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
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.
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.
The big news of the day is Auburn’s withdrawal from regionals due to COVID issues, ending Auburn’s season and rendering moot the discussion of the very important Auburn/Missouri clash from yesterday‘s preview.
This means Oklahoma and Missouri will now have to defeat only the winner of the Eastern Michigan/Maryland play-in in order to advance to the regional final. It also makes the two semifinals at this site even more comically lopsided than they were before as Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, and Iowa State all still have to be in the other semifinal together.
Just two normal semifinals..
The NCAA won’t redo brackets if the withdrawal happens more than 24 hours after they are made…
…but I’m sure if you gave Iowa the choice, they would be like, “Yes, please, yes, we will somehow manage the extreme burden of competing at a different time and starting on a different event in order to be in that session instead.”
Also, having a play-in at this site is now exceptionally hilarious as a concept since there’s just going to be an open spot in that semifinal. “Hi, we would rather have nothing than you. Go home now.”
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,  Arkansas,  Iowa,  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.
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
 Minnesota,  Denver,  Georgia,  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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Conference championships mega-day will barrel itself into us tomorrow, so a few thoughts before that happens.
Because this has to be a section of the preview now. The big news coming out of the SEC Championship yesterday was the withdrawal of Georgia due to positive tests and contact tracing and whatnot. I know. This never would have happened with Suzanne. She would have given one look at that virus and sent it immediately to Sarah Patterson’s house in a disguise.
Georgia says it will be ready to go with a “full roster” for regionals, which are at Georgia. So…you better. Georgia’s like, “We can still host you Oklahoma…cough cough.” Given how quickly LSU bounced back from a similar scenario earlier in the season, it seems plausible that this won’t be a season-ending situation. It does, however, confirm that Georgia will be an unseeded team at regionals. UGA is currently tied with Illinois for 16th but behind Illinois on the tiebreak, now with no opportunity to change that. So that’s going to be a fun round of 32. As of right now, it would be Minnesota and Denver in the same regional semifinal as Georgia with only two teams advancing to the round of 16, though expect all this stuff to change after conference championships.
Today, New Hampshire joined Georgia in having to withdraw from the conference championships, which is ultimately a far more significant development because it could mean the abrupt and premature end of UNH’s season. Again. New Hampshire is currently ranked #35 and within the advancing spots, so will retain some hope heading into Saturday, but there are so many teams that can pass with even average performances at conference championships that it’s going to be a tough wait. Arizona just needs 195.175 to pass, and Nebraska just needs 195.300, Washington needs 195.325, West Virginia 195.550, and the list goes on. If two of them do it, New Hampshire is out.
But let’s get to the teams that are actually competing.
Winter Cup—now with added women for heart health!—has arrived. The men and the Nastia proteges will get things started on Friday, with the elite women competing Saturday and Sunday. Full weekend gymnastics schedule.
If we’re being honest, there’s not a ton riding on the women’s competition when it comes to Olympic prognostication because it’s still so early in Selection Time—especially as national team spots can now be earned here, at March camp, or by petition. Also, most of these people haven’t competed since they were several feet shorter, so I’m going to try to cool it on TEH STAKES. (When has that ever worked.) But there are still some athletes and concepts I’m eager to see play out this weekend.
A shining treasure and the dove of peace, Laurie Hernandez is finally set to make her return to competition at Winter Cup, 54 months since the last time we saw her get a score. In large part, Hernandez’s participation in this competition is about the fact that she’s there and that’s exciting. She’s a star of the sport who has overcome the Haney of it all to make a return.
As yet, we haven’t seen any D-score-based indications that she’s making a capital-O Olympic push, but we also haven’t seen any actual competition work. This performance, then, will be revealing in terms of what track she’s on and whether the timing looks realistic. Hernandez is preliminarily expected to compete beam and floor here, understandable as the two most likely events on which she would be up to competition level.
For MG Elite refugees in general, this competition can be a significant benchmark because the last time we saw McCusker compete, she was being escorted off the floor after bars so that no one could see how rhabdo she was. Time has passed.
The senior team competition will be a fight between Ukraine and Romania, one will come down exclusively to who has the fewest meltdowns in the team final. Because as we all know, “who do you trust more to hit, Ukraine or Romania?” is a trick question.
On paper, these teams are very close, although that paper is also riddled with domestic scoring and coffee stains. Ukraine’s most compelling avenue to victory is through bars, where the team’s scoring history is much stronger and where, by contrast, the best case scenario for Romania would be having to count only one score in the 11s and no one going to the hospital with a grip stuck in her ear. (That’s not where you put it?)
Ukraine has the ability to pick up multiple points on bars, but establishing that advantage is incumbent on the entire team hitting. Eeesh. If even one of the Ukrainians falls, and Iordache and Sfiringu get the grown-up scores they’re capable of, then bars scoring isn’t even that disparate between the two, and the clear team advantage would go to Romania.
I’d give Romania the slight edge on vault for being more consistent and having the best individual vault from Iordache. On floor, Romania should have the bigger routines, especially if they perform like they did at national event finals, though keep in mind that both Varinska and Radivilova sometimes score secretly well on floor. Romania’s strategy for victory will be to do better on vault and floor and then just be exactly the same amount of disastrous as Ukraine on bars and beam so that Ukraine can’t establish an advantage anywhere.
Of significant note, Romania has made a team change, subbing Daniela Trica back in for Maria Holbura just like I wanted them to and complained about plenty. I’m not saying it was all me, I’m just saying I’m currently in charge of Romanian gymnastics. Please direct all inquiries to Daniela Sofronie.
As for the others, Hungary should advance to the team final comfortably and be in compelling position for bronze, though the Czech Republic and an unproven-but-talented Turkish squad will be thinking, “Hey, why the hell not?”