The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2021 Regionals Preview – Who’s In Danger?

To preview the behemoth of gymnastics that is this week/weekend’s regional competition, I’m taking a specific look at the danger zones. Which teams are in danger of not meeting their ranking expectations and which sessions look the most ripe for apocalypse.

And yes, I mean obviously I had to make my own bracket.

Rankings tell us that Florida, Oklahoma, LSU, Michigan, Cal, Utah, Alabama, and Minnesota will advance to nationals. Meanwhile, Denver, Arkansas, Arizona State, BYU, UCLA, Kentucky, Auburn, and Illinois are supposed to advance from their semifinals on Friday but then get eliminated at the regional finals on Saturday.

Chances are, most of that will happen exactly as planned. But that would also be boring, so today I’m going to take on the semifinals where things are most likely to get disruptive.

Alabama Regional – Semifinal #1 – Friday 1:00pm CT

[7] Alabama, [10] Arkansas, [19] Iowa, [20] Iowa State

It’s going to be an experience. Alabama and Arkansas are ranked to advance but also happened to get saddled with the least desirable and most dangerous partners for this group project in Iowa and Iowa State.

Iowa State sort of got overshadowed at the Big 12 Championship what with the Denver/OU fight for the victory and West Virginia’s desperate quest to make regionals, but ISU broke the 197 barrier in that meet and nearly ended up outscoring Oklahoma.

Iowa, for its part, finished with a 196.625 at Big Tens that included counting a fall on beam. With a hit beam rotation, the team would most likely have set an all-time program record, somewhere in the 197.2 range. So basically, if I’m Alabama and Arkansas, I’m feeling sort of stabby about how this draw came out as all four of these teams will think a 197 is possible in this semifinal.

Alabama’s best argument for rising above the chaos is the performance from SECs (along with its status as hosts). If Alabama is able to recreate that SEC meet and score the way the team has at home in recent weeks, then Alabama will advance out of this nonsense. Unlike most of the other top teams, however, Alabama should not have the luxury of absorbing a counting fall in the semifinal unless the other teams bestow similar gifts upon the competition.

Arkansas, meanwhile, is banking on SECs having been an aberration. A counting fall on bars and a wobble-town on beam left Arkansas with a last-place score of 195.600, a full point lower than Iowa’s result at its own conference championship while also counting a fall. Arkansas will need to not only turn those falls into hits but also get those hits scoring more like they were during the regular season to fend off the Iowas on Friday.

The score comparison highlights some areas to look out for, with all teams having at least one category where they rank among the top 2 in the session.

[7] Alabama
VT NQS – 49.388 [1]
UB NQS – 49.388 [1]
BB NQS – 49.456 [1]

FX NQS – 49.400 [3]
Home Avg – 197.181 [1]
Last Meet – 197.875 [1]
[10] Arkansas
VT NQS – 49.269 [3]
UB NQS – 49.375 [2]
BB NQS – 49.338 [2]
FX NQS – 49.506 [1]

Road Avg – 196.585 [2]
Last Meet – 195.600 [4]
[19] Iowa
VT NQS – 49.219 [4]
UB NQS – 49.238 [3]
BB NQS – 49.163 [4]
FX NQS – 49.500 [2]
Road Avg – 196.363 [3]
Last Meet – 196.625 [3]
[20] Iowa State
VT NQS – 49.275 [2]
UB NQS – 49.188 [4]
BB NQS – 49.181 [3]
FX NQS – 49.244 [4]
Road Avg – 195.942 [4]
Last Meet – 197.050 [2]

Through most of the season, Arkansas’s bars and beam were scoring discernibly higher than either of the Iowas, so bringing those scores back will be essential in Arkansas’s quest to create an advantage. Just looking at overall road meet average, Arkansas’s number is not that much higher than Iowa’s (and Iowa State’s is somewhat artificially low because of a 193 that’s factored in there). Iowa’s biggest asset here is the ability to match Arkansas floor-score-for-floor-score. Those two blunt each other’s strengths, which is why Arkansas would need its other events to be at home-meet level in this competition, because otherwise it wouldn’t take much to turn this meet sideways.

Iowa State’s specialty event is vault, where the team boasts more potential difficulty than Arkansas or Iowa and ranks as the second-best team in the session. ISU starts the competition on vault, so we should know right away how compelling Iowa State’s upset campaign will be. That number specifically has to get stratospheric.

Georgia Regional – Semifinal #1 – Friday, 1:00pm ET

[8] Minnesota, [9] Denver, [18] Georgia, [24] Oregon State

At any other location…

Hosted at any other site, this semifinal would have a clear prospective outcome with Minnesota and Denver advancing. But it’s Georgia. It’s Georgia in Georgia.

Georgia’s threat in this regional is well encapsulated by the last two numbers here: home average and last meet (which was at home).

