UDA Nationals Preview
Division IA Dance
1. Minnesota: Problems with their routine last year have been discussed almost to death but, in spite of it all, I still scored Minnesota in 2nd place last year just a small fraction of a point behind my #1 pick. But, in reality they ended up a whopping 30 points behind Tennessee – the same margin of victory they had in 2006. I don't know if any team can match the quality of Minnesota's dancing. They are truly that good. But, especially at UDA College – the particular score sheet element for technique is not that major – only 20% of the score. So, the competition doesn't end there. But, either does my appreciation for Minnesota. I think their stage presence is phenomenal – just phenomenal – they radiate confidence. And even if their music last year was a little flat, their overall routine composition is consistently top top-notch. Their musicality is also excellent and they really challenge themselves on that front as well. It is very hard to pick against Minnesota and I won't do it.
2. Tennessee: Of all of the teams in my Top Five, I hear the least about Tennessee but that is merely a function of who I know and who I don't know in this dance team world. But, for that reason I consistently underestimate Tennessee and in that time they have surged up to be the reigning champs. Tennessee did it all right last year and they won pretty easily with a fantastic technical and emotional display. I personally didn't buy into their choreography 100% (and believe me I heard what a fool I was) but that doesn't really matter. Whatever, they rock. I was really going to pick Tennessee in 5th place but then I went back and watched their performance from last year and I was reminded of how very very strong they are and I didn't want to underestimate them again just because they are not on my personal radar. I hope they come back even stronger in 2008 and ready to defend this title because that is going to make the competition even more enjoyable to watch.
3. Cincinnati: This is the third straight year that I have picked Cincinnati to finish 3rd but I feel like they will certainly be a contender to win it all. Cincinnati was my #1 team in finals last year and that was after showing incredible improvement from 2006 to 2007. Seriously, I did not think they could improve as much as they did. Their dance last year was a perfect blend of artistry and mainstream entertainment with a great variety of musical tempos and motion and Cincy danced the heck out of it – especially in finals. Last year I didn't think they had the technique of Tennessee or Minnesota but they had still improved tremendously from where they were in 2006 and with another year under their belts – oh my. Last year in my preview I pointed out that they had over 100 points to make up on Minnesota and that it was just too much ground and they ended up beating Minnesota by nine points after trailing Minnesota in semis (and Minnesota had huge errors in semis). So Cincinnati makes up ground fast. If Cincinnati has the best routine again (or just close to it) with the continued improvement that I expect to see from them technically (which will get them to the highest levels) – plus their scintillating attack in finals – they will win. They will.
4. Kansas: To me, Kansas has always been a team of tremendous talent in search of a dance home. After three straight years in the Top Five they plummeted to 12th place last year and going into the 2007 competition I said that I didn't think they had the hunger to match their talent. And they showed that lack of hunger last year. I had Kansas in 5th after semis but then dropped them to 11th place in finals because their dance was just "good." No spark. But, Kansas has a lot going for them this year. A lot. And I think all of their unfocused talent has finally found focus and they are coming in charging. People are feeling it. 2nd in 2004 and 3rd in 2006 – Kansas does extremely well in years with even numbers and 2008 should be no different. Flat out I think Kansas can win this and I place them 4th amongst my Top Five only because they have not had the immediate recent success of the three teams I ranked above them.
5. Wisconsin-Madison: Wisconsin-Madison has five straight years in the Top Four and they were 2nd in taping and the opinion I heard was that they should have beat Minnesota at camp. That is all really good. I had Wisconsin scored in 1st place in semis last year and even their slightly more flawed performance came in 4th just six points behind their "nemesis" team to the West (OK, northwest) in finals. I think it is true that Wisconsin has been dancing in Minnesota's shadow – particularly stylistically – and it has kept them as a frequent runner-up. Wisconsin's music and choreography (even costume) has always seemed to me to be just a little too understated – a little too cautious. They need to bust out with a more dramatic and dynamic look and feel and dance like they are the team that has been 1st place all of these years. I always think Wisconsin has a chance to win but after five years of being close – I start to think that they can only be close. But, in Wisconsin's favor I have a long history of giving up on teams chances of winning in the exact year they break through and win. (see Greeley West Jazz in 2001 and Eden Prairie Pom in 2002). So, in everyone else's favor I am not giving up on Wisconsin just yet – I still think they can win it all.
6. Florida State: More incredible talent in search of a proper focus. I don't think Florida State can afford to have as poor execution as they had in 2007. And that nervousness I have about their execution -- coupled with the fact that Florida State hasn't quite had a routine that really showcases their talent – makes me keep FSU out of the very upper echelon. They will get very far on talent though and with a better routine they will certainly be back in the Top Five where they have been for the past two years. Otherwise, they will be close to the Top Five but they might see the same result as they had last year where they drop in finals as a less textured routine becomes more noticeable in the 2nd round – despite better execution than in semis.
