2017 M. NCAA Picks: Longhorns Look for 800 Free Repeat

2017 MEN’S NCAA SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

800 FREESTYLE RELAY

  • NCAA record: 6:08.03, Texas, 2016
  • American record: 6:10.16, Texas, 2009
  • U.S. Open record: 6:08.03, Texas, 2016
  • 2016 NCAA Champion: 6:08.03, Texas, 2016

Last year’s NCAA championships kicked off in exhilarating fashion.  The decision to move this relay to Wednesday night, when all swimmers were fresh, rather than Friday’s evening session, paid off immediate dividends.   Three teams finished under the old NCAA and U.S. Open records, led by the Texas Longhorns and Townley Haas with the fastest-ever 200 relay split.

This year’s race should be just as exciting, as those three teams (Texas, NC State, and Florida) retain most of their big guns, although coaches will have some lineup decisions to make that could complicate things a bit.

The Longhorns return all four swimmers from last year’s race.  Jack Conger, Townley Haas, and Clark Smith each earned gold medals as part of the USA’s 4×200 free relay in Rio.  The fourth, Joseph Schooling, also won Olympic gold, in the 100 fly.  However, Schooling sat this event out at Big 12s, and can only swim four relays this year after entering three individual events.  Jeff Newkirk went 1:32.62 at Big 12s in Schooling’s place – less than three-tenths off what Schooling split at NCAA’s last year.  By going with Newkirk instead of Schooling, Texas would have a shot at the American Record, which still stands at 6:10.16 from the 2009 Longhorn squad.  And, oh yeah, we haven’t even mentioned Jonathan Roberts, who made finals in the 200 free at OT’s, but who has been focusing on the 400 IM this year.  Bottom line: anything can happen, but it’d be hard to pick anyone other than Texas to win this.

Last year’s 2nd place team, NC State, actually has the top time this year, a 6:09.82 from the ACC Championships.  Andreas Vazois, the big revelation for NC State from ACC’s, Justin Ress, who also had a great meet, and veteran Soeren Dahl, all should be locks here.  Ryan Held joined them at conference, sitting out the 400 medley relay.  Assuming that’s the plan again here, Held should be even faster than the 1:32.76 he split three weeks ago, and while the Wolfpack probably doesn’t quite have the firepower to overcome the Longhorns, they should very much in the mix.

The Florida Gators were the third team under the previous record last year.  They come in this year as the 4th seed (6:12.18), but tend to improve a lot between SEC’s and NCAA’s.  Khader Baqlah, Maxime Rooney, Mitch D’Arrigo, and Mark Szaranek made up that squad at SEC’s, but Jan Switkowski split a 1:31 last year at NCAA’s.  Add up everyone’s best splits, and you’re looking at a team that will easily go under 6:10.  Caeleb Dressel is probably needed more on the other four relays, but he could undoubtedly drop a 1:31 split, meaning that with him, Florida could be in the 6:08-low range and challenge Texas for the win.  Even without him, though, this is a top three team.

Last year the Cal Bears set a school record at NCAAs, and while they graduated Jacob Pebley and Trent Williams, they return Long Gutierrez and Andrew Seliskar.  While the latter is known for his IM/fly prowess, he’s also a sneakily great freestyler, especially as this distance.  Freshman stud Michael Jensen will join them, and he’s a lock for a 1:33 or better.  The question, again, comes to the team’s superstar, Ryan Murphy.  He swam this at Pac-12s, and if he does again, Cal will challenge for a top three spot.  If he doesn’t, Cal will probably slip a spot or two in a tight field.

The Hoosiers also have a US Olympian on their squad, but there’s no question that Blake Pieroni will be swimming Wednesday night, probably dropping a 1:31-something.  Marwan El Kamash, Anze Tavcar, and Mohamed Samy joined him at Big 10s where they set a new conference record.  Indiana tends to hold their time pretty well, but probably will be find it tough to improve much from Big 10s.  Holding their time won’t be enough to crack the top three, but they’ll be fighting for a spot in the next three places.

The Georgia Bulldogs are only seeded 12th, but that time of 6:17.17 doesn’t show what they’re capable of – they certainly didn’t show their hand at SECs.  Jay Litherland and Chase Kalisz represented the US in the 400 IM in Rio, and Gunnar Bentz, despite also being known an IMer, swam the 4×200 free relay.  While all of those guys are probably better in long course than short, the ‘dogs always show up for NCAAs.  Throw in Pace Clark, and this is a team that should easily jump into the top 8, if not top 5.

All four men from last year’s 7th place team return for the Louisville Cardinals, and they’re coming in with a time that’s two seconds faster than last year.  The Cardinals have a very evenly balanced team that includes a veteran senior trio of Matthias Lindenbauer, Trevor Carroll, and Grigory Tarasevich, along with Olympics trials finals in the 200 fly, Zach Harting.

The picture gets a bit murkier after those seven teams.  Wisconsin, Michigan, Stanford, and USC have the 7th-10th fastest times in the country this year.  The Badgers and Wolverines are led by Cannon Clifton and Felix Auboeck, respectively, who both posted some impressive times at their respective conference championships.  Stanford has a great distance crew, but we’ve yet to see quite the same success in the 200 as we’ve seen from them in the 500.  If they can get those times in line, watch out.  USC, meanwhile, looked like they still had plenty in the tank at Pac-12s, and is only two years removed from back-to-back titles in this event.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Team (Seed) Season Best
1 Texas (7) 6:12.59
2 Florida (4) 6:12.18
3 NC State (1) 6:09.82
4 California (3) 6:12.07
5 Indiana (2) 6:11.98
6 Georgia (12) 6:17.17
7 Louisville (5) 6:12.30
8 USC (10) 6:15.34

Dark Horse:

With four swimmers at 4:17 or better in the 500 free, it seems like South Carolina should be able to muster up something faster than a 6:20.45 in this relay.  They probably don’t have enough room to make the top 8, but the Gamecocks dropped 4.5 seconds off their seed time in this relay last year, and a similar improvement would move them up from their current 21st place seeding to well within the ranks of the scoring teams.

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PKWater

Duhhhhhhhh

PsychoDad

Texas could suit Imri Ganiel, Jacob Huerta, Austin Temple, and Cory Loria for 800 free relay and still win it.

JJG

If they did that they’d get crushed.

Ebmarah

Don’t sleep on Huerta. He’s not funny.

swimfan25

Surely your not serious!??

Zanna

Um no

Swimmer

They should have suited this lineup because the big guns couldn’t get it done.

Fan

Hoosiers are underrated

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