Category Archives: NCAA Preview

NCAA Week 10 Preview

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Marquee Meet

[9] Cal @ [3] UCLA

Sunday, March 8th, 1:00pm PT – Pac-12 Network

In the bookkeeping portion of this meet, Cal has a very specific scoring goal, with a 197.125 guaranteeing moving up ahead of Alabama for next Monday’s rankings. Qualitatively, Cal is looking to bring the level we’ve seen on vault over the last couple weeks through to the other events. If those last two meets are any indication, Cal can win vault at this meet because those Yurchenko 1.5s have been looking stronger than UCLA’s lately.

Last week, it was falls on bars—what really should be the team’s best event, even without Kuc—that proved Cal’s stumbling block, and the beam lineup very much missed Kyana George (look at us, look at us, talking about beam as Kyana George’s most important event). If those lineups are full and hitting, a lower 197 should be very attainable and basically the expected score at this point. While UCLA is the major favorite—and a 49.7+ floor rotation in this meet just feels like a given at this point—you wouldn’t die of shock if Cal were right in it after the first two events.

UCLA also has some manner of a scoring goal at its remaining meets with a few 197.2s still hanging around that need to go away, but the overall scoring picture is sufficiently strong. A 197.800 can ensure keeping the #3 spot for another week.

The larger question for UCLA is…where is this team in the title-race hierarchy? For several weeks now, we have seen Oklahoma and Florida dramatically distance themselves from the pack and make a fairly convincing argument for nationals 2020 being a glorified dual meet between the two. UCLA currently sits closest to them in 3rd, but we haven’t yet seen that same kind of nationals-caliber showing from the Bruins—that four-event, stuck-Y1.5s, bars-rotation-where-you’re-not-worried-about-a-fall-in-the-middle (*whispers Kocian and Frazier into a crystal ball*) performance that it will take to look like a convincing title winner.

There’s a difference between a meet with occasional gorgeous moments Kylaing around here and there that can go 197.6+, versus a meet that’s going to win a title. And we need to start seeing the latter. Otherwise, the nationals conversation will be more about whether UCLA can hang onto a place in the four rather than whether UCLA can win the season.

That dynamic is what makes this my marquee meet for the weekend because UCLA is talented enough to become the next-most-likely title winner, but you don’t get to keep talking about potential in March. Floor and Kyla and Glenn Beam can take you only so far (I mean, pretty far, like 3rd, it’s Kyla), and there need to be a couple more puzzle pieces in there.

Also, I would like to note for the record the joy I experienced when I wrote the words puzzle pieces and then immediately realized the feature image I could use for this. Unparalleled.

Continue reading NCAA Week 10 Preview

NCAA Week 9 Preview

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Marquee Meet

[6] Denver @ [1] Oklahoma

Saturday, February 29th, 11:30am CT – ESPNU

Injury talk. That’s pretty much the deal with this Denver/Oklahoma meet given the events of the last couple weeks.

For Oklahoma, the current Maggie Nichols status is “ankle injury” and “‾\_(ツ)_/‾.” If this is a couple-weeks kind of injury and she’s back for the elimination meets, then it’s truly not much of an issue. In the short term, especially at these home meets, that may mean the difference between a 198.200 and a 197.800 or something—and this would be an opportune time to get Olivia Trautman back on floor and Karrie Thomas back on beam to help remove some of those 9.800s—but it’s far from the end of the world. Oklahoma is already set for qualifying score and could put Lou out there on three events and be fine. (His beam is really coming along. His sissone is a peach.)

As for Denver, it would have been exceedingly difficult to defeat Oklahoma at the best of times, but given Denver’s roster depletion and struggles last week, this meet isn’t about a win. An actual victory in this meet for Denver would be a getting-back-on-your-feet score, even if it comes up well short of Oklahoma’s number.

Last weekend’s 195.1 really should be an aberration rather than the new normal. On bars, Lockhart and Morton both got 8s, but Lockhart did hit the week before for 9.8 and Morton has received 9.6s in exhibition routines (also Karr got 9.775 for what was pretty much her normal routine until she college-saluted herself out of a stick and it was weird). A hit from the currently competing group, while certainly not a given, should improve Denver’s score by more than a point.

The floor result last week was pretty solid (despite a fall, since it was dropped) and beam saw uncharacteristic struggles from Ruiz and Lockhart, people who have been hitting this season and were in the lineup even before the injury apocalypse. Vault remains the worry for me, with Fitts debuting in the lineup last weekend and falling on a full, meaning Lockhart had to do a layout that counted.

The ideal will be to get Lockhart in there with a full, but at this point Denver has to allow for the possibility of going sub-49 on vault and having to make it up on the other events. Which is doable. A high 196 should still be treated as very possible, and a 197 here for Denver would be a massive result.

Continue reading NCAA Week 9 Preview

NCAA Week 8 Preview

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Marquee Meet

[3] Utah @ [3] UCLA

Sunday, February 23rd, 3:00pm PT – ESPN2

Well, look how that worked out. Utah and UCLA find themselves tied in the rankings heading into their annual wackadoo dual that is truly going to be a sight this year. What do we think…three 10s? Five?

UCLA has been the stronger team over the last couple seasons and is hosting the meet this year, so the advantage will default to the Bruins. At the same time, we’ve seen UCLA putting up some non-ideal lineups lately, and last weekend the Bruins scored basically the same thing for a (semi) hit meet as Utah did for counting a fall on floor. That’s why Utah will feel, with a hit meet, this thing is very winnable, even on the road.