7. Central Florida: Central Florida is ridiculously consistent and I can't even say that they are "stuck" because they have made changes to "move with the times." Their choreography last year was much better last year than it had been in the past and their technique was also much improved. I still think they are moving along on the right track it is just that they have some really great teams ahead of them that they need to catch.
8. Louisiana: The Ragin'Jazz have held steadily in the Second Five for the past three years and even though I think they have shown consistent improvement – it has just been enough to stay in place as their competition gets tougher around them. It is funny that 5th place can seem such a long way off but 6th does not. Louisiana doesn't need to overthink this. They have a very talented smart coach and a talented team and they just need to relax and be who they are. They seemed to find their confidence in hip-hop last year and it should be here too – once that settles in – they will surge up the rankings. Could be this year.
9. LSU: Other than missing the finals in 2005, LSU has also been a steady presence in and around the Second Five. LSU's routine last year was good but also almost completely inoffensive. They finished better than I thought they would – than most people thought they would – because it was hard to find too much fault with their routine. It was also hard to get too excited about it as well. That is not a bad strategy if you want to finish in 6th place. I would like to see more from LSU but I also think they are consistently one of the best teams and I do expect to see them back in the finals and the Top Ten in 2008.
10. Oklahoma: Five straight years in the finals for Oklahoma and they are always at least a unique presence in the finals. They usually do something that stands out although, most years, that has probably cost them a few points in the rankings. Oklahoma seems to have a little extra spark this year though and after three years outside the Top Ten, this may be the year they get back.
11. Illinois: Last year I said that Illinois reminds me a little bit of Kansas without quite the record of success. Lots and lots of talent but somehow they haven't done much better lately than slip into finals. I have not heard or seen anything this year to make me change my mind. Still, I really liked Illinois last year and I was a fan of their "precision jazz" look. But, their routine lacked the texture of the teams that finished ahead of them and I think they can challenge themselves more musically. Their style was interesting but they still need to press the difficulty – and not just technically but in all facets of the routine.
12. Alabama: Alabama was quite good last year but it is funny how they used the same song as Westmoore and yet, somehow, it didn't seem like most people really noticed the song until Westmoore danced to it. That is fairly telling. They are good but there are a lot of good teams in this competition. They need more. But, that said, I still see Alabama advancing to the finals.
13. Memphis: Memphis was 3rd in 2005 and if any team might benefit from the rumblings for more crowd-pleasing routines – it would be Memphis. Even then, the technique has just not been there the last two years and I don't think fast, upbeat music automatically equals crowd appeal. But, Memphis is a great program and they will define their own goals for this division and I still think they will always make an impact because they have a presence that reaches out and grabs you.
14. Michigan State: Well, they reversed their slide last year and made it back to the finals with an upbeat number to "How Will I Know." Again, "upbeat" does not automatically equal crowd-pleasing and especially because the choreography or the Michigan State dancers could not keep up with the pace of the music. It all felt rushed. But, looking at the entire field – Michigan State has been one of the most consistently good teams out there and they will probably be back in the finals for the seventh time in the last eight years.
15. Iowa: The best thing Iowa had going for them last year was talent. They had an uninspired music choice and they didn't really even connect with that familiar song. But, they were a finalist and they had a good taping score and talent is a good thing. With even a moderate improvement in their music and choreography and musicality, Iowa should be back in the finals.
THE REST OF THE PACK (In Performance Order)
South Florida: Tough draw for a team that has only made the finals once in the last four years. Good video entry score and I like their football team. They have to show up for semis and make their mark or they will get lost in the shuffle.
Colorado State: I'm with Russia. The Colorado schools really must be squandering some incredible talent. I can't even figure it out. Colorado State hasn't been to the finals since 2004 and I have not heard or seen anything that makes me think that 2008 is the year they return. Also, dealing with a tough draw.
Southern Mississippi: They are a newcomer team to UDA and a long shot and I wish Southern Mississippi a lot of luck
Connecticut: Another newcomer team to UDA. We are starting to see these Big East teams now. I like it.
Kent State: They had a fun routine last year – it certainly stood out amongst the semifinalists who didn't make finals and they have three years of experience under their belts. It would be nice to see Kent State break through to the finals.
Mississippi: 17th place last year and 17th in taping. I have no memory of them although – like Russia – I also had them placed higher than the judges. Both of us saw something even if neither of us can remember what it was. Decent draw and I won't be surprised to see them back in the finals.
Michigan: Michigan took last year off after being a near rock steady Second Five finishing team – missing the finals only in 2004. They certainly have a good shot at the finals and a good draw.
