Category Archives: Meet Preview

Conference Championships Preview – Part 1

Behold! The part that sort of matters before the part that really matters!

That’s right, the conference championships are upon us once again, our first tentative toe dipped into the waters of the championship season, with trophies on the line and four-judge panels back to try to weed out the most erratic of Carols, but without losers getting eliminated just yet.

With a dozen separate college championships being contested this weekend, I’ve split the preview up into two parts. Let’s begin with Part 1: Some of them! (The theme of part 2 will also be some of them.)

Pac-12 Championship

Afternoon: Washington, Arizona State, Stanford, Arizona
Evening: UCLA, Utah, Oregon State, Cal

The typical dynamic of the Pac-12 Championship is skewed to some degree this year. Rather than the usual “Utah or UCLA? Where she stops nobody knows!” outlook, we have a true favorite for the Pac-12 title this season in UCLA. The Bruins outrank the Utes on three of the four events, defeated Utah (in Utah) at their dual meet this season, and lead by more than a fall in NQS. Now, I don’t think UCLA can actually count a fall and still win this meet in real life, but that’s what the rankings tell us.

UCLA’s biggest asset compared to Utah will come on beam, where UCLA has the potential to put together a lineup that begins in the 9.9s and stays there, while Utah is more likely to remain in the 9.8s for most of the lineup apart from the bookends. Add that to the Flatley-Kocian-Ross trio on bars, and what at this point is just an auto-10 from Ohashi on floor, and UCLA will have several areas in which to build up the scoring advantage against Utah.

The concern for UCLA is if the performance at Vallapalooza was more than just an emotional one-off, because that performance was not good enough to win Pac-12s. In the meet against Utah State, we saw how reliant UCLA has become on Ross hitting vault because once she missed, suddenly some uncontrolled landings on other Y1.5s had to count, and UCLA barely broke 49. That’s not going to cut it compared to a Utah team that has the more reliable landings on its big-difficulty vaults from Skinner and MMG.

What Utah has been able to create this season is four lineups that should start from 9.850 and go from there. When Lee sticks, when Roberts does her usual cleanest routine in the lineup work on floor (fight me), they’re establishing a pretty high baseline. That’s a main reason we haven’t seen Utah fall below 197 this season, because the lineups are almost never fighting against that lead-off 9.775. There’s always something very usable to count. It’s still going to make Utah vulnerable to a team with lineups that start at 9.900 like UCLA can put up on a few events, but it’s also why Utah shouldn’t have much trouble finishing top 2 here with a hit meet. Continue reading Conference Championships Preview – Part 1

Week 11 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee meets

[6] Utah @ [8] Georgia
Saturday, 4:00 ET, SECN+

We’re getting the band back together! The old classic is upon us again, and this year’s edition should provide a telling comparison at a critical moment as both teams start to ask “Are we top 8? Are we top 4?” questions of themselves.

Utah will certainly have hopes of making the top 4 and competing on the final day of nationals—and beating Georgia on the road is exactly the kind of thing a top-4 team needs to be able to do. Meanwhile, Georgia will absolutely see itself as a nationals-qualifying team, but it’s right on the cusp right now at #8. A win over Utah would tell us that Georgia is closer to the good side than the bad side when it comes to dividing 8 from the rest.

Under neutral circumstances, Utah is your favorite here, but the meet taking place in Georgia pretty much levels things. How level? The total of Georgia’s three counting home scores for NQS is exactly identical to the total of Utah’s three counting road scores.

Of course, all eyes will be on beam since it has been a “U OK?” event for both teams this season. Georgia likely has the higher peak potential score on beam because of built-in execution, at least when gymnasts like Oakley and Baumann are on (plus that thing where the judges ignore grabbing the beam sometimes), yet Georgia has also proven at this point to be the more terrifying of the two beam lineups. Much will depend on whether Georgia can cut out the leg-up, seasickness wobbles that seem to plague the lineup most weeks. Continue reading Week 11 Preview

