First Round – March 30, 2pm MT – Arizona vs North Carolina
Semifinal 1 – March 31, 2pm MT – LSU, Oregon State, Georgia, Nebraska
Semifinal 2 – March 31, 7pm MT – Michigan, Denver, Minnesota, AZ/UNC
Final – April 2, 5pm MT
The Denver regional probably presents the toughest path for the play-in teams, particularly fun for #28 Arizona which never should have been put in the play-in meets in the first place.
Arizona is the best-ranked team across the play-in schools and has been at 197 this year in addition to a 196.8 and 196.6, and as such, should be considered the favorite here. Still, Arizona’s conference championship score of 196.375 was just .025 ahead of North Carolina’s result, which should spark some hope for competitiveness. Arizona has the peak-score advantage, but these teams were often matching each other with lower-196s from week to week this season.
Keep an eye on bars. If North Carolina has a path into this meet, its bars, the one apparatus where UNC is the better-ranked team, with a lineup featuring top-10 Lali Dekanoidze as well as some others like Elizabeth Culton who can 9.9. It’s tough to see a North Carolina path into this meet that doesn’t involve picking up a chunk of tenths on bars, so if both teams end up having kind of a 49.2 of a bars day instead, Arizona will feel very good about its chances to grow a lead in the second half of the meet.
Arizona really forged its identity as a beam team last season, led by national qualifier Sirena Linton, and while there were a few shaky adventures in the first half of this season, the lineup is on the ascending slope, having scored at least 49.325 in each of the last four meets and reaching a season-high 49.400 at Pac-12s. Meanwhile, UNC’s peak on beam this season is 49.175, which is why they’ll be eager to have that first-half bars lead, to withstand what might come on beam and still maintain the chance for an upset.
Regional Semifinals – Battle to Watch
The true battle to watch in the regional semifinals is probably Minnesota vs beam. It’s been a journey. It was a journey even last season, and that was with Ramler and Loper. But at this year’s Big Ten Championship, Minnesota figured out hitting 5 of 6 good beam routines, and it turned into an exceptional rotation for 49.425 (majorly eclipsing the previous season high of 49.150) and led the team to 197.250.
That was stronger than Denver’s conference championships score of 197.175 and tells us that if Minnesota actually has figured out beam in a two-meets-in-a-row kind of way, they could make things deeply annoying for the hosts Denver in the second semifinal. Given Minnesota’s 10.0 starts on vault, and the Hooten of it all on floor, there’s the potential for big numbers on this team.
Denver should nonetheless be considered the favorites to make it out of the semifinal alongside Michigan, not just because of being the hosts (though it often helps) but also higher scoring potential displayed throughout the season.
The big indicator for Denver should be the floor score coming out of the first rotation. More often than not, floor has been the lagging total for Denver this year (save for that casual 49.825 from senior day), though it really shouldn’t be a weak rotation with routines like Hutchinson and Brown rattling around in there. Still, floor was just 49.075 at Big 12s with a counting OOB and that awkward landing for Casali. If Denver can get out of that first floor rotation with something like a 49.4, that probably gives them the foundation to fend off even a good day from Minnesota. But if that opening floor is 49.1 or 49.0, Minnesota will view that as promising sign.
As for the first semifinal, the idea that Georgia and Nebraska might challenge LSU and Oregon State is probably based more historical associations than on what has actually happened this season, but Oregon State did score 197.200 at Pac-12s, a score that both Georgia and Nebraska have eclipsed twice during the season, so they’ll give themselves a chance. Oregon State is a team very dependent on beam and floor, so if one of those scores doesn’t deliver on the day, suddenly you’re looking at a vulnerable team total.
Regional Final – Battle to Watch
Battle 198. This is the only regional in which the top-4 seeds have all scored a 198 so far this season, Oregon State and Denver each going there once, LSU doing it twice, and Michigan 198ing a full five times.
As in other regionals, the top seed should feel fairly safe here. Michigan is not prohibitively safe, not 2022-national-semifinal-proof, but safe enough that competing fairly close to potential should make for a drama-free day. While these other teams have at times put up the kind of scores that might be stressful for Michigan, you don’t expect all that 198 to be repeated in the regional final. And if the score-scape was such that it were repeated, Michigan’s probably on a 199.
The big question for this regional final surrounds LSU’s injury apocalypse and how that might play out in the postseason. Are these real lineup solutions, or just newspaper taped over a broken window? Can that beam lineup hold up to the crucible that is a must-hit elimination scenario? Is that bars lineup more than just 9.8s?
If LSU can get through bars and beam with SEC-dual, high-197 type scores, that probably seals it regardless of how Oregon State and Denver (/Minnesota?) perform since LSU’s vault and floor, despite being the most affected by the injuries, have also shown the most depth to withstand them. Both Oregon State and Denver, however, will expect to outscore LSU on beam (even if it’s a good hit for LSU) and if there’s any kind of real margin developed there, they will be able to lean on it during apparatuses that might be more advantageous to LSU.
If the seeds hold through the semifinal, Oregon State will start on beam, just like at Pac-12s, so will expect to be on 198 pace through two events. But in order to make nationals, they’re going to have to better maintain something close to that pace on vault and bars. The scores can’t suddenly drop off a cliff. Which basically means it’s going to need to be a Jade-10 kind of day.
Denver, meanwhile, would end the meet on a high, finishing on bars and beam, its best-two ranked events. If the home vibes are flying, if Denver has kept it close enough early, and if LSU opens the door in some way, watch out.
Individual qualification sees the top-ranked AAer and top-ranked performer on each event who are not part of a qualifying team advance to nationals as individuals, based on the scores from the regional semifinals.
If Oregon State does not advance as a team, then the all-around qualifier conversation would begin and end with Jade Carey, who is the heavy, heavy favorite to advance. Any of the other AA prospects in this regional are very much hoping that Oregon State goes as a team. Although, if Oregon State does go as a team, it would probably be at the expense of LSU, and then, you know, Haleigh Bryant and whatnot. Denver wouldn’t concede that easily, with Jessica Hutchinson and Lynnzee Brown very much in the conversation, but this is the toughest regional for AA qualification by far.
The event specialists, however, would very much prefer Jade Carey to qualify as an all-arounder so that she wouldn’t be eligible to take their spots on the apparatuses. That would allow room for one of the floor 10ers this season like Mya Hooten and Jessica Hutchinson to get through. Denver should have a number of individual nominees with Hutchinson and Brown and some stickable Y1.5s, so even if they don’t make it as a team, it would be surprising if they don’t get any qualifiers at all.
Oregon State would also have some additional event nominees on beam and floor. I would be partial to Jenna Domingo on beam, but that might be tough from the #2 slot.
The most open apparatus in this (and many) regionals might end up being bars, which is where North Carolina would hope to get Dekanoidze in (Culton on beam presenting another option but on a deeper event), and Nebraska could potentially sneak a bars qualifier in given how Emma Spence and Kinsey Davis have scored lately. Operation Justice for Alysen Fears of Arizona is also gaining momentum as she has three 9.925s in March. Georgia might find it tough to get an eventer in there as they haven’t really had the big 9.950/9.975 routine this year, but I wouldn’t be mad at JaFree Scott beam qualifier.