the team to “making it this far is the victory” status, but also making it this far is the victory. The team survived a complete nail-biter regional, and after missing the 12-team nationals in two of the previous three seasons because of mistakes at regionals, improving enough to advance to the 8-team nationals this year is a significant accomplishment.

What I mean is that Michigan is the only team of these four for whom the overall pass/fail grade for the season does not hinge on its nationals performance. Michigan could roll into this semifinal, perform like a tragic swamp, and 2019 would still go down as a high point for the program. Of course, the team will have bigger aims than that. Even if Michigan doesn’t qualify to Saturday, this year nonetheless presents a very realistic opportunity for the team’s best finish since Elise Ray was a student.

Beyond the broad strokes of “like, try to be good on all the events,” my preferred way to look at these postseason meets is a rotation-by-rotation score comparison. So let’s do that.

Rotation 1 NQS – UCLA VT, Michigan UB, LSU BB, Utah FX
1. Utah – 49.480
2. LSU – 49.460
3. UCLA – 49.375
4. Michigan – 49.355

UCLA will know that it is beginning the meet on its lowest-scoring piece and therefore wouldn’t be overly concerned about sitting in third place after the first rotation. Though I would still be surprised if it actually happens. Among the teams, the first rotation result is most important for Utah. To hang onto a top-2 spot, the meet must start big on floor. If Utah doesn’t have an overall lead, then it must at least have a lead on LSU. What Utah can’t abide is a repeat of the regional final scores.

Rotation 1 regional final scores:
1. LSU – 49.500
2. UCLA – 49.400
3. Utah – 49.375
4. Michigan – 49.200

Nor, really, can Michigan. Michigan’s bars scores weren’t awesome at regionals even though that event shouldn’t necessarily be a weakness. As the underdog, Michigan cannot afford to let the 2nd-place team multiple tenths out of its sight at any point because there’s no “Michigan can gain some real tenths in this rotation coming up” moment. At this stage, the others teams don’t have weaknesses that allow that.

Rotation 2 NQS – Utah VT, UCLA UB, Michigan BB, LSU FX
1. LSU – 98.975
2. UCLA – 98.965
3. Utah – 98.945
4. Michigan – 98.740

Um, please be this close after two rotations? NQS tells us that there’s not even a single deduction in it across the top three teams after two events, with just .030 separating them. Having those top three in what is essentially a tie after two events would be the best news for UCLA—finishing on floor, we can assume UCLA’s score in the 4th rotation will be the highest—and would be the worst news for Utah—finishing on beam and having completed its best events in the first half of the meet.

LSU is sort of in the middle in that it will also have completed its best-scoring events in the first half of meet, but we can anticipate a pretty strong number from that LSU bars rotation to end the meet as well. Although if Priessman’s arm doesn’t let her compete bars, that takes the presumed LSU bars score down a solid tenth, so that will be critical to watch. But overall, LSU would be pretty happy keeping things even with Utah by the middle of the meet.

Rotation 2 regional final scores:
1. UCLA – 99.050
2. LSU – 98.850
3. Utah – 98.800
4. Michigan – 98.625

And that LSU/Utah evenness is exactly what we see from the regional final scores as well. Utah got a solid number on vault in that regional final that it would be happy repeating here, so that means Utah mostly needs to scoot up those floor numbers in the first rotation to try to get some distance.

Rotation 3 NQS – LSU VT, Utah UB, UCLA BB, Michigan FX
1. UCLA – 148.500
2. Utah – 148.375
3. LSU – 148.340
4. Michigan – 148.125

LSU’s vault scores have been surprisingly 49.3ish instead of 49.5ish this season for how much difficulty and quality should be in that lineup—and that continued at regionals with a couple of…you know, fine…vaults. To be sure to avoid 3rd-place-itude heading into the last event (pressure!), LSU needs to control some 1.5s for 9.900s. We know Finnegan’s leadoff full is wonderful and will go 9.900 at nationals if she sticks it (employing a more discerning nationals eye, the judges will probably take for distance to allow themselves to reward those who go farther), but Finnegan’s cannot be the highest vault score in the lineup for LSU to be successful in a national semifinal. And too often this season, it has been the best vault in the lineup.

Rotation 3 regional final scores:
1. UCLA – 148.450
2. LSU – 148.200
3. Michigan – 148.075
4. Utah – 147.900

Nonetheless, even if LSU just mimics what it did in the regional final, things would look pretty solid for the Tigers—as long as Utah does the same. Utah did not have a strong bars performance that day with the Skinner fall heard round the world, and cannot repeat that. A 49.100 is the kind of score that puts you down to fourth place, behind a Michigan team that scored very well on beam and floor at its regional final and put up making-the-top-four kind of scores. Any rotation that goes 49.4 is a rotation you’re in contention.

Rotation 4 NQS – Michigan VT, LSU UB, Utah BB, UCLA FX
1. UCLA – 198.220
2. LSU – 197.800
3. Utah – 197.680
4. Michigan – 197.430

NQS tells us that LSU should be picking up about .150 on Utah in the final rotation if both teams hit to their typical capability, so that’s your basic margin to watch heading into that last event. LSU will want to be no worse than .150 behind Utah, and Utah needs to be ahead by more than that.