NCAA Week 10 Preview

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Marquee meets

[1] Oklahoma @ [7] Michigan
Saturday, 12:00 ET, BTN

The big-ranking clash of the weekend pits Oklahoma against Michigan, and most interestingly of all, the meet is in Michigan. I say most interestingly because this weekend we’ll have to reconcile the narrative of Michigan not enjoying the same spoils of super-high home scoring that other top teams receive (often true, but not exclusively this season) with the narrative that Oklahoma gets 9.950s showered upon it anywhere the team goes. Tight or loose, what will it be? On senior day, with Oklahoma coming to town, it’s hard to imagine Carol laying off the clear alcohols, but it might happen…

While Oklahoma’s performance last weekend against UCLA was not ideal (mostly because of beam), it was still a victory over the most compelling title challenger this season and continues to set Oklahoma up as the one to beat heading to nationals. This season, however, is a little different. In recent years, we’ve seen what has looked like an impervious Oklahoma team, one that seems ready for the postseason by about mid-February—with little for us to focus on in those late-season meets other than whether the scores are going to be high enough to set a new RQS record. That’s not the case this season. Oklahoma has done exceptionally well, of course, but we haven’t yet seen a “that will win the title” performance (even in that bonkers meet against Florida), nor have we seen the 24 best-case-scenario routines all compete at the same time.

There remains a sense of uncertainty around Oklahoma’s lineups because of the absences from meet to meet. Bre Showers is out for the season, Nichols hasn’t done floor in two months, Trautman was out on beam last week—we’re seeing depth imbalances in lineups, and as long as we’re seeing those, Oklahoma can look vulnerable. It’s going to be worth watching, then, how Oklahoma manages a Saturday-Monday turnaround this weekend without a ton of bonus routines and with several gymnasts who need to be managed.

For Michigan, this one is a little bit more about the score since Oklahoma comes in as the major favorite. Some straggling mid-196s are currently keeping Michigan on the cusp, in danger of falling down to an unbecoming regionals seeding. Those scores need to be removed in the coming weeks, and Michigan will be looking for at least something in the 197.3s here to keep its ranking the same for another week. Unlike some of the teams about to be discussed, Michigan would be pretty pleased if the season ended exactly as it is now—UCLA, Minnesota, and Cal coming to town as the seeded teams for regionals. Among the potential options, that one isn’t too bad.

Elevate the Stage
[8] Georgia, [10] Minnesota, [20] Arkansas, Michigan State
Friday, 7:00 CT, Flogymnastics

How legit is Minnesota? That’s the question this Friday’s session of Elevate the Stage in Birmingham can answer. A host of high 196s (and last week’s massive 197.500) has allowed Minnesota to make an aggressive assault on the rankings in the last few weeks to get up to the top 10, just two spots below Georgia. That 197.500 means that Minnesota actually has the higher peak score than Georgia this season, and if things go just right here, Minnesota can pass Georgia in the rankings come Monday. Continue reading NCAA Week 10 Preview

NCAA Week 9 Preview

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Marquee Meets

[2] UCLA @ [1] Oklahoma
Sunday, 12:00 CT, ESPN

It’s the big one. Of all the meets until the national championship, this one will give us the best indication of how things will go down when it actually matters. These two went 1-2 last year, and we’ve been given no reason as yet to think it will be different this year, especially with an improved UCLA side over 2018 and in Miss Val’s last season.

Foremost among the determining factors in this meet will be the Oklahoma health situation. The absences of Maggie Nichols and Bre Showers last weekend against West Virginia very much showed in the strain they put on lineups, several of which struggled to fill out six competitive scores. If the team that competed against WVU shows up again, it will lose to UCLA. That said, Nichols has been popping in and out of lineups, and you’d have to imagine that unless something goes awry, this will be an in meet. And this Oklahoma team, with Nichols in lineups, will always expect to go 198.

Eyes on floor. Floor has not been particularly deep for Oklahoma this season, and that’s something UCLA will look to take advantage of, especially if Nichols isn’t ready to get back in the lineup there. For the last month or so, Oklahoma has had just the four reliable floor scores, which has seen the team fall to (gasp) #3 in the country on the event, behind both UCLA and Florida. To pull out the upset road win, UCLA will absolutely be looking for the higher score on floor. Continue reading NCAA Week 9 Preview

NCAA Week 8 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee Meets

[2] UCLA @ [4] Utah
Saturday, 1:30pm MT, Pac-12 Network

Is this the most aggressive rivalry in NCAA now? I think it might be, at least as far as the internet is concerned. And of course, as we all know, arguments on the internet are always real and important and matter, so…

In somewhat more happening-in-real-life affairs—although is this real life?—the last time UCLA visited Utah, we were treated to the melodrama of the century. And I don’t mean Peng getting 9.825 for this beam routine. But also yes I do because I’m still cackling about it.

