National Championship Preview: Semifinal of Life

Semifinal #2 – April 19, 6:00 CT
[1] Oklahoma
[5] Denver
[8] Georgia
[15] Oregon State

If the other semifinal is the mean one, the deadly one, this semifinal is the bright forest of generosity, presenting an opportunity for a team you would never have expected to advance to the team final. Chances are you didn’t have Denver, Georgia, or Oregon State making 4F (trying to get it to catch on…it won’t) when the season started, but one will. Bottom line: none of these teams could have dreamed of a better scenario for themselves at nationals.

That includes Oklahoma, which will be much safer in this semifinal than UCLA will be as the top seed in the other semifinal. Here, a 197.3-197.4 would be an excellent performance for either Denver or Georgia. Even if they both manage it, that’s a score Oklahoma can beat even while counting a fall. It’s a risky game to say that a team can count a fall and still advance from a four-team semifinal (because theoretically the national standard is too tight to allow that), but Oklahoma…probably…maybe…could. With a hit meet, Oklahoma is through to Saturday without question.

On the other side of the rankings in this semifinal, we have Oregon State. Just by making it to nationals, Oregon State has tied the mark for its best season since 1995. Especially following last year’s (misleading but still real) 27th-place finish after a regionals disaster, this accomplishment must be exceptionally gratifying. Oregon State had missed nationals in 4 of the previous 6 seasons and really needed this. What’s unique is that this turnaround wasn’t accomplished with a “THE FRESHMAN CLASS HAS REVOLUTIONIZED US” talent infusion. Madi Dagen has been a big help, sure, but for the most part this team is the same. Just better.

As for results, Oregon State has already completed its big upset. That was getting to nationals. Beyond that, there’s not an obvious path to the team final for Oregon State that doesn’t involve help and a messy meet from other teams. Always possible. Oregon State’s best road score of the entire season is still just 196.650, which is not going to be enough here. Even if we allow for some improvement on that (because that was mid-season and the team is better now), a 197.0 or 197.1 would signify an absolutely excellent day and would be a wholly gratifying performance…and I still don’t expect that to be high enough to make the team final.

So let’s talk about Denver and Georgia. I love that these two teams will be fighting it out for a qualification spot because it’s a battle of contrasts. New money versus old money.

Georgia has made NCAA nationals 35 times.
This is Denver’s 5th.

Georgia has won 10 national championships.
Denver finished 9th once.

Georgia has won 42 individual national championships.
Denver has won 1.

And who’s the favorite? Denver. If you go based on season scoring, Denver has the advantage. An average score edge of 3 tenths, an NQS edge of 2.5 tenths, the lead on three of four events, higher road scores, higher home scores. If that were all you looked at, you’d give this one to Denver pretty comfortably.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s regional final score was 7 tenths higher than Denver’s, and Georgia’s regional semifinal score was 4 tenths higher than Denver’s.

Now, I can hear you laughing already. I know. That Athens regional. You have to throw out the score because it was so ridiculous, but while it’s tempting to erase the entire performance because of that ridiculous score, that’s cheating yourself out of the most recent opportunity to compare the two teams. If you dig deeper into those regionals performances, you do still see a Georgia team that was stronger than Denver overall on both vault and floor.

And a Denver team that was stronger overall on bars and beam.

If that continues, we’re in for a seriously close back-and-forth. What I didn’t realize until now is just how much the two semifinals mimic each other, even though the first semifinal is deeper. Event-wise, Georgia is in a very similar position to Utah, enjoying its most clear (and potentially only) advantage over Denver on vault and very much needing that event to come through, while suffering its most clear disadvantage to Denver on beam and needing to improve there. That’s exactly where Utah is against LSU.

The end of those Denver and Georgia vault lineups profile pretty similarly, with Karr/Brown and Lukacs/Snead bringing nearly identical scoring potential. In the earlier part of the lineup, however, with a few more 10.0 starts and a bit more control on its fulls, Georgia is expected to pick up what could be multiple tenths (as long as Dickson has her landing) and will need to do exactly that to have a good shot at beating Denver.

