After three straight national championships, multiple returning national champion swimmers, and a margin of victory of almost 200 points last year, one would naturally think that Texas’ Men’s swim team would be the heavy favorites to repeat this year. However, judging by how they’ve actually swum this year, Texas is exceptionally vulnerable. California has not only stepped up as a clear challenger for the #1 spot I’ll argue they should be considered the favorite this year. Most of the data will be provided through the Swimulator.
First off, Cal is no one’s version of a surprise. They came in second last year at NCAA DI nationals – albeit by almost 200 points – and were on top of the latest CSCAA poll. Its true that these polls are meant to reflect how the team has swum lately rather than how they are expected to finish at the end of the season. Indiana, no one’s idea of a national favorite, was on top earlier this year based off of a strong dual result. However, I’m not the only one saying Cal has swum the best so far this year.
Let’s dive into the data
We’ll start by looking at a nationals simulation based off of each team’s top times swum so far this year. The Swimulator will guess at which events each swimmer will choose to swim by their rankings in each. I don’t allow back-to-back swims – i.e. no Dressel in the 50 and 200 IM, as fun as that would be to see). Relays are chosen based off of the team’s top result, so its possible that the final lineups will change based off of the four-relays-per-swimmer limitation.
The results show Cal as the clear leader as of 1/10:
If instead of using swimmers’ top times, we use their average times instead, Cal stays on top and Texas falls all the way to fifth place!
NC State: 405
If I look at a simulated dual between the two teams, Cal wins once again 146-112
Given these results I’m picking Cal as the clear favorite. And looking at the top 25 rankings from the Swimulator, Cal is given a 23% chance of victory to Texas’ 18%.
Now I will patiently listen to your counter arguments
You: Texas has much better diving and the Swimulator doesn’t include that!
Me: So, Texas returns 11 diving points from nationals last year to Cal’s 0. So while that’s an advantage, its not enough to swing anything more than a close meet. Texas does also have a stud freshman diver, Jordan Windle, who was on the platform world championship team for the US last year. Estimating him to score around 30 points gives us a total of around 40 point advantage to Texas, large, but not enough to close the gap from their swimming scores.
You: Last year’s mid-season projections also had Texas down by 100 points and they came back to win by almost 200. These projections are crap!
Me: Good point. So first of all, last year was a bit of an aberration. If we look at the average time ranking from 2017, Texas was in a virtual tie with Stanford and Cal not including diving; this year they are still down by a similar margin in the average time rankings. Results from 2015 and 2016 were pretty accurate and showed Texas with a clear load as well. So why was Texas so undersold last year? Let’s looks at the Texas’s swimmer-by-swimmer numbers to see who was under-projected and why.
Here are the scores per swimmer as of 1/10 from last year:
and at the end of last year simulated:
So lets look at the major differences:
- Licon didn’t swim a mid-season taper for either the 200 IM or the 100 Breast, last season. Anyway he graduated so isn’t around to help them.
- The Texas relays are projected for about forty more points this year than last, so they don’t have as much room to move up. They also don’t have a killer breastroker (Licon) this year so they are not as strong in the medley relays.
- Schooling is already projected to score 41 points, so he, uh, can’t gain 36 more. 10 more is a possibility if he swims prelims better this year.
- Haas and Shebat could certainly move up as well, but that only accounts more about 50 more points, still leaving them in a hole.
So it looks like the main reasons for last season being off, mainly Schooling and Licon competing very little in the first half of the season, aren’t a factor this year. And every year prior to then has been reasonably accurate.
So including some expected improvement and diving scores, I see Cal as modest +30 point favorites over Texas including all these adjustments.
You: Texas has a huge taper!
Me: Looking at the general taper patterns of Cal and Texas, they don’t look too different – about 2% off of their top times from this time of the year. The difference between each team’s average in-season times and taper times was also similar, around 4%. It is true that I’m showing are the average tapers for all swimmers, so perhaps Texas tapers their nationals swimmers differently than the rest of their team? That seems a bit unlikely though not something we can count out entirely.
You: But dat championship pedigree, the clutchitude!
Me: Since Cal won in 2014 I can’t even give them that!