USC’s 400 free relay is unbelievable. We know they have Vlad, but the other pieces they’ve put around him have just been swimming out of their minds in this race. The 400 free relay seems to be the perfect meld between the Trojans’ great sprinters and their great middle-distance group.
Jack Wagner and Dimitri Colupaev are a little better at the 100 than they are at the 50; Cristian Quintero lit-up the Pac-12 Championships in the distance races, but has surprisingly great range coming down to this 100; then there’s Vlad Morozov, the best sprinter in the country, whose advantage in this 100 over the rest of the country should be a little bit bigger than it is in the 50.
There’s a huge gap from USC to anybody else in the country on seed; they were a 2:48.66 at Pac-12’s, and the next two seeds are Auburn (2:50.12) and Florida (2:50.83). You rarely see gaps that big, and if you believe Dave Salo’s tweets, Morozov, at least, wasn’t shaved to swim that time.
(Fun Fact: USC won this relay six times sfrom 1966-1977, but haven’t won it since.)
Auburn’s 400 free relay is about as good as their 200, where we picked them to win, but unlike USC they’re relying on more “non-freestylers” to fill this relay out, like Arthur Mendes and Kyle Owens. This is not to say that it hurts them in our eyes (Tom Shields probably qualifies as a “non-freestyler,” know what I mean? ), rather this makes it a little more of a challenge to predict how they’ll swim in freestyle races (fewer samples to look at). The Tigers will be good though; it’s hard to see them falling outside of the top 4 even on a bad day.
For the Florida Gators, even though their top true-sprinter Bradley deBorde is a better 50 freestyler than 100 freestyler, the Gators more than make up for that when they add Sebastien Rousseau and Marcin Cieslak to this relay. Matthew Curby is again the question-mark for most of the country on this relay, but he was great on relays at SEC’s.
Michigan at Big Tens used the same foursome in this 400 as they did in the 200. Though they seem to be better in the 200 than the 400, this longer relay might be a little less competitive for those top 5-6 spots. The Wolverines were the 6th-best team in the evening session last year, but that was a 2:52 from the B-Final.
Aside from USC’s runaway, this was a good race for 2nd at Pac-12’s between Stanford and Arizona. If the Cardinal leave their relays alone (and we’re not sure they will yet), they match up well against ‘Zona. Wayne probably can best Smith by a little bit, and Nolan can probably best Shapira Bar-Or by a little bit. By the same manner, despite what happened at Pac-12’s, I think that Arizona’s last two Mitchell Friedemann and Woody Joye are probably a little better than Andrew Saeta and freshman Tom Kremer. Can I pick a tie?
Cal’s relay at Pac-12’s, even with consideration of how little rest they probably had, wasn’t great. They were just a 2:55.0. Until it doesn’t happen, though, we have to assume they’re going to come back down. They were 2nd last year without graduating anybody, and with their only loss being Tyler Messerschmidt and his 43.19 leadoff. This year, it looks like they’re asking Marcin Tarczynski to take that spot, and they’ve also used Seth Stubblefield instead of Shayne Fleming both at Pac-12’s and their mid-year invite. But take a second-and-a-half from Tom Shields’ split, plus a second from everyone else’s, and you have a true’er representation of what Cal can do. Their best relay time was mid-season (as was Arizona’s).
Texas, the defending champs, loses only Jimmy Feigen on their relay. They showed last year that they could go 42-42-42 leading off this relay, so a 43-mid from freshman John Murray joining them makes this a 3:51-low relay already. From there, any step-up swims (Dax can probably be a little faster than he was leading off last year) is a bonus.
North Carolina State were the ACC Champions in this race (ahead of Florida State by a second-and-a-half). With four underclassmen on the relay, regardless of finish, this should be an invaluable learning year for them; pencil them early to place top 8 in 2013, at least.
Harvard has a great relay too. Being in the Ivy League, the names won’t be as familiar, but there is some depth there, and they return all four swimmers from last year’s relay (and will do so again next year). Their conference-mates from Princeton were a 3:53.00 at Ivy’s for 2nd, and are even younger than Harvard: two freshmen and two sophomores make up their relay.
This Louisville 400 free relay, seeded one spot behind Harvard at 10th, is better than their 800 this year. Carlyle Blondell is a very good second to Joao de Lucca; the Cardinals this year have front-loaded the relay, as opposed to last year where they back-loaded it instead. Interesting change in strategy by Arthur Albiero.
A&M only graduated one piece from their relay last year that was 8th at NCAA’s last year; and they consistently drop between conference and NCAA’s in their relays. This one at the end of SEC’s was their best swim all weekend. Florida State was 7th at NCAA’s last year, returned all four pieces, and are swimming better than ever. Their best time in 2012 was at ACC’s, but they didn’t add much at year’s end. I’ve got it down to those two relays and Texas for the 8th spot, and I had to take the Seminoles with Pavel Sankovich now in the mix.
There’s going to be some really good relay pushed out of this A-Final. Florida and Michigan were both in the B last year, and if we assume that they’re anywhere near as good as their seeds say they should be, that means someone has to move out.
At the end of the day, though, we’ll take the Trojans in the top spot. It’s hard to count out a way they’re worse than a 2:49 in this relay. Beware between prelims and finals, though, as last year they were the top seed after the morning but only finished 4th (they didn’t get any slower, everyone else just got faster).
Top 8 Picks, plus seed times: fairly close to ‘chalk’
1. USC Trojans, 2:48.66
2. Auburn, 2:50.12
3. Cal, 2:54.80
4. Stanford, 2:51.18
5. Arizona, 2:51.25
6. Texas, 2:52.24
7. Michigan, 2:52.25
8. Florida, 2:50.83
Darkhorse: Utah, 2:54.32; SMU, 2:53.17 – Two programs that each have a top-flight sprinter (Nick Soedel and Mindaugas Sadauskas each), along with some pretty decent sprint groups overall. SMU would need to drop a second and Utah about 1.5 to get into that A-Final, at least.