While it’s all been “Utah’s beam, Utah’s beam, Utah’s beam” (and we’ll get there), at least equally critical in this performance will be vault. Utah’s vaulting last week was excellent in the Y1.5 landings department from Hall-Burch-Tessen, a serious step—or seven—better than what we had seen earlier in the season. If repeated, and if UCLA is still hopping around on those 1.5s, vault provides Utah with a chance for a legitimate multi-tenth advantage. Because UCLA is theoretically the stronger team on bars and floor, Utah will be particularly keen to muffle that advantage with its vaulting performance so that winning doesn’t have to be all about beam.

As for beam, that’s obviously going to be THE TEST of this meet because it has been easily Utah’s best event this year while it has been the rebellious problem child for UCLA. But when you look at the gymnasts in these lineups, Utah shouldn’t actually be any better than UCLA on beam given that the Bruins can put up people like Ross and Glenn and Flatley. The difference between the two beam teams has been consistency, health, and confidence. So most important for UCLA will be not just hitting beam but hitting to the lineup’s actual potential. Last week’s 49.275, for instance, was an improvement on some of the weeks before, but still not enough to cut it or to minimize the beam difference that rankings tell us exists between these two.

Much depends on the actual fullness of UCLA’s lineups. I mentioned that the Bruins should be the better team on bars, but that’s fairly contingent on Frazier being in the lineup for a 9.9+ routine to complete that unassailable Flatley-Kocian-Frazier-Ross punch. Meanwhile, floor has certainly done the job—being ranked #1 and all—but Flatley-Lashbrooke-Andres is not the final, ideal, postseason leadoff group with the highest scoring potential. Now, I mean, it’s UCLA at home in a big regular season meet. They could put up Nicki Shapiro doing a yoga workshop in the third spot and get 9.875 for it (the dream), but if there are tenths that need to be made up in the final rotation, you want gymnasts like Frazier and Tratz in there for the most likely 9.9+ scores.

This is going to be a fun one.

Continue reading NCAA Week 8 Preview

NCAA Week 6 Preview

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Marquee Meet

[4] Denver, [18] Iowa State @ [2] Florida

Friday, February 7th, 7:00pm ET – SEC+

I feel like you might not be as excited about this meet as you need to be. Maybe because it’s inter-conference, maybe because it’s a tri-meet, maybe because Denver doesn’t have the same name cachet yet, but this is a big top-5 clash (with an exciting spoiler thrown in for luck) of which we’ve had only a couple so far this season.

We’re sort of moving out of “oh, it’s an opportunity for Denver to prove itself against a big team” territory because that has happened a few times already this season, outscoring UCLA in Anaheim (albeit in a different session) and beating Georgia at Metroplex. But, this meet should present a helpful guide for evaluating how much (and whether) this current top 2 of Oklahoma and Florida has separated itself from that next closest tier of 197y teams. Is this another insane dominant Florida home 198 bouquet, or does it look like a mid 197 team going up against a high 197 team in an exciting clash?

Iowa State is not to be ignored here, though it would take at least a counting fall from another team to disrupt the presumed finish. The United Nations of Iowa has emerged as a squad capable of getting 9.9s at the end of those lineups on multiple events and moving into the 196s.

Continue reading NCAA Week 6 Preview

NCAA Week 5 Preview

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Marquee Meet

[7] Alabama @ [6] LSU

Friday, January 31st, 7:30pm CT – SEC Network

The sole top-10 matchup of the weekend sees Alabama visit LSU in a meet presenting a major opportunity for both teams, though one that is likely more important for LSU than it is for Alabama. Sure, a win for Alabama would be a huge deal, a big step forward (more like a three-tenth lunge) in making the case that the slump is over—and a plump 197 road score is always a mouthwatering prospect in a meet like this. But if Alabama manages to, say, hit 197.2 and lose by five tenths, you don’t chalk that up as a disappointment, really. It’s fine. It’s still a solid marker toward making it back to nationals, and Alabama wasn’t the favorite anyway.

LSU, meanwhile, is the favorite—at home, and facing a team it has been comfortably better than for several years now. LSU is also eager to prove that despite losing to Florida last weekend, the team is closer to Florida at the top of the conference than it is to Alabama/Georgia in the next tier. A convincing win over Alabama would make that case.

At this point in the season, both teams are working to move out of “flashes of excellence” territory and into “we do well on all the events, and like…every time” territory. LSU got its closest so far last week with strong showings on vault, bars, and beam, but still wasn’t ideal on floor with the injury to Sarah Edwards providing a deflating moment in that rotation and a lineup question moving forward to this meet. We’ve learned that the injury is just a sprained ankle and nothing worse, but that’s still probably going to change the vault and floor dynamics for a spell. LSU shouldn’t be hurting on floor by the end of the season, but if Edwards is out for a bit (and we haven’t seen Desiderio there, and Rivers hasn’t done floor yet), the lineup could be scrounging for routines. On vault, we did see the full from Nibbs at the beginning of the year, but it is certainly a lower-scoring option than Edwards’ 1.5, so don’t be surprised if LSU experiences a scoring dip on those events this week. (Cut to everyone getting 9.950 on floor and DD transfiguring into an actual tiger mid-rotation.)

Alabama has its own lineup conundrum to work out after last week’s performance, where some lineup changes from the strong outing against Oklahoma ended up undermining a couple of the rotation scores. Alabama will absolutely want Luisa Blanco on bars and floor in the postseason, but she missed her first routines on both events last week, and if the team feels like it’s in it with a shot to upset LSU by going through cleanly, is it worth putting up a questionable hit? Typically, I’d say Alabama needs to go all-out, putting out every possible best routine, to have any shot at beating LSU at LSU. That’s probably still the case, but since LSU has shown those counting-fall moments so far, Alabama may consider a “let’s try for six hits everywhere, get our road 197, and it might also work out for a win” strategy.

Continue reading NCAA Week 5 Preview