2020-2021 NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Power Ranks: Final Edition

Braden Keith, Karl Ortegon, and Robert Gibbs contributed to this report.

As in previous years, SwimSwam’s Power Rankings are somewhere between the CSCAA-style dual meet rankings and a pure prediction of NCAA finish order.  SwimSwam’s rankings take into account how a team looks at the moment, while keeping the end of the season in mind through things like a team’s previous trajectory and NCAA scoring potential.  These rankings are by nature subjective, and a jumping-off point for discussion.  If you disagree with any team’s ranking, feel free to make your case in our comments section.

It’s time for our final NCAA Power Ranks, geared especially toward predicting the NCAA finish order.

We’ve looked at a variety of factors, including psych sheet scoring, average points gained/lost from psych sheet scoring in previous seasons, potential diving impacts, how much or how little a team has been affected by COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, and how much a team seemed to gear up or swim through the conference rounds.

One major theme we’re noticing: the team battle is much thinner than in previous seasons. That probably owes to some mid-major programs opting out or delaying conference meets and leaving just two projected scorers outside of the Power-5. The end result? The top 10 programs will probably absorb an even greater share of the total points pie – and that comes in a year where we already expect the top two teams to claim an even-more-disproportionate amount of the total points than in typical years. Teams in the 15-25 range will probably score less overall, making the margins at those spots thinner and harder to predict.

With that in mind, our top 25 includes a fair number of programs that should score most or all of their points in diving events. A team with a 30+ point diving presence has a real shot to be inside the top 25, even more so than in a typical year.

Previous Ranks:

Without further ado, here are our men’s NCAA power rankings, with changes from our previous ranks noted in red or green. Unranked teams joining the top 25 are listed with just a plus sign.

Honorable mention: Penn State, Florida State, Wisconsin, UNC

#25: Pitt Panthers (+)

Blaise Vera (19.0/42.2 at ACCs) looks like a dominant sprinter who can put up some big NCAA points. Breaststroker Cooper van der Laan had a great junior year, dropping from 52.7/1:55.4 to 51.5/1:52.7 and into scoring range.

#24: Tennessee Volunteers (-6)

Tennessee does have three of its five NCAA invitees seeded to score, but all three are seeded with ten points or less. The Vols have four relays in and could be primed to move up there. And they’ll get a solid diving boost with four invitees, including returning scorer Matthew Wade and freshman SEC platform champion Bryden Hattie.

#23: Minnesota Golden Gophers (-2)

Minnesota isn’t going to get the diving boost they typically do, with just one single diver invited. Max McHugh is going to do some historic things in the breaststrokes, though. Could we see the second-ever 49-second 100 breast? McHugh will have a much more focused event lineup with no relays to prep for.

#22: Note Dame Fighting Irish (-)

With just one relay invited, the Fighting Irish aren’t going to pile up the relay points. But Jack Hoagland (3rd seed in the mile, 7th in both the 500 free and 400 IM) has a chance to be a three-event A finalist. The drama comes in the 500 and 1650, where Hoagland is seeded within two spots of his former teammate (and transfer to Cal) Zach Yeadon.

#21: Miami Hurricanes (+2)

Miami is tied for the NCAA lead with four invited divers. Three of the four are strong A final contenders. The biggest question is whether their strong platform group, led by Max Florygets crowded out of big points against tough platform-specialist groups from Purdue and Ohio State.

#20: USC Trojans (-6)

The good news? USC’s relays should be fully rested, with only two individual invitees. The bad news? USC is seeded to score just 4 relay points and will need some big swims to stick in the top 20.

#19: LSU Tigers (+1)

There aren’t many variables to account for with LSU. Brooks Curry is the only projected swimming scorer and one of just two individual swimmers invited. Juan Hernandez is a three-board diving superstar who could win an event title and be inside the top three on all three boards. That combo is enough to crack the top 20 – but if either superstar is slightly off, the team points drop off dramatically.

#18: Missouri Tigers (-5)

The big number for Missouri is just 24 projected relay points. For a team with five NCAA invitees and just one projected individual scorer, the relays are going to have to carry a bigger load. The good news is that Danny Kovac looks like one of the NCAA’s best swimmers, with two top-4 seeds individually.

