March 31, 2015

Ames Regional Preview

We're into the second half of the regional previews now, and this is where the dynamic usually changes a little bit. In the top-seeded regionals, we often have one favorite and then a scraping, clawing, vicious-but-we're-all-best-friends-here fight for the next spot between relatively equivalent contenders. But in the regionals led by the 4th–6th seeds, we're more likely to see two clear favorites and then some possible outside challengers who might make things interesting if the day goes well (and by "day goes well," I mean "a big team has an epic meltdown"). The 2015 season has presented a little more competitiveness among those 16-20th ranked teams, which will hopefully make these regionals closer, but in each one there's still a clear pair that really should advance with a hit meet. Here, that's LSU and Nebraska.

Competing teams (starting event)
LSU (bars)
Nebraska (bye before bars)
Denver (beam)
Washington (bye before floor)
Michigan State (vault)
Iowa State (floor)

LSU and Nebraska


Weirdly, LSU suddenly fell to 4th in the rankings at the very end of the regular season after spending months bouncing back and forth between 2nd and 3rd. That little drop is almost entirely because of road scores, with the Tigers having not yet reached the 197.500 plateau at a road meet. That's a bit surprising for a team that is comfortably breaking that mark at home and seems to have more than enough talent to do it consistently regardless of venue. Something always just seems to go a little wibbly, like the bars rotation against Centenary or that tight beam performance at SECs. Like the other top teams, I don't envision LSU running into any trouble at this regional, but proving the ability to get something like a high 197 at a road meet would be a nice bonus.

That huge road score should be doable, especially given the current progress on vault and floor, but it will also take finding those bars landings and fully reaching potential on beam. I'm hoping the beam performance from SECs was just a "things suddenly mattered and our brains went momentarily to jelly" kind of rotation that will not be repeated, but bars remains a curious creature. With fewer huge, automatic 9.9s, and an Ashleigh Gnat routine that still makes me mostly nervous, the Tigers are in danger of giving up some real ground to the other top teams, especially Florida. But they can avoid that fate and get the requisite 9.9s to maintain a solid pace when Jordan, Zamardi, and Wyrick manage to stick. Those three routines are usually in the 9.850-but-9.900-if-you-land-well category. It's just something to keep in mind because this will be a "hit and you're in" kind of meet for LSU. Or a "count a fall and you're still in" kind of meet. 



It should also be a "hit and you're in" meet for Nebraska, though it's a less comfortable status. The Huskers have a too-recent history of being the team that has the epic meltdown and gets eliminated by a 196.025 from Illinois. That said, Nebraska has hit 197 plenty of times this year (though only once on the road) while none of the lower-four seeds have reached the 197 plateau. That means advancing is well within Nebraska's control as long as we don't discover any problems in sector beam. Beam is still an excellent-or-terrifying event for Nebraska, nothing in between, and all the 9.7s from Big Tens didn't do anything to swing the pendulum toward the excellent side. The Huskers are another team that has scored more 48s than 49s on beam this season, but the weird thing is, they've counted a fall only twice, which is not that bad. The bigger problem has been a spate of wobbleburgers from the whole team for a 48.9. They can certainly get through this meet with a mildly iffy 48.9 beam as long as the rest of the events are hit, but any kind of 48 on beam at nationals will not cut it. We need to see some budding confidence and security in those performances.

March 30, 2015

Berkeley Regional Preview

All season long, this has been the one. This has been the scary regional. Cal is the only truly dangerous floater among the hosts. Oklahoma and Auburn are favored to advance, and it would be a shocking, Kent State-level upset to see West Virginia, Ohio State, or Iowa State go to nationals. But with Cal, you wonder. Cal is the 4th seed and does have a pretty low ranking of 20th (I thought this would be the season they got into the top 15), but Cal also has a recent history of big home results, finishing 3rd at Pac-12s last year and scoring as high as 197.325 this year. Making this regional all the better, we have a trio of top seeds in Utah, Georgia, and Boise State that would make for a tight and competitive meet all by themselves, even without a challenging 4th-seeded host.

The Berkeley regional starts later than all the other competitions, beginning at 9:00 ET/6:00 PT,  so we'll have plenty of time to focus on just this one. But that does mean the pressure is on for it to be interesting because there won't be any other, better meets to be distracted by if this gets boring early. You hear that teams? Be interesting.

