While we’re now already 2 weeks deep into NCAA conference championship season, this week marks an acceleration in excitement as the NCAA Division I Power 5 Conference Meets get underway this week. In addition to the ACC Women, the SEC men and women, and the Big Ten women, some of the country’s top mid-major meets will also run this week. That includes the CCSA, which includes teams that have had some A finals at recent NCAA Championships like Gardner-Webb and Florida Gulf Coast; the Ivy League women; the Mountain West Conference, and the Mid-American Conference, which includes this year’s hottest-hand among mid-majors: Akron.
With that, it’s time for some of the biggest questions of this year’s collegiate swim season to be answered. Here’s 5 that we’re looking at this weekend:
1) How Will the NC State Women Bounce Back?
NC State has lost three of the best collegiate assistants in the country in the last two seasons: Gary Taylor (Auburn) and Todd DeSorbo (Virginia); plus Mallory Houchin, who stepped away from coaching. They’ve brought in an ACC legend in Mark Bernardino to help fill those slots. An injury-plagued season led to a small regression last season, but Swimulator has them ranked 7th nationally on swimming points this season (in a near dead-heat with Louisville) and right in the thick of the ACC title battle. Our pollsters are a bit more conservative, placing them 10th in the latest power rankings (diving has a lot to do with that), but this week will be big to either cement or challenge the mid-season return of the Wolfpack to their previous path.
2) Have the Florida Women Really Rebounded this Quickly?
A young Florida women’s team has probably already surpassed the bar for a successful first season under new head coach Jeff Poppell. The team’s freshmen are exceeding even their lofty expectations, and after scoring 0 points at NCAAs in 2017, the Gator women are clawing their way back into the national conversation. It would be an upset, but Florida is within reach of an SEC title already in what is a down year for the conference on the women’s side. That’s a huge turnaround in a very short period of time.
3) What Will the Missouri Men Do With Taper?
The Missouri men have been swimming very well this season with Andy Grevers acting as head coach while Greg Rhodenbaugh undergoes a Title IX investigation. The men’s meet is Missouri’s to lose (though Florida, Texas A&M, and Tennessee have punchers’ chances, and plenty of motivation to go-for-broke at SECs). But Missouri, under Rhodenbaugh, has a history of, more than most teams, training through the conference meet to focus on NCAAs in the mold of Rhodenbaugh’s former head coach Frank Busch. If Grevers is coaching for the full-time head coaching job, though (we still don’t know anything about Rhodenbaugh’s prognosis), an SEC title would almost guarantee that, if Missouri decides not to retain his boss.
4) Who Cares More About the Big Ten Title: Michigan or Indiana?
The women’s Big Ten battle is a two-team race, and on swimming points, the two squads are about even. Their divers, at the conference level, are fairly competitive too. So, while Michigan’s NCAA team will be big favorites for ‘highest placing Big Ten team,’ this Big Ten Championship battle is wide open. Last year, the two teams were about flat on ‘projected Big Ten scoring margin’ vs. ‘actual Big Ten scoring margin.’ With Indiana’s chances at the title this year being much better than last year, though, they could decide to go after it. If one team really wants this title, they’ll have it. If both play it straight, this could be a thrilling meet. We don’t usually get that in swimming.
5) How Quickly Can the Florida Men Rebuild?
The Florida men graduated one of the best classes in program history at the end of last season, headlined by Caeleb Dressel, but including NCAA Champions Jan Switkowski and Commonwealth Games medalist Mark Szaranek. But they’ve got a freshman that has the credentials to be the next-iteration of Florida’s best-ever. There’s not an obvious front-runner at the meet, so they’ve got the chance to keep their streak alive, if the freshmen rise to the occasion.