Friday, January 29 – 8:30pm ET – SEC Network
The fragile SEC balance of power is on the line in this one. Three meets, three weeks in which Arkansas has outscored Georgia. Arkansas is making a solid case for stealing Georgia’s traditional spot in the fancy half of the conference with these recent results, but has also achieved those scores in three losses—two to LSU and one to Florida. Now that the scary teams are out of the way, it’s time for Arkansas to start winning if that #6 rankings is to be maintained. Every team remaining on Arkansas’s regular season schedule is ranked lower than Arkansas after all, so…
It won’t be as straightforward as that, and the hosting scenario in this one should mitigate the nearly full-point difference in scores we saw last weekend when Arkansas was at home and Georgia was on the road. In its lone home meet in week 1, Georgia scored 196.150, while Arkansas went 196.350 in its lone road meet the same week.
The single most significant factor in this one will be Georgia’s health situation. Based on last week’s performances, Arkansas would highlight bars and beam as areas of clear superiority, but if Georgia is able to get Nguyen and Oakley back on bars and Nguyen and Magee back on beam, that could stifle the 9.9 advantage that Arkansas has lately enjoyed from gymnasts like Hambrick and O’Hara. Georgia would have late-lineup 9.9s of its own. The tentative lineups for this meet do include Magee, Nguyen, and Oakley, but those lineups have not been the most reliable so far this season.
If those lineups are real and those gymnasts come through, then the prospective edge would flip to Georgia because of the higher start values on vault and the advantages provided by home floor—though Arkansas’s superior tumbling control so far means that charitable Home Floor shouldn’t be considered a total given.
If, however, Georgia is forced to put up the same stop-gap routines on bars and beam as last week—routines that got the job done but are still going to score 9.750 or 9.800—then Arkansas has shown the capability so far to 9.875-9.900 that out of the water and establish an advantage that Georgia would find very difficult to overcome.
The Cal debut – Cal boasts an impressive roster this season, and Saturday afternoon’s opener should deliver the eagerly anticipated college premieres of Gabby Perea and Andrea Li. That encouraging mise en scene is, however, countered by the shaky precedent set by other west coast teams in their first meets—Washington’s 192, Oregon State’s 191, Stanford’s…do you have a season honey? Where does Cal fall on the preparation spectrum, and can that roster come through for nationally competitive scores this year?
The Oklahoma rebound? – Oklahoma hosts a second consecutive dual meet against West Virginia this Sunday with a weirdly large amount to prove. After last week’s four-fall affair, Oklahoma will be out to show that it was a forgettable blip rather than a reflection of a depleted team that doesn’t have the impervious armor of previous years.
Alabama @ Kentucky – Alabama will be without Lexi Graber for the next few meets following a car accident, which will put a strain on a beam group that has shown some shaky moments and gets a little more tense without her presence. Alabama nonetheless enters as a favorite, though Kentucky will be looking to put together a hit hit for the first time this year, and we don’t yet know how high this team can score when everything is working at once.
The #1 ranking – With #2 LSU’s meet canceled, Florida now enjoys a greater than five-tenth lead over the next-best team in action (Oklahoma) and therefore has a major advantage in control of the #1 ranking, barring epic implosion.
Boise State @ Southern Utah – In the search for actual close sporting events, the MRGC teams have started to deliver this year as they all look pretty evenly matched. Last week, Boise State edged BYU by .075 while Southern Utah beat Utah State by .425. Friday’s Boise State/SUU meet could go either way.
The Minnesota rebound? – Minnesota was the toast of the sport following its first-meet 197, but the subsequent 195 was…less of that. Does a third meet of the season bring equilibrium?
Iowa @ Illinois – Reigning as the country’s top floor team and the second-ranked team in the Big Ten, Iowa has enjoyed a dream start. With Michigan idle this week, a clear opportunity presents itself for Iowa to ascend to the top spot in the conference with another mid-196.
UCLA @ Arizona – The triumph of Nia Dennis’s floor routine and the bars saviors papered over some lineup deficiencies for UCLA last week. Keep an eye on whether some closer-to-first-choice athletes are able to beef things up in the team’s road debut against an Arizona team that was a single fall shy of UCLA’s score last week.