The men’s NCAA season at the moment is a bit of a mess. We don’t know exactly who Cal is going to have for the spring semester or not and who is going to be redshirted, but ultimately it doesn’t look like this year’s team will be as good as last year’s. It’s not clear that anybody else wants to jump up and take the spot, though. Texas has swum well, but losing D’Innocenzo isn’t going to help, and without Imri Ganiel getting eligible they’re reeling on breaststrokes. The general tone nationally is that nobody seems to have a trust for Michigan’s ability to pull it off.
Breaststrokes are thin this year among top-10 teams, while freestyles are strong. So, if you’ve got a breaststroker in your deck, congratulations: it probably bumped you up a spot-or-two in these power rankings.
I know you’re all bursting at the seems to tell us we’re wrong, so leave your comments below!
1. Cal Golden Bears, Pleasant Surprise: Ben Hinshaw’s Sprinting (Last Poll: #1)
Cal was hit hard this week by the news that Tyler Messerschmidt, their top sprinter (19.5, 42.9 this year already) was sitting out the 2012-2013 season. With Shayne Fleming, Fabio Gimondi, Tom Shields coming back, and Seth Stubblefield continuing his return from injury, Cal still has a lot of sprinters, but they’ve lost their biggest gun in the sprints. Tony Cox was on Cal’s training trip to the Olympic Training Center, a good sign for him returning for the spring semester. Mid-season meets are often swept under the rug, but but the January 19th and 20th Cal Invitational will be huge for this team. It will be our first indicator of who all is in for championship season, and who all is out. Either way, Ben Hinshaw’s sprinting has been a pleasant surprise. He made two B-Finals at NCAA’s last year in the 200 and 400 IM, and had a great 200 free split on the 800 free relay, but we’ve never seen the kind of speed in the 100 that he’s shown this year. He was a 44.1 in the 100 at the Georgia Invite in the fall, which is his best time by a second-and-a-half (44.14). That could be at least a stop-gap to Cal’s sprinter problems. They still have unmatchable individual points, with Shields, both Hinshaws, Hamilton, Fleming, Tarczynski, Pebley,
2. Michigan Wolverines, Pleasant Surprise: Richard Funk (Last Poll: #2)
The Michigan men won 17 National Championships before 1962. They’ve only one a single one since (1995). They’ve kept their team healthy, eligible, and in-tact. If there were a year that things were going to come together for the Wolverines to get back on top, this could be it. This team is really showing some nice depth, with swimmers like freshman Dylan Bosch really stepping up. Connor Jaeger has sling-shot himself off of the Olympic appearance into a 14:43 mile already. Richard Funk, after settling into yards last season, has stepped up and is already beating his 2011-2012 times (53.08 in the 100 breast, for example). The Wolverines have had some really unique meets this season, and my theory is that those meets (the Water Carnival, the 20-yard pool) will keep them fresh and energetic. Really, though, we won’t know what it’s going to do until we get to the end of the year. This team has great relays; I’d guess they can get to 170 points in relays alone. This team has been good this year, but they have a lot of work to do at year’s end. They could really use Zach Turk to get back to the 19-low in the 50 free where he was last year, and Hassaan Abdel-Khalik to get his 200 free to the 1:34′s where he was before his redshirt Olympic year. Still, it takes a lot of individual points to win an NCAA title, and I don’t think that Michigan can match Cal. There may be less of a jump this season as there was last year from the top-tier to the next tier of teams (250 points), but I think Cal is still a big favorite. Could some pressure from Ohio State at Big Ten’s cost Michigan at NCAA’s?
3. Stanford Cardinal, Pleasant Surprise: Andrew Saeta (Last Poll: #4)
It’s a new year, and a new head coach, but under the watch of former assistant Ted Knapp, through the first 4 months of the season, the Cardinal look very similar to what they did last year. We see a lot of the same results from their mid-season meet as we did last year, with a few exceptions (Aaron Wayne, for example, has already been under 43 in his 100 free – impressive for this early on and ranked 5th in the country so far; Stephen Saeta’s been 19.91 in the 50, something he only barely beat at Pac 12′s last season). Having solved their breaststroke problem with the use of David Nolan on the breaststroke leg (54.69 – and he didn’t look to be on great form at that meet overall). In men’s swimming, you never want to have to count too much on your freshman, but Stanford will need to squeeze a few points out of Gray Umbach, Tom Kremer, and Danny Thomson this year. Of the three, Thomson has looked the best so far with swims of 4:19.5 in the 500 and 15:02.18 in the mile. If we see any big changes to this team’s routine this year, we likely wouldn’t have known it until Pac 12′s anyway. If Stanford swims well at NCAA’s, with Wayne, Thompson, and Swanston all seniors, they might have a better shot of picking off Cal than Michigan does.