Competing teams (starting event)
[3] Utah (bars)
[10] Georgia (bye before bars)
[15] Boise State (beam)
[20] Cal (bye before floor)
[29] Utah State (vault)
[35] BYU (floor)

Competing individuals are from San Jose State (Cami Guyer - AA; Kaitlin Won - AA; Maddie Herr - AA), UC Davis (Tiana Montell - AA; Katy Nogaki - vault; Dani Judal - beam; Kala DeFrancesco - floor), Alaska (M'rcy Matsunami - AA); and Sacramento State (Cassie Benning - bars).

Utah


Before Pac-12s, Utah looked to be on cruise control, just waiting for nationals for things to matter. The Tory Wilson Achilles catastrophe has thrown a little bit of doubt into that picture, but not enough doubt to make Utah a true upset threat. I mean, when was the last time Utah didn't make nationals? Oh, that's right, it was never.

Still, the lack of Wilson, and how that changes the dynamics of each of the events, adds an extra twist to this meet. Certainly, Utah has people to slot into those empty spots who can score 9.850s. The depth is pretty solid this year. Tiffani Lewis has had plenty of competition opportunities and can easily go on vault, bars, and floor, though Baely Rowe could also come in on vault if she's feeling 100%. Across the four events, they'll probably drop a couple tenths compared to what they could have scored with Wilson, but that should not in itself be enough to put Utah in the danger zone. It does compromise their potential to contend with the top teams (Wilson could get 9.9s and we're much less likely to see 9.9s from her replacements), but it shouldn't compromise regionals as long as they don't suddenly lose their minds.

Speaking of which, let's talk about beam. Even though beam was Wilson's weakest event, it's the area where her absence will be felt the strongest. Utah doesn't have nearly as many comfortable options on beam, and Wilson was the reliable leadoff all season long. Someone else is going to have to take that role now, throwing the lineup and the comfort level they have recently developed on beam into flux. Do you just slot her replacement (likely Delaney) into that leadoff spot? Do you put Rowe or Lothrop back in there, potentially compromising their scoring potential? You can guess which one I favor, and it doesn't involve compromising scoring potential. It's something they'll have to figure out and quickly become comfortable with because there are four teams in this competition boasting high-196 potential, so counting a fall isn't really an option. Second rotation: Utah beam. Watch it. But unless something goes nasty to a level it hasn't yet this season, it should be smooth sailing to a qualification spot.

Georgia, Boise State, Cal


Georgia. Look what you've done to us. Show me this collection of teams before the season, and I say, "Utah and Georgia," easy pick, easy regional. Even with Cal as a host. That's how it should go, but we've all been so traumatized by watching Georgia this year that none of us knows what to think anymore. Up is down. Black is white. Vault is bad now for some reason (and what's that about, by the way? You have Brandie Jay). Everything is all over the place. Still, when the Gym Dogs put four events together, they are the second-best team in this regional, and if they hit 5-for-6 on four events (these goals...), they should be able to go through.

March 29, 2015

Morgantown Regional Preview

Onward! So many regionals, so little time. Or so it will be on April 4th. The action begins that day with the Morgantown Regional, starting at 4:00 ET/1:00 PT. None of the other meets will be starting until an hour later, so our attention spans will have some solid quality time to spend with what should be one of the most interesting competitions on the day. This is not a cut-and-dry regional.

Competing teams (starting event)
[2] Florida (bars)
[11] Stanford (bye before bars)
[14] Illinois (beam)
[19] Arkansas (bye before floor)
[25] New Hampshire (vault)
[36] West Virginia (floor)

Competing individuals are from Bridgeport (Sasha Tsikhanovich - AA; Caitlin Perry - floor), Rutgers (Elizabeth Groden - AA; Luisa Leal - vault; Jenna Williams - bars), Brown (Diana Walters - AA; Jorden Mitchell - AA), West Chester (Majesta Valentine - AA), Pittsburgh (Lindsay Offutt - beam).

Florida


Florida is in the same boat as Oklahoma, a would-be easy qualifier that we can get into dissecting in true detail once nationals roll around, but considering the strength of this regional and Florida's performance at SECs this year, there are just a few more things I'm interested in keeping an eye on as the competition proceeds. That's not to say Florida is in danger, or anything. The Gators have no business making this meet even remotely interesting for themselves, but all eyes will be on beam in the second rotation. I really want to see that lineup, and I really want to see how they manage to recover. This performance will tell us whether SECs was a fluke or whether this is something we should be worried about going into nationals, a la 2011 with the beam meltdown heard round the world.

