February 27, 2015

Friday Live Blog – Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Utah, and Everyone

Friday, February 27
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Kentucky @ Florida (Scores) (ESPN3)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Northern Illinois @ Ball State (Scores) (Stream)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Rutgers, Michigan State, Yale @ Towson (Scores) (Stream)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Southern Connecticut, Ursinus @ West Chester
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Oklahoma @ Illinois (Scores)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Georgia @ Auburn (Scores) (ESPN3)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Missouri @ Arkansas (ESPN3)   
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – LSU @ Alabama (Scores) (ESPN3)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Denver, Utah State @ Southern Utah (Scores) (Stream)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – BYU @ Boise State (Scores) (Stream)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Utah @ Oregon State (Scores) (Pac-12 Network)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Central Michigan, Iowa, Sacramento State @ UC Davis (Scores)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Air Force @ Seattle Pacific
11:00 ET/8:00 PT – Centenary @ Alaska (Scores) (Stream)

Week 7 rankings:

Action starts at 7:00 ET/4:00 PT. Stay tuned.

February 26, 2015

The Weekend Ahead – February 27th-March 2nd

Red alert. There are just three weeks left in the regular season. How does this always happen? The preseason is a million centuries long. Fortunately, in these last three weeks until conference championships, the meets are packing in an acceptable amount of value. Especially this Friday, with another juicy slate of SEC meets and an interloping Pac-12 match-up between Utah and Oregon State that's particularly interesting as Oregon State tries to position itself for Regionals. As we move into this part of the season, the meets involving the teams ranked 11-14 become some of the most important as those teams try to claw over each other to avoid a bad Regional placement. 1/12/13 is the death Regional, the most likely Regional for a team to hit the meet and not advance, as Oregon State did—relatively—last year (196.525) and Auburn did the year before (196.700).

In the rankings, Oklahoma is set at #1 for another week, but LSU can get pretty close with a great showing. Oklahoma's ranking lead has been very, very safe for a number of weeks, but they'll have to start turning things up now to make sure it stays that way. LSU has a 196.600 road score to get rid of, so they should be able to remain out of the reach of Florida and Utah in the #2 spot with a hit meet. With a 196.725 still to be dropped, Utah is in a similarly solid position to jump up in RQS, but to do it, they have to prove they can get the road scores. They have just the one great road score so far (@ Arizona) and will need several more to challenge the big girls. It will be a little harder for Florida to move up, but they're at home, so you never know. If the Gators get another one of those home 198s, they can shake things up if LSU and Utah are just OK tomorrow.

Alabama, Michigan, and Auburn are all at home and all unlikely to change their RQS significantly, but Auburn's position is the most vulnerable right now. With three solid home scores already, Auburn will not be able to increase RQS too much even with a great meet. However the trailing teams—Nebraska, Georgia, and UCLA—all have sub-196 scores (sub-195 in the case of UCLA) that they're itching to get rid of this weekend. All three have to potential to jump ahead of Auburn with regular, solid performances. The bottom half of the top 10 may be the area of greatest flux this weekend. 



Friday's action begins with Florida going after that massive home score against Kentucky, but the two most interesting meets of the day will be Georgia/Auburn and LSU/Alabama. Auburn has been getting the scores and zooming up the rankings the last few weeks, but are they really ready to jump into the top half of the SEC and unseat a perennial (the perennial) power? We'll find out. As with all Georgia meets this year, beam and floor will be the deciders. While I favor Georgia on both vault and bars—if Georgia doesn't have a healthy lead at the halfway point, it's bad news—Auburn has been the stronger beam team over the last month. Megan Walker has quietly emerged as one of the best beamers in the country, and she has a family of supporting 9.875s behind her from Atkinson, Demers, and Guy. Beam is the event where they can pounce. Georgia has its own crop of exceptionally talented beam workers, but the wobble goblins are a bigger worry. Even during last week's season high, they had one really great hit from Box (and solid work from Babalis), but it was not a confident or clean rotation overall.