4. Texas Longhorns, Pleasant Surprise: Tripp Cooper (Last Poll: #3)
The Longhorns took a big hit when Imri Ganiel, who we called their “key swimmer” in round 1, couldn’t get eligible for this season, and Nick D’Innocenzo (left/was pushed out/whatever semantic verbiage you want to believe) from the program. The Longhorns still have a lot of great pieces – Dax Hill, Austin Surhoff is swimming very well, Michael McBroom is back in “stud” form – but they’re going to be counting on a lot of lesser-knowns this year. The Longhorns can put together a lot of top three relays…if they put Hill and Surhoff on five relays. That’s highly unlikely, meaning that they’re going to need a few guys to step up. Tripp Cooper has been amazing in his sophomore campaign; his 47.1 in the 100 fly looks like it could fill-up another hole in the Longhorns’ butterfly group. Junior Charlie Moore is having his best season since he was a freshman, and is one possible breaststroke solution. There is still huge pressure on Hill to be good at year’s end: he’s usually outstanding at NCAA’s, but had a tough summer at the Olympic Trials. The Longhorns might be the most affected of the top teams by the new qualification rules. They’ve never really had to put much rest into the Big 12 Championships before. Now they’ll have to push like everyone else for individual qualifying times.
5. Arizona Wildcats, Pleasant Surprise: Michael Sheppard (Last Poll: #7)
The Arizona Wildcats will be happy that they have already had their big NCAA-standard rest-meet for the year, given what’s happening with the Pac 12 Championships right now (it’s looking more-and-more like the dates could be changed). They took a little bit of a hit when junior Tommy Gutman pulled off of the team; he was probably at-best a borderline individual scorer at NCAA’s, but his 19.4 50 freestyle relay split from last season would have helped. As things are, the Wildcats’ other four relays shape up to be very good. Kevin Cordes is still a monster, Giles Smith has added a lethal 100 free (42.6) to his 100 fly (45.81 – best in the country). With Mitchell Friedemann on the backstroke (45.93), the Wildcats actually lead the country in the 100 yard races of all three strokes this year.
6. USC Trojans, Pleasant Surprise: Jack Wagner (Last Poll: #5)
Don’t worry Trojan fans, none of the Europeans got lost on the way back from the World Championships. Vlad Morozov and Dimitri Colupaev are back in action at USC, and looked great in their debut (Vlad was a 19.57 in the 50 free on a training trip in Hawaii). Meanwhile, while they was gone, junior Jack Wagner has stepped up in a huge way for this team to make their relays look a whole lot healthier. This season, he’s broken 20 seconds flat-start in the 50 for the first three times in his career (19.75) and 44 seconds in the 100 for the first two times in his career (43.74). If Vlad does what we’re all afraid he’s capable of this year (remember that he was an Olympian in the 100 back too), this is a top 5 team. This is another team that’s stinging from not being able to get an Israeli eligible at the semester, otherwise they might have challenged Texas for top-4.
7. Auburn Tigers, Pleasant Surprise: Alexander Hancock (Last Poll: #6)
Marcelo Chierighini might be the only sprinter who can challenge USC’s Morozov at this year’s NCAA Championships in the sprint freestyles, as his 19.37 and 42.73 in the 50 and 100 are already dynamite. The continued development of junior James Disney-May, plus the emergence of sophomore Alexander Hancock, will put the Tigers in the mix for an NCAA title in the 400 free relay, and the bonus points for leaping to national championships in relays are worthwhile. Everything’s right on track for the Tigers this year, with Kyle Owens swimming well in the backstrokes; Stuart Ferguson’s breaststroke swims (54.25/2:00.09) haven’t been awesome, though he is known to have a monster taper at year’s end. Our first two looks, against Texas and Texas A&M, of Brazilian butterflier Arthur Mendes in yards will temper expectations. He was a 49.00 in the 100 and 1:52.9 in the 200 fly against Texas – which still makes him the favorite to swim that leg on their medley, but won’t put them in reach for an NCAA title in those races.
