2024 Men’s NCAA Previews: Leon Is Leon, But a Big 2nd Place Battle Looms in the 400 IM

2024 MEN’S NCAA SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

MEN’S 400 IM

  • U.S. Open Record: 3:28.82 – Leon Marchand, Arizona State (2023)
  • American Record: 3:33.42 – Chase Kalisz, Georgia (2017)
  • NCAA Record: 3:28.82 – Leon Marchand, Arizona State (2023)
  • 2023 NCAA Champion: Leon Marchand, Arizona State, 3:28.82

I’ll save you the suspense: Leon Marchand is going to be our pick to win the men’s 400 IM at this year’s NCAA Championships.

The defending champion, who has been four seconds faster than anybody in history, is the only swimmer in this field who holds one of the top 25 performances in the history of the event, and he specifically has nine entries on that list.

The next-best active collegiate swimmer is his teammate Hubert Kos, who swam 3:35.82 mid-season, but Kos isn’t swimming the event at NCAAs, opting for the 100 back, where he enters the meet as the top seed, instead.

That leaves another Sun Devil, senior David Schlicht, as the #2 seed in the event this weekend in 3:37.97. Schlicht swam that time at Pac-12s earlier this month, and it ranks him as the 24th-best performer in the history of this event.

After Carson Foster went pro early, and with Jake Foster turning his attention to the breaststrokes, Marchand is really taper-proof in this race, meaning that barring DQ, injury, or illness, there doesn’t really appear to be a path for him to lose the race – even if a mid-season bout with mono impacts his season-ending taper.

Marchand is the 2023 World Champion, in the process breaking Michael Phelps’ World Record, the oldest to ever stand in the sport, and this year he’s gotten even better in short course.

This is Marchand’s race to win, to lose, to dominate. The NCAA can send him the trophy now to save him space in his suit case coming home. While he’s the favorite in all three of his races this weekend (the 200 IM & the 500 free included), this is the one where he’s really in a league of his own.

Fork ‘Em

Cale Martter had a breakthrough year in the 400 IM.

With no Kos, the would-be second seed, in this event, a lay-person might think that this could impact Arizona State’s depth in the event.

But Arizona State is led by Bob Bowman, who is unequivocally the most successful men’s 400 IM coach in swimming history.

Led by Marchand (3:34.66 season best) and Schlicht (3:37.97 season best), Arizona State has four of the top ten seeds in this event, plus #20 Daniel Matheson.

Zalan Sarkany, who returned from Hungary in January with a new lease on the distance freestyles, is the 9th seed in the 400 IM in 3:40.50. That is in addition to his position atop the psychs for the mile on the final day of competition.

The surprise of the group is sophomore Cale Martter, who is the 10th seed in 3:40.53, which he swam to place 5th at the Pac-12 Championships. His best time coming into the season was a 3:43.71 done a the 2023 Pac-12 Championships, and his best coming out of high school was just 3:51.58.

Now, less than two seasons in, he’s knocking on the door of an A-Final at the NCAA Championships.

That’s reachable because this field isn’t nearly as deep as it has been in past seasons. In fact, Marchand is one of only two swimmers from last year’s A-Final who will race again this year.

Last year’s A-Final:

  1. Leon Marchand – Arizona State (3:28.82) – Entered
  2. Hugo Gonzalez – Cal (3:34.66) – Graduated
  3. Carson Foster – Texas (3:36.02) – Went Pro
  4. Hubert Kos – Arizona State (3:37.00) – Chose Another Event
  5. Jason Louser – Cal (3:38.69) – Graduated
  6. Ian Grum – Georgia (3:38.99) – Entered
  7. Jake Foster – Texas (3:40.03) – Chose Another Event
  8. David Johnston – Texas (3:40.10) – Redshirt

So it’s Marchand and Grum, then the returning B-Final winner David Schlicht at the top of this field.

Last year, 10 swimmers entered the meet with a sub-3:40 seed. This year, only 8 do. Last year was a historically-deep event, and this year has normalized a bit.

Notice who lost a bunch of those guys: the two-time defending champion Cal Golden Bears. At the start of day 3 of the meet, this event could be a huge inflection point in the team scoring race. This year, Arizona State is seeded to outscore Cal 53-0. Last year, Arizona State had the scoring advantage in this race 44-31, a much smaller margin.

Cal’s top seed this year is senior Tyler Kopp as the 21st seed, one spot behind Arizona State’s Daniel Matheson. That means Arizona State has five swimmers seeded above Cal’s top seed.