But really, this meet for Georgia is all about the floor. They have to recover from that garbage rotation last week. If they don't, none of the other apparatuses will matter. That Georgia floor is the rotation I'm most excited for this weekend. The time to work through problems has already run out. We're going into March now, the month to perfect details, not learn how to hit.



Overlapping that meet will be the LSU/Alabama clash, which is more important for Alabama than it is for LSU. Sure, LSU would love to pick up a juicy score and put the pressure on Oklahoma in the rankings, but right now the Tigers are in a fairly comfortable position both numerically and qualitatively. Alabama has been making a lot of progress over the last couple weeks to get those competitive 197s. They're up to a season-high ranking now, but they're still on the outside of that top flight of teams. A win over LSU, coupled with a win over Florida earlier this year, would mean they should be in the title conversation, not just the Super Six conversation. Of course, both of those meets are at home (March 6th in Missouri should be a good opportunity to gauge how Alabama looks at a less enthusiastic, more conservatively judged road meet), but another win would still be significant. There's also the matter of the home winning streak to deal with, and all.

The issue for Alabama in this meet is that, so far this season, the two teams have showed similar strengths with LSU just a tad better in each department. If Alabama is going to win in a hit meet from both teams, they'll need to stick more vault landings than LSU (and more than they did in Georgia) and be more precise with the bars landings as well. LSU looked very nice on bars last week, but they were shuffling and stepping and twitching just ever so slightly. If Alabama brings those blamo Alabama bars sticks from years past, they may pick up ground. It would also help if LSU has one of those bad floor landings meets, but they seemed to exorcise that demon last week. Almost entirely.

As mentioned, a few of the Pac-12 teams have some important scores to get, not just Oregon State and UCLA, but Stanford as well. With few meets left, Stanford has some 195s they have to get rid of now. Price and Vaculik are working their way back at just the right time to help the team put together some real meets, which is very much the Stanford way of going about things. You don't have to get 196s until March. Also keep an eye on Minnesota. They're moving on up. They had a beamtastrophe in their most recent meet (and that event remains a worry), but they're starting to put consistent 49 rotations together on the other piece. With even a regular lower-midish 196 this weekend, they can start to put pressure on Stanford, Oregon State and Penn State and make the 11-14 zone just that much more threatening.

Top 25 Schedule
Friday, February 27
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – [25] Kentucky @ [3] Florida
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [1] Oklahoma @ [16] Illinois
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [9] Georgia @ [7] Auburn
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [23] Missouri @ [17] Arkansas   
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [2] LSU @ [5] Alabama
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – [18] Denver, Utah State @ [21] Southern Utah
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – BYU @ [15] Boise State
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [4] Utah @ [12] Oregon State
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [24] Iowa, Central Michigan, Sacramento State @ UC Davis

Saturday, February 28
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – [10] UCLA @ Arizona State
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – NC State @ [6] Michigan
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Iowa State, Penn, Brockport @ [13] Penn State
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – New Hampshire @ [14] Minnesota
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – [19] Cal @ [20] Arizona

Sunday, March 1
3:00 ET/12:00 PT – [16] Illinois, San Jose @ [8] Nebraska

Monday, March 2
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – [22] Washington @ [11] Stanford

February 23, 2015

Week 7 Rankings and RQS Update

The big news of the week came in the land of commitments with Kyla Ross announcing that she is going to UCLA. This is an upset. We so rarely get upsets. Until very recently, all we had heard for years was "Stanford, Stanford, Stanford, Stanford." Looks like Miss Val went to work. Next mission: Let's work on not throwing up all those sloppy 9.6s on bars.

UCLA is shaping up to have something on the verge of a post-2000 class after the 2016 Olympics. There will be a couple years where Biles, Ross, Ohashi, Dennis, and Kocian will all be on the team at the same time (and in 2017, we could see a beam lineup with Peng, Ross, Biles, and Ohashi all together, stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it, stop jinxing it). The judges will be exploding in a shower of confetti over how many 10s they want to give them. Time to start getting everyone fitted for bubble-wrap body suits. No UCLA injury parades, please.