8. Florida Gators, Pleasant Surprise: Dan Wallace (Last Poll: #8)
Can we get a breaststroker? There seems to be a ton of teams with big breaststroking holes this year. Florida’s situation isn’t the worst (they’ve got good depth), but it’s not the best either. Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez is having a very good year in the breaststrokes (54.16/1:55.10), so that might not hurt the Gators as much as it could have otherwise. Both #8 Florida and #9 Indiana still have relay problems, though both got better this year; Florida has a lot more individual points potential though. Seabstien Rousseau is back and swimming extremely well. Scottish sophomore Dan Wallace is really settling into yards this year – he’s been best times in 5 different races, including a 1:44 in the 200 IM and a 3:44 in the 400 IM. Last year, he won the B-Final of the 400 IM at NCAA’s for his only points. This year, he should blow by that scoring plateau.
9. Indiana Hoosiers, Pleasant Surprise: N/A (Last Poll: #9)
Things tighten up significantly in the 8th-10th spots. If Zach Nees, who’s probably a 30-point NCAA scorer, hadn’t transfered to Virginia Tech before this season, we might have the Hoosiers a spot higher. As it is, Indiana is still good for a mitful on the boards (at least 50). Eric Ress and Cody Miller, the team’s two stars, have both been very quick early this year, but the Hoosiers’ sprint freestylers are still struggling. The team’s top sprinter, Daniel Kanorr, has only been a 45.00 in the 100. The Hoosiers could go point-less in the sprint free relays again. Steve Schmuhl missed US Nationals while preparing for the World Short Course Championships; if everything comes back well with him, though, Indiana could at least count on strong scoring in the 800 free relay to boost supplement their medleys this season. No big surprises on this Indiana team yet: things have been fairly what-you-see-is-what-you-get for them.
10. Ohio State Buckeyes, Pleasant Surprise: Zach Holmes (Last Poll: #11)
What is shaping up to be a deeper sprint field this year than last at NCAA’s puts a little bit of extra pressure on Buckeye senior Jason Schnur. So far this season, he’s almost identically to where he was mid-year in the 2011-2012 year. The Ohio State sprint group as a whole, however, looks really strong, with Zach Holmes having already been 43.92 in the 100 free (faster than he was all of last year); and Zach Birnbrich doing the same in the 50 (19.97). Thus far, Tim Phillips hasn’t quite been the lightning-bolt in his return that Ohio State needs him to be (44.9 in the 100 free, 47.0 in the 100 fly), but like we’ve discussed with many other swimmers, that’s the norm for him this time of year. This is starting to look like a team that has the potential to put 4-or-5 relays into the top 8 at NCAA’s.
11. Louisville Cardinals, Pleasant Surprise: Carlyle Blondell (Last Poll: #10)
Louisville’s sprinting twosome, Carlyle Blondell and Joao de Lucca, have continued to look good this year. In our initial rankings, we said that the Cardinals needed someone else to step up and go a 43 at year’s end on the 400 free relay to join those two and Samuel Hoekstra. I don’t know that we’ve found that yet, though junior Albert Lloyd had shown a lot of improvement this season (45.00 in the 100 free). He’ll also be a big part of an improved 800 free relay that had a tough swim at NCAA’s in 2012. De Lucca, meanwhile, keeps looking like a stud – he leads the country with a 42.05 in the 100 free this year. Every time someone matches his efforts in that race, he turns up another gear and drops another few tenths. It will be fun to watch him, Morozov, and countrymate Chierighini go at it at NCAA’s in this event.