#17: Purdue Boilermakers (+)

Purdue consistently has one of the nation’s best diving programs. This year, we could see them scoring 50 or more on the boards, led by multi-time springboard scorer Greg Duncan and a deep platform group. Purdue also has four relays seeded to score, and a relay+diving combo is plenty enough to get into the top 20.

#16: Stanford Cardinal (-6)

This program still has a bright future. But the vaunted freshman class is probably a year away – their early-impact potential looks a lot different without Andrei Minakov. Stanford has six individuals seeded to score, and three are freshmen. But all three rookies are seeded at 2 points or less. The upside is that distance swimmers Grant Shoults and True Sweetser should destroy their psych sheet scoring projections of 1 and 0, respectively.

#15: Arizona Wildcats (+4)

The return of David Schlicht from redshirt was a massive development for the Wildcats this year. They’re seeded 15th in psych sheet points, but that’s with Brooks Fail projected to score just 18 total. We’d expect him to double that scoring when all is said and done.

#14: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (+1)

As expected, the Yellow Jackets are no longer projected to score 120 relay points — it’s down to 36. But, they’ve still got solid medley relays, and at least three potential individual A finalists in Caio Pumputis, Christian Ferraroand freshman Batur Unlu.

#13: Virginia Cavaliers (-1)

One of so many teams in the “star freshman sprinter” club. Matt Brownstead has been excellent and is seeded to score nearly 30 individual points. Can UVA supplement with relay scoring? That’s the big question for a program seeded just 15th in relay scoring.

#12: Virginia Tech H2Okies (+5)

VT makes a big surge after a strong ACC meet. They’re seeded to score almost 50 points in the two butterfly events alone, thanks to breakout freshman Youssef Ramadan and junior Antani Ivanov, among several others.

#11: Alabama Crimson Tide (+5)

Despite the coaching turmoil, the Crimson Tide looked strong at SECs. They continue to turn out solid sprint relays, and Matt King broke out as one of part of a strong group of rookie sprinters across the NCAA this season.

#10: Michigan Wolverines (-1)

The Wolverines come in with the sixth-most seeded relay points of any team in the NCAA. But just like several other teams in our top ten, they’re lacking any big-time individual scorers. Still, they’re going to have some huge tentpole events with multiple scorers (Jake Mitchell and Patrick Callan in the 200/500 frees; Danny Berlitz and Jared Daigle in the 400 IM; River Wright and Gus Borges in the 100 free) that should keep them near the top ten.

#9: NC State Wolfpack (-3)

While the Wolfpack got some solid swims out of their underclassmen, especially freshman Luke Miller, they don’t have anyone seeded to score more than 25 points and seem to be lacking the big star or two they’ve built around in years past. Still, they’re seeded to score nearly 100 relay points, despite a 400 medley relay DQ costing them five or six spots on the psych sheet.

#8: Texas A&M Aggies (-3)

Shaine Casas is the only NCAA swimmer seeded first in all three of his individual events. None is an easy task to win, but all three are clearly winnable for Casas, one of the fastest-rising stars in college swimming. With just one diver qualified, the Aggies probably won’t get the usual diving boost they count on. So they’ll need some depth to step up among their six NCAA qualifiers. The breaststrokes might be the best bet: Tanner Olson is 10th in the 100 and Andres Puente 10th in the 200.

#7: Indiana Hoosiers (+1)

IU has a whopping seven individual projected scorers – but none is seeded to score more than 21. Their 8th spot in psych sheet points is buoyed by 114 relay points, #5 among NCAA programs. One very clear opportunity to move up, though, is Brendan Burnswho sits just 43rd int he 100 back after not swimming the event at Big Tens. He’s a very likely scorer there after going 1:39 in the 200 back at Big Tens.

#6: Ohio State Buckeyes (+5)

Outside of Paul DeLakisthe Buckeyes have no one seeded to score more than 20 points individually. But they do have six of their eight individuals seeded to score, plus arguably the nation’s #2 diving group. Maybe the biggest X-factor is DeLakis himself, who is an elite swimmer in the middle of brutally loaded 200 IM, 200 free and 200 breast fields. There’s a world where DeLakis is in the top three in all three races. There’s also a world where he goes 1:40 in the IM, 1:30 in the free and 1:50 in the breast and doesn’t make the top three anywhere – those fields are incredible.

