College Swimming Previews: With Craig, #8 Ohio State Men Have Massive Ceiling

We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2019-2020 season – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. Can’t get enough college swimming news? Check out the College Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine for more in-depth college swimming coverage, including a bird’s-eye view of the flood of coaching changes and our ever-popular rankings of the top 50 individual swimmers in college swimming.

#8 Ohio State Buckeyes

Key Losses: Aaron Daniels-Freeman (7 NCAA points), Ruslan Gaziev (redshirt – 3 NCAA relays), Mossimo Chavez (2 NCAA relays), Henrique Painhais (1 NCAA relay), Michael Salazar (1 NCAA relay)

Key Additions: Cameron Craig (Arizona State transfer – free/IM), Jonah Cooper (CA – back/free), Lyle Yost (OH – diving), Thomas Watkins (New Zealand – back/IM), Chachi Gustafson (OH – fly), Jay Johnson (OH – free), Matthew Magness (PA – IM/free), Kyle Silver (OH – fly), Ian Mikesell (OH – breast), Jonathan Sugar (OH – free), Hunter Grannum (MO – diving)

GRADING CRITERIA

We’re unveiling a new, more data-based grading criteria in this year’s series. Our grades this year are based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making. We started with our already-compiled “no senior returning points” (see here and here), which is effectively a rescoring of 2019 NCAAs with seniors removed and underclassmen moved up to fill those gaps. In addition, we manually filtered out points from known redshirts and swimmers turning pro early, while manually adjusting points for outgoing and incoming transfers and adding in projected points for incoming freshmen with NCAA scoring times, as well as athletes returning from injury or redshirts who are very likely NCAA scorers.

Since we only profile the top 12 teams in this format, our grades are designed with that range in mind. In the grand scheme of college swimming and compared to all other college programs, top 12 NCAA programs would pretty much all grade well across the board. But in the interest of making these previews informative, our grading scale is tough – designed to show the tiers between the good stroke groups, the great ones, and the 2015 Texas men’s fly group types.

  • 5 star (★★★★★) – a rare, elite NCAA group projected to score 25+ points per event
  • 4 star (★★★★) – a very, very good NCAA group projected to score 15-24 points per event
  • 3 star (★★★) – a good NCAA group projected to score 5-14 points per event
  • 2 star (★★) – a solid NCAA group projected to score 1-4 points per event
  • 1 star (★) –  an NCAA group that is projected to score no points per event, though that doesn’t mean it’s without potential scorers – they’ll just need to leapfrog some swimmers ahead of them to do it

We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and diving. Bear in mind that our grades and painstaking scoring formula attempts to take into account all factors, but is still unable to perfectly predict the future. Use these grades as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a reason to be angry.

2018-2019 LOOKBACK

For the last decade or so, Ohio State’s men had hovered in the 10-15 range nationally, usually projecting big NCAA points only to wind up close to where they did the year before.

But in year 2 under new men’s and women’s combined program head coach Bill Dorenkottthe Buckeyes made a serious statement at NCAAs, finishing in 9th for the team’s best finish since 2010 and just its third top-10 finish since the 1980s. (Ohio State’s men were routinely top 10 in the 1970s and won several national titles in the ’50s and ’60s).

Sophomore Paul DeLakis was the powerhouse, making two A finals in a pretty unorthodox 200 free/200 breast combo. Diving came through big with 22 points, but the big point hauls came in the free relays, where Ohio State put together three top-10 finishes for 62 total points. Andrew Loy‘s 42.1 leadoff on the 400 and 1:32.5 leadoff and Ruslan Gaziev‘s 18.9 split on the 200 free were key.

Sprint Free: ★★★★

It’s talent in and talent out in the sprint frees, where Ohio State should still have one of the nation’s strongest groups, even with star Canadian freshman Gaziev taking an Olympic redshirt. That’s because incoming transfer Cameron Craig has a chance to be one of the best additions in the entire nation.

Cameron Craig -Courtesy: Rafael Domeyko/rafaeldomeyko.com

Craig was a freshman star for Arizona State, winning the team’s MVP title, and was a scorer at NCAAs as both a freshman and sophomore. But he sat out last season looking for a new swimming home, and recently resurfaced on the Ohio State roster. It appears Craig will be eligible to compete right away, and should be a massive addition to the Buckeyes lineup. With lifetime-bests of 41.9 in the 100 and 1:31.7 in the 200, he’s a likely two-even A finalist if he’s at his best.

(We noted in Stanford’s preview the uncertainty in projecting lifetime-bests for swimmers who didn’t compete much last year. But Craig is perhaps a better bet than either Shoults or Levant for Stanford, because Craig did hit lifetime-bests in his 100 fly [52.4] and 50 free [23.3] last summer, while coming within about six tenths of his best in the 100 free [49.7]).

Andrew Loy was the relay hero last NCAAs, and returns the team’s fastest 50 free (19.4) and 100 free (42.1) times. He’s quite possibly an individual scorer in both plus the 200 free (1:32.5), though it’s worth noting that he scratched the 100 individually to load up for that big 400 free relay swim last year.