12. Georgia Bulldogs, Pleasant Surprise: Ty Stewart (Last Poll: #12)
Georgia has been through ups-and-downs this season, but that’s no surprise for a team that leans this heavily on freshmen. Chase Kalisz, after sitting out the fall semester, has been an immediate impact in dual meets for the Bulldogs, including as a major factor for keeping things very tight with Texas. This is one of the more talented teams in the country, but it’s still very young talent. Matt Ellis has been very good in his 100 free this season (43.60), and has been at-or-near-bests in the 50 free (20.21) and 100 fly (47.91); a top 10 finish will need him to hit his taper in all three of those events at NCAA’s: something big-time Georgia freshman haven’t always been aimed to do. We knew Ty Stewart would be versatile coming in, but he’s even outlived those expectations. He and Kalisz have limited relay value, however, so Nic Fink’s continued improvement in the sprint freestyles is big for this team, while Matias Koski has been an unreal 44.0 in the 100 free and 14:53 in the 1650 combination. When was the last time we saw a top-8 miler on an top-8 200 free relay? Could be coming in the next few years if the ‘Dawgs’ sprinters keep coming along.
13. Florida State, Pleasant Surprise: Paul Murray (Last Poll: #14)
There are probably some lower-ranked teams that are more balanced than the Seminoles; some teams that would beat them in a dual meet; but none of the lower-ranked teams have a standout sprinter to the level of Paul Murray. Coming into this season, his best time was a 19.80 in the 50 free. This year, mid-season he went a 19.35: a full second faster than he was mid-season last year as the Seminoles broke the ACC Record in the 200 free relay. That relay still leads the country by a decent margin and their 400 is 2nd. In past years, this team has peaked too early at the ACC Championships. Being so good so early, though, they should be able to at least keep part of their squad (Murray especially) training through that meet, if their goal is NCAA placement. The potential for 60 points from those two relays alone will be a great start; this team could have two 18-highs on their 200 free relay (Murray and Mark Webber) sophomore Connor Knight is coming along very well in the 100 fly (47.09), and that makes the Seminoles’ medley relays viable as well.
14. Penn State Nittany Lions, Pleasant Surprise: Nick Ankosko (Last Poll: #16)
Right now, there seems to be a pretty steep drop-off after the top 13 teams. As Tennessee’s stock plummets (more to come on that later), the Nittany Lions will move up a few ticks. Penn State is sort of the opposite of the two teams that bookend them in Florida State and A&M. They’re not deep enough in the sprint freestyles to count on big points there at NCAA’s (though, their entire sprint group is made of underclassmen, so that could change next season). The Penn State medleys, though, are dy-no-mite. Sean Grier has been 46.3 in the 100 back already and 46.7 in the 100 fly; they seem to be leaning toward putting him on the fly and having sophomore Nate Savoy (47.3) on the backstroke. The only thing keeping those relays from being top-5 contenders at NCAA’s is the breaststrokes, and even there they aren’t in too bad of shape with James Wilson being well ahead of schedule this season (55.23).
15. Texas A&M Aggies, Pleasant Surprise: Mateo Muzek (Last Poll:#15)
This is a team that is really dependent on the “team” aspect, a.k.a. their relays, and they graduated a lot of leadership after last season. John Dalton and Kyle Troskot are the meat of this team (they aren’t yet sure if they’re going to use their new sprint freshman Or Sebatier this year). The Aggie freshman are swimming very well, even in adapting to new environments as many of them are internationals, but this team’s success will come down to their freestylers: I’m not sure they can get enough out of their medleys to place as high as they were last year (13th). Breaststroke is a big hole here – their #2 is no longer on the team’s roster, and their #1 John Wagner’s best on a flat-start is 57.89…slower than the women’s team’s #1 Breeja Larson (though Wagner has been 56 on the relay, so that’s probably not a true telling of his potential). 45 relay points + another 20-25 individually from Dalton would be the Aggies’ goal in the lanes; Ford McLiney is diving very well, but All-American Hayden Jones, who would’ve scored huge points at NCAA’s this year, is out for the semester (he’s expected back next year). That costs them a chance at a top-12 finish.
