2019 Men’s NCAAs: How Did SwimSwam’s Power Rankings Hold Up?


After spending the entire year tracking and projecting the men’s NCAA Championships, it’s time to look back at how our Power Ranks held up. Spoiler alert: it’s not great.

On the one hand, you could say it was a particularly unpredictable NCAA season. The team favorite much of the year wound up losing by 85. A few high-profile teams whiffed their way out of the top 10. A few more surprise teams were absolutely on fire, and rocketed their way to the top.

An incredibly tight point spread from 10th to 20th (separated by just 25 points compared to 84 points last year) made things extremely murky to project – a development we noticed when trying to put together our final edition Power Rankings. We try to view our Power Rankings as a baseline: the expected values for most teams based on all the data we have, from this year’s performances to previous year’s finishes to time dropped at various points of the year the past few seasons to individual and relay improvements. We don’t try to shock with our Power Rankings, picking controversial winners or making bold calls. We’d rather try to project what we see as the most likely outcomes – in part, so we can return to those projections to see which teams surprised.

That said most of the risers and fallers can be explained by one of two rationale (and sometimes both): either we were wrong in our projections for the team, reading the data wrong or weighing one factor too highly, or a team swam significantly better or worse than the data suggested they should have going in. We’re willing to take the heat where we read the tea leaves incorrectly, but we also don’t want to rob a team of the credit they deserve for swimming extremely well and outperforming baseline expectations.

See also:

Final Place Vs SwimSwam Pick

NCAA Place Team Points Final Power Ranks Change
1 Cal 560 2 Up 1
2 Texas 475 1 Down 1
3 Indiana 385.5 3
4 NC State 307 4
5 Louisville 212 7 Up 2
6 Florida 164 6
7 Alabama 142 9 Up 2
8 Harvard 132 20 Up 12
9 Ohio State 124 15 Up 6
10 Virginia 106 17 Up 7
11 Tennessee 105 8 Down 3
11 Missouri 105 12 Up 1
13 Michigan 99 5 Down 8
14 Florida State 97 16 Up 2
15 Stanford 96 11 Down 4
16 Arizona 95 18 Up 2
17 Texas A&M 93 14 Down 3
18 Georgia 86 13 Down 5
19 Minnesota 84 19
20 USC 81 10 Down 10

Tracking Across the Year

(Also included at the bottom are the other teams to appear in our top 20 at any point this season, plus their actual NCAA finish)

Points Team Actual NCAA Place Final Edition (2/21) Pre-Conference (2/13) Post-Invites (12/18) Pre-Invites (11/12)
Pre-season (10/4)
560 Cal 1 2 2 2 1 2
475 Texas 2 1 1 1 2 1
385.5 Indiana 3 3 3 3 3 3
307 NC State 4 4 4 4 4 5
212 Louisville 5 7 9 8 7 7
164 Florida 6 6 8 9 9 11
142 Alabama 7 9 12 12 12 17
132 Harvard 8 20 17 19 18 15
124 Ohio State 9 15 19 18 17
106 Virginia 10 17 15 14 14 12
105 Tennessee 11 8 10 11 11 10
105 Missouri 11 12 14 15
99 Michigan 13 5 5 5 6 6
97 Florida State 14 16 20
96 Stanford 15 11 6 6 5 4
95 Arizona 16 18 18 T-20
93 Texas A&M 17 14 13 13 15 13
86 Georgia 18 13 11 10 10 8
84 Minnesota 19 19 16 16 13 14
81 USC 20 10 7 7 8 9
75.5 Arizona State 21 18
51 Purdue 23 17 16 16
45 Georgia Tech 24 20 T-20
21 South Carolina 27 19
7 Notre Dame 36 19
6 Auburn 40 20


Obviously, the biggest riser from our projections was Harvard. Despite his popularity among meme-slingers in our comment section, I don’t think too many people seriously saw Dean Farris‘s meet coming. And to their credit, the rest of Harvard’s roster (littered with a sneaky number of high ranked recruits) stepped up to fill out the relays, which finished 7th, 8th, 10th and 13th. We also worried that Harvard had peaked too early after quick HYP and Ivy League performances – we were downright wrong about that.