[8] Minnesota
VT NQS – 49.381 [1]
UB NQS – 49.400 [2]
BB NQS – 49.463 [1]
FX NQS – 49.444 [2]

Road Avg – 196.515 [3]
Last Meet – 197.750 [1]
[9] Denver
VT NQS – 49.200 [4]
UB NQS – 49.500 [1]
BB NQS – 49.413 [2]
FX NQS – 49.463 [1]
Road Avg – 196.915 [1]
Last Meet – 197.350 [2]
[18] Georgia
VT NQS – 49.275 [3]
UB NQS – 49.206 [3]
BB NQS – 49.163 [4]
FX NQS – 49.313 [4]
Home Avg – 196.675 [2]
Last Meet – 197.325
[3]
[24] Oregon State
VT NQS – 49.281 [2]
UB NQS – 48.638 [4]
BB NQS – 49.244 [3]
FX NQS – 49.381 [3]
Road Avg – 195.955 [4]
Last Meet – 195.625
[4]

Georgia’s last home-meet score was nearly identical to Denver’s total from that triumphant Big 12 win, and Georgia’s home average this season would put the team in the top 2 compared to the road averages for the other teams. Georgia has been a 197 team at home and is very capable of making things crazy.

The additional complicating factor, however, is Georgia’s extended COVID break. The team missed SECs and, by the time regionals begin, won’t have competed in about a month. What kind of month was that? Was that a, let’s all take a break and get healthy and fit and we’re going to be better than before kind of month? Or was that a, everyone has COVID and no one was able to train and we’re going to be so rusty that you’ll have to call a locksmith kind of month? We won’t know until it happens.

On the issue of Oregon State, if this meet were a VT/BB/FX competition, Oregon State would be a very compelling upset choice. But the bars rotation just isn’t there, and at this point, these other teams are too good to lose to a three-event squad. If somehow Oregon State could escape bars with a 49, it might be a different story, but that hasn’t happened yet this season. Speaking of bars, we’ve all lived through the seasons of Georgia’s Homestyle Bars Adventure, a rotation that should be very influential in Georgia’s upset prospects, so perhaps just keep an eye on the bars stream to see whether this one is going anywhere.

Utah Regional – Semifinal #1 – Friday, 1:00pm MT

[6] Utah, [11] Arizona State, [17] Boise State, [21] Southern Utah

It would be very surprising if Utah finds itself in trouble in this semifinal, but Arizona State’s mission to fend off Boise State and Southern Utah should get interesting.

At Pac-12s, Arizona State was somewhat more ragged than is typical but did hit the meet for a performance that nonetheless wouldn’t have defeated what we’ve seen out of Boise State lately—and what we’ve seen out of Southern Utah in its better moments this year like the mid-season 197.

Arizona State will be the favorite because of overall season performance, but Boise State has scored higher than Arizona State each of the last three weeks, including a half-tenth victory in their dual meet on March 12th that Boise State had to snatch at the last second on floor. That meet was tied after two events, and the margins here are so slim that we can expect another back-and-forth of tenths if both teams hit.

[6] Utah
VT NQS – 49.365 [1]
UB NQS – 49.294 [3]
BB NQS – 49.588 [1]
FX NQS – 49.500 [1]
Home Avg – 197.305 [1]
Last Meet – 197.725 [1]
[11] Arizona State
VT NQS – 49.269 [2]
UB NQS – 49.338 [1]

BB NQS – 49.206 [3]
FX NQS – 49.375 [3]
Road Avg – 196.242 [2]
Last Meet – 196.375 [3]
[17] Boise State
VT NQS – 49.181 [3]
UB NQS – 49.338 [1]
BB NQS – 49.138 [4]
FX NQS – 49.381 [2]
Road Avg – 195.913 [3]
Last Meet – 196.725 [2]
[21] Southern Utah
VT NQS – 49.106 [4]
UB NQS – 49.213 [4]
BB NQS – 49.263 [2]
FX NQS – 49.319 [4]
Road Avg – 195.782 [4]
Last Meet – 196.225
[4]

Alabama Regional – Semifinal #2 – Friday, 7:00pm CT

[1] Oklahoma, [15] Auburn, [23] Missouri, Eastern Michigan/Maryland

We don’t know which fourth team will join this group, and Oklahoma is heavily favored to advance out of this semifinal, but I did want to check out the comparison between Auburn and Missouri in what should be a compelling under-the-radar clash to advance to Saturday.

[15] Auburn
VT NQS – 49.156
UB NQS – 49.313

BB NQS – 49.275
FX NQS – 49.275
Road Avg – 195.905
Last Meet – 196.275
[23] Missouri
VT NQS – 49.031
UB NQS – 49.075
BB NQS – 49.369
FX NQS – 49.144
Road Avg – 195.640
Last Meet – 196.125

Auburn has the season edge in nearly every respect so will be considered a non-tentative favorite in this one, but the tiny difference between these two teams at SECs, where Auburn’s floor advantage just barely outpaced Missouri’s beam advantage to give Auburn the better score, could portend some needed excitement in the evening batch of meets, which overall should not be as tight as the early meets.

What else?

Illinois may be in some danger against Central Michigan/NC State or Western Michigan in its regional semifinal but really should advance with a normal hit, and the same is true for Kentucky. Kentucky will have to fend off Utah State/Temple or Arizona in the semifinal, but every one of Kentucky’s scores in February and March has been higher than the season high for any of those other teams, so we do have a clear favorite there.

I haven’t mentioned the West Virginia regional yet as it should present the most straightforward semifinals for the top four teams with Michigan, Cal, BYU, and UCLA not facing anyone ranked higher than 27th in the semifinals. If all goes to plan, that one should start getting interesting in the regional final, which I’ll dive into tomorrow.

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