16. Missouri Tigers, Pleasant Surprise: Jonathan Grodecki (Last Poll: #20)
The Missouri men are flying up the rankings, thanks in no-small-part to the successes of freshman sprinter Jonathan Grodecki. He’s been a 20.09 in the 50 free and a 43.64 in the 100 free. The Tigers have a great diver of their own, David Bonuchi who won the 1-meter at the recent elite Tennessee Diving Invitational and should be top-3 at NCAA’s in all three disciplines this year. Their swimmers, though, are rising to the point of putting together scoring relays. Aside from Grodecki, the Tigers have four other swimmers who have been 44′s already in the 100 free. Their top four in that race are 1 freshman and three sophomores. They also have four who have been 53 or better in the 100 breaststroke (led by Tierney in 52.46). This Tigers team has sort of snuck-up on the country, but I’ll be darned if they don’t suddenly look like a top-15 team.
17. Virginia Cavaliers, Pleasant Surprise: JB Kolod (Last Poll: #18)
Virginia graduated all of the individual scorers from last year, but fortunately that didn’t correlate highly with graduating their best relay swimmers, including Tom Barret. He’s been strong this year with a 20.1 in the 50 free, a 43.7 in the 100 free, and a 1:36.2 in the 200 free, and will make a good relay foundation. The 800 will be good, as always, but he needs to find a lot of support popping up in those sprints. What could be big for this team is the emergence of freshman diver JB Kolod; in their dual meet with Duke last weekend, he beat Olympian Nick McCrory on both the 1-meter and the 3-meter. That’s impressive and gutsy (more on McCrory in a minute).
18. Virginia Tech Hokies, Pleasant Surprise: (Last Poll: #19)
The Hokies have been busy already this semester, with 4 January meets already under their belts and a 5th yet to come, so we at least know they’re race-sharpened. Their two All-American divers have been good this year (though scores against NC State seemed a little inflated); Logan Shinholser has been the more consistent of the two in early 2013. Not much has changed for the Hokies in the water, as they were one of the first teams to have a mid-season rest. The Hokies will pick up a little more pep thanks to a mid-year addition of Polish freshman Michal Szuba, who has already become the team’s best distance swimmer (4:29.29/9:11.8) in his first three meets. He’s been 3:52 in the 400 free in long course and is very good in short course meters, so there’s still a chance he could score at NCAA’s this season.
19. Duke Blue Devils, Pleasant Surprise: Hunter Knight (Last Poll: #17)
Nick McCrory. Diving. McCrory is still a potential three-event NCAA Champion (he’s the NCAA Championship Record holder on platform), but after returning early this semester (along with female counterpart Abby Johnston), he hasn’t looked his best. He was beaten twice by Virginia freshman JB Kolod, was tipped by Missouri’s David Bonuchi at his first meet back, the Tennessee Diving Invitational, on the 1-meter. Surely he’s still working his way back to that competition sharpness after winning an Olympic bronze, but with so much of Duke’s ranking dependent on his success, we had to slide them a bit. The Blue Devils will have to fight to pick up any swimming points at NCAA’s this year, but junior breaststroker Hunter Knight is having a great season. His 54.86 100 breast mid-year is better than he was all of last season.
20. Harvard Crimson, Pleasant Surprise: Steven Kekacs (Last Poll: Not Ranked)
The Harvard Crimson have supplanted their Ivy League brethren as our pick for the conference’s top team, at least at the NCAA level. They have done very well to build on last year’s success, where they sent a full tier of relays to the big meet. Though that only resulted in 10 points last year, the whole NCAA squad was freshmen and sophomores, and they haven’t stagnated one-bit in the offseason. The sprint tandem Griffin Schumacher (44.68 100 free) and Chris Satterthwaite (44.30 100 free) are both way ahead of their mid-year pace from last season. Chuck Katis has already been a 52.49 in the 100 breaststroke and sits 4th in the country; that gives him a big scoring opportunity at NCAA’s, given how weak men’s breaststroking is nation-wide this year. They lack the sprint butterflier and backstroker to have big scoring medleys, but there should be some good individual points and good free relay points coming this season. The team’s pattern from last year was to swim their best times at Ivy’s, then add a little (but not a lot) for NCAA’s), but if they turn that around, they could theoretically be a spot-or-two higher this year.
