The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

National Semifinal Preview

Two days until the semifinals. In an effort to concoct a preview that isn’t just, “These are the top-ranked teams, but hey if someone falls…” I’m going to break down the semifinals by rotation and look at each team’s event NQSs from the season for that rotation—as well as the scores on each of those events from regional finals—to see what they tell us about who needs to be where at which point in the competition.

Starting with Semifinal I – Florida, Michigan, Cal, Minnesota

Rotation 1

Minnesota VT, Florida UB, Michigan BB, Cal FX
NQS Standings
Michigan – 49.488
Florida – 49.475
Cal – 49.475
Minnesota – 49.381

The first semifinal presents a slightly weird start in that NQS predicts Michigan to have a lead after its beam rotation. Obviously, Michigan would love to be leading and already done with beam, but I don’t think that’s a requirement to have a successful day. In fact, if we use Michigan’s 49.300 on beam from the regional final, Michigan would be trailing at this point. And that regional final ended up going pretty well.

Regional Final Standings
Cal – 49.500
Florida – 49.475
Minnesota – 49.450
Michigan – 49.300

I’d say it’s most important for Cal to start big on floor and at least be right with Florida and Michigan, if not slightly ahead. Floor is Cal’s 2nd-best score, and I’d say Cal is the only team starting on a top-2 event for them, so any kind of deficit after 1 would not be helpful in the upset quest. Because vault tends to score a little lower, Minnesota would be quite pleased if things were shaping up similarly to the regional final standings after the first rotation.

Rotation 2

Cal VT, Minnesota UB, Florida BB, Michigan FX
NQS Standings
Florida – 99.131
Michigan – 98.894
Cal – 98.781
Minnesota – 98.781

These first two rotations will be decisive for Michigan’s chances because when things have gone wrong this season, it’s happened on floor. Big Tens, Big Fives, that bonkers dual meet with Minnesota. It’s always floor. Even so, NQS says Michigan should be top 2 right now, and regional finals scores say Michigan should be close to that status.

Because vault and bars are typically tremendous for Michigan, if Michigan is actually done with beam and floor in a top-2 position, I’d expect that to be maintained through the end of the meet. It would be a very strong scenario for them.

Regional Final Standings
Florida – 98.925
Cal – 98.875
Michigan – 98.850
Minnesota – 98.775

Florida is expected to use beam to start creating an advantage in the second rotation since that beam score is usually so high. Both sets of standings have Florida leading after completing bars and beam, which once again, if you’re done with the (typically) scarier events and still in a top-2 spot, things look good. Though watch the margins. Cal and Minnesota both finish on a pair of stronger-scoring events for them than they start, so their pace should increase as the meet goes on. That’s why, if I’m Cal and Minnesota, I’m not exactly panicking about not being in the top 2 at this point, but then again if we look at NQS, 0.350 is a lot to try to gain on Florida at any point in a meet. So maybe I’m panicking a little.

Rotation 3

Michigan VT, Cal UB, Minnesota BB, Florida FX
NQS Standings
Florida – 148.675
Michigan – 148.525
Cal – 148.387
Minnesota – 148.244

The third rotation presents a critical moment for Cal’s upset chances because Cal will be on bars—the event where they’re ranked #1 and would typically expect to zoom up the rankings. The problem for them is that Michigan is also ranked #1 on vault (with a higher NQS there) and Florida is ranked #1 on floor. This is the rotation of world-beating events, which could blunt Cal’s chances to make a big upset push with bars.

If Cal is, in fact, a few tenths back after rotation 3—and Minnesota a little bit behind that—then this thing will be heading a very specific direction that will be tough to avert, even if Florida has another incident on vault.

Regional Final Standings
Florida – 148.475
Michigan – 148.375
Cal – 148.300
Minnesota – 148.275

In the regional final standings, Cal and Minnesota also sit slightly behind, but it’s closer than NQS predicts, a margin that’s maybe just enough to take advantage of an error, even though Cal and Minnesota don’t necessarily go to the hugest scores to end the day. Basically, they need to be closer at this point than NQS says.

Rotation 4

Florida VT, Michigan UB, Cal BB, Minnesota FX
NQS Standings
Florida – 198.163
Michigan – 198.019
Cal – 197.781
Minnesota – 197.688

The cumulative event NQSs show Florida and Michigan much closer to each other than they are to Cal and Minnesota, reinforcing the base expectation that Cal and Minnesota probably need something to go wrong for one of the top 2 teams in order to advance. That doesn’t even have to be a counting fall, but something a little wrong.