Auburn: Auburn tied with Iowa last year and they had some really good execution. That was their strong point. Choreography was not particularly memorable and it didn't have great connection to the music but that could have been on the dancers rather than on the composition. Still, they are steadily improving but being "together" is not enough. I actually think going at the end of the performance order is a little risk for a team like Auburn because they might be dealing with fatigued judges who need to see something a little fresh that late in the draw. More showmanship – more creativity. No mistakes is not that exciting – especially after 22 other routines.
Northwestern: They were 15th place last year and they danced so so soft and polite. I did think Northwestern was on the right track though even though their medium-sized dance was still a little too big for them. I am sounding harsher than I mean to sound because they were very pretty dancers but I know they can come with a lot more. They were finalists for the first time last year and that is still no mean feat in Division 1A dance and hopefully that will be a little extra shot of confidence for the Northwestern dance team so that they can get their performance level up to their talent level.
Division IA Hip Hop
1. Memphis: Putting Memphis first came down to two things for me. First of all I think Memphis has both the athleticism and the hip-hop dance chops -- they use their music well rhythmically. Louisiana has not really shown the former and Cincinnati has not been as strong with the latter. Of course, I am talking about the past but I have nothing else to go on. Second, Memphis knows how to defend a title once they get it. Once again, I am talking about the past but this title really does mean a lot to this University and that is yet another "x-factor" in favor of Memphis. There is a long and proud tradition of dance excellence at Memphis – longer than for any other school and they are a storied program in college dance like no other. The "Title Town" of college dance. I think the main weakness for Memphis last year was they kind of came out like gangbusters (their stage presence is amazing) but the second half of the routine faded a little. If they can go out on as high of a note as they come in – I don't think there will be any stopping them. I don't. They were champs with this routine twenty years ago and I know they would like to celebrate that anniversary with another title in 2008.
2. Louisiana: 6th in 2005, 5th in 2006 and 3rd last year. The Ragin' Jazz are on the rise. They use the detail in their music better than any team and they are just so smooth. Last year I said I thought their two biggest issues were to show more confidence (which they did – especially in finals) and more athleticism (they just didn't show enough for the general style preference). So, it isn't like Louisiana tried and failed in the latter regard. Still, you have to give the people a little bit of what they want if you can and the reports are that Louisiana can and will be doing just that in 2008. Unlike a lot of teams I am also sure that any "tricks" will be seamlessly incorporated into the routine – because that is what Louisiana does. They get in the music. The Ragin' Jazz also can't have a worse draw than they did last year and that also works in their favor. They have a great shot to win this whole thing and complete their climb to the top.
3. Cincinnati: I must be crazy to put Cincinnati in 3rd especially since I have heard nothing but raves about them. They were the three-time defending champion from 2004-2006 until they lost by a single point to Memphis last year. I have always thought that Cincinnati had the best pacing in their routines because they always hit several high points in their dances and they managed to keep the audience very interested from start to finish. Criticized for doing a "floor exercise" last year but I did think that they stepped up the dancing portion between tricks in the finals last year and from what I have heard about their 2008 routine -- it sounds like that has been a point of emphasis for Cincy this year. When all was said and done I still picked them as my winner in 2007 and they really impressed me with their fight in finals last year. I basically see very little difference between my Top Three but I had to rank them – but Cincinnati has a tremendous chance to win the Division 1A Hip-Hop title back.
4. Tennessee: I had Tennessee in 2nd after prelims in 2007 and they really made a great debut in 2006. They had some pretty major execution issues last year and the overall package was just not up to the high expectations everyone had for them in Hip-Hop after their 4th place showing two years ago. Still, they are two for two in the Top Five and even though a lot of people were not particularly crazy about their dance last year – they were not far out of third-place. A little improvement in routine composition and execution and Tennessee will be a threat yet again to break into the Top Three in Hip-Hop.
5. Louisiana State: LSU has three Top Four finishes in this division and they were just a nose behind Louisiana last year so they are clearly a threat. They always have a clever gimmick although I thought went too far last year with the hats on their chest. There just had to be a better way. I also did not appreciate their sleeveless look. Despite all of those negatives from me they were just 4 points out of third place so I am sort of talking myself into putting them higher than 5th. But, I won't. LSU will be way up there again but I am not convinced that they can really challenge for the top spot like they did in 2004 and 2005.
6. Minnesota: I was so sure that Minnesota was going to do the right thing in Hip-Hop last year and they let me down. Crazy talent but they have not been pushing themselves to master the kind of content that the higher-placing teams have. Their style rhythmically is not even close to the complexity that they could handle. They are amazing dancers though and that can not be denied and it is always going to keep them high in the rankings – because they look great doing even just the simplest things.
7. Kansas: Kansas was 8th last year but I had them scored in 11th. They had some choreography issues last year that bothered me (and maybe only me) but I felt like they sped through their routine and I didn't feel like there were very many times for the audience to connect with what they were doing. Connection to the music was spotty. Still, they finished pretty high and they are extremely talented and they improved from their 11th place finish from 2006. So, it is not a stretch to think that they will continue to move up the Hip-Hop rankings.