#5: Louisville Cardinals (+2)

The Cardinals were firing on all cylinders en route to their first-ever ACC Championship. Of 12 NCAA qualifiers, only 4 are currently seeded to score. That seems to be a bit of a double-edged sword, as they have a lot of room to improve on seed, but also a lot of room to slip if any of the four scorers are off their game. Louisville has generally proven an ability to swim fast as both ACCs and NCAAs over the last few years.

#4: Georgia Bulldogs (-1)

Georgia sits 4th in psych sheet points – and that’s with star freshman Luca Urlando sitting just 7th in both butterflys. There’s no guarantee he moves up from there, but it seems very possible. Fellow rookie Jake Magahey had an incredible SEC meet and has a shot for several top-3 finishes in distance free.

#3: Florida Gators (+1)

Internally, we’ve have a bit of debate about just how much improvement to expect from Florida, especially when guys like Kieran Smith were apparently shaved and pretty much fully tapered for SECs. But, you can have the same debate about any other team that’s close to them, putting the Gators in the driver’s seat for a 3rd-place finish. And yes, clearly Adam Chaney was ready to step up and take over that medley relay anchor, and much more

#2: Cal Golden Bears (-)

On paper, the Golden Bears should outswim the Longhorns by a decent margin. A key returner will be senior Sean Grieshop, who made three A-finals in 2019, but is only seeded to score nine points. It looks like Daniel Carr will end on the medley relays, and Cal should be in the running for both medley relay titles. Heck, they could be top two in all five relays.

#1: Texas Longhorns (-)

Even after cutting a couple of scoring swimmers, Texas is only seeded to score about 30 points less than Cal. That should be enough of a margin for their divers to make up, and there’s some room for a good chunk of the roster to move up. And no, we’re still not sure if Drew Kibler will swim the 200 free relay or not.

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22 days ago

Finish top 5 at NCAA’s or win a championship (i.e. SEC) I vote taper and shave – and win a championship.

Reply to  wolfensf
22 days ago

The swimswam podcast with de sorbo pretty much confirmed that most teams did this. Everyone probably went all in on conference UVA just turned around better. Exceptions are probably Texas and Cal for the men and that’s it. Maybe some select swimmers for teams.

Reply to  wolfensf
22 days ago

Each school has to make that choice, if I was an SEC team with no realistic shot at winning NCAA’s (that means all SEC teams) I would aim for conference titles too.

Eddie Rowe
Reply to  Horninco
22 days ago

I think you also have to look at the very real notion that in the month between conference and NCAAs, the NCAAs could have been cancelled. No point in not going all in on conference *this year*.

Reply to  Eddie Rowe
22 days ago

true, but I think we were pretty safe this year.

The argument made in the past by (mostly) SEC swim fans is that SEC teams always have to fully taper for conference though.

Last edited 22 days ago by Horninco
Reply to  Horninco
22 days ago

I don’t quite agree with this logic. Take for instance Florida vs. Georgia. Doesn’t it make more sense for those teams to go for NCAA honour (probably finish 3rd and maybe a relay) than to focus on conference? Isn’t it unfair to your swimmers to not save their best for NCAAs?

I think for a team like Florida or Georgia with swimmers that have shots at the podium individually and good depth they should go for more points at NCAAs. But that’s my thinking.

Reply to  Waader
22 days ago

I think you can look at a few select kids (K Smith) that have a real shot at individual success and you focus on NCAA’s. But if you don’t rest Smith can you win conference? Calculated risk.

Reply to  Waader
22 days ago

If I were Florida, I would rather win SECs and get 4th at NCAAs behind UGA than lose SECs and get 3rd at NCAAs ahead of UGA. Sure it’s cool to get 3rd at NCAAs, but winning SECs with most of your whole team there, getting rings, and swimming fast in a high energy conference setting is better than 3rd at NCAAs in my opinion (if you have to choose between the two).