On beam, the tagline for Georgia’s entire season has been “it was a journey, but they got through it.” Getting through it isn’t going to be enough in this semifinal. Beam is Denver’s best-scoring event this season (very difficult to do on beam), having only scored below 49.350 on beam once in the last ten meets. Georgia has huge potential on beam, of course, but has been much more…all over the place, dropping falls or having major wobbles that must be endured for a score that’s all “good fight to get over 49!” That’s what happened at SECs for 49.050, and that would be a good way to drop 2-3 tenths on Denver from a single apparatus here. Disaster.

To the rotation comparison, shall we?

Rotation 1 NQSOklahoma VT, Georgia UB, Denver BB, Oregon St FX
1. Oklahoma – 49.545
2. Denver – 49.445
3. Oregon State – 49.370
4. Georgia – 49.320

The only team that would mind this setup is Georgia. Georgia definitely isn’t the bars team it could have been this season with a healthy Schild, but with Dickson and Oakley and Al-Hameed in that lineup, bars still has no business being a weakness. One of the problems here is that every other team starts on a definite strength, so Georgia could do well on bars for a perfectly reasonable 49.3 and still sit in last after one rotation. Not a fun place to have to come back from with beam next.

That said, there’s also quite a bit of pressure on that Denver beam group in the first rotation because even though Denver is excellent on beam, 49.450 is still a huge score to expect, and tough to do even with a good hit (if you’re not UCLA or Oklahoma). A solid beam rotation can still get 49.300ish pretty easily, especially in a first-rotation-national-semifinal context. And a 49.3 would absolutely upend pre-meet expectations. Denver needs to be ahead of Georgia at this point, otherwise you seriously start looking at Georgia as the favorite.

Oregon State begins on its best piece, and that floor score must be huge for Oregon State to stay close enough to pounce on any mistakes that might occur.

In the other semifinal, I included the regional final scores for comparison as well, but here they’re mostly just going to reflect how high the scores were in Athens and don’t tell us a lot, so I didn’t include them. But yes, if Georgia is scoring 49.5s on events like bars and beam, then Denver is in a serious heap of trouble.

Rotation 2 NQSOregon St VT, Oklahoma UB, Georgia BB, Denver FX
1. Oklahoma – 99.115
2. Denver – 98.860
3. Georgia – 98.625
4. Oregon State – 98.510

This is a pro-Denver situation after two events. The third rotation will favor Georgia, so Denver absolutely needs some manner of lead at this point, and a lead of .250 is sizable enough to do the job. If the lead is more like .100, Georgia will be pretty excited about the chance to regain the #2 spot in the third rotation. A lot of that will be down to the quality of Georgia’s beaming here in rotation 2. We hear all the time about how tough it is to gain ground on beam while your opponent is on floor (which is what Georgia will face in the second rotation), but to keep that mid-point deficit as small as possible, Georgia must come through in that ever-critical beam rotation.

Rotation 3 NQSDenver VT, Oregon St UB, Oklahoma BB, Georgia FX
1. Oklahoma – 148.670
2. Denver – 148.160
3. Georgia – 148.000
4. Oregon State – 147.655

Expect this to be the decisive moment between Georgia and Denver. If Denver mimics the above and retains the lead after the third event, Denver’s probably hanging on. Georgia heads to vault in the final rotation, and while that’s a comparative advantage for Georgia against Denver in this meet, vault is still the lowest-scoring event of the four. You never want to head to vault with a deficit, because the chance of making up the deficit during that rotation is minimal. Georgia absolutely must use the third rotation performance on floor to get ahead of Denver.