Really, I am referring to my most-favorite thing of all time, Flipping-Off-Gate 2017, which I certainly haven’t forgotten because lame drama about giving the finger is the kind of petty 90s middle school nonsense I’m all about. It thrills me to no end. Other sports are like, “Welp, someone got murdered in the parking lot again,” meanwhile college gymnastics is just one big episode of 7th Heaven. Specifically, this episode of 7th Heaven.

Also, how was that white feces even a show? And why did I watch it for, like, multiple seasons? Can we discuss that for 28 hours and do nothing else?

I really need Jessica Biel to come in and trash the gym after the UCLA/Utah meet.

Nice throw, basketball scholarship.

Anyway the meet. What were we talking about? Gymnastics? Who would ever? I’m eager to see these two teams in the same arena because while UCLA has been the stronger squad this year, having these two in front of the same judging panel at a Utah-favored venue should even things out a little bit and give us a closer contest than the half-point RQS advantage UCLA currently enjoys. I certainly don’t expect either team to run away with this one, and Utah in particular needs to keep this close to stem the narrative that it’s a three-team race this season.

The argument from teams like Utah and LSU this year has been that insane scoring for Oklahoma, UCLA, and Florida has created an artificially large ranking margin for those three teams that isn’t based on the actual gymnastics performed or scores earned, but more on judging bias. This meet is a significant test of that theory. If UCLA claims this one by a clear and healthy margin, even away at Utah, then that’s probably what we’re going to see for the rest of the year, even in postseason. Continue reading NCAA Week 8 Preview

Week 7 Preview

Full schedule and links

Marquee meets

GQ Invitational: [4] Utah, [5] LSU, [15] Missouri, Stanford
Friday, 6:15 CT, Flogymnastics

At the top of the playbill, the GymQuarters Mardi Gras Beads and Whatever Invitational brings us a comparison we almost never get in a non-postseason context—Utah against LSU. That comparison is becoming particularly relevant this season as Utah and LSU spend more and more time entrenched at #4 and #5, rankings that will be assigned to the same regional site in the new postseason seeding format.

While both #4 and #5 would be seeded to advance to nationals, one’s going to be the leader and the other’s going to be the old gazelle at the back of the pack, the one vulnerable to getting picked off by a surging underdog. We just don’t know which one is Utah and which one is LSU yet.

Because Utah has shown the more consistent performances thus far with those weekly 197 victories, winning this meet becomes more important for LSU—a team that has had its share of dramas and losses (admittedly with a more difficult schedule) and is coming off a quite lackluster performance against Kentucky. In addition to whatever sentimental hogwash and confidence concerns you might want to imbue the current situation with, pragmatically, LSU has fewer usable scores than Utah right now (only one worthwhile road total) and needs to take this opportunity of a road meet to get a mid-197.

At the same time, LSU’s desire for victory may be tempered by some difficult lineup decisions since this is a two-meet weekend. On the one hand, it’s preparation for the back-to-back days of regional competition. On the other hand, this roster has a number of fragile athletes you wouldn’t necessarily want to push on the leg events for a two-meet weekend right now. Do you hold them back in one meet or the other? Balancing the powerful desire to get confidence back right away by going all out and trying to beat a higher-ranked team like Utah with the patient knowledge that it’s still the regular season and you’re going to make regionals with a fine seeding regardless is a challenge.

Utah will have to manage some of the same lineup considerations for its two-meet weekend with Skinner and Tessen and Reinstadtler all having faced participation limitations in the early going, but will also want to bring out the fireworks for this one. This is the first real big-money meet of Utah’s season—a top-ranked opponent, a podium meet—and one that ushers in the far more difficult portion of Utah’s schedule. Monday’s meet against Stanford is Utah’s last remaining competition without a top-10 opponent. Other than that, it’s LSU and UCLA and Georgia and Michigan and Pac-12s. Difficult asks, but also serious opportunities to move out of that solid-but-not-nationals-level rut of lower 197s.  Continue reading Week 7 Preview