Another Friday, another batch of exciting SEC meets. The real question is, now that the 10s have started flying again, who's getting the first 10 of the Florida/Georgia meet: Brandie Jay on vault or Bridget Sloan on bars? Or will Sloan beat the odds and get a pre-meet 10 for just being so great.
Friday and Saturday. On Friday, my focus will be Florida/Georgia, the TWU meet featuring Oklahoma and Auburn, and Arkansas/LSU, with perhaps brief check-ins with Kentucky/Arkansas. Saturday is all about the Utah/UCLA rivalry. Also on Sunday, check your cable options if that's your kind of thing because Oklahoma's second meet of the weekend will once again be broadcast on some really random networks. Otherwise, just spend the day making fun of handegg like a normal.
-Coming off the pile of gold doubloons falling from the ceiling that was Florida's meet last Friday, it's hard to envision any kind of drop in quality coming into the Georgia meet. The Gators will be major favorites against the have-we-stopped-reeling-yet Gymdogs. As the road team, however, Florida may be hit with a reality stick this time around as to what scores they're really earning for hit routines. Because Georgia has never exhibited crazy scoring. Never ever. I don't know what you're talking about.
If Georgia is to pull off the upset, it will probably take Florida counting a mistake, but it will also take winning vault. That's the one event where Georgia may find an opening. While Florida displayed much-improved landings over the weekend, and Georgia the opposite, Georgia has a touch superior difficulty and the real capability to stick for 49.5s, especially at home, which not that many teams have. If Florida's vault landings return to mid-January level, Georgia could gain some very valuable early tenths.
Of course, we can't go much further without talking about Georgia's beam. It's the all-important factor that will decide whether this meet is even in the vicinity of close. Last weekend, The Gymdogs graduated to just one fall, which was a laudable achievement, but they must take the next step and actually hit six whole routines this time. That's the short-term goal, but one that's immediately necessary with a tough opponent like Florida. The long-term goal, which could be decisive when evaluating postseason aspirations, is not just getting six hit routines but getting them from the six highest-potential scorers. Keep watching the lineup members and order. If Georgia is forced to compromise too much scoring potential in order to get a hit rotation, by removing pretties or moving top workers to early spots (my most loathed of strategies), that's almost as bad as having a fall.
As for the other events, Georgia has impressed so far on bars and floor. This was the least terrifying January floor performance of the Durante era, and bars looks much stronger than I thought it would based on preseason showings, with a particular gold star to Gracie Cherrey for cleaning up her DLO so dramatically in a short period of time. The question going forward for Georgia on bars will be Brandie Jay's dismount. She's capable of a big score on bars but doesn't have the most pristine form or handstands in the world. Couple that with a DLO 1/1, difficult to stick and maintain body shape, and she's always on the verge of getting dropped down to 9.800, a score that looks comparatively harsh against the rabble of much less inspiring 9.800s that we see all over the place. The team needs a 9.900 from Jay pretty much every time, so when will be the time to introduce a more cynical, simpler dismount so that she can join the ranks of stuck dismounts on this team? The Gators have more of those likely 9.9s, even for Piked Giant McGee, which will give them the bars edge.
On floor, I still think Florida is suffering from a case of the half-a-lineups, in spite of the score last weekend, but the big routines from Baker and friends will likely overshadow what Georgia has to offer. That's why vault is so important for the GymDawwwwwwwwwgs. I added extra w's because I can't take it seriously.
That Florida gymnastics isn't marketing a shirt that says, "On Fridays, we get 10s" is ludicrous. Verging on lyyyyyudicrous. Florida's meet was the closest to a postseason-level performance we've seen so far this year (closest, but not there by any means), and now the Gators lead the rankings by a big, heaping margin this week with that 687.900 (because of Florida at home), highlighted by a "yeah, I'm down with that" 10.000 for Bridget Sloan on beam, a "squint...but also that Dos Santos" 10.000 for Kennedy Baker on floor, and a "Bahahahaha" 10.000 for Alex McMurtry on bars. At least she has a same-bar release this year.
Kathy is not OK with these piked giants. The judges are. The interesting thing is that McMurtry gets a heaping load of side-eye for this bars routine every time because she gets such high scores, but if she were going, say, 2nd or 3rd in the lineup and getting a 9.850 for this routine, we would be standing up and applauding for how much she has improved on bars from her Level 10 career, when she was getting 8s for hit routines. Compare her 10.000 to this routine from the Nastia in 2013, which scored 8.925, uninspiring even by JO scoring standards. Improvements, clearly.
But let's be honest, the biggest difference between 2013 and 2016 is going 6th in a Florida lineup. Many of the factors that got her an 8.925 remain, hence the saltiness about this 10.
And now Baker and Sloan.
Kennedy Baker is like, "This is the seventh-best floor routine I've done at Florida, and this is the 10?"
It's Metroplex! 8:00 ET/5:00 PT, streamed on Aunt Flogymnastics for those who have signed up for the arm-and-a-leg subscription. For those who haven't, let me be your guide. There are no windows and no doors.
Five teams compete tonight (Oklahoma, LSU, Stanford, Missouri, Washington) because nothing says compelling entertainment like a bye. If there's one thing sports fans love, it's when their favorite team just leaves for a while. They go crazy for it.