21. Wisconsin Badgers, Pleasant Surprise: Drew Teduits (Last Poll: Not Ranked)
Michael Weiss has turned the corner and after his Olympic Trials performance is now among the elite swimmers in the country, even if he’s not talked about as much. He reminds me a bit of Conor Dwyer just as Dwyer was about to make his big collegiate breakthrough, though maybe without the same elite breaststroke abilities. I don’t think it would be a stretch to pick three top-8 finishes for him in the 200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 breast, and at a bare-minimum 30 individual points. That alone should put Wisconsin close to the top 25. Daniel Lester has looked very good early this year (1:45.0 in the 200 fly, 1:46.8 in the 200 IM); while last year, he was probably looking a week past NCAA’s at Australia’s Olympic Trials, this year he should be full-bore toward Indy. That should mean another 15-20 individual points, at least. Sophomore Drew Teduits is currently 8th in the country in the 200 back (1:42.76), so that could be a few more points. This team doesn’t look right now like it’s got any serious relay aspirations, but 45-50 individual points are well within reach.
22. Tennessee Volunteers, Pleasant Surprise: Jacob Thulin (Last Poll: #13)
The Volunteer men took a big tumble down the rankings, with word out of Knoxville that Irish swimmer Ryan Harrison, who had the potential for a top-5 finish in the 200 at NCAA’s, is no longer with the team. He was expected back in the second semester, but now the Volunteers will have to lean on their medley relays and their young divers Brent Sterling and Mauricio Robles, who should be able to pick up a handfull of points. The team’s top sprinter, Sam Rairden, has looked good early this year in 44.7, and with three swimmers already under 45 that 400 free relay could get into the top 16 as well. There’s still a lot of excitement in Knoxville surrounding the new coaching staff, and keep in mind that Matt Kredich’s teams usually hit their tapers at year’s end much harder than the men’s team has historically; the men will probably have to use a lot of that at SEC’s, though, just to get their qualifiers for Indy.
23. North Carolina Tar Heels, Pleasant Surprise: Logan Heck (Last Poll: #20)
Logan Heck is having a great start to his college career, having already been a lifetime best of 44.53 in the 100 free. He doesn’t have much in the way of a 2nd event yet, though, with a 20.70 in the 50 free still developing. Thomas Luchsinger is this team’s biggest individual scoring potential, having been 1:45.2 in the 200 fly and 3:51.5 in the 400 IM already this year. The team’s best relay is likely the 800, where JT Stilley and Brad Dillon have really stepped up early this year. That group should place in the top 12 at NCAA’s (they were 9th last year). The Tar Heels were routed by #17 Virginia last week, however, with no punches pulled in the most-heated rivalry in college swimming.
24. LSU Tigers, Pleasant Surprise: Michael Saco (Last Poll: #22)
The Tigers have looked solid this season, especially as a dual meet team. They could be counting on two top-10 finishes from distance swimmer Craig Hamilton, who has already been 4:22 in the 500 free (a time he didn’t hit until SEC finals last season). Outside of him, Andrei Tuomola is having a big year and is sort of the glue that holds this team’s relays together. Their medley times haven’t been as good as one might expect given their individual components, especially the 200, so they’ll be hoping for things to pick up there and get them a few points at year’s end.
25. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Pleasant Surprise: (Last Poll: Unranked)
Georgia Tech – that’s a team that we haven’t seen this relevant since Gal Nevo graduated. They’ve got all of the pieces to make a 3:09 400 medley relay, which means a high B-Final. Matthew Vaughan is a 54.7 in the 100 breaststroke, Nico van Duijn is a 47.2 in the 100 fly, and they’ve got options with Andrew Kosic being both their best 100 freestyler (43.62) and 100 backstroker (48.35). Mid-season, they had Kosic swim freestyle, but the coaches feel the relay can be a little better flipped around (they currently are 12th in the country). If they can toss in a few points from Kosic and van Duijn individually, plus maybe a 200 medley relay. This is a relay that’s already been 6 seconds better this season than they were last season (though that was a very, very young relay), so there’s some element of mystery involved. If Notre Dame’s Frank Dyer has three high B Finals (100, 200, 500), the Irish will contend for this spot as well.
Minnesota (Previous: #23): No Kyler van Swol against Hawaii. That could be trouble if he’s done for the year, as he was 12th at NCAA’s in the 200 fly in 2012 and was having a great season.
Princeton (Previous: #24)
North Carolina State Wolf Pack (Previous: #25)