My instinct is certainly on the fluke side more than the problem side. We should see a recovery at regionals, but more than the hitting, the quality of the hit will be important to watch because there are several routines in that lineup that can get stuck in the 9.850s even when hit. That will not keep pace with Oklahoma, boasting what is apparently a whole lineup of 9.975s depending on whether you're a judge at Big 12s or not. We need to see more than just hits, we need to see 9.9s from people who aren't Bridget Sloan. At SECs, Florida put together three rotations that are on track to be national-title quality (not there yet, but on track), but if that's actually going to happen, they can't give away .050-.075 per beam routine to Oklahoma. It's too close for that.     

Stanford, Illinois, Arkansas 


Here's the thing. Stanford should qualify. Stanford is the most talented team of this contending group, but my confidence in that happening is wisps if anything at all. Not after the solid 197 that Illinois enjoyed at Big Tens and not with how generally nervous Stanford makes me at every moment, how variable their performances are, and how fleeting amazingness has tended to be. That's why Stanford never gets to be a sure bet. There's always that doubt. Which isn't helped by Arkansas's presence as a wildly dangerous 4th seed. I'm including Arkansas in this group because Arkansas is the quintessential spoiler. That's what this team does. I do think that if Stanford or Illinois hit to potential, Arkansas cannot match that score. But if both teams are a little tight in these high-pressure circumstances (it doesn't even have to be a fall, just a couple landings and a couple tenths here and there), then Arkansas is right in this. 

March 28, 2015

Norman Regional Preview

It begins. Just one week until the best day of the college gymnastics year. It finally starts to matter! Over the next few days, I'll be going through each of the regionals and breaking down the main things to watch for in each competition as we bite our fingernails and giggle like unhinged death-row inmates about who is going to advance to nationals. I'll begin with the top-seeded Oklahoma Sooners and their home regional, which will begin at 5:00 ET/2:00 PT on Saturday.

Competing teams (starting event)
[1] Oklahoma (bars)
[12] Oregon State (bye before bars)
[13] Penn State (beam)
[22] Southern Utah (bye before floor)
[27] Missouri (vault)
[34] NC State (floor)

Competing individuals are from Lindenwood (Valeri Ingui - AA; Kierstin Sokolowski - AA; Courtney Heise - bars), Arizona State (Taylor Allex - AA; Natasha Sundby - floor), Illinois-Chicago (Gabrielle May - AA), SEMO (Ashley Thomas - AA), Northern Illinois (Amanda Stepp - vault), and Illinois State (Sami King - beam).

Oklahoma


It's a significant milestone for Oklahoma to come in as the #1 seed, breaking Florida's four-year streak of being the #1 overall regionals seed, but I'm not going to spend too much time on Oklahoma right now. There will be plenty of opportunity for that once the nationals previews roll around because if Oklahoma were to be eliminated at this point, it would be one of the biggest upsets ever at regionals. The #1 team, undefeated, competing at home? Come on. They would have to count at least a couple falls. Probably 20.

As often happens at regionals, the best teams get sort of overlooked on the day, especially if a rotation and a half goes by and they're already ahead by a million tenths and clearly going to win, which I pretty much expect to happen here. The focus tends to turn to the real battles to make nationals, but there are still a couple areas in Oklahoma's performances to keep half an eye on with nationals in mind, particularly cleaning up some of those bars handstands from last weekend and continuing to hone those vault landings that I've been harping on lately. Unlike Oklahoma teams of a few years ago, this team should not be in a position to give up any ground to any other team on vault (they were at home and got a 49.4 last weekend, while LSU and Florida were away getting 49.5 and 49.6). To keep pace on vault this year, it's not about stepping for 9.900. It's about having multiple 9.950s. Because you better believe Sloan, Hunter, and McMurtry can not-stick for 9.950. That's the pace that's being set that every other team has to match. 

Oregon State and Penn State


But let's get to the real stuff. This regional is about Oregon State and Penn State in what should be one of the most entertaining showdowns next Saturday. I expect it to go back and forth all afternoon. These two teams were in the exact same position last year, coming into regionals as the #12 and #13 teams and fighting it out for the second spot, with Penn State ultimately coming out on top by two tenths, making it to nationals for just the second time in the last decade. That also marked the second-straight year that Oregon State failed to make nationals, and is exactly what makes regionals so important for the Beavs this year. They have to make it. Three years of missing nationals? Not acceptable for a team that really should be part of the top tier but is on the verge of losing that status. It was only a few years ago (in 2011) that Oregon State finished the regular season as the #3 team in the country, seemed an easy bet to make Super Six, and was even some people's cool, alternative sleeper pick to win. That's gone now.