Paul DeLakis is the #2 overall returner in the nation in the 200 free. If Craig is back to his best, we could be talking about an Ohio State 1-2 next March.

Further back, both Ben Sugar (19.4) and Kalvin Koethke (19.5) have realistic shots of chasing the 19.2 NCAA scoring time in the 50 free last year, but Sugar doesn’t appear on the roster at this point. He would have been a senior.

Distance Free: ★

As most of their top 200 swimmers are sprinters or all-arounders like DeLakis or Craig, it’s no surprise that Ohio State’s distance corps isn’t nearly as dominant. Last year, they had only one 500 freestyler under 4:20, and he graduates. In the mile, the same swimmer (Nick Hogsed) was 15:12 for the top time on the team.

Junior Carson Burt returns at 15:16 in the mile, and did drop about six seconds as a sophomore. He’s still got upside, as he hadn’t even registered a mile time before college. But he’ll need a huge year to get into NCAA scoring (14:46) range.

Backstroke: ★

Photo courtesy of Thomas Watkins

The Buckeyes had zero NCAA swims in the backstrokes last year, but they loaded up on that weakness in recruiting. California’s Jonah Cooper is one of the top backstrokers in the entire recruiting class, and brings in a 100 back time (46.3) that would’ve ranked #2 on the Buckeye roster last year.

With 46.0 Henrique Painhas graduated, Cooper should slot right in as the top backstroker and medley relay leadoff man. He’s got a shot to be an individual NCAA scorer as a freshman, but needs a good year to get there. Cooper is also 1:44.2 in the 200 back – further from NCAA scoring range than his 100, but six tenths better than anyone on the Buckeye roster last year.

In addition, New Zealand freshman Thomas Watkins should be an impact pickup. He’s 55.6 in long course (converts to roughly 47.3) and is probably the team’s best 200 backstroker from day 1. His 2:00.1 long course time converts to about 1:42.9, though long course to short course conversions are always speculative.

Ohio State’s top returners are junior Colin McDermott (47.0/1:44.8) and sophomore RJ Kondalski (47.4/1:44.8), but both need serious drops to make NCAAs. Ben Sugar would be in that mix, but is not on the roster anymore.

Breaststroke: ★★★

DeLakis is a great 200 breaststroker. As a sophomore, he was 1:52.05, taking 6th in the fastest 200 breast final in college swimming history. He returns as the #4 swimmer there.

Maybe just as exciting is Jason Mathews, who quietly had a stellar freshman year for the Buckeyes. He went from 53.8 and 1:58.9 in high school to 52.7 and 1:53.7 in his rookie year at OSU. He was a little better at Big Tens than he was at NCAAs last year, but if he can dial it in with a year of experience, he probably joins DeLakis as a scorer.

Ohio State is pretty deep in breaststroke too: junior Connor Isings is 53.3 and junior Evan McFadden 53.5.

Butterfly: ★★★

Noah Lense 2017 USA Swimming Winter nationals (photo: Mike Lewis)

Butterfly is another good event for the Buckeyes, though they’re not as deep as breaststroke. Senior Noah Lense returns after winning the 200 fly B final last year (1:40.79), and he was even a tick faster (1:40.3) at Big Tens. Same story in the 100 fly, where he was 45.4 at Big Tens but only 46.0 and outside of scoring at NCAAs. Still, even with those slower NCAA times, he projects to earn 16 “no senior” points, and could score even more if he’s at his best come nationals.

There’s not much depth here with the graduations of 45.6 Michael Salazar and 45.7/1:42.3 Henrique Painhas. Senior Alex Dillmann (1:43.4) isn’t far off of NCAA invite range in the 200.

After last summer, you also have to wonder if Cameron Craig may make a foray into the 100 fly if he’s not as keen on the 200 free anymore. Craig went a lifetime-best 52.6 in long course meters last summer while not swimming the 200 free at all. Craig was 47.1 in the 100 fly back in 2016 mid-season.

IM: ★★★

There are no notable two-distance IMers, but the projected points are still high here with a couple of top talents crossing into the 200 IM. Freestyler Andrew Loy was 1:41.3 at Big Tens last year – a time that would have gotten him 7th at NCAAs could he replicate it. As it was, Loy faded to 1:42.8, but still scored in the B final. He projects as an A finalist this year, and with the entire top 5 from NCAAs graduating, it’s not crazy to project him in the hunt for a top-3 finish.

Paul DeLakis is the other projected scorer. The multi-stroke, 200-distance specialist was 1:42.6 at Big Tens but just 1:43.6 at NCAAs. He, like Loy, projects as a “no seniors” scorer even with his slower time, so points should be flowing for Ohio State, especially if they can save their best stuff for nationals.

The top two-distance guy is senior Daniel Gloude (1:44.9/3:47.4), who had an awesome junior season dropping from 1:48.1 and 3:49.2. If you’re optimistic, he’s a potential scorer. He certainly has the improvement curve in the 200, though he’s still got plenty work to do to get to scoring level (1:43.0 last year).