I think most SEC teams would agree with that, given how dominant Cal & Texas are. I’m fairly sure everyone from Florida & UGA were fully tapered for SECs, but we’ll just have to wait and see

Pennsylvania Tuxedo
Reply to  JCO
22 days ago

Not saying it was the only factor at all, but some may forget that there could very well be financial incentives for winning conference championships built into some coaching contracts. That same incentive may not be there for a top five finish at NCAAs.

I think in this situation it makes a ton of sense (except for Cal and Texas) to go for it in conference meet because you never know if they are going to shut the whole thing down, especially since Men’s meet was the last of the NCAA meets and if they ran into community spread at women’s NCAAs or DII they possibly could have modified or canceled the men’s meet entirely.

I want to be… Read more »

Reply to  JCO
22 days ago

I can understand that logic as long as as applied fairly. I think the only issue I would have would be an individual basis of kids who may be of a shot at winning an individual title like Cheney or Smith.

But I don’t get paid the big bucks to make those choices

Reply to  Waader
22 days ago

I actually agree with you, I’m just humoring for the SEC fans. I think you should Always peak for NCAA’s but the SEC Uber fans don’t believe this. They believe it’s more important to win SEC’s than win/compete for national titles.

I will say that if you’re a mid level SEC team you might be best served by trying to win a conference title to boost recruiting, but you do your best swimmer(s) a disservice if they then can’t retaper for NCAA’s.

Regardless, that’s the genesis behind their “texas wouldn’t be so good if they were in a real swimming conference because they would have to taper for the conference meet” argument.

Which is utter nonsense, and categorically false.

Last edited 22 days ago by Horninco
Reply to  Horninco
22 days ago

It’s actually the other way around. Most years middle of the road SEC teams without the in state talent to compete with Florida or Georgia in terms of depth (I would include A&M but they have to compete with Texas in for in state talent) try to use their scholarship dollars to get a few studs and make noise at NCAAs because they know they likely won’t have the depth to compete at SECs.

This applies even more on the Men’s side where the cheaper scholarships from in state talent go much further. As an example in 2016 the Alabama men were 5th at SEC’s and 6th at NCAAs.

Swim Dad
Reply to  Horninco
22 days ago

I agree. However, the Big Ten with 3 dual meets had really no choice. Only a handful (at BEST) of swimmers would not be rested for conference in the Big Ten this year. ACC & SEC had relatively normal seasons compared to Big Ten & to a lesser degree the PAC 12. Will be interesting to see if the effect on the men is the same as what it appeared to be for the women.

Club Coach
Reply to  Swim Dad
22 days ago

Florida swam Georgia, Auburn (a 2 team invitational), then Auburn again…with the US Open for some swimmers – hardly a normal season…

Swim Dad
Reply to  Club Coach
22 days ago

Now do Michigan, Indiana, or OSU…first competition in January, not October like Florida.

I did say “relatively normal”. Looks like the only difference for your example was that Florida didn’t have their whole team do a mid-season meet (they did have15 swimmers at the US Open meet though). I think it is closer to “relatively normal” than anyone in the Big Ten.

You actually made my initial point stronger. Thanks.

Reply to  wolfensf
22 days ago

Texas has the benefit of doing the opposite. Rest for NCAAs

Reply to  wolfensf
21 days ago

I don’t have a strong opinion on which meet teams should focus on–defer to the individual team. That said, in my humble opinion, this is a systems issue–the system shouldn’t force a team to have to choose. With all of the brilliant swimming/business minds out there, I would advocate for figuring out a way for teams to focus on both conference champs and NCAAs, much like USA swimming is able to get high level performances at trials and then the olympics. Can you imagine a football or basketball team having to choose between performing well in their conference championships versus bowl games or march madness?? Obviously our sport is unique in that it requires a taper but those in charge… Read more »

Reply to  Pete
21 days ago

Move conference meets to December.

22 days ago

Diving might make of a difference in men’s meet?!?

Reply to  Ghost
22 days ago

That’s what the man said…

Rick Barger
22 days ago

Despite missing star power and some international swimmers, the Wolfpack will show up and compete. They always do!

Reply to  Rick Barger
22 days ago

Wolfpack a serious title threat as soon as next year, but more likely 2023

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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