2021 M. NCAA Picks: McHugh Chasing Second-Ever 49 In 100 Breaststroke


  • When: Wednesday, March 24 – Saturday, March 27, 2021
  • Where: Greensboro Aquatic Center / Greensboro, NC (Eastern Time Zone)
  • Prelims 10 AM/ Finals 6 PM (Local Time)
  • Short course yards (SCY) format
  • Defending champion: Cal (1x) – 2019 results
  • Streaming:
  • Championship Central
  • Psych Sheets
  • Live Results

100 Breaststroke

  • NCAA Record:
  • American Record: Ian Finnerty, Indiana (2018) – 49.69
  • U.S. Open Record: Ian Finnerty, Indiana (2018) – 49.69
  • Meet Record: Ian Finnerty, Indiana (2018) – 49.69
  • 2019 Champion: Ian Finnerty, Indiana – 49.85
  • 2020 Top Performer: Max McHughMinnesota – 50.67

The last time we saw the NCAA men’s swimming & diving championships, the 100 breast featured established American record-holder Ian Finnerty trying to fend off a strong upstart freshman class.

With the cancellation of the 2020 meet, 2021 finds those former freshmen as the established elite of the field – with their own new crop of upstarts to contend with.

Freshmen Grown Up

A trio of breaststrokers finished inside the top 5 in this event as freshmen in 2019 and have only gotten faster with time.

Minnesota’s Max McHugh finished that season as the fastest freshman in NCAA history, going 50.30 in prelims and 50.52 for third place in the final. Last year, McHugh was 50.67 heading into NCAAs and this year has already smashed a 50.19. He’s the frontrunner here, with a clear target set on Finnerty’s American record. At the very least, McHugh is widely expected to become just the second man ever under 50 seconds in the event.

The only concern for McHugh is swimming his best time in finals. He – like many other high-level breaststrokers – has been faster in prelims than in finals a number of times in his career. If he remains eight-tenths of a second faster than anyone else in this field, that’s probably not going to matter. But if the field closes in a bit, then McHugh will have to be on his A game in the final to lock in a national title.

Cal’s Reece Whitley and Indiana’s Zane Backes were fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 2019 final as freshmen. Whitley was the #1 overall recruit in the class. Though he’s probably better-suited for the 200 breast, he’s also a blue-chip threat here, having gone 50.85 for the #2 time in the nation last season, pre-NCAAs.

Backes was an out-of-nowhere success story. Unranked as a high school recruit, he was 53.1 – well behind Whitley (51.1) and McHugh (51.5). As a freshmen, he cut all the way down to 51.7 at Big Tens and surged even further to 51.3 at NCAAs. Last year, he was 51.0 heading into the canceled NCAA meet, and this year, he’s been 51.0 yet again and comes in seeded at 51.04.

Other returners from 2019: Two more 2019 A finalists return this year. Then-sophomores Caio Pumputis of Georgia Tech and Evgenii Somov of Louisville.

Pumputis was 51.3 that year, but has had a bit of an odd run since then. He was just 52.7 in 2020, and the pandemic prevented us from finding out whether Pumputis was having a down season, or was saving up for an NCAA explosion. This year, he’s been just 52.1 and comes in as the 26th seed – last year’s question will be answered, but it makes projecting Pumputis very difficult for now.

Somov has gone the opposite direction, dropping big from his 51.7 in 2019 to go 51.03 this year.

Looking For 2019 Redemption

While those three freshmen showed up big in 2019, several other freshmen had NCAA disappointments. They’re all back two years later, looking for NCAA redemption after huge conference showings.

Will ChanThe Michigan Wolverine entered the 2019 meet at 52.3, needing only a few tenths of a second drop to score. He added a second and a half to his seed and finished 39th of 41 entrants. But since then, Chan has risen dramatically, going 51.9 last season and blasting a 50.95 at Big Tens last month. He comes in as the #2 seed behind McHugh.

