The 2011 Men’s SEC Swimming Championships will begin on Wednesday in Gainesville, Florida, with the Auburn Tigers men looking to extend their streak of SEC Championships to 15 in a row.
At the beginning of the season, it looked like a strong possibility that this wouldn’t happen, with the Florida men and Conor Dwyer showing huge performances. But based on more recent results, including a dominant win over #4 Texas, the #3 Auburn Tigers look poised to win another one.
The SEC held their diving competition last weekend, which gave the Tigers a head start over their competition before even setting foot on the blocks. Early results after diving hold the Auburn men in first place with 136 points, thanks in no small part to a 1-2 finish in the platform competition from senior Dan Mazzaferro and freshman John Santeiu IV. The Tennessee men are nipping right at their heals, with 133.5 points, before a huge drop-off to the Florida Gators in third at 49 points. LSU (47.5 points) and Alabama (43 points) round out the top 5 after the first three scoring events.
Races to Watch
In a conference as deep as the SEC, every race becomes a race to watch. But there are a few that stand out even above the massively deep levels of talent across the board.
We still don’t know which races Conor Dwyer will swim at SEC’s, and they may not even match up with the races that he will swim at NCAA’s, but if he’s entered in the 400 IM, this automatically becomes the race of the meet. Bill Cregar of Georgia will almost definitely be in this race, and those two represent two of the best in the race in the country. With the way he’s been swimming, I’d have to give the edge to Dwyer, but Cregar, along with a slew of other talented Bulldogs, will force him to battle all the way until the end.
The dreaded Auburn sprint crew is back in action, and nowhere will that be more obvious than in the men’s 50 free. Depending on who they decide to enter, the Tigers currently have 7 out of the top 10 best 50 freestylers in the conference. The three spoilers in this race will be LSU’s Andrei Tuomola, Georgia’s Michael Arnold, and the darkhorse: Florida’s Brett Fraser. I’m going to give the nod in this race to Auburn’s Karl Krug over his much more experienced teammate Adam Brown, as I think that Brown is going to be looking ahead to NCAA’s.
Another race that we’re hoping to see out of Florida’s Dwyer (well really, we’d love to see him swim everything) is the 200 free. He’s got the fourth overall time in the country in the event (1:34.33). Even though he’s the defending NCAA champion in the event, he won’t be alone at the top. He will be run up and down the pool by two young and unheralded, but highly motivated swimmers. Sophomore Michael Flach, who last year grabbed more SEC Freshman of the Year honors (four) than any other swimmer, is out to prove that there will be no freshman slump. He’s already bettered his career-best time in the 200 by over a second this season (1:35.53), and is carrying the South Carolina program to some level of National relevance. Also in this race will be Georgia’s Jameson Hill. Only a freshman, he is already nipping at the heels of Peter Benner’s all-time school record in this event of 1:35.31. Hill’s best time this season is a 1:35.97, and he is already being discussed among the greatest swimmers in the history of the vaunted Bulldog program.
Auburn is just too loaded in the sprints this year for anyone to touch them in the SEC. Besides their strength in the sprint freestyles, they also have a very good chance at winning the 100 breaststroke and backstroke, 200 breaststroke, and are heavy favorites in the four shorter relays.
There is certainly a dichotomy in the SEC this year, however. Florida’s strengths and depth lie largely in the longer (200 yards+) events, whereas Auburn’s lie (mostly) in the 100 yard distances. The caveat here is that Auburn will be largely unchallenged in the sprints, whereas Florida will have to fight Georgia tooth-and-nail in their primary distances. Though the Bulldogs are unlikely to compete for the overall crown, consider them the “Green Party” of the SEC: They probably won’t take the whole enchilada, but they just might be able to steal enough points to keep the Gators from winning it all. By the same token, Georgia also has to be careful not to let Tennessee slip by them, especially given the roughly 100 point edge the Volunteers have after diving.
South Carolina and Alabama will be an interesting finish for that 5th spot. These are the two rising programs of the conference, and are both battling to break into that upper echelon with a lot of young talent, but not much experience. LSU and Kentucky, on the other hand, are programs that are rebuilding after big losses the past few seasons. I give the edge to the Crimson Tide because of their depth in the sprint events that will pay off in relays.
Expected Finish Order:
1. #3 Auburn Tigers
2. #5 Florida Gators
3. #10 Georgia Bulldogs
4. #8 Tennessee Volunteers
5. #17 Alabama Crimson Tide
6. #23 South Carolina Gamecocks
7. #21 LSU Tigers
8. Kentucky Wildcats