2018 M. NCAA Picks: All Dressel, Dressel, Dressel in the 50 Free


50 Free

Barring some catostrophe, Caeleb Dressel is going to capture his 4th-straight title in the 50 free.  There’s no question there.

With that out of the way, two major questions remain.

First, how fast can Dressel go?  Given his remarkable success in both short course and long course in 2017, his best time of 18.20, while still the fastest time ever recorded, seems a bit stale, given that Dressel set that mark back in 2016.  In case you haven’t heard, Dressel’s been switching things up a bit this year, casually breaking records in events like the 200 IM and the 100 breast, and there’s really no way of predicting whether the variety is going to help him break 18.20, and maybe even dip below 18.0, or if he’s plateaued in this event.  Either way, he’s likely to win by a very comfortable margin.

Second, what happens after Dressel touches? The splash and dash is often a crapshoot even under the best of circumstances, and given the sprint explosion at the college level the past few years, trying to suss out any sort of insight from the psych sheet is even more frustrating than normal.

This year’s psych sheet boasts 12 men who have lifetime bests under 19 seconds, and another swimmer whose best time is 19.00 exactly.  It’s never taken below a 19 to make the A-final at NCAAs, but that looks likely this year, so keep that in my mind when you realize that we’re picking four of the top eight guys on the psych sheet to miss the A-final.  Ouch.

Sitting 2nd behind Dressel on this year’s psych sheet is Minnesota Bowen Becker.  He’d been lurking on the outer edges of the sprint elite for a while, and he busted out a 18.69 in the prelims of the B1G championships last month, then finished a few tenths off that time in finals to secure the title.

Next up is NC State’s Ryan Held, who for the past couple years has arguably been the best college sprinter not named Caeleb Dressel.  His seed time of 18.75 is less than two-tenths off his lifetime best from last year’s NCAAs.  He’s joined in the top eight by teammate Justin Ress, who set a personal best time of 18.96 from the ACC championships.  Held was sporting a beard at ACCs, and Ress had punched his NCAA ticket back in the fall, yet the two men threw down lightning-fast splits as part the Wolfpack’s American Record-breaking 400 free relay at the very end of the meet.

Zach Apple 200 freestyle 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

Zappin’ Zach Apple finished 4th last year in this event, then made Team USA’s World Championships team as a member of the 400 free relay squad last summer.  He shaved a bit off his personal best at last month’s SEC Championships, and now sits 4th on the psych sheet with a time of 18.91.

While Texas may be a 200 free factory when it comes to the big pool, their sprint squad has been an underrated part of their three-straight championships.  Remember, they’ve won the 200 free relay in each of those championships, and they’ve got three guys with lifetime bests under 19.  Joseph Schooling is only 24th on the psych sheet, but he went 18.76 at last year’s Big 12s before finishing 3rd at NCAAs with a 18.77.  Tate Jackson had a breakout meet at this year’s Big 12s and sits 5th on the psych sheet with a 18.95.  Senior Brett Ringgold is still looking for his first championship final appearance in this event after finishing 10th as a sophomore (after a three-way prelims tie for 8th) and 9th as a junior, but he too has broken the 19 second barrier, thanks to a 18.96 leadoff last year on the Longhorns’ 200 free relay.

Ryan Hoffer U.C. Berkeley (photo: Mike Lewis)

California’s also had a strong 50 free group over the past few years, and they’re bolstered this year by adding one of the fastest age groupers ever, Ryan Hoffer.  The freshman’s season best time of 19.13 ranks him “only” 15th on the psych sheet, but he went 18.71 back in high school, and anything close to that should make the A-final.  Justin Lynch ranks 7th on the psych sheet with a personal best time of 19.00 from Pac 12s.  Sophomore Pawel Sendyk made the A-final last year thanks to a 18.96 prelims swim, and comes in this year with a 19.09 seed time that’s virtually identical to last year’s 19.10 seed time.  Just for good measure, sophomore Michael Jensen ranks 17th with a seed time of 19.19.

Hey, did we mention that this event had gotten fast?  If nothing else is certain, the 200 free relay is going to be a blast.

But wait, there’s more.  A pair of Big Ten rivals, Michigan’s Paul Powers, and Indiana’s Ali Khallafalla, also sport lifetime bests under 19 seconds.  Powers is seeded 8th with a time of 19.04, but he’s been 18.80 before.  Khalafalla currently sits 18th with a 19.22, but has a best of 18.94.  Powers has made the A-final each of the past three years, topping out at 5th in 2016, while Khallafalla has finished 11th each of the past two years.

Southern Cal has a pair of powerful sprinters in Santo Condrelli and Dylan Carter, although it’s a bit difficult to figure out what to make of their performances at Pac 12s last month.  There, Condrelli recorded his first personal best in three years in this event with a 19.05.  Meanwhile, Carter, who made the A-final at NCAAs last year with a 19.04, was only 19.40, putting him 30th on the psych sheet.

