It’s spring time, so that can only mean one thing, time for gymnastics team to begin another march to the Super Six. This team is a decided underdog to win the national title against the Oklahoma juggernaut, but no school has a better shot to pull the upset.
However, in order to shock the world, LSU has to first make it to the Super Six. And that means navigating the Regionals. The top two schools at each regional will advance to nationals. LSU goes on the road to Raleigh, where they will be huge favorites to advance. A quick look at the regional field:
LSU simply towers over the field. The Tigers worst score of the season, 197.150, is only a few tenths of a point shy of the best scores posted by Nebraska and Oregon St, the two teams that will be in competition most likely for the second bid. It would take a disaster of the highest order for LSU to not advance out of this region, and the Tigers will most likely win it. You still have to stick those landings, though. So let’s not start booking plane tickets just yet.
Also, while LSU is a huge favorite, this is an incredibly deep regional. Nebraska and Oregon St are separated by a margin measured in the hundredths of a point, and Oregon St actually has a higher average score than Nebraska despite a lower RQS. GW and NC State are hardly non-contenders here either, especially with the Wolfpack likely getting a boost from competing at home. This could be a four way dogfight for that second slot, which should increase scores as everyone tries to find that little bit more. It’s that sort of competition which could propel a team to catch and eliminate LSU. It’s not totally implausible.
LSU is an overwhelming favorite, but that doesn’t mean anything once the competition gets underway. Speaking of which, let’s look at the rotation schedule.
|Rotation 1||Maryland||GW||NC State||Nebraska||Oregon St.||LSU|
|Rotation 2||LSU||Maryland||GW||NC State||Nebraska||Oregon St.|
|Rotation 3||Oregon St.||LSU||Maryland||GW||NC State||Nebraska|
|Rotation 4||Nebraska||Oregon St.||LSU||Maryland||GW||NC State|
|Rotation 5||NC State||Nebraska||Oregon St.||LSU||Maryland||GW|
|Rotation 6||GW||NC State||Nebraska||Oregon St.||LSU||Maryland|
LSU starts off on the highest scoring rotations, going from floor to vault. This is perhaps the best rotation schedule to have, save Oregon St, who will start on a bye before getting to the floor and vault. This means that LSU will finish on a bye instead of having one last chance to score. It might be better to be the hunter than the hunted, but let’s be honest, LSU is the team everyone is gunning for. We should set the tone, and have a perfect opportunity right out of the gate.
The floor exercise should be the most hotly contested rotation. There’s only a four-tenths gap between LSU and Maryland in RQS, meaning anyone could take this rotation in a one day meet. Even the Terps have a competitive high score on the season, as the rest of the field are all within two-tenths of each other. If LSU brings it’s a-game, they can put away the field, but that’s true on nearly every apparatus.
What we should expect is for LSU to put up a score around 49.40 or 49.50, setting the bar for the other teams to clear. If it is below 49.40, someone will likely clear it. This is a huge rotation for Oregon St, as they are ranked higher than Nebraska, so this is a place they need to pick up points in order to pull off the upset. LSU wants to establish distance from that fight.
While the floor is the chance for a huge score, the vault looks like a time to avoid total disaster. The highs aren’t as high here, but five teams are in the top 18 on this apparatus this season. LSU lacks its usual dominance on the vault, and this is where they tend to crack the door open for other teams.
There’s plenty of teams who could walk through, but the team that will be walking the high wire is Oregon St. They have one of the weakest teams on the vault, and their season high score is the lowest of anyone in the field, admittedly tied with half of the regional. This is a huge chance for Nebraska to put away their most likely biggest competition or for GW or NCSU to make a huge move. Anyone can score here.
This where LSU puts everyone away. LSU has simply been awesome on the uneven bars this year, and this is a pretty weak field on this rotation. No one else is even a top 10 squad, nor has any team in the field matched LSU’s average score with their high score. We know DD Breaux’s mantra, but substitute “bars” for this regional. The Tigers need to put to the foot on necks right here.
Though there’s a huge gap in Oregon St and Nebraska’s ordinal rankings, there’s not much scoring difference in their RQS. The Beavers also have achieved a higher score at their best this year. Oregon St probably wants to keep the lights on during the vault, but they have to pull the upset here on the bars.
Also, check out lowly Maryland. They are a longshot in the field, but they can hang on the uneven bars. If they put forth their top tier effort, they could make a lot of teams sweat out this regional. There are no easy outs in this regional. It’s not likely, but there is a clear path to qualification, even for the last team in the field. This is where the home crowd gets nervous.
Here, we separate the wheat from the chaff. Everyone else has a simple strategy on the beam: don’t fall and avoid disaster. LSU, on the other, will press its advantage and try to rack up a huge score. Nationals will eventually come down to the beam, where Oklahoma and UCLA are simply dominant, and LSU needs to perform as if it is competing against those two squads.
Because, let’s be honest, these teams aren’t Oklahoma. It is almost inconceivable that LSU could lose this rotation without a major disaster. Four of the six teams average under a 49.00 on the apparatus this season. Maryland has never even scored that high. This is truly Satan’s Apparatus.
However, this is where qualifications for nationals will be won or lost. LSU should roll through and its big score on the beam should cover up any other scoring deficiencies. LSU could conceivably win this rotation by half a point without it being that huge of a shock. Everyone else is trying to avoid carrying a fall in its final score. This is also where the door opens for GW to make a move. They are on the beam in the third rotation, and a big score could transform this regional. But even GW, despite a high average, rarely scores huge on the beam.
LSU should qualify easily. NC State has a puncher’s chance to pull off a massive upset by virtue of competing in their home gym, but I hate how they get the bye in the final rotation. They have to sit on their hands and wait at the end of the meet, and to fully take advantage of the home gym, you want to be out there on the final rotation. The Wolfpack loses that edge, and it will likely doom their chances.
What should be interesting is that the big fight for the second qualification slot will likely come down to two teams on their worst rotation: Nebraska on the bars and Oregon St on the beam. That at least opens the door for the possibility of GW to come roaring back on their final rotation, the vault, where they have a good chance to put up one of their biggest scores. Even Maryland has a chance to still be in the competition going into the final rotation.
It should come down to fractions of a point, and that second slot will go to the team that steps up and faces down their demons on the final rotation. It will be too close to call until the final score of the final competitor comes in.
The Raleigh Regional will air live on ESPN3 on Saturday April 7th at 3pm central.