March 27, 2015

Regional Scoring Comparison

A weekend without women's college gymnastics. What are we going to do? Good thing they've scheduled Jesolo for tomorrow, which I assume was done specifically with us in mind so that we don't have withdrawal symptoms. Very considerate.

I'll get into the real business of regional previews at some point. Perhaps. Maybe. But for now, I have some numbers. They'll be helpful in making any sort of apparatus-based regional prognoses. For each regional, I have assembled a batch of vaguely relevant scores and averages (using home averages for host teams and road averages for everyone else, which should help provide a method to evaluate how much boost the host teams may get from being at home). Each score is followed by the team's ranking within the regional in that category, with blue indicating that a team is overperforming its seeding in that category and that other weird color indicating that a team is underperforming its seeding in that category. That should give a quick glance at what some of the danger areas are for each team, as well as where those teams might pick up some ground. You'll see that, as expected, the category rankings for the Morgantown and Berkeley regionals are all over place. They'll be the most fun.

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA REGIONAL:

[1] Oklahoma
RQS: 197.895 [1]
Season high: 198.500 [1]
Season average: 197.675 [1]
Home average: 197.963 [1]
VT RQS: 49.495 [1]
VT average: 49.456 [1]
Home VT average: 49.494 [1]
UB RQS: 49.475 [1]
UB average: 49.408 [1]
Home UB average: 49.413 [1]
BB RQS: 49.530 [1]
BB average: 49.363 [1]
Home BB average: 49.544 [1]
FX RQS: 49.560 [1]
FX average: 49.448 [1]
Home FX average: 49.513 [1]

[2] Oregon State
RQS: 196.680 [2]
Season high: 197.250 [2]
Season average: 196.352 [2]
Road average: 196.592 [2]
VT RQS: 49.285 [3]
VT average: 49.155 [3]
Road VT average: 49.175 [3]
UB RQS: 49.215 [2]

UB average: 48.998 [4]
Road UB average: 49.113 [3]

BB RQS: 49.145 [2]
BB average: 49.059 [2]
Road BB average: 49.092 [2]
FX RQS: 49.360 [2]
FX average: 49.141 [2]
Road FX average: 49.213 [2]

[3] Penn State
RQS: 196.665 [3]
Season high: 197.025 [3]
Season average: 196.282 [3]
Road average: 196.321 [3]
VT RQS: 49.310 [2]
VT average: 49.205 [2]
Road VT average: 49.271 [2]
UB RQS: 49.180 [3]
UB average: 49.089 [2]
Road UB average: 49.125 [2]
BB RQS: 49.125 [3]
BB average: 48.945 [3]
Road BB average: 48.979 [3]
FX RQS: 49.190 [3]
FX average: 49.043 [3]
Road FX average: 48.946 [3]

[4] Southern Utah
RQS: 196.100 [4]
Season high: 196.475 [4]
Season average: 195.644 [4]
Road average: 195.529 [4]
VT RQS: 49.055 [4]
VT average: 48.979 [4]
Road VT average: 48.946 [5]
UB RQS: 49.095 [4]
UB average: 49.025 [3]
Road UB average: 48.975 [4]
BB RQS: 49.045 [4]
BB average: 48.773 [4]
Road BB average: 48.850 [4]
FX RQS: 49.060 [5]
FX average: 48.867 [5]
Road FX average: 48.758 [5]

[5] Missouri
RQS: 195.720 [5]
Season high: 196.150 [6]
Season average: 195.131 [5]
Road average: 195.125 [6]
VT RQS: 49.030 [6]
VT average: 48.935 [6]
Road VT average: 48.883 [6]
UB RQS: 48.975 [5]
UB average: 48.775 [5]
Road UB average: 48.725 [6]
BB RQS: 48.890 [5]
BB average: 48.552 [5]
Road BB average: 48.788 [5]
FX RQS: 49.120 [4]
FX average: 48.869 [4]
Road FX average: 48.721 [6]

[6] NC State
RQS: 195.385 [6]
Season high: 196.175 [5]
Season average: 194.746 [6]
Road average: 195.250 [5]
VT RQS: 49.045 [5]
VT average: 48.950 [5]
Road VT average: 48.963 [4]
UB RQS: 48.885 [6]
UB average: 48.650 [6]
Road UB average: 48.763 [5]
BB RQS: 48.720 [6]
BB average: 48.484 [6]
Road BB average: 48.663 [6]
FX RQS: 48.905 [6]
FX average: 48.661 [6]
Road FX average: 48.863 [4]

March 23, 2015

Regional Selection

Once again, we have been graced with a totally necessary selection show to announce which 19th-36th ranked teams have been distributed into which regional championships (I CAN'T WAIT). It was originally supposed to begin at 3:00 ET but was bumped to 3:30 ET because that's how we roll in the world of NCAA gymnastics. Fashionably late. Or just late. Without telling anyone.

