Alabama Gymnastics, who have gone to a record 35 straight NCAA National Championships and has won a record 31 NCAA Regional crowns, seeks Number 32 today in the cozy confines of Coleman Coliseum. And, compared to many other national contenders, few teams could be as pleased with its draw as the Crimson Tide.
Alabama enters this one competing as well as it has all season. The Tide dropped narrow decisions to No. 4 Florida and No. 1 Oklahoma, down the stretch, but had an excellent all-around meet in the SECs, where the Crimson Tide finished third. Wedged between those two losses was a team-wide improvement that saw Alabama’s scoring skyrocket by over a full point, with ‘Bama winning six straight meets down the stretch.
Today, at 4:00 p.m. CT, the Tide will see faces very familiar to not only the program, but this very team: Besides facing archrival No. 18 Georgia — with Suzanne Yoculan returning to hover over the Dawgs, the Tide’s Region includes rematches with No. 7 Michigan (L) and No. 22 Missouri (W). The Big Ten’s third-place finisher, Illinois (No. 23) and the MAC Champion Central Michigan Chippewas (No. 36) round out the field.
Here’s how the competitors fare:
No. 6 Alabama: High (197.525) Average (197.165)
No. 7 Michigan: High (197.550) Average (197.160)
No. 18 Georgia: High (197.525) Average (196.515)
No. 22 Missouri: High (196.925) Average (196.390)
No. 23 Illinois: High (196.825) Average (196.265)
No. 36 Central Michigan: High (197.025) Average (195.750)
Best team by ranking: Alabama, by a country mile.
Your lying eyes tell you: Alabama, especially at home. But, keep an eye on Illinois. The Fightin’ Illini’s best scores of the season have come on beam, and they are the Big Ten Beam champ for a reason.
Best team by ranking: Michigan, as you would expect for the state that is the unoffical home of USA Gymnastics.
Your lying eyes tell you: Probably the Wolverines, though you could make the case for Georgia by a cold, wet nose. In particular watch the Dawgs’ Sydney Snead. Yoculan’s footprints are all over UGA’s improvement in the Floor Exercise. Alabama is a dark horse to watch here too.
Best team by ranking: Central Michigan, and it’s not illusory either — this team has hit 48.825 or more in 12 of its 13 meets.
Your lying eyes tell you: The Chippewas again. They perform this apparatus excellently, home or away. Big Blue is a threat here, as are the lithe Illini.
Best team by ranking: Again, Michigan. They’re just so consistent.
Your lying eyes tell you: The Missouri Tigers or Georgia Bulldogs have a chance. The SEC has a lot of powerful teams, so don’t be surprised to see God’s Conference crowding this leader board.
Not-so-friendly home floor: Both Alabama and Illinois actually have worse scores at home than away. For Alabama, it is almost dead even though (-030 differential.) Illinois fares somewhat better on the road (+080) out of Urbana-Champaign too.
Fear the Road: CMU is staring down the barrel of a gun. Already a somewhat one-trick pony and the most improbable of dark horses, the Chips have an unbelievable +1.360 differential when at home versus hitting the the road. Georgia also relies on friendly home environs, averaging .896 more points per meet when in Athens.
Most consistent scoring: Alabama. When your home vs. road spread is three one-hundreths of a point, you’re going to win this distinction.
Most consistent team: Michigan. From apparatus to apparatus, it’s easy to make the case that Michigan has the best chance to walk away with a regional title today. It is not unusual to see scores such as the ones the Wolverines posted in Ann Arbor in their season-opening win against the Crimson Tide: 49.375 (vault), 49.375 (bars), 49.3 (beam), 49.5 (floor).
Predicted Order of Finish:
Alabama — It’s going to be hard to contain the energy in that place for Nicky Guerrero and Kiana Winston’s last tumbles in Tuscaloosa.
Michigan — That .396 road differential may be the difference in this one, but you can’t be too surprised if the steady Wolverines walk away with a title.
Missouri — The Tigers competed well here in February...in the worst meet of the season for both squads. Their familiarity, and a crowd very hostile to the Dawgs, sneaks them into the Top 3.
Illinois — The Illini excel at the highly technical events. Those are the ones least susceptible to jitters or crowdsourced score bumps. Like Mizzou, Illinois will acquit themselves well, but just don’t have the horses. Plus orange and blue don’t fly around these parts.
Georgia — UGA loses almost .9 points every time it hits the road. When the field is this cluttered, with very little love from the crowd on the Dawgs beloved floor exercise, they will falter a bit. And, this team still just kind of sucks — keep an eye on our perennial favorite Georgia power move: Falls on the balance beam. I am willing to concede my disdain fo Yoculan may be clouding my judgment here.
CMU — It was a great story for the Chips to unseat Kent State and claim the MAC crown. But, yeah, that’s probably not a good thing for the Cradle of Coaches either. Neither Michigan nor Alabama have scored as low as the average score has been for the Chippewas. They won’t show up just to be happy they made: CMU has a great chance to be the Bars champion from this region. And that’s a lot to build on for a second-tier program.
Tickets for the today’s regional are $14 for adults, $10 youth (18 and under). Group rates are available ($5 per head if you have 15 or more people.) Tickets will be available for walk-up. The meet begins at 4:00 Central. Come find me by the balance beam afterwards, and I’ll buy you a beer if we win.