In actual competition this week, Utah returned to its home ways, winning the weekend with a 198.050, the fourth-best score in team history, featuring another 10 on bars for Georgia Dabritz. It's funny that bars has turned out to be Dabritz's 10 event, because I still sort of think it's her third-best event. I prefer watching her on vault and floor, though the comaneci makes it so much better. A couple other routines I saw this weekend could realistically have received 10s and I only would have complained about it a medium amount, notably both Kayla Williams and Alex McMurtry on vault, especially compared to the other scores given out at those meets.



Interestingly, the scores are going very high, especially in the big-name meets with all kinds of 9.950s flying out of every orifice. But at the same time, the 10 pace has fallen off a little bit, as though there's some timidity about giving out ALL THE 10s creeping in, but not about giving everyone 9.950s.

And now to the rankings.

Week 7 Rankings - (GymInfo)

1. Oklahoma – 197.640
Week 7: 197.375
Week 7 leaders: AA - None; VT - Scaman, Capps 9.900; UB - Wofford 9.950; BB - Capps 9.900; FX - Scaman 9.950

RQS
Road Score 1: 198.150
Road Score 2: 197.700
Road Score 3: 197.650
Road/Home Score 1: 197.850
Road/Home Score 2: 197.625
Road/Home Score 3: 197.375  

Oklahoma just escaped Michigan over the weekend. Just. That would have been a bit of a wake-up call, wouldn't it? Lower-than-expected scores on both beam and floor accounted for Oklahoma spending a second straight week in the lower half of the 197s, after it seemed like they would never deign to score under a 197.500 given the early-season performances. 197.3 is what peasants score. Floor hasn't been a problem for most of the year (Kara Lovan had a 9.450 disaster this time but is pretty much always a clean little broomstick of twisting for 9.900), but once again beam was the lowest-scoring event. It will be fine, and will be beautiful, but it's definitely true that they have not been able to replace the Spears and Mooring routines with as reliable work.

In spite of the big scores from LSU and Utah over the weekend, Oklahoma's RQS lead is still quite comfortable. It should remain comfortable in the near future given the road score advantage they maintain over all the other teams, as long as they can get rid of this 197.3 with a juicy 197.800 soon. 

2. LSU – 197.335
Week 7: 197.950
Week 7 leaders: AA - Courville 39.625; VT - Courville, Ewing 9.900; UB - Courville 9.950; BB - Jordan 9.925; FX - Hall 9.975
 
RQS
Road Score 1: 197.425
Road Score 2: 197.350
Road Score 3: 196.600
Road/Home Score 1: 198.075
Road/Home Score 2: 197.950
Road/Home Score 3: 197.350

This was a big home win over Florida. Very big. While LSU has been firmly in the title conversation since before the season started, they've been very clearly the third team in the hierarchy of the three big contenders. Victories like this (I struggle to call it an upset since they were at home, even though it was a ranking and reputation upset) help even the outlook. LSU hit a very composed and consistent meet and was the stronger team, but this was not their best gymnastics. Beam was more nervy than it has been in other meets, and the vault landings can be much more controlled. And Courville's floor still has some random issue almost every time. Still, LSU confirmed that there is no real quality-of-gymnastics gap between them and the other title contenders. They are capable of beating a hit meet from any other team. They won't necessarily need to hope for errors once Nationals come around.

The Tigers still trail Oklahoma by three tenths in the RQS battle, but they are going to Alabama next weekend with a golden chance to get rid of that mid-196 road score and pick up at least a couple tenths, which would put the pressure on the Sooners. They can't catch Oklahoma yet, but they can make it competitive.

Of note, Ashleigh Gnat had verging on the best performances I've seen from her on all of her events.