Obviously, the judges will have viewed the excessively baroque scoring from the Florida meet last night as a challenge. Do I hear four 10s per team? Everyone is a perfect star! Who wants a juice box and a hug?
The top 25 schedule looks like a rather paltry affair this week, but that's mostly because it's heavily incestuous with most of the top teams competing against each other. So, what we lose in quantity we should make up for in quality with a few legitimate marquee 50/50 meets. It's worth getting excited about.
Top 25 schedule
Friday, January 29
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Alabama @  Florida
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Michigan @  Nebraska
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Georgia @  Kentucky
7:00 ET/4:00 PT –  Illinois @ Penn State
8:30 ET/5:30 PT –  Auburn @  Arkansas
9:00 ET/6:00 PT – BYU @  Boise State
9:00 ET/6:00 PT –  Southern Utah @ Utah State
Saturday, January 30
1:00 ET/10:00 PT –  George Washington @ North Carolina
Friday will be the usual, with special focus on Alabama/Florida since that's kind of a massive meet. It doesn't look like there will be live streaming of the Michigan/Nebraska meet, which is a shame, so we'll just have to keep ourselves warm with SEC action and the cozy glow of Kathy Johnson's sigh of dismay. I'll then be back on Saturday to get sloppy with Metroplex, which should be the amazing, competitive, crack-smokingly-scored meet we've come to know and love.
-We've got some serious showdowns headlining Friday in which the results are actually up in the air (!), so let's get into it. Alabama and Florida is always a worthwhile experience, but with both teams at a point in the season where they're still showing flashes of brilliance mixed with flashes of vulnerability, the outcome will probably be determined by which team can minimize those pesky January errors we've been seeing rather than which team is the most brilliantly, spectacularly amazing.
If both teams do end up hitting to their capabilities, give to edge to Florida for having shown higher scoring potential so far this year and (primarily) for being at home. Still, these teams are both at a level when even counting a 9.700 would change the outcome, let alone counting a fall, so there's no margin for the Gators.
Florida's clear advantage event is bars. The Gators devlier a much stronger lineup with several more 9.900-9.950s, while Alabama is more a 9.850 team because of scoring vulnerabilities like those double fronts. It's unlikely that Alabama can keep pace with hit Sloan/Caquatto routines, so Florida will need and expect a lead at the halfway point. That's especially especially true because I also give Florida the edge on vault, with bigger 1.5s (though Alabama should have more 1.5s—Beers, Brannan, Guerrero vs. Baker, Boren—which could mitigate that) and two of the best fulls in NCAA in Sloan and McMurtry, fulls that Alabama cannot match with its own. That advantage, however, is so dependent on the landings, and Florida is definitely not on stick patrol yet and giving up quite a bit there right now. If Alabama can land and minimize the two-event deficit to something around two tenths, we've got a real meet.
All eyes will be on Alabama's beam after the catastrophe last weekend to see if it becomes a Georgia or not. Theoretically, I do think Alabama's beam is stronger than Florida's 1-6 with more pristine form and potential 9.9s, but of course, hitting. Florida has been better at hitting beam than any other team so far this year. If Alabama is to take the meet, winning beam is absolutely essential, especially because Florida ends on floor at home, a scoring situation that may counteract any lineup advantage Alabama may have on the event.
While Florida boasts the two strongest floor routines from either team in Baker and Sloan (especially in the absence of Carley Sims), Alabama has many, many more options for realistic 9.850-9.875 routines than Florida does and can use those early spots in the lineup to gain a floor edge. Much as Florida needs comparatively stronger bars scores 4-6, Alabama needs comparatively stronger floor scores 1-3.
The champion of the week was Ashleigh Gnat, who recorded the first vault 10 of the new vault era by sticking her DTY. Because that's what happens when you stick DTYs. You get 10s. Do I hear an Amanar? Sorry. I'll stop. OMG YOU GUYS, my aunt's cousin's best enemy's roommate totally saw Ashleigh Gnat training an Amanar. I SWEAR.
"Oh snap, she stuck it!" Oh Sac, never leave us ever. What if KJC said "Oh snap" when someone landed a vault? I'll let you go enjoy your made life.
-Florida retains the #1 ranking after a fine-not-great showing at Auburn, a score brought down by some discomfort/Bridget Sloan improvisation on beam that had not been a factor in earlier performances, along with the continued half-a-floor-lineup situation. Oklahoma gained ground in the rankings after putting up a much more Oklahoma-January type performance, still having to endure one beam fall but without the total number of mistakes that kept the first couple meets in more pedestrian territory.
-The emergence of Natalie Von Lovelyton has been a pleasant develop in the reconstruction of Oklahoma's lineups this season, with her pretty, twisty routines characteristic of the early-KJ Oklahoma era. Brown has a front 2/1 on floor, an E pass but not a double salto E pass, though I've noticed that overall the Sooners are going much simpler than their capability on floor, aside from Scaman. Jackson, Jones, and Capps sometimes are all more than capable of big double-salto E passes, but they haven't been bringing the big. At least not yet. That's even more true for UCLA's lineup, which is a march of the double pikes until Bynum in the anchor spot. It will be interesting to watch when or if the in-your-face difficulty is reintroduced to some of these routines, or if these coaches just decide to say, "Hey, this is what we can do cleanly, and we don't need to do more. Over the last two or three years, clean, amplitudinous double pike routines have received 9.950s and even 10.000s in anchor spots, so.....deal with it."