8. Oklahoma: Oklahoma hasn't been in the finals since 2005 and I scored them really low last year. They had a low taping score but I understand that it was because of a penalty and that otherwise their routine was pretty impressive. Applesparkle stood up for them and that is noteworthy – on the other hand – I really don't like Bob Stoops. Although it is not fair to hold that against the dance team. They have talent and it seems like they have some solid choreography this year so I do expect them to make a strong showing in 2008.
9. Wisconsin-Madison: I hate to put Wisconsin-Madison so low but their failure to make finals in 2006 haunts me. Not really. But, it is a concern. I don't think they have been bringing the choreography the last two years –at least not to my taste and I think that has been holding back this extremely talented group of dancers in hip-hop. Still, they were Top Five twice and they just need to put forth a routine that shows off their skills. They could easily get back to the Top Five.
10: Florida State: They are the only team left competing (other than Michigan State) that has made the finals in Hip-Hop every year that they have competed but they have been in the finals three times to Michigan State's two. So, Florida State gets the final spot in my Top Ten for that reason. I had them scored in12th last year in finals and I blamed bland choreography. The talent is easily there and they have been a consistent finalist. With an even slightly pleasing routine they will be back in the Top Ten where they have been twice before.
THE REST OF THE PACK (in Performance Order)
Mississippi: It is their first-time competing in the Hip-Hop division and any school this big from this part of the country should be able to make a respectable showing – or better – in Hip-Hop. They have a tough draw for a new team – dancing in the wake of the mighty Cincinnati and early in the performance order. They are the only team without experience too so that makes them a little bit of a long shot.
Alabama: Alabama made the finals and the Top Ten in Hip-Hop for the first time last year. I have been putting them and taking them out of the Top Ten each time I rethink my predictions. I actually liked them better than the judges did last year and I thought they were pretty entertaining. I expect Alabama to do well yet again, I am just thinking that some teams that they beat last year will pass them by.
Illinois: Illinois has been sliding back in the rankings since a debut at 9th place in 2005 and I had them scored pretty low last year. This is an easy division to turn things around in – especially with the constant stream of talent these big universities have – but Illinois is going to have to prove it on the floor because on paper I don't see them making the finals.
Nevada-Las Vegas: Nevada Las Vegas was not bad at all last year and I had them scored on the cusp of finals. I was also encouraged to hear that they were ready to come back with more fight in 2008. And the reports I have heard about their routine in 2008 are enthusiastic. I am not going to be surprised if they make finals this year.
South Florida: Count me in with Russia – I thought the Sun Dolls were a lock for finals last year and I had them in 8th in prelims but they didn't advance. That might have been because they went first and they have a better draw this time. I had them in my Top Ten until just seconds ago and then I dropped them for Florida State. I will not be surprised at all if South Florida makes the finals and the Top Ten.
Michigan: In two tries they didn't make finals and then they took last year off. This field is tougher than the fields where they stalled out in semifinals and the year off can't help. But you can never discount the chances of a huge Big Ten University (except in a BCS Bowl Game – Ha!). Still, a little bit of a long shot here but with hope.
Michigan State: I only saw them dance once last year and I thought they had some great great energy. I note that Russia did not like them though. They have made the finals both times they have competed in Hip-Hop and I had them in my Top Ten for a while before settling with Michigan State just outside the Top Ten but probably still a finalist. For the record, I put Michigan State in 6th place last year in finals.
Iowa: They slipped into the finals in 2006 and then last year I scored them very very low. It was kind of a misfire doing the "Farmer Hip-Hop." It kind of came across like Marie Osmond's doll dance on Dancing With The Stars. No crime though and that is an easy fix to make. Still, I think Iowa is a bit of a long shot to make the finals in Hip-Hop.
Central Florida: I feel like Central Florida should be succeeding in Hip-Hop and they were a respectable 12th place last year in their first outing despite the huge skirt the dancers wore that threatened to swallow their entire routine. People said they looked better just in warm-ups and I believe that because the very same thing happened once to a team my sister danced on – where they got lost in a huge skirt. So, I am nervous about keeping Central Florida out of my Top Ten picks and I bet they will make me regret it.
Division I and Open Dance
1. Orange Coast
2. St. Thomas
4. St. Benedict's
Comments: Close between 2nd and 3rd.
1. Orange Coast
3. St. Thomas
4. St. Cloud State
Division 1 Dance
1. Long Beach State
2. Cal State Fullerton'
3. North Dakota State
4. Idaho State
Comments: Cal State Fullerton has more #1 votes though -- they just have a couple of low rankings.
Division 1 Hip-Hop
2. (tie) Delaware
4. Cal State Fullerton
5. SE Louisiana