February 20, 2015

Friday Live Blog – Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU

Friday, February 20
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Alabama @ Georgia (Scores) (ESPN3)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Oklahoma @ Michigan (Scores) (BTN2GO)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Arkansas @ Kentucky (Scores) (ESPN3)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Boise State @ Ohio State (Scores) (CSL)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Eastern Michigan @ Western Michigan
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Kent State, North Carolina, Rutgers @ NC State (Scores) (CSL - free)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – George Washington, Towson,  William & Mary @ Maryland (Scores) (BTNPlus)
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Minnesota @ Iowa State
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Northern Illinois @ SEMO (Scores)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Michigan State @ Illinois (Scores) (CSL
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Air Force @ Illinois State
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Florida @ LSU (Scores) (ESPN3)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Auburn @ Missouri (Scores) (ESPN3)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Oregon State @ Arizona State (Scores) (Stream)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Southern Utah @ Utah State (Scores) (Stream)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – UC Davis @ San Jose State (Scores) (Stream)

Week 6 rankings.

It's a big day in the SEC. Place your bets now on the high score of the day. I'm going with 207.650. Kytra Hunter is definitely getting a 13 on floor tonight.

February 19, 2015

The Weekend Ahead – February 20th-22nd

It's a showdown weekend. Across two days, we have five different meets featuring perennial Nationals qualifiers facing off with each other, so expect some sparks to fly...is what I would be saying if wins and losses mattered. As it is, expect a lot of simultaneous high-quality gymnastics (no flipping to another meet for half the routines) as all the teams iterate that they're only focused on themselves and don't really care what anyone else is doing. 

In the rankings, we'll see the biggest shakeup of the season on Monday once the new RQS standings debut. Feel free to check out my RQS breakdown to see where teams are likely to end up and what ugly scores they still need to drop. Oklahoma is guaranteed to retain the #1 ranking for at least another week, as neither Florida nor LSU can get within a tenth of a point of them after this weekend's competition. The Sooners have a bit of a lead. Utah has a chance to move up as high as #2 with a solid 197, but they would also need Florida/LSU to be a bit of a splatfest, so that seems less likely. The introduction of RQS is the best news for Georgia and Stanford as both teams look primed to jump in the rankings even if they have poor meets this weekend.



Alabama is visiting Georgia, and Dana Duckworth has been having sugarplum dreams of a delicious victory over the old arch-nemesis all week. Alabama is on the upswing after last week's result, while Georgia is still sort of all over the place. It looked like the Gym Dogs were pulling things together, but then last week's performance featured a beam fall and a whole royal court of 9.7s. Having to count a Mary Beth Box fall on beam is a blip, but the 9.7s are the real concern. Those are still way too likely to show up on both beam and floor, with tenativeness on beam and flatness on floor, and they need to turn back into 9.825-9.850s this weekend. The good news for Georgia is that they still have a weak 195 on their RQS, so even an average performance is going to look pretty good in the rankings.

Simultaneously, Oklahoma will be visiting Michigan. The meet will be tape delayed on the Big Ten Network but shown live on BTNPlus. BTNPlus and I are in a fight right now (heads up, trying to cancel a BTNPlus subscription is harder than climbing Everest), so you gallant heroes who watch it can keep the rest of us posted in the comments if you feel like it. Oklahoma doesn't really have to worry about scores now, but they had a little bit of a meh last week on beam—the only event where they're not #1 in the country—so point a discerning eye at the security of that rotation this week. There all still some consistency issues on both bars and beam (not major issues, more random 9.7s here and there issues) that they'll need to iron out over the next month.



Michigan is also coming off an OK. Lindsay Williams had a random poor meet, so watch to make sure that's not a snowball situation, but the major routines of interest will be Nicole Artz on floor and Austin Sheppard on vault. Artz has gone OOB two weeks in a row, and they rely on her for Sampson-esque scores, and Sheppard finally came on vault last week but just did a Yhalf tucked, so let's hope we get another step forward this week.