Regional Final Standings
Michigan – 198.100
Cal – 197.750
Florida – 197.700
Minnesota – 197.425

And we’ve seen it happen. Florida and Minnesota’s scores drop off here in the regional final standings because Florida ends on vault and Minnesota ends on floor and both teams botched those events at regionals. Though you wouldn’t really bet on mistakes like that repeating, which is why Cal and Minnesota need to be above those NQS expectations at the end of rotation 3 to have a good shot.

Next, we’re on to Semifinal II – Oklahoma, LSU, Utah, Alabama

Rotation 1

Alabama VT, Oklahoma UB, Utah BB, LSU FX
NQS Standings
Utah – 49.588
LSU – 49.513
Oklahoma – 49.488
Alabama – 49.388

The first rotation presents some serious tasks for Utah and LSU. Unlike in the first semifinal, where most of the teams are starting on maybe-medium events and no one is on the big strength, Utah starts on what is absolutely its best event, and floor is somewhat similar for LSU—though you can also make the argument for vault being LSU’s strongest.

So it will be especially critical for Utah to have an advantage after the first rotation if a repeat of the regional victory over LSU is in order because there won’t be another opportunity like this.

What NQS also tells us is that Oklahoma, and to a lesser extent Alabama, won’t mind not being in first or not being near the top at the very beginning of the meet. Both Utah and LSU start big and then finish on question marks, so there will be room to gain ground later.

Regional Final Standings
Utah – 49.600
Oklahoma – 49.575
LSU – 49.475
Alabama – 49.375

Oklahoma would be quite pleased with 2nd place after the first rotation as the regional final scores predict. Really no team would be panicking after the first rotation with those standings, though this would put a little more pressure on LSU’s vault to be huge.

Rotation 2

LSU VT, Alabama UB, Oklahoma BB, Utah FX
NQS Standings
LSU – 99.113
Oklahoma – 99.094
Utah – 99.088
Alabama – 98.776

Allegedly, the 99s will be flying after the 2nd rotation. If it happens, that would start to cause a problem for Alabama because even though Alabama should score better at the end of the meet, the deficit that NQS indicates is probably too large to overcome against teams this good.

Alabama would really need to be nestled in the position regional final scores indicate after two rotations.

Regional Final Standings
Utah – 99.225
Oklahoma – 99.150
Alabama – 99.000
LSU – 98.950

These scores would be out of control, with nearly-a-99 in last place, but you could see it. In actuality, these teams don’t necessarily have to be scoring this high right now, but then again I’d say Utah does need to be in the 99s after two events. Based on what we’ve seen this season, Utah’s scores are going to fall off in the second half of the meet, going to vault and bars (even in the regional final, when Utah got a big bars score, it was still clearly lower than the numbers for beam and floor). So a 3rd- or 4th-place position for Utah at this point would be pretty tough to overcome.

Rotation 3

Utah VT, LSU UB, Alabama BB, Oklahoma FX
NQS Standings
LSU – 148.569
Oklahoma – 148.569
Utah – 148.444
Alabama – 148.232

Event NQS tells us that LSU should advance from this semifinal, while the regional final scores tell us that LSU is going to fall to Utah, so the difference in LSU’s score between the NQS standings and the regional standings after three events should be a key indicator. 148.5+ and a tie with Oklahoma looks really nice. 148.225, not so much.

Regional Final Standings
Oklahoma – 148.725
Utah – 148.450
LSU – 148.225
Alabama – 148.150

If LSU is actually right with Oklahoma after three events as NQS tells us, it would take a real miss in the final rotation to give up a spot.

Though another factor in the second set of standings is that everyone except Oklahoma is on an event that they effed up at the regional finals. They’ll all fancy their chances with a non-bad.

Rotation 4

Oklahoma VT, Utah UB, LSU BB, Alabama FX
NQS Standings
Oklahoma – 198.125
LSU – 198.013
Utah – 197.738
Alabama – 197.632

In nearly identical fashion to the first semifinal, NQS tells that that the race to make the team final shouldn’t be all that close, and that the top-2 teams are closer to each other than they are to the challenging duo.

And just like the first semifinal, the scores from the regional final tell a different story, where Utah outscored LSU.

Regional Final Standings
Oklahoma – 198.175
Utah – 197.925
LSU – 197.750
Alabama – 197.575

This last rotation should be fascinating since bars has been Utah’s low score all season, and beam sure didn’t go great for LSU at regionals. Both teams will be fighting not to drop out of contention with a dumpy score at the very end, while Alabama tries to take advantage of end-of-meet floor. Though I would also imagine it could be a benefit to LSU and Utah teams to end on those question-mark events, when the scoring is more likely to have switched over into AHHHHHHH territory.

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