Michael HoulieHoulie was seeded on the scoring bubble as a rookie, but fell from 52.2 to 52.6. The Tennessee Vol cracked 52 for the first time last season, and this year hit times of 51.38 and 51.41 at SECs, showing excellent consistency.

Dillon Hillis: After earning an NCAA bid via a last chance meet, Hillis actually moved up from the 28th seed to finish 20th at 2019 NCAAs, but he still went two tenths slower than seed. Florida’s Hillis beat Houlie at SECs this year, smashing a 51.22 that is a full second faster than his 2019 seed.

Jason Mathews: Ohio State’s Mathews earned his 2019 NCAA invite via the 200 breast and was never a top scoring contender in the 100. He went backwards in both breaststrokes that year, but has since cut 1.4 seconds off his 100 to come in with the #6 overall seed. He’s got plenty of experience racing the best, as the Big Ten features four of the top six seeds in this race.

Other Risers

Virginia freshman Noah Nichols has had a stellar season. Just 54.6 when he was recruited, Nichols hit a 53.7 just before the pandemic struck in 2020. He exploded in his collegiate rookie year, going 51.36 at ACCs. The big question for him: will his freshman campaign mirror that of McHugh, Whitley, and Backes in 2019? Or will his first NCAA appearance come with some struggles like the rest of the 2019 freshmen?

Also making his first NCAA appearance will be Texas sophomore Caspar CorbeauA highly-touted recruit with a great short course and long course resume, Corbeau was a trendy pick to explode as a rookie at last year’s meet. He was 51.4 last year and has been 51.6 this season. Like many of Texas’s top swimmers, he doesn’t appear to have rested much this season and could be in line for a big rise – if he can handle the NCAA spotlight.

A few other names to watch: Texas A&M’s Tanner Olson has been a steady riser in the storied breaststroke program. He was 51.3 at mid-season. PUrdue’s Trent Pellini was a B finalist in 2019. He’s the 19th seed this year after a shortened Big Ten regular season. Sam Iida of Arizona is another returning scorer seeded very low.

Top 8 Picks

Place Name Team Season-Best Career-Best
1 Max McHugh Minnesota 50.19 50.19
2 Reece Whitley Cal 51.38 50.85
3 Zane Backes Indiana 51.04 51.04
4 Evgenii Somov Louisville 51.03 51.03
5 Caspar Corbeau Texas 51.62 51.46
6 Caio Pumputis Georgia Tech 52.1 51.38
7 Will Chan Michigan 50.95 50.95
8 Michael Houlie Tennessee 51.38 51.38

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2 years ago

Mah bro, McHugh is going 45.9, 19.9 and 26.0, you heard it here first

Chlorine Cole
2 years ago

max should have went to texas would be 49 in season

Reply to  Chlorine Cole
2 years ago


Dressel would have been 16.9 and 38.4 under the watchful eye of the GOAT Eddie Reese

Mr Piano
Reply to  Horninco
2 years ago

15.9 if he went with Brett Hawke

Last edited 2 years ago by Mr Piano
Coach Rob
2 years ago

Cue ball is gonna go under 50, mark my words!

2 years ago

Cant go wrong with the picks here exactly what I would’ve put but I really think Reece Whitley can push Max for the title but will be a little short. Nice to to see the freshman from that A final in 2019 take over the event I think its hard to put 2 22 splits at the bottom of the top 8 but again I agree with the selections above.

Just wanted to point out that it took a 51.93 to make the A final in 2019, that wouldve tied for 9th at big Tens…

Swim Swimming
2 years ago

Put some respect on Will Chan’s name smh

2 years ago

Hard to argue with the top 2, The rest could go any number of directions. Roll the dice

Reply to  Horninco
2 years ago

I think there are only six other spots in the A final, so you should only need to role one die 🤓

Reply to  JigglyPuff
2 years ago

Number of permutations of 6 = 6! = 720. Therefore, you’d have to do at least 4 rolls of a six-sided die to randomly place 6 swimmers Horninco was correct in writing “Roll the dice”.

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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