But it’s so close. The only team that NQS isn’t really here for is Michigan, with Michigan far enough back that it’s going to need something to change on Friday from what we saw during the regular season.

Rotation 4 regional final scores:
1. UCLA – 198.075
2. LSU – 197.500
3. Michigan – 197.275
4. Utah – 197.250

…Something like Utah getting a 49.100 on bars, or something like LSU not quite getting the big beam scores it got at regionals. Something realistic.

NQS: 198.010 [1]
Season high: 198.400 [1]
Season average: 197.781 [1]
Regional final: 198.075 [1]

VT NQS: 49.375 [2]
VT average: 49.265 [3]
VT regional final: 49.400 [2]
UB NQS: 49.590 [1]
UB average: 49.452 [1]
UB regional final: 49.650 [1]
BB NQS: 49.535 [1]
BB average: 49.444 [1]
BB regional final: 49.400 [3]
FX NQS: 49.720 [1]
FX average: 49.621 [1]
FX regional final: 49.625 [1]

NQS: 197.810 [2]
Season high: 198.175 [2]
Season average: 197.327 [3]
Regional final: 197.500 [2]

VT NQS: 49.365 [3]
VT average: 49.290 [2]
VT regional final: 49.350 [3]
UB NQS: 49.460 [2]
UB average: 49.348 [2]
UB regional final: 49.300 [2]
BB NQS: 49.460 [2]
BB average: 49.337 [2]
BB regional final: 49.500 [1]
FX NQS: 49.515 [2]
FX average: 49.352 [3]
FX regional final: 49.350 [4]

NQS: 197.535 [3]
Season high: 198.025 [3]
Season average: 197.371 [2]
Regional final: 197.250 [4]

VT NQS: 49.465 [1]
VT average: 49.410 [1]
VT regional final: 49.425 [1]
UB NQS: 49.430 [3]
UB average: 49.344 [3]
UB regional final: 49.100 [4]
BB NQS: 49.305 [4]
BB average: 49.190 [4]
BB regional final: 49.350 [4]
FX NQS: 49.480 [3]
FX average: 49.427 [2]
FX regional final: 49.375 [3]

NQS: 197.320 [4]
Season high: 197.750 [4]
Season average: 196.842 [4]
Regional final: 197.275 [3]

VT NQS: 49.305 [4]
VT average: 49.185 [4]
VT regional final: 49.200 [4]
UB NQS: 49.355 [4]
UB average: 49.233 [4]
UB regional final: 49.200 [3]
BB NQS: 49.385 [3]
BB average: 49.210 [3]
BB regional final: 49.425 [2]
FX NQS: 49.385 [4]
FX average: 49.213 [4]
FX regional final: 49.450 [2]

15 thoughts on “National Championship Preview: Semifinal of Death”

  1. LSU will have the added deduction of not being at home, so I wouldn’t be surprised if their scores were lower than regionals…

    1. LSU competed on the road at Arizona in their regular season finale and still put up an insane score, so…

      I think this is the group of semi-death with Michigan who isn’t a regular in the NCAA final – they earn the right on occasion but it’s still a pretty rare feat. Now if Alabama were there in place of them it would be a true Group of Death since all four teams would expect to be in the final.

      Michigan has to feel a bit cheated though, since they would be favoured to win in Semifinal 2, though given their history when the favourite maybe it’s better that no one expects them to win.

      1. I think it’s a pretty simple call – UCLA and LSU. Yes, Utah have been able to put up some high 197s but mostly they’ve been stuck in a 197.2ish hole. LSU are more likely to put up a high 197 than Utah

    2. LSU may have been at home for regionals, but they were also competing at the regional with the strictest scoring.

      1. Three of the four regionals had decent scoring. The other one was a joke and an example of everything wrong with NCAA judging.

      2. It’s true that Athens had the most outlandish scoring of all the regionals, but that doesn’t mean the other three were all equal to one another. Ann Arbor and Corvallis both had noticeably more lenient scoring than Baton Rouge.

      3. There was only ONE regional with strict scoring the others were off the chart cracky

    3. Not a simple call at all. Will Priessman compete? If not it is even money. If she does LSU is still favored by one small counting wobble on beam.

    1. Semifinal #1 is at 12 Central; Semifinal #2 is 6 Central according to but my TV shows 6:30. TV shows ESPN2 for semis and ESPNU for final but ESPN shows ESPNU for all three sessions (which of course is the channel I don’t get FML).

  2. The LSU, UTAH, UCLA and Michigan semi is a nightmare the other is a total cake walk for Denver and Oklahoma.

    1. I think OU and Denver will be favored, but I would hardly call it a cakewalk. Georgia will put up a fight and it’s not a stretch to think they could make the Final 4.

    2. I wouldn’t bet against CKC. It is a cakewalk for OK and it is the only prayer Denver had of advancing but I would still bet on CKC and Suzanne to pull their team through over Denver.

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