Diving: ★★★

Ohio State projects as the third-best team in the NCAA in “no senior” returning diving points. They return junior Joseph Canova, the 7th-placer on platform last year.  In line to score big is now-sophomore Jacob Fieldingwho was 14th on platform and 22nd on 3-meter. Taking out seniors, he scores 14 points between the two events.

In addition, Ohio State brings in elite Ohio dive recruit Lyle Yost to fortify the group after graduating 7-point-scorer Aaron Daniels-Freeman and NCAA qualifier Christopher Law.

Relays

Andrew Loy was a huge relay force in 2019 (photo: Jack Spitser)

Already returning 13 of 20 relay legs, Ohio State can probably pencil in Craig on at least the three sprint free relays. We’ll start there.

The 200 free relay was 7th last year and graduates its slowest leg, a 19.3 from Massimo Chavez. But they also lose their fastest leg, an 18.9 from Ruslan Gaziev, to a redshirt and it appearls they’ll also lose 18-high split Sugar, who is no longer on the roster. Loy should remain. Craig (career-best 19.5 and coming off a lifetime-best in meters) is probably the top replacement. The other spots may come down to seniors Kalvin Koethke (19.5), Matthew Abeysinghe (19.7) or one of the freshmen. Cooper has been 20.2 and in-state prospect Jay Johnson 20.5. This relay might struggle a little to stay top 8, but should still score.

The 400 looks much better. Three of the four legs return from the 7th-place team last year. Loy, DeLakis (42.7 on this relay) and Abeysinghe (43.0) are back, and Craig should add at least a 42 split. Pencil this one in to return to the top 8.

Same goes in the 800, assuming Craig is back to his old self in the 200 after not swimming it last year. Loy, DeLakis and Abeysinghe (1:35.6 last year) should return, and Craig has to be good for at least a 1:34, comparable to what Gaziev went last year.

The medleys need some work, though, after finishing 24th and 25th last year. The 400 was mostly sunk after Painhas led off in 47.1; Cooper should be much faster than that this year. Mathews continues to improve fast in the breaststrokes, and DeLakis is an intriguing option given his 200 breast speed. Plugging in Lense at fly and some combination of Craig and Loy at free retools the medleys significantly, and both have A final potential, though they still have to prove they can be at their season-bests come NCAAs.

2019-2020 Outlook

Even with last year’s banner showing, that’s still the biggest question for Ohio State: can they repeat or better their Big Ten performances at NCAAs?

The relays gained a combined 4.7 seconds from Big Tens to NCAAs, 3.5 of those coming between the two medleys. That’s a total of 21 points Ohio State left on the table by conference-to-NCAA regression: enough to move them from 9th to 7th.

That’s really the rub for OSU. They’ve got the ceiling of a top-5 finish. In fact, if you plug in Craig’s lifetime-bests (an optimistic projection, but not entirely impossible), they move up to 3rd in our total projected “no senior” points individually. However, most of the top programs will be scoring in all five relays, and Ohio State needs its medleys to be on point to do so.

On the other hand, the collection of talent in Columbus is excellent. DeLakis is turning into an awesome NCAA swimmer, and his event lineup (200 IM/200 free/200 breast last year) shows off his unique versatility. Craig has a chance to resurrect a career that looked destined for stardom a few years ago. Between Lense, Loy and Cooper, the depth on this roster is outstanding, and that’s not even mentioning perhaps three NCAA diving scorers.

Moving up from last year’s place would give Ohio State its best finish since at least 1974. And that’s reason for the Buckeyes to be really, really excited.

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Superfan

Very deep. Relays are their strong point. No real big names but can do some damage!

Landrew

I feel like DeLakis and Craig are pretty big names

MKW

Many teams would kill to have DeLakis and Craig on their team. Loy and Lense are also proven performers.

Landrew

Absolutely, and while I consider them to be big names as an alum, it may be a stretch for the average fan

seth

Let’s go, Andrew!!

Phil_Swimmer

And where are the Wolverines?

Phil_Swimmer

With Swanson, Aubock, Smachlo, Cope, Vargas, Borges, Callan… they should be in the top 10…

Friuti

You would hope so, but we saw how NC’s went last year for them. It was not too inspiring.

Buddy

Not part of the ranking due to poor NCAA performance 🤷‍♂️

Phil_Swimmer

Agree, so I hope the underdog status will be good for Michigan. And I am sure that Felix Auboeck will not miss the 500 FR as last year and that Charlie Swanson will be an A finalist in the 400 IM. Regarding the performances from this summer (Vargas, Swanson, Callan, Auboeck, Smachlo, Borges), they should score more than last year…

JP input is too short

I’m pretty sure they’ll be somewhere in the top 7…

No particular order:

Cal
Texas
NC State
Indiana
Louisville
Florida
Michigan

Not sure who else you’d put in that group. For last year NCAAs, Harvard lost Farris for a year, Bama lost Howard and relay pieces, Tennessee lost a lot. I think Mizzou should be in the top 12 somewhere but I’m a fan and even I’m not even seeing top 7. And I’m not even really sold on Florida being better than Michigan without Rooney and Stowkowski, or Indiana without Finnerty, Lanza, and Apple.

MyNameJeff

If they had gaziev this year, I think they’d be a top 5 lock

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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