The Kids

But enough about the team battle. There are a bunch of young faces in this field with big resumes.

If anyone, in some outlandish alternate-universe scenario, was going to bridge the gap to Leon at this year’s NCAA Championships, it feels like it would be Texas A&M sophomore Baylor Nelson, the 3rd seed.

A record-smashing junior aged swimmer, he settled in to a 3:38.14 at last year’s SEC Championship meet and shaved that down to 3:38.11 at NCAAs for 10th place.

His best time from the 2023-2024 season is a 3:38.05 from the SEC Championships, almost identical to last year. He also swam 3:38.33 at the mid-season Art Adamson Invitational, which is almost identical to the 3:38.39 that he swam mid-season last year.

So year-over-year, he seems on pace to maybe to a 3:37 this year, which would be probably in the top five this season.

But he feels like he’s got a ton of talent, and now has a 2023 World Championship experience under his belt, so don’t be surprised if he pops a 3:34 or 3:35.

Rex Maurer had multiple choices on day 3 of the NCAA Championships but has opted for the 400 IM. (photo: Jack Spitser)

One seed behind him in 4th is Stanford freshman Rex Maurer, the highest-seeded rookie by 10 spots (Indiana’s Toby Barnett is 14th). It wasn’t clear that this 400 IM to be his day 3 event when he came out of high school with a 1:33.5 in the 200 free, but he popped a 3:41 toward the end of his senior year of high school to show that he’s more-than-capable in both races.

A 3:38.10 for 3rd place at Pac-12s (the only non-Sun Devil in the top 6) shows his ability. He’s really a long-axis IMer: the backstroke and freestyle races are by-far the strength of his IMs compared to the three guys head of him, who are all very good in the short-axis butterfly and breaststroke legs.

But that means don’t sleep on Maurer coming heading into the last 100 yards, as he’s going to run someone down.

The more under-the-radar name is Florida sophomore Gio Linscheer, nephew of Giovanni Linscheer, who like Florida head coach Anthony Nesty represented Suriname at the Olympic Games in the 100 fly (dad was 40th in 1996).

Gio Junior was 3:40.90 at SECs in the 400 IM last year as a freshman and added to finish 18th at NCAAs. This year at SECs, he swam 3:39.61, which is good for the 6th seed in this race. Even if he adds again, he could find himself in the top 8.

SEC-SEC-SEC-SEC

Linscheer is one of five SEC swimmers in the top eight seeds. One spot ahead of Linscheer is Georgia’s Ian Grum, who was 2nd to Nelson at the SEC Championships in 3:39.48.

Ian Grum is an Olympic threat in the 200 backstroke, will we see that progress show up in his 400 IM? (photo: Jack Spitser)

Grum has had a really great last 12 months in the 200 backstroke, where he won a silver medal in October at the Pan American Games. That success has carried over into other events, like his butterfly races, but while he’s been better year-over-year in his primary event, the 200 back, he hasn’t swum a best time in that race.

He hasn’t swum a best time in the 400 IM either, which was the 3:38.75 he did in the NCAA prelims last year before adding a bit to finish 6th.

Given that he’s clearly on a roll toward the Olympic Trials, I’m expecting him to better his NCAA Championship times from last year in both races – and make big noise in the process.

Florida’s Mason Laur is the 7th seed in 3:39.65 and Georgia’s Jake Magahey, who has turned away from the mile and more toward middle-distance races, is the 8th seed in 3:39.67. Laur was slightly faster in the 400 IM last year, while Magahey’s pivot paid off with a 1.4 second drop from last season to this season via the SEC Championship final.

Other Contenders

NC State sophomore Kyle Ponsler will make his NCAA Championship debut after winning the ACC title in the 400 IM. Interestingly, he didn’t have any official swims in the event between the 2023 and 2024 ACC Championships, but still managed to drop a second-and-a-half to take the title.

Ohio State sophomore Tristan Jankovics is the fastest swimmer in the Big Ten this season in the 400 IM – but it’s via a 3:40.89 he swam mid-season. At Big Tens, he was just 3:43.04 for 4th place behind the champion Dominik Mark Torok of Wisconsin (3:41.69 – 17th seed).

Jankovics really had a pretty good swim at Big Tens aside from his backstroke leg, so if that overall time was just the impact of not being fully-rested, he’s due for a big one in Indy. He really was the slowest of the A-final contenders at his conference championship meet – so either something went wrong, or he’s saving it all for NCAAs.

