As we’re all sitting in anticipation of the beginning of the women’s meet, these last few excruciatingly impatient days will tick by very slowly. But we’re here to fill the void with some predictions for the men’s meet.
Just like with the women’s selections, we’ll take this race-by-race, day-by-day, before culminating in team picks. Same rules apply: Relays we’ll pick 1-5, individuals we’ll go 1-3 with a wildcard. That wildcard is someone who is either seeded low, is not a “name” swimmer, or is otherwise going to be overlooked by the general picksters.
Click here to see how the psych sheets break down, read on to see who our picks are, and scroll to the bottom to leave your thoughts in the comments.
200 medley relay
4. Ohio State
Rationale: This shorter medley has the potential to be a lot more interesting than the 400, but I still think Cal picks up it’s third win in three relays. The shorter race favors Texas, however, as Cole Cragin’s incredible underwaters should leave the Longhorns second only behind Cal early in the race. They also won’t be hurt as badly by their sprint-butterfly issue in the 200, where Woody Joye has the capability of a great 50, and even Feigen is probably a little better in the 50 free than the 100.
Ohio State should be good for a top-4 finish in this relay even without National Teamer Tim Phillips on the squad. That would be huge for them from a team standpoint. Michigan has to do a little bit of creative shuffling to put this relay together, but when the dust settles, they’ve got a pretty good quartet. The anchor of the group is freshman Sean Fletcher in the fly: he’s really come on strong at the end of this year and split a 20.31 at Big Ten’s.
There are a ton of interesting squads in this race. UNLV is a small-conference team that could bust into the top 5. They return their full 8th-place relay from last season, and the first three legs (especially backstroker David Seiler) have shown big-time improvements this season. It’s also hard to leave Stanford out of this top 5, especially with a potential 19-point from Staab on the butterfly leg. On paper, they look a little better than Michigan, but Michigan seems to be motivated to put this squad together a little better. And of course, any time 50’s are involved, Auburn is a strong candidate. This is just a tough race to pick a top 5 in all-around.
1. Conor Dwyer (Florida)
2. Kyle Whitaker (Michigan)
3. Bill Cregar (Georgia)
Wildcard: Michael Joyce (Florida)
Rationale: Dwyer is the man in this event. Already at a 3:37.7 at SEC’s, the third-fastest swim (not swimmer) ever, and better than fellow Gator Ryan Lochte ever went in yards. There’s some other good swimmers in the field, but none of them are at that level. Whitaker, however, seems destined to be at that level one day. I don’t have the stats on it, but a 3:41 has gotta be amongst the fastest ever for a freshman. Cregar and UNC’s Tyler Harris both had very good conference championship meets, but I think Cregar (with someone to race instead of being left chasing Dwyer) will jump into the top 3.
Michael Joyce really needs to be highlighted. He’s a model of persistence and how to not give up in collegiate athletics. He is a senior for the Gators, and up until this season, he has not even been on Florida’s SEC scoring team, let alone qualified for NCAA’s. But he fought and fought, and trusted the coaches, and he now has a 3:44.0 and a 5th-seed to his credit. He now has the opportunity to potentially be huge for the team at NCAA’s, and maybe even pursue a post-collegiate career. Between him, Dwyer, and freshman Connor Signorin, the Gators have a loaded training group with 3 out of the top 7 seeds. He’s come so far already, but it’s hard to count this kid out now.
1. Austin Staab (Stanford)
2. Tom Shields (Cal)
3. Grame Moore (Cal)
Wildcard: Daniel Lester (Wisconsin)
Rationale: This is the race that we’ve been waiting for. The biggest stage, with the two superstars in the middle of the pool, well out in front of the rest of the field, battling. They will have the spotlight on them, and it will be fun to see which one rises to the occasion. Shields will have the edge of not having to swim the 200 medley shortly before the race, but I think that will almost be as much of a warm-up for Staab as anything else. He’s got the mental edge of the records, the Pac-10 title, and not having to worry about a second individual later in the session, and I think he gets it (but just barely). I think Graeme Moore outswims his teammate Mathias Gydesen for third.
Cody Roberts from UNLV will be a very interesting swim. His 45.7 would’ve been good enough for second in the country last year, and he has historically held serve at NCAA’s (at least through prelims). If he can shore up his finals performance, instead of the big dropoff he showed last season, he could nip Moore for 3rd. I think the sophomores from the Big Ten, Sean Fletcher and Tim Phillips, are going to just barely miss out on the top-3.
1. Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or (Arizona)
2. Scot Robison (Virginia)
3. Ryan Harrison (Tennessee)
Wildcard: Dimitri Colupaev (USC)
Rationale: The defending champion, Dwyer, has dropped out of this event, leaving somewhat of a void in what has become a glamor race over the past few seasons. This means that someone has a chance to make a huge name for himself, and there’s plenty of great candidates. Shapira Bar-Or impressed at the Texas Invite in December, where he battled Ricky Berens down to one one-hundreth of a second at the finish. Based on the strength of that finish, I pick him to win. Scot Robison is also a strong candidate, but may have put a little bit more focus on the sprints this year in preparation for the Shanghai World Championships. He’s obviously on the best form that he’s ever been in his life, though, so expect him to put up a strong fight.
Picking a 3rd finalist was extremely difficult. USC’s Lefert is one of the top returners in this race, but Texas’ Hill is the most improved swimmer in the country this year. Florida’s Brett Fraser is also going to be very strong in this event, as is Texas’ Scott Jostes, who was 5th last year. And with how he’s been swimming, Matt McLean from Virginia can’t be counted out either. But I’m going to take them all to be upset for the bronze by Ryan Harrison of Tennessee. He put up a 1:32.3 to win the SEC title, and that’s a time that I just can’t ignore.
Colupaev is a freshman, but a “wise” freshman at 21 years old. He’s been a 1:44.2 in short course meters, which converts to a 1:33.3 in yards. Being a short-course to short-course conversion, it’s fairly reliable, and with another year of training, a 1:32-high should be very doable.
1. Damir Dugonjic (Cal)
2. Martti Aljand (Cal)
3. Scott Spann (Texas)
Wildcard: Stuart Ferguson (Auburn)
Raionale: I stopped short of picking a 1-4 Cal finish, though I do think they’ll get 4 out of the top 6 spots. Scott Spann is doing his typical regular season slow play. He’s been even further off of his bests this season than in past seasons, though, and I think it might bite him just a little with a 3rd place finish (compared to his 2nd last season). It’s a tossup to pick which of the Cal boys finishes second behind Dugonjic, but Aljand’s got the experience in A-finals, so I’ll take him.
Stuart Ferguson has been a pleasant surprise for Auburn in the breaststrokes. He may even be better (in yards anyways) than his teammate Adam Klein, who qualified for the National Team.
1. Cory Chitwood (Arizona)
2. Eric Ress (Indiana)
3. Marco Loughran (Florida)
Wildcard: Tom Shields (Cal)
Rationale: Just like at every other level of swimming in the United States, this backstroke field is the deepest, most loaded, and hardest to pick. Prior to his hand injury on the finish of this race at Big Ten’s, I think that I probably would’ve picked Ress to win this race. He’s been training with a brace, and supposedly has still looked very good in practice, but with such a deep field, even that small disruption could cost him a title. Chitwood was only 9th at NCAA’s last season, but he was still battling the effects of the Norovirus that delayed the start of the meet, and so even a 9th place finish was impressive. Loughran is only a redshirt sophomore, but at almost 22, he’s another one of those older-than-his-grade-level.
Last season, Cal posted 3rd and 5th place finishes from Guy Barnea and Mathias Gydesen in this event. This season neither one of these guys has looked anywhere near that good, but if they can come anywhere near that number of points, this race should be the point where Cal gets a really insurmountable advantage.
It will be interesting to see how their teammate Tom Shields performs in this race. He didn’t swim it last season at NCAA’s, but enters the meet with the third seed. Given that he’s much more apt in the 100 fly (“cares more” isn’t the right phrase, but something along those sentiments), one would expect him to focus on that race instead. He will, however, have a solid rest before the 100 back, and could shock everyone by taking a top 3.
800 free relay
Rationale: So at SEC’s, Florida swam a 6:13.74 SEC record in this relay. But on the NCAA psych sheets, they’re only entered at a 6:16.39. This gives us a very big hint about how Florida plans to play this meet: they will leave Brett Fraser off of this relay and swim him on the other four relays (including adding him to the 200 free relay) instead. This puts junior Jeffrey Raymond on the relay in his stead, and makes this race much, much more interesting. This is a great move by Gregg Troy, and should bolster the Gators’ score by several points, there’s a chance that it may cost them the race against a loaded Virginia squad. Those Cavaliers count amongst their numbers two USA-Swimming A finalists in the 200 free: Scot Robison and Matt McLean. Texas will give an awesome swim to really make this a three team race (they’ll probably bust out someone at this meet that is totally unexpected but will split a 1:33 for them, as they usually do). Because Florida’s seed time is a combination of flat-start times, I think they’ll definitely out-swim it and win this race, but not comfortably.
USC certainly wasn’t at full rest, and didn’t even appear to be at much rest at all, at Pac-10’s. I think they’ve got a big swim in them for this relay. Michigan won a dogfight of an 800 relay at Big Ten’s, and I think that they’ll put it together for another top 5 relay finish.