Later on, the feature meet will be Florida against LSU. While Alabama and Oklahoma come in as the relative favorites in their meets, there isn't a favorite in this one. It's all to play for. Bars is going to be really interesting, partially because of how much variation we've seen in the landing quality from these two teams and how much influence that should have in the result, but mostly because we're allegedly going to see the triumphant return of Bridget Sloan. I know that it will have been 7 weeks since her injury (and we were originally told she would be out six weeks), but doesn't it still seem super fast? For all the chatter about the significance of her injury, she has come back in about a millisecond. The bars rotation is where they need her the most, and even if she's very much in "I''m still fragile" mode (as I would expect), she makes that lineup look so much better. Discussion question: Who would you take out? And, scandalously, is it Kennedy Baker?

February 16, 2015

Week 6 Rankings and RQS Outlook

Over the weekend, Florida recovered from their average road performance a week ago to record the season's highest total so far, 198.225, which means the Gators jump right back up into their cozy little trio with Oklahoma and LSU. Ah, home meets. It's a wonder what home+Baker+Hunter hitting can do for scores. 

In 10-land, the pace dropped off a little bit this week with just one 10.0 instead of the usual 6,000. The one 10.0 came from Toni-Ann Williams, Her Ladyship Duchess of Berkeley, on vault. It's particularly significant because it's the first 10.0 for Cal on vault ever. We also had several more 9.975s on bars, including Ivana Hong, because obviously, as well as Mary Jane Horth once again. 

If you haven't had a chance to watch the LSU/Auburn meet from Friday yet, you really should. High-quality gymnastics in a competitive meet that went down to the final routine and was not defined by judging insanity (almost entirely). It was a good reminder of what's fun about college gymnastics. I have to think that if Caitlin Atkinson had been in on floor, Auburn would have won. Scores were going in Auburn's favor through that final rotation, but Hlawek had to perform in the final spot and just doesn't have that 9.900 routine they needed.






In the comment of the live blog, a few people mentioned that it would be interesting if Auburn keeps this up and knocks Georgia out of the top-seeded session at SECs (it really would be). But, Georgia is the de facto host of SECs, and do we know if the SEC is mimicking the rules of the Pac-12, where the host school's session goes in the evening regardless of seeding? Last year, if you recall, the Pac-12 Championship was at Cal. Since Cal was not in the top four in the conference, the top four seeds went in the afternoon and then the bottom four seeds went in the evening, and it was weird. 

That's among the reasons I was pleased to hear that the Pac-12 Championship has been moved from ASU to Utah this year. We know Utah is going to be one of the top four seeds. Plus, they'll put on a good event. But also, come on people. Planning! Shouldn't this have been worked out, maybe, 8 months ago?

Moving onto the rankings, we're just one week out of RQS kicking in, so I've included the current RQS picture for each team along with their season average ranking.  

Refresher: RQS stands for Regional Qualifying Score. It determines which 36 teams will advance to the Regional Championships and is calculated by taking a team's top six scores, of which at least three must be road scores, removing the highest score, and averaging the remaining five.

Week 6 Rankings - (GymInfo)
1. Oklahoma – 197.536
Week 6: 197.275
Week 6 leaders: AA - None; VT - Capps 9.950; UB - Wofford 9.925; BB - Capps, Clark 9.850; FX - Scaman, Jackson 9.925

Current RQS: 197.620
Road Score 1: 198.150
Road Score 2: 197.700
Road Score 3: 197.650
Road/Home Score 1: 197.850
Road/Home Score 2: 197.625
Road/Home Score 3: 197.275

*Scores in bold are guaranteed to be part of the six RQS scores.