Ohio State and Virginia well outperformed their projections, right into the top 10. Interestingly, we had Virginia 12th in our pre-season Power Ranks, noting the number of almost-scorers they had in 2018. And we took some heat for it in the comment section. But it turns out we should’ve stayed high on UVA, which had a great meet. Ohio State has typically been better at Big Tens, and most of their scorers did actually go a tick slower at NCAAs. The one we didn’t properly account for was Paul DeLakiswho accounted for 27 points. That margin, interestingly enough, would’ve bumped Ohio State back to 13th, much closer to our projections.

Cal is the other notable one. We kept them at #2 most of the year, and while they swam absolutely lights-out at NCAAs, we also probably should have framed the meet closer to a 50/50 toss-up between Cal and Texas coming in. Maybe that’s inertia on our part, not wanting to doubt a Texas team that had pretty consistently shown up at NCAAs the past four years.

Louisville had an awesome meet, moving up two spots from projections. One of those spots is due to Michigan taking a nosedive from the 5th spot, but the other was pure grit – passing up a Florida team that also swam pretty well overall. We were consistently higher on Louisville this year than the data (mostly swimulator projections) suggested – turns out we just weren’t high enough on a program that showed up big two weeks in a row.

We were a little too low on Alabama. Again, we projected them to add time from SECs, and they did. It just wasn’t significant enough to drop any spots. They also benefited in a big way from two free-falls out of our top 8 – that’s the two spots ‘Bama ultimately moved up from our projections.


USC absolutely crushed us, falling from the 10th projection to 20th. While that looks brutal from a place perspective, it was actually only about 25 points. The Trojans lost 14 in one swim alone, when returning 200 back bronze medalist Patrick Mulcare puzzlingly slipped from the 2nd seed to 14th.

Michigan was the other brutal one. We had them running top 6 the entire year, but the Wolverines had a really, really rough NCAA showing, hemorrhaging points from seeds every day: they lost 18 on day 1, 52 on day 2 and 63 on day 3.

The other team to fall from our top 10 was Tennessee. The Vols lost 90 points from seed and just missed the top 10 by a single point.

Stanford fell four places from projections and many more from the top 5 spot we projected for them early in the year. That’s basically a product of losing Jack LeVant, Grant Shoults and Alberto Mestre throughout the year, LeVant after we’d already done our final power ranks.

We were too high on Georgia most of the year, and should’ve probably accounted more for their lack of a sprint group.

Right On

Indiana and NC State felt pretty locked into their spots this year, but we’re going to take credit for having them 3rd and 4th from November on. (When things are this brutal, you take the wins where you can).

Interestingly enough, we actually had the correct 20 teams in our top 20, just with a very different order from 4th on. The tight point spread from 11th to 20th made it almost a guessing game to get team predictions right in the bottom 10. We were dead-on with Minnesota (19th), and a handful of other teams finished a few places away from projections, but by a margin of only a few points.

We had Missouri 12th; they tied for 11th. We had Florida State 16th; they were three points above that. We had Arizona 18th; they were 10 points above that. We had Texas A&M 14th; they were four points below that.

Inside the top 10, we also had Florida correct in 6th place.

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5 years ago

It’s nice to notice that swim and dive predictions are almost as unpredictable as the other March Madness sport.

5 years ago

I wasn’t sure where to post this, but I’d be interested to see if anyone has taken all of the times from finals of all the winning teams (or as far back as saved) and drawn out a meet and results from that. It’d be interesting to see how the winning teams over the years compare against each other. Jared, have you or anyone at swimswam done this or talked about doing this type of analysis?

5 years ago

Maybe I missed it, but are we getting a way-to-early 2020 preview looking at the returning points with seniors gone?

5 years ago

Hell yeah buddy

5 years ago

Stanford back into the top 5 next year! The return of Shoults, Levant and Mestre will be huge, plus I predict a big senior year from True Sweetser and big improvement from Daniel Roy + the current freshman class in year 2! Relays struggled a bit this year but if they can return to the top 8 next year then I can reasonably see a top 5 finish overall.

5 years ago

Next year projections are gonna be crazy with all the graduations. Should be an interesting year for NCAA swimming

5 years ago

Milk it Steven

JP input is too short
5 years ago

IIRC I picked him in those too, but I bombed a lot of other picks…

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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