It’s time to check back in with the check marks—visuals! colors! what have you!—in advance of next week’s regional semifinals for a look at 1) who might upset and 2) where the signs of that upset are most likely to be found. Even though the actual answers to those questions are 1) whoever is in the same semifinal as a top-16 team that counts a fall, and 2) beam probably.
A check mark goes to the top 2 teams in each semifinal in each category: NQS for the season, average over the last three meets, and score at the conference championship.
Oklahoma Semifinal #1
Though Minnesota and Cal will both expect to emerge from this semifinal without an excess of anguish, there are a few complicating factors here as Boise State and Utah State both have ways in. Minnesota went to Problemsville on beam at Big Tens—far from their first visit to the village this season—and those recurring beam issues are the biggest question in this semifinal. With a hit meet, Minnesota should cruise through. But if not, Utah State showed with its conference championship score (the only unseeded team at any regional to have broken the 197 mark at conference championships) that it would have a shot to outscore a beam-fall Minnesota.
This is the strongest bars semifinal of all, with 3 of the top 10 bars teams in the country, bringing us the unusual sight of Cal without a check mark on bars. The margins are very close there, but bars is certainly Boise State’s weapon in this meet. With Boise State starting on bars and Utah State starting on beam, upset bids will have to be established in that first rotation.
Oklahoma Semifinal #2
While this one presents as a close contest between Arizona State and Arkansas for the second spot, let this also serve as a watch-out-for-West-Virginia moment should West Virginia get out of the play-in. WVU’s 196.650 at the conference championship stood right with Arizona State’s 196.675 and Arkansas’s 196.450, so even though West Virginia may not end up having the vaults to pull it off, recent circumstances tell us WVU should be able to work its way in as a disruptive force.
If West Virginia were to fall in the play-in, the checks would go 9-6 in favor of Arizona State over Arkansas, with Arkansas taking most of the VT/FX categories and Arizona State taking most of the UB/BB categories, as well as the meet-total categories. A slight edge to Arizona State but not one with too much confidence behind it. This should be one of the two or three most interesting semifinals.
Washington Semifinal #1
It’s more dominant from Alabama and Michigan State here, and both will be largely pleased with how the draw worked out for them save for the complicating factor of Washington’s potential to bust out with a huge home result. Washington’s last three home scores have all been at least 196.825, so it’s certainly something to keep an eye on. Like all the #4 teams, Washington starts on beam, easily its highest scoring event and the one which afforded a couple check marks, even in this extremely deep beam semifinal.
Washington Semifinal #2
Illinois had been outscoring Oregon State in recent weeks, but the conference championships brought a solid four-event performance from Oregon State while Illinois counted a fall, giving Oregon State most of the recency edge in addition to most of the overall-season edge. But if Illinois is able to bring back that 197 quality from when Takekawa was coughing up 9.950s all over the meet, there shouldn’t be too much in this. You probably like the Carey factor to put Oregon State’s lineups over the edge with those reliable 9.950s, but the rest of the lineup will have to ensure that it’s a Carey-9.950 to get the rotation score to 49.350, rather than 49.150. When Oregon State is successful, the pre-Carey scores make up an over-196 team.
Auburn Semifinal #1
Auburn and Kentucky should enjoy smooth sailing here based on everything we’ve seen this season, but recent events may have thrown a little more doubt into this one since conference championships didn’t really go…awesome for any of these teams. Even Southern Utah, which takes a check mark in more categories than expected here because of hitting at conference championships, finished only 3rd out of 4 teams at the MRGC.
Auburn Semifinal #2
This should be one of the closest and upset-ripe semifinals. We have a depleted Denver team that has nonetheless been able to make it work on bars and beam, but is finding more trouble filling out a competitive lineup on vault and floor, going up against an Ohio State team that is starting to get some 197s this year and can make a legitimate push. The question for Ohio State will be beam after going 48.7 at the conference championship without counting a fall. That’s not a score that will upset Denver, but then again Denver went sub-49 on vault at the conference championship, providing a similar opening for Ohio State.
Plus, you have Iowa State here, a team that shouldn’t even have to do the play-ins based on rank. Iowa State is the 2nd-best vault team in this semifinal and could disrupt, just like NC State did in the same position last year. It would take some help, but help is believable here.
NC State Semifinal #1
On season quality, this should be LSU and Missouri without question, but look at Iowa pop in there with the conference championships result. Iowa had the highest score of all four teams at its conference championship and seems to be finding the quality just at the right time. Then again, Missouri looked quite strong in winning the tighter-scored first session at SECs, and LSU would be running away with a lot more categories if not for that counting bars fall, which you wouldn’t expect to be repeated (although the lower vault and floor scores should also warrant some nailbiting).
Iowa wasn’t done many favors by the draw as there are several other semifinals where Iowa would be considered a more compelling challenger, but Iowa is also one of the very few unseeded teams that could reasonably expect to win an apparatus in its semifinal (floor) and should be ready to pounce on mistakes.
NC State Semifinal #2
Michigan and UCLA are expected to move through this one without too much drama (he laughed at himself), but UCLA’s argument as last-minute spoiler took a bit of a hit with the performance at Pac-12s. It was fine, but it was not a we’re-going-to-nationals kind of performance—especially on vault and bars, where we see Maryland having comparative success versus UCLA. Maryland has gone into the 197s this year and has the chops to make this more interesting than reputation would tell you it will be, scoring just .5 lower than UCLA at conference championships.