In spite of a, perhaps, unexpectedly meh showing over the weekend in which the Sooners were forced to look at the scoreboard and see all these weird 9.8-looking shapes that they didn't recognize, Oklahoma is already set for the postseason when it comes to scores. There aren't really any weak scores that need to be dropped, though they'll surely get rid of that lowly 197 at some point (or every point) over the next five weeks, which will put them in a solid position to eclipse their RQS total from last season of 197.775. The problem is going to be catching them. Florida and LSU basically have to go mid-197 in every remaining meet to have a chance to see the year-end #1. An almost five-tenths advantage in RQS is tough to make up.

2. Florida – 197.325
Week 6: 198.225
Week 6 leaders: AA - Hunter 39.750; VT - Hunter, McMurtry 9.950; UB - Dancose-Giambattisto 9.950; BB - Hunter, Boyce 9.950; FX - Baker 9.975

Current RQS: 197.145
Road Score 1: 197.200
Road Score 2: 196.925
Road Score 3: 196.800
Road/Home Score 1: 198.225
Road/Home Score 2: 197.600
Road/Home Score 3: 197.200

There's still some work to do on those road scores. That's where Oklahoma's advantage is the most extreme. Florida still has three road meets left, but the meet this weekend at LSU takes on slightly more significance since ideally they wouldn't be counting any of the road scores they have put up so far. Of course, it doesn't really matter if they finish the regular season #1, #2, #3, etc., but it's a bragging rights thing, and perhaps there's an argument for receiving "pre-ordained winner" scoring once Nationals comes along. The Sloan comeback talk is starting to ramp up, and if she is able to get back on a couple events relatively soon, don't expect that 198 to be lonely for long.

3. LSU – 197.321
Week 6: 197.350
Week 6 leaders: AA - Gnat 39.550; VT - Courville 9.950; UB - Courville 9.925; BB - Jordan 9.925; FX - Gnat 9.950

Current RQS: 197.170
Road Score 1: 197.425
Road Score 2: 197.350
Road Score 3: 196.600
Road/Home Score 1: 198.075
Road/Home Score 2: 197.350
Road/Home Score 3: 197.125

In spite of falling behind Florida in average, LSU retains a slight lead in the RQS race. They have the advantage on Florida when it comes to those all-important road scores, and they'll look to get rid of that straggling 196.600 when they go on the road to Alabama on the 27th, so expect the Tigers to start closing the Oklahoma gap with a hit meet. They could pick up a couple tenths with a mid-197. Over the weekend, LSU put up a good performance, even though we've come to think of lowish 197s as just average scores for top teams, lowish 197s are not all created equal, and this was a solid one. Still, they certainly let Auburn into the meet, which they probably shouldn't have done. The main culprit was mistakes on floor, with Hall, Courville, and Savona all having some unexpected landing issues to put them in pedestrian 49.250 territory. 

February 13, 2015

Friday Live Blog – Michigan, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Alabama

Friday, February 13
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Michigan @ Michigan State (Scores) (CSL)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Missouri @ Florida (Scores) (ESPN3)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Denver @ West Virginia (Scores) (Stream)
7:00 ET/4:00 PT – Western Michigan @ Ball State (Stream)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Perfect 10 Challenge (Oklahoma, Kentucky)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – LSU @ Auburn (Scores) (ESPN3)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – SEMO, Illinois State @ Arkansas (Scores)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – TWU, Centenary @ Lindenwood (Scores)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Alaska, Winona State @ UW-Whitewater
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Boise State @ Alabama (Scores) (ESPN3)
8:30 ET/5:30 PT – Chicago Style (Iowa State, Northern Illinois, Yale)   
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Southern Utah @ BYU (Scores) (BYUtv)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Oregon State @ Cal (Scores)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – San Jose State @ Sacramento State (Scores) (Stream)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – Seattle Pacific @ UC Davis (Scores)



Week 5 rankings:

Oklahoma's RQS is already 197.465, with a good chance to go much higher today since that RQS includes a 196.500. I love that they could just put up the football team on every event for the rest of the regular season and still be a #1 seed at Regionals. And by love, I mean think that's maybe a problem. It's almost that time of year where I get to start my usual ranting about how RQS should include more meets.