SMU’s Jack Hoagland was 12th last season at NCAAs while swimming for Notre Dame and enters this year as the 13th seed, though it’s hard to really get a good read on where he’s at. He’s one of two SMU swimmers seeded to score along with Cotton Fields (15th seed).

UNC sophomore Louis Dramm was 14th last year (3:41.45) and enters this year’s meet as the 22nd seed (3:42.33). Landon Driggers from Tennessee made his big break last year, finishing 15th after transferring in from D2 power UIndy, where as a freshman he was the NCAA D2 runner-up in the 400 IM. Tennessee Athletics has had a good run from D2 transfers this spring.

The Breakdown

Leon is the winner, we know that. I’m going to take Baylor Nelson‘s upside to edge past Schlicht, but I expect them to both cruise under their lifetime bests in the event.

I don’t think we’ve seen season-bests yet from Ian Grum, Zalan Sarkany, or Tristan Jankovics.

I think that the shift in focus for Magahey will pay off with a top-8 finish, and Stanford freshman Rex Maurer will hold on to get into the big final as well.

SwimSwam Picks:

PLACE SWIMMER SCHOOL SEASON BEST LIFETIME BEST
1 Leon Marchand Arizona State 3:34.66 3:28.82
2 Baylor Nelson Texas A&M 3:38.05 3:38.11
3 David Schlicht Arizona State 3:37.97 3:37.97
4 Ian Grum Georgia 3:39.48 3:38.75
5 Zalan Sarkany Arizona State 3:40.50 3:40.50
6 Rex Maurer Stanford 3:38.10 3:38.10
7 Tristan Jankovics Ohio State 3:40.89 3:40.89
8 Jake Magahey Georgia 3:39.67 3:39.67

Darkhorse: Joaquin Gonzalez from Florida was 17th at NCAAs last year, having a huge 3.7 second drop from seed at the NCAA Championships. That made him one of only two swimmers (Sarkany was the other) who dropped time in this event last year and didn’t score. Florida guys who drop at NCAAs tend to consistently drop at NCAAs – so I’ll take a guy who’s proven he can drop as a darkhorse any day.

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who will it be
2 months ago

Good call on Rex. “…going to run someone down.”

Rex had the fastest free split at Pac-12s: :49.90. Don’t think anyone else at Pac-12 were under :50.5. Looked at SEC and didn’t find anyone faster either.

Bolles Gator
2 months ago

Gio Linscheer is named after his late uncle Giovanni. RIP to a legend. His dad is Enrico who also swam at Florida and finished his NCAA career at SMU. Enrico honked his brother by naming his son after him. All legends and now it’s time for the younger linscheer to shine brightest of them all. Go Suriname and Go 🐊

Last edited 2 months ago by Bolles Gator
RealSlimThomas
2 months ago

Wild he’s got about a 10 second buffer in personal best to the next closest competitor.

Old Bruin
2 months ago

Love the March Madness crossover mention with Tennessee transfers. Well played!

Cleo Lemon
Reply to  Old Bruin
2 months ago

Loving that Dalton Knecht reference too! This is the best time of the year for all collegiate sports

Andrew
2 months ago

this is the event where Cal gets absolutely decimated and ASU pulls away imo

snailSpace
Reply to  Andrew
2 months ago

Yep, ASU has a legit chance of putting 4 swimmers up into the A final, whereas Cal will probably not have any scorers. But 1 event isn’t enough to pull away imo. And ASU also has an event in which they likely won’t score much that day: the 100 breast.

dirtswimmer
2 months ago

I think he’ll be just a bit off of last year, 3:29 high or 3:30 is my guess. With the olympics and his main focus being the team totals I don’t think they have put quite as much stock into him going lights out here, but we’ll see

Wanna Sprite?
Reply to  dirtswimmer
2 months ago

I think he goes faster just on the account that he’s a better swimmer. Not much tho, 3:28 mid to low

Swimfan27
2 months ago

I have Rex Maurer for 3rd. It’s a newer event for him in my opinion and I can see him chipping away

IMnotsomuch
2 months ago

“ Bob Bowman, who is unequivocally the most successful men’s 400 IM coach in swimming history.” Tamás Széchy is rolling in his grave

snailSpace
Reply to  IMnotsomuch
2 months ago

Yep, “unequivocally” is a bit much, but he did coach Phelps, so he is objectively the most successful.
I’m pretty sure as of right now Széchy has coached more Olympic champions than Bowman (not all in the 400IM), but that’s also most likely about to change in a few months.

who will it be
Reply to  snailSpace
2 months ago

What is the comparison of individual Golds won by swimmers coached by each?

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Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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