Rotation 4 NQSGeorgia VT, Denver UB, Oregon St BB, Oklahoma FX
1. Oklahoma – 198.240
2. Denver – 197.590
3. Georgia – 197.365
4. Oregon State – 196.815

Event NQS tells us that Oklahoma is going to lead from start to finish, and no one would be surprised if it turns out exactly that way. Meanwhile, Denver’s advantage on Georgia is not remotely large enough to feel decisive. It’s a couple tenths. It’s “oh, the beam scoring was tight today,” it’s “oh, she went OOB in the 5th spot, they didn’t need that.” It’s going to keep it fun.

NQS: 198.115 [1]
Season high: 198.475 [1]
Season average: 197.808 [1]
Regional final: 198.475 [1]

VT NQS: 49.545 [1]
VT average: 49.452 [1]
VT regional final: 49.450 [1]
UB NQS: 49.570 [1]
UB average: 49.519 [1]
UB regional final: 49.650 [1]
BB NQS: 49.555 [1]
BB average: 49.408 [1]
BB regional final: 49.700 [1]
FX NQS: 49.570 [1]
FX average: 49.429 [1]
FX regional final: 49.675 [1]

NQS: 197.545 [2]
Season high: 197.775 [2]
Season average: 197.175 [2]
Regional final: 197.375 [3]

VT NQS: 49.300 [3]
VT average: 49.211 [3]
VT regional final: 49.200 [3]
UB NQS: 49.430 [2]
UB average: 49.391 [2]
UB regional final: 49.450 [3]
BB NQS: 49.445 [2]
BB average: 49.252 [2]
BB regional final: 49.425 [3]
FX NQS: 49.415 [2]
FX average: 49.320 [2]
FX regional final: 49.300 [3]

NQS: 197.315 [3]
Season high: 197.525 [3]
Season average: 196.838 [3]
Regional final: 198.050 [2]

VT NQS: 49.365 [2]
VT average: 49.290 [2]
VT regional final: 49.375 [2]
UB NQS: 49.320 [3]
UB average: 49.087 [3]
UB regional final: 49.575 [2]
BB NQS: 49.305 [3]
BB average: 49.188 [3]
BB regional final: 49.550 [2]
FX NQS: 49.375 [3]
FX average: 49.273 [4]
FX regional final: 49.550 [2]

Oregon State
NQS: 196.625 [4]
Season high:  197.450 [4]
Season average:196.320 [4]
Regional final: 196.900 [4]

VT NQS: 49.140 [4]
VT average:  49.055 [4]
VT regional final: 49.100 [4]
UB NQS: 49.145 [4]
UB average: 49.000 [4]
UB regional final: 49.325 [4]
BB NQS: 49.160 [4]
BB average: 48.950 [4]
BB regional final: 49.300 [4]
FX NQS: 49.370 [4]
FX average: 49.316 [3]
FX regional final: 49.175 [4]

5 thoughts on “National Championship Preview: Semifinal of Life”

  1. Elsewhere on the interwebs I’ve seen people bitching about how unfair it is that this semifinal is “easier” than the first semifinal. If you’re one of those people, just remember that FLORIDA was “supposed to be” here!

    1. If Florida made it then there would still only be two teams from last year’s super six in this semi-final vs. three teams in the other semi-final, so most would still consider this the much easier semi in a top two move on scenario.

  2. It’d be pretty incredible if there is not a single SEC team in the Finals and that’s not out of the realm of possibility at all. Obviously LSU has the inside track to win in their semi-final, but if they don’t Georgia isn’t a shoe-in to make it.

    1. I disagree with this. Spencer made the argument above that Denver and Georgia are fairly closely matched. Since Georgia has the additional benefit of reputation bonus with the judges, I think if Georgia doesn’t make a major error, they will be through to the finals regardless of what Denver does. Georgia has competed well all season and gotten the benefit of the doubt from the judges every single time when other teams haven’t. Denver needs to be excellent and have errors from Georgia to get through.

      1. I think you’re probably right, but on the other hand Denver has also been the recipient of some crazily friendly scoring this season, so maybe they are a new judges’ favorite?

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