NCAA Week 9 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee Meet

[6] Denver @ [1] Oklahoma

Saturday, February 29th, 11:30am CT – ESPNU

Injury talk. That’s pretty much the deal with this Denver/Oklahoma meet given the events of the last couple weeks.

For Oklahoma, the current Maggie Nichols status is “ankle injury” and “‾\_(ツ)_/‾.” If this is a couple-weeks kind of injury and she’s back for the elimination meets, then it’s truly not much of an issue. In the short term, especially at these home meets, that may mean the difference between a 198.200 and a 197.800 or something—and this would be an opportune time to get Olivia Trautman back on floor and Karrie Thomas back on beam to help remove some of those 9.800s—but it’s far from the end of the world. Oklahoma is already set for qualifying score and could put Lou out there on three events and be fine. (His beam is really coming along. His sissone is a peach.)

As for Denver, it would have been exceedingly difficult to defeat Oklahoma at the best of times, but given Denver’s roster depletion and struggles last week, this meet isn’t about a win. An actual victory in this meet for Denver would be a getting-back-on-your-feet score, even if it comes up well short of Oklahoma’s number.

Last weekend’s 195.1 really should be an aberration rather than the new normal. On bars, Lockhart and Morton both got 8s, but Lockhart did hit the week before for 9.8 and Morton has received 9.6s in exhibition routines (also Karr got 9.775 for what was pretty much her normal routine until she college-saluted herself out of a stick and it was weird). A hit from the currently competing group, while certainly not a given, should improve Denver’s score by more than a point.

The floor result last week was pretty solid (despite a fall, since it was dropped) and beam saw uncharacteristic struggles from Ruiz and Lockhart, people who have been hitting this season and were in the lineup even before the injury apocalypse. Vault remains the worry for me, with Fitts debuting in the lineup last weekend and falling on a full, meaning Lockhart had to do a layout that counted.

The ideal will be to get Lockhart in there with a full, but at this point Denver has to allow for the possibility of going sub-49 on vault and having to make it up on the other events. Which is doable. A high 196 should still be treated as very possible, and a 197 here for Denver would be a massive result.

Schedule Highlight

[2] Florida @ [10] Georgia

Friday, February 28th, 7:00pm ET – SEC Network

I’m genuinely already scared for the scoring (you know they totally put a Michigan-based Brevet judge on this panel just to be like, “friends you need to stop”).

But anyway, Florida is currently in a comfortable position with scores—yet does still need to drop a road 196.850 to be fully secure hanging onto a #1 regional seeding. You’d expect that to happen easily since Florida hasn’t scored lower than 197.8 since the middle of January. And if the total gets into the 198s, then passing Oklahoma for the top spot will be on the table depending on how OU scores the next day.

Florida is basically in smooth-sailing realm right now. As I mentioned last week, we’re still waiting to see Nya Reed get back in on vault and floor to help those lineups reach full potential, and to get into that 198 zone on the road Florida will need to resolve some of the bars and floor landings compared to the last meet. But we’re definitely moving into “we just need to focus on cleaning up those little things heading into April” quote season.

Fun fact: If a head coach doesn’t speak the exact words “just focusing on cleaning up our landings and handstands” at some point during the month of March, she or he is automatically fired.

Georgia’s home scores are already comfortably 197, so there’s not a ton of ranking work the team can do this weekend, mostly waiting for the remaining road meets to drop those last couple 196s. Still, judging by what other teams are doing, even going 197.0 or 197.1 in home meets is not going to be safe for a finish in the top 8. Georgia will absolutely entertain that top-8 goal and will aim for at least 197.3s and ideally higher this weekend.

How to get there? Racking up the scores on beam and floor. Beam is where this team should be at its strongest, with Magee, De Jong, and Baumann looking most at home there and Vega and Oakley being Vega and Oakley. It’s the event where crazy Georgia scores are…like, correct. And then floor in the last rotation. Yada yada yada. That’s where most of a 197 should come. Because you never know when Georgia’s bars lineup is finally going to fly too close to the sun and get a 48.6.

Regionals Watch

I think I need a week break from being like, “This SEC team needs to do better than this SEC team because blerrrrrrrrppp” and “this Pac-12 team needs to do better than this Pac-12 team because schmmmmuurm,” (check out the rankings post for maximum score/ranking prospects after these next meets), so this week I’m going to talk about a couple meets with significant implications for making the top 36 and advancing to elimination season.

George Washington @ North CarolinaFriday, 7:00pm ET – For North Carolina, this season looked like another where bars disasters were going to ensure that a team that’s way too talented to miss regionals was absolutely going to miss regionals. Until two weeks ago, UNC’s season high was just 194.775, which would not remotely help in advancing since the cutoff is going to be solidly mid-195s (and perhaps higher 195s depending on how next last few weeks go).

But then the clouds parted, and North Carolina’s most recent scores have both been 196s, extremely useful numbers. The team has sure left it right to the end, with four meets remaining and four 194s still to remove to feel in position to make regionals, but it’s starting to look possible. This meet needs to be at least a secure 195.

George Washington is right on the cusp of being dropped out of the group of teams still in reasonable contention, but similarly to UNC, last week’s 195.900 provided a glimmer of hope. There’s still a 193.775 for GW to drop, which needs to be replaced with a higher 195 this week to keep the team in the contending pack—even if getting into the top 36 is not possible quite yet. Urgent meets for both teams.

Western Michigan @ Central Michigan – Friday, 7:00pm ET – A meet made in state-rivalry heaven. Western currently sits in 36th place and Central in 37th place, with less than a tenth of qualifying score between them. Central has the easier-to-drop score with a 194.550 to get rid of, but Western will be looking to get rid of a 194.850 of its own. These teams could end up in either order after this one.

It’s a critical battle because there’s currently not that much room to improve in the rankings. It’s too early for things to be mathematically locked by any means, but I’d say all the teams in the top 31 (down through Ohio State at 195.525) should be somewhat comfortable at this point in their chances to advance to regionals. I wouldn’t go farther than somewhat comfortable—if they fall into a patch of unusable scores over the next few weeks, things could get dicey—but they’re definitely in the driver’s seat. That group includes some upset teams you wouldn’t necessarily have expected to be there, like Utah State, which is in position to knock a more-expected qualifier out.

In that next group ranked 32-35, we have two teams in Arizona State and Boise State that started verrrrrryyyy slowly but have recently scored 196.8s (!) and have some quite low numbers still to drop and lots of space to improve and spots to gain. If they keep doing exactly what they’re doing, they’ll get to safety over the next couple weeks. For instance, a solid 196 on Friday against Southern Utah would get Boise State into that 195.5+ group that I’m currently treating as comfortable.

That leaves us with West Virginia and New Hampshire in the top 35, two teams that are looking more vulnerable at this point but do have a couple-tenth buffer, and then Western in 36th and Central in 37th.

All of this is to say, there aren’t a lot of obvious spots open in the top 36 for teams that aren’t currently in that group. Western and Central will very much view a meet between the two of them as a “there ain’t room in this town for both of us” prospect. Because there probably isn’t.

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