We’ve fully broken down each event at NCAA’s, and after doing so, I’m even more confident that Cal is going to win this meet.
None-the-less, there’s going to be a very exciting battle for second place. There are 5 teams that have a great shot at that position. We got a few clues about what to expect from the women’s meet, specifically with reference to the joint programs (like Auburn, Florida, and Arizona), but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle.
There’s a lot of information to put together, and as we saw in the women’s meet, there are always surprises. Still, we were able to crunch the numbers, put everything together, and come up with a semi-educated top 10.
1. Cal Golden Bears
Based on psych sheet scoring, Cal is about 70 points up on the rest of the country. The next closest team behind them with any significant diving is Texas at 144 points back. Of course, there are always teams that have huge tapers and make up a ton of points. But by that same logic, Cal is likely to improve significantly and pick up more points as well. To catch Cal, every team in the country would have to improve at least 130 points off of their seeds, which would be a tall order with only 18 swimming events. And that’s just to have a chance. Stranger things have happened in swimming, but this would probably be one of the bigger upsets in NCAA Swimming history.
2. Texas Longhorns
Texas doesn’t have huge seeds, but they are already contenders for top-3 based on the strength of Drew Livingston’s diving alone, which should net them about 45 points. Out of the next-3 teams in seed-scoring behind Cal, the defending Champion Longhorns probably have the most time drops left based on times that we know they’re capable of. They also have the fewest seeded points, so this is a tricky pick to make. The key for the Longhorns, besides a repeat of Drew Livingston’s Big 12 diving performance, is going to be their breaststroke group. They are only seeded to score 24 points, despite having a great breaststroke trio of Eric Friedland, Nick D’Innocenzo, and Scott Spann that rivals anyone’s in the country. If they have any shot at upsetting Cal, that’s where it’ll need to come from.
3. Stanford Cardinals
Stanford seems to have gambled a little heavier with their streak of 30-straight Pac 10 Championships than they have in recent years. What I mean by that is that they appear to have been less-rested for Conference than they normally are. With Austin Staab back and at full-strength, as well as an under-rated sprint group, I think Stanford is a top-3 team. That sprint group, especially in the relays, is the key to a good meet for the Cardinals.
4. Arizona Wildcats
Prior to the women’s meet, I probably would’ve had numbers 4 and 5 flipped. But after seeing how huge the Arizona women’s taper was at NCAA’s, I think that the 113-point gap that Arizona has to make up to catch Florida is suddenly more doable. The key to this meet is going to be Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or. He’s my pick to win the 200 free, and even more importantly, he needs to perform well in his peripheral events: the 200 IM and 200 fly.
5. Florida Gators
Florida is a very top-heavy team. They are seeded with the second-most points, and those points are concentrated in a relatively low number of scores. However, I worry that they have maxed out their scoring potential. Stanford, for example, is seeded to have 29 scoring swims, but for almost exactly the same number of total points. Florida is only seeded to have 22 scorers, which puts them, on average, at a 6th place finish from every swimmer who scores. That’s a hard pace to maintain. Brett Fraser is the key for the Gators. They will need him to be on top of his game to score big relay points, as much of their super-stardom is concentrated in the 200 yard distances.
6. Auburn Tigers
Auburn, the SEC Champions, are in the process of building a Championship-caliber program for next season. They’ve shored up many of the holes in their roster, such as the distance freestyle with Zane Grothe. If they want to move up in the rankings, it’ll be from their two Adams: Klein and Brown. Adam Klein wasn’t shaved at SEC’s (visibly, he had a beard), but he needs to really step up at NCAA’s and show that National Team talent that he has. Adam Brown traveled back and forth to the UK last weekend, where he dominated the sprints. Though he didn’t necessarily taper for that meet to do so, so many days of traveling and competition can tweak a taper just enough. In addition to his freestyle duties, he’ll need to step up in the butterfly events for Auburn as well as perform on the butterfly leg of their sprint medley. The Tigers also have a great diving group, including Daniel Mazzaferro who could be top 5 on both the platform and the 3-meter. If there’s someone I could see moving up this list, it’s Auburn.
7. USC Trojans
The USC men couldn’t have been rested at all for Pac-10’s, as for the most part (specifically evident in the relays) they didn’t even swim season best times. This can be a risky move for a young team like USC, but it can also pay big dividends long-term. The Trojans aren’t trying to win National Championships this year anyways, so it could be a great opportunity for Dave Salo to learn about his team, and for the team to learn about themselves. I see a sizable gap to the top 6, but if they want to bridge it, they need huge swims from Clement Lefert. He’s in a lot of very, very tight battles in the 200 free, 500 free, and 200 fly, and it won’t take much for him to move up (or down). I think he’s poised for a huge meet though.
8. Michigan Wolverines
If USC is young, than the Wolverines are mere infants in the world of college swimming. We’ve repeated over-and-over this season how young Michigan is, and how half of their swimmers are freshmen. But at Big Ten’s, where they reclaimed the Championship from Ohio State, we saw them mature right in front of our eyes. Their freshmen put up great-swim after great-swim at that meet, and Daniel Madwed added just enough veteran leadership to make it all work. I don’t care where the Wolverines finish, Mike Bottom is getting Coach of the Year consideration regardless.
9. Ohio State
This Ohio State team is a classic case of a program riding 4 really great pieces to a lot of success (similarly to a team like Wisconsin on the women’s side). But the Buckeyes have found just enough depth to make themselves a top-10 team. The biggest find has been butterflier Quincy Lee. He’s taken a lot of pressure off of Tim Phillips in the butterfly events and allows Phillips to focus on a role as Ohio State’s best sprint freestyler.
This was a very difficult pick to make. I settled on Virginia, mostly because I can’t see a program with two National Teamers finishing outside of the top 10. But McLean and Robison have to know that they’re carrying the rest of the team on their backs at this meet. There may be no more capable tandem in the country of doing so. I’m also looking past them to Peter Geissinger to help bare part of that load. The Cavaliers have a lot of their strength concentrated in the freestyles (including Geissinger). But Geissinger is one of the few Cavaliers that has a chance at scoring big points in a stroke, specifically the 100 fly. This will be big in scoring, but even bigger in terms of momentum and keeping the team excited and engaged in between the aforementioned freestyle events.
11. And Beyond
There are a few other teams that have a shot at the top 10. The Georgia men will be tight the whole way, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they finished as high as 8th or 9th. The big sleeper pick here is the Indiana Hoosiers. They have a great young duo in Eric Ress in the backstroke and Cody Miller on the breaststroke that will serve as the foundation of this program for years to come. But they also have a great balance with the real 5th stroke in college swimming: diving. Their divers get overshadowed by the other great in-state program at Purdue, but Darian Schmidt and David Piercy are two of the better divers in the country. They could give the top 10 a little bit of a scare, which would probably catch a lot of people off-guard.