Here is what we learned:

1) The NCAA really loves an over-dramatic opening montage. Selecting the regionals is like the Olympics x every important moment of your life + a million. Lesson learned.

2) Also, some regionals or whatever.

EVENING SEMIFINAL:

OKLAHOMA REGIONAL:
[1] Oklahoma
[12] Oregon State
[13] Penn State
Southern Utah
Missouri
NC State

AUBURN REGIONAL:
[5] Alabama
[8] Auburn
[17] Minnesota
Iowa
Maryland
George Washington

IOWA STATE:
[4] LSU ("Lymeenis Hall"?)
[9] Nebraska
[16] Denver
Washington
Michigan State
Iowa State

AFTERNOON SEMIFINAL:

WEST VIRGINIA REGIONAL:
[2] Florida
[11] Stanford
[14] Illinois
Arkansas
New Hampshire
West Virginia
(Tsikhanovich from Bridgeport is in this regional)

OHIO STATE REGIONAL:
[6] Michigan
[7] UCLA
[18] Arizona
Central Michigan
Kentucky
Ohio State

CAL REGIONAL:
[3] Utah
[10] Georgia
[15] Boise State
Cal
Utah State
BYU

Thoughts:
It's a pretty straightforward distribution. There are threats in every regional, but that West Virginia one may be the most interesting. Florida, Stanford, Illinois, and Arkansas all together. Stanford is going to have to get on those beam routines. Also, Cal was always going to be the most dangerous of the unseeded hosts. They'll attempt to sink their claws into Utah, Georgia, and Boise State, and could be a real threat if Georgia is having one of those Georgia beam days.

The semifinals look like they're pretty well balanced, but Auburn and Nebraska won't love that setup should they advance to nationals because Oklahoma/LSU/Alabama is a pretty tough trio to break into. If all the regionals seeding go to plan, the second semifinal looks like the one with more upset potential.

I'll have more thoughts as we get closer. Regionals will take place throughout the day on April 4th.


March 21, 2015

Conference Championships Saturday!

Saturday, March 21
11:30 ET/8:30 PT – Big Ten Championship Session 1 (Ann Arbor, MI) (Scores) (Stream, w/ TV subscription)
1:00 ET/10:00 PT – ECAC Championship (New Haven, CT) (Stream, w/ subscription)
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – SEC Championship Session 1 (Duluth, GA) (Scores) (SECN Stream)
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – MAC Championship (Kent, OH) (Scores) (Stream)
4:00 ET/1:00 PT – Pac-12 Championship Session 1 (Salt Lake City, UT) (Scores) (Stream, w/ TV subscription)
4:30 ET/1:30 PT – Big Ten Championship Session 2 (Ann Arbor, MI) (Scores) (Stream, w/ TV subscription)
5:00 ET/2:00 PT – MIC Championship (Denton, TX) (Scores) (Stream)
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – SEC Championship Session 2 (Duluth, GA) (Scores) (SECN Stream)
6:00 ET/3:00 PT – Big 12 Championship (Norman, OK)
8:00 ET/5:00 PT – Mountain Rim Championship (Denver, CO) (Scores) (CSL Stream)
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – Pac-12 Championship Session 2 (Salt Lake City, UT) (Scores) (Stream, w/ TV subscription)
10:00 ET/7:00 PT – MPSF Championship (Anchorage, AK) (Scores) (Stream)

It's happening. And it's going to be a long day. Make sure you have your provisions. Lots of snacks. More booze. Your shrine to Stella Umeh. The usual. I'll start blogging in earnest around 2:00 ET with the start of the SEC Championship.

Note that the EAGL Championship isn't until tomorrow, which will be surprising if you're me and thought it was today. It was originally supposed to be today, as all conference championships are, but George Washington wasn't able to host because of another scheduling conflict (why aren't these things worked out in advance?), so now it's tomorrow at Towson.

Week 10 rankings - (GymInfo)