So here we are. The first day of elimination meets in the 2021 season, where we find out who…gets to put a postseason victory on their record before getting eliminated tomorrow.
The first batch of meets will be NC State/WMU and Penn St/West Virginia. The NC State/Western meet looks like it has two different stream options, an ESPN3 link and a Georgia streaming link. I put the Georgia streaming link in here because sometimes WatchESPN gets pissy if you have too many streams open because they think you’re sharing a password or something. So having a Georgia streaming link might help in a sort of triage situation.
NC State is probably the biggest favorite in any of the play-ins—because they shouldn’t have had to participate in these meets in the first place—having gone 196 in five of the last six meets, while Western Michigan has been stuck in the 194s at the last three competitions. It would be a big surprise if Western gets through this one.
The one I’m most eager to see is Penn State/West Virginia. Penn State is ranked better but has also been stuck in the mid-195s most of the year because of vault and floor struggles. The team finally got those events to a better scoring place at Big Tens, only to count a mistake on beam for a 195.4. If they put it all together, we could see a 196. But then we have West Virginia, the home team, finally starting to turn it on in the last couple meets of the season to get the scores required to make regionals at all. West Virginia’s 195.7 from Big 12s also included a counting mistake on beam, better than Penn State’s score for a similar kind of meet.
Eastern Michigan and Maryland start an hour later and are ranked basically identically. Maryland probably has the higher scoring potential but is also missing several important injured athletes, which we’ve seen manifest in some declining bars and beam scores the last couple weeks. Both teams struggled on beam at conference championships (a theme!), but it will be especially important for EMU to hit a secure beam rotation to undermine the advantage Maryland should have on other pieces, particularly vault, where we’ve seen some higher 9.8s for Maryland’s Yfulls.
In an surprise, Temple comes into the meet against Arizona as a numerical favorite after that massive 196.500 from the conference championship. Until the month of March, Temple was a 194 team, so the question is whether this sudden and dramatic upswing can be maintained against a team with a few more expected 9.850-9.900 scores. And whether Arizona can bring the security in the Yfulls and the middle bars lineup to stay in this thing early and then hand it to people like Jessica Castles on the final events.
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.
Let’s begin this week’s preparation for regionals with the schedule and links—and a format refresher thrown in for luck. And necessity. Most of the scoring links aren’t a thing yet, but I’ll add them once they are.
Part 1: Play-ins
Competition begins on Thursday with the much-maligned (but also I secretly enjoy them) play-in meets, where the two lowest-ranked teams at each regional site compete to see who gets to join the seven other teams at Actual Regionals, and who is eliminated.
Thursday, April 1
3:00pm ET/12:00pm PT – Georgia Play-in  NC State vs.  Western Michigan
After the elimination of one team, the remaining eight teams at each regional site compete in two regional semifinals, both on Friday. The top two teams from each semifinal advance to the next day, while the two losing teams are eliminated, taking us from 32 teams to 16 teams.
The regional semifinal day can get to be a lot (though not nearly as bad as it used to be in the previous format), so I’ve included the half-hourly schedule breakdown with team-by-team rotations if you need to plan which terrifying beam rotations you need to watch at which time.
Friday’s competition also serves to determine which individual qualifiers advance to nationals. On Friday, the top all-around gymnast who doesn’t end up making nationals with a team will nonetheless qualify as an individual, as will the top scorers on each apparatus who are not on an advancing team. (They compete only that particular apparatus at nationals.)
Part 3: Regional Finals
On Saturday, the remaining four teams at each regional site compete in a single session, with the top two teams advancing to nationals and the two losing teams eliminated, taking us from 16 teams down to the eight that make nationals.