Top 8 Picks

Place Swimmer Team Season Best Best Time
1 Caeleb Dressel Florida 18.66 18.20
2 Ryan Held NC State 18.75 18.58
3 Joseph Schooling Texas 19.33 18.76
4 Ryan Hoffer California 19.13 18.71
5 Pawel Sendyk California 19.09 18.92
6 Zach Apple Auburn 18.91 18.91
7 Brett Ringgold Texas 19.07 18.96
8 Paul Powers Michigan 19.04 18.80

Darkhorse: Jacob Molacek of NC State is seeded 36th with a season-best time of 19.55, but his lifetime best is a 19.08, which he did last spring while he was in between college teams.

In This Story


  1. 2Fat4Speed says:

    Uh….Dean Farris!!!

  2. Ex quaker says:

    Bold move picking Becker outside of the top 8…

    • Robert Gibbs says:

      Went back and forth on him quite a bit, but he’s added about a half a second each at NCAAs each of the past two years, and when in doubt, I tend to default to track record.

  3. marklewis says:

    Tate Jackson should be somewhere in the top 8.

    Ryan Hoffer will need to conjure some of his past glory to make the final.

    • Robert Gibbs says:

      Tate was a tough one to leave out, but again, you’ve got a field with 12 guys who’ve been under 19 seconds. Definitely wouldn’t surprise me at all if he makes it in.

      Regarding Hoffer, Cal has a pretty good track record of getting top-of-the-class recruits (e.g., Murphy and Seliskar) to perform at NCAAs, so while I’m not expecting him to challenge Dressel for the win or anything like that, I feel comfortable putting him in the A-final.

  4. Lucas says:

    honestly, im thinking dressel does better in the 100 relative to his 50

  5. ACC fan says:

    No Justin Ress in the top 8?!! I’ll eat my hat if he’s not in the A final.

  6. Steve Nolan says:

    I don’t think it’d take a “catastrophe” for Dressel to not win this. Something small ish could go wrong, could add a couple tenths and someone else might drop a few and he loses by 0.01. (Do I think that’s likely? Goodness no.)

    Feel like the 100 is the one where it’ll take a full on catastrophe for him to come in second, he’s more than a second clear of the field there.

    • Sean Sullivan says:

      With how consistently he was able to go 18.2s the last 2 years and how much time he dropped in LC this past summer I think catastrophe is fair. No one else in this field is going faster than 18.4

      • Steve Nolan says:

        True, but adding 0.2 doesn’t feel very catastrophic, ya know? It’d be surprising as hell, but something super weird would have to happen in the 100 for him to lose while something minor-ish could do that in the 50.

        • Steve Nolan says:

          Edit: like, Erika Brown swimming the wrong stroke is catastrophic. Dressel beefing one of his breakouts is more of a surprising mistake.

  7. Jmanswimfan says:

    My picks
    1. Dressel
    2. Hoffer
    3. Held
    4. Becker
    6. Lynch
    7. Schooling
    8. Sendyk
    Lynch went 19.00 at PAC-12s which means unless he messed up his taper hes going below 19

    • Paul says:

      18.99 in the prelims may land someone in the B-final

    • David says:

      I hope you are right. Justin is swimming very well and I would like to see him go under 19. But this is a very tough field. It is going to be a balls-to-the-wall prelim for sure.

    • Kev says:

      Hoffer 2nd??? With Held being consistently the best of the rest I would say that’s a pretty bold prediction

  8. Sir Swimsalot says:

    I think we can all say the only certainty is that Dressel at the very least makes A final. Barring disaster, he will win it. From there it’s a crapshoot. So many guys who can make it.

  9. Interesting... says:

    I’m hoping for a great performance from Kyle Decoursey…he split an 18.14 on the 200MR at SECs for Tennessee.

  10. Drama King says:

    Swimswam underestimates Justin Ress badly in these previews. Expect him to blast 18.7 50 free and 40.9 100 free.
    From the NC state perspective,
    Held, Ress, Ipsen and Vazaios will do greatly at ncaas but we might see guys like Stewert struggling to match ACC performances.

  11. Luigi says:

    I’ll take my chance and call Izzo in the final.

  12. BIG10 says:

    How could you not put Bowen Becker in top 8!!!!! 18.69!!!! Home pool as well

    • Friuti says:

      Yeah, I feel him more here in the 50 than the 100 since from my experience it’s easier to hold on to a taper in the 50 so if he was rested moreso for B1G’s then I like his chances in this event better.

      • Braden Keith says:

        Looking at a real blunt run through the data in 2017, a similar percentage (51% in the 50 free, 54% in the 100 free) added time in the 50 and the 100. Those who added time in the 50 added on average .25 seconds, in the 100 on average .41 seconds, with a few big outliers (for example, Anze Tavcar from Indiana added almost a second-and-a-half in the 100 – if you throw him out in the 100, it becomes .36 seconds).

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