Here’s the 5 big questions we need to be answered at tonight’s NCAA Championships.
1) How will Tom Shields handle his load? – Shields has already swum three races on day 2 of the 2012 Men’s NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. But he’s got potentially four more to go (it would seem odd if Dave Durden left him off of Thursday’s 200 medley and didn’t swim him on both relays on Friday instead). He should be able to handle the 100 fly early without much problem. The 100 back, with Stanford’s David Nolan and Texas’ Cole Cragin could be a much bigger challenge. For anyone who wants to make up huge points on Cal, plan to capitalize on the 800 free relay, where Shields will presumably be fairly worn out.
2) How is Dax Hill going to pace his 200? – We’ve been talking about this all year long. Last season, in the NCAA Finals, Texas’ Dax Hill came to the realization that if he backed off the front half of his 200 free just a bit, he can get way better overall results. But he didn’t figure that out until finals last year (he dropped .7 and moved up to 2nd place), and hasn’t tried it again since then. His 1:33.4 from prelims is unlikely to win this race, but is he going to surprise everyone again and switch his strategy at the 11th hour? Or will it even matter?
3) Who’s Coming Out on Top in the 200 Medley? From what we saw in Thursday’s 400 medley, this 200 medley result doesn’t have to look anything like how it’s seeded after prelims. But the question is who will come out on top? With how they’re swimming, Cal has to be the favorite – a full second of a drop from their first three legs wouldn’t be a surprise at all. But Arizona has a lot of room to drop as well – they’ll switch at least one, if not two, legs from their relay, resulting in four of their swimmers who are performing very well. And don’t forget Auburn, who just bleeds speed, and Texas, who will save almost a second by a Cole Cragin swap alone.
4) Can Austen Thompson hold off Kyle Whitaker? Kyle Whitaker is the 2nd-seed, but has a history of dropping times in finals of this 400 IM. Austen Thompson is the top seed, but has a history of adding time. This should be a great head-to-head battle (unless Wisconsin’s Michael Weiss wants to make an issue out of it). Whitaker is a swimmer that you can never give up on until the final touch. He finishes everything he swims very hard, and this 400 IM is no different. Thompsen’s advantage might be that Whitaker didn’t look great on his breaststroke leg this morning. That’s where the Wolverine has to make up the difference.
5) Can the Texas freshmen be the difference makers? In 2010, when Texas last won the National Title, it was a freshman (Austin Surhoff) who was the big difference maker. This year, Clay Youngquist and Kip Darmody have a chance to do the same. Youngquist is in the A-Final in the 200 free, and Darmody is in the A-Final in the 100 back. If they can do better than hold-seed, it will go a long way towards the chances of the 2012 version of the Longhorns.
Just for good measure, a few of the Texas-ex’s came out to cheer on their teammates. See if you recognize any of these guys.