LetsRun.com’s Preview Of The Men’s Team Race At 2012 NCAA Cross-Country Championships

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by LetsRun.com
November 15, 2011

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The 2012 NCAA Cross-Country Championships take place on Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky and last year’s runner-up Oklahoma State is the favorite on the men’s side.

The Cowboys, the winners in 2009 and 2010, are hungry to win their third title in four years because the loss from last year still stings. Last year, Oklahoma State returned everyone from their 2010 championship team (although they took a big hit due to an injury), yet Wisconsin came away with the NCAA crown.

The entirely foreign-born (Moskowitz was born in the US) Cowboy team is absolutely loaded. Take a look at their top six.

2012 Oklahoma State Cowboys
(listed in order of finish at Big 12)

 

Oklahoma State Wins 2010 NCAA XC Title

Oklahoma State has won before

Girma Mecheso – 13:34/28:16 – Sr - 3 times he’s been top 25 at NCAA XC. Ran at Auburn as a frosh. 2nd at Big 12.
Shadrack Kipchirchir
- 13:46/29:32Jr -  50th last year at NCAAs. Western Kentucky transfer. 3rd at Big 12.
Tom Farrell – 7:52/13:15 – RS Jr - Has there ever been a 13:15 guy in college before who has received less attention? He ran that last year while redshirting to try to make the Olympics for Britain, but got a stress fracture just before the Trials and we guess the Brits wouldn’t let him “pull a Ritz” and run the Olympics on a broken bone. 36th last year. 4th at Big 12.
Kirubel Erassa – 7:59/13:47 – RS So - Has never run NCAA cross. People talk a lot about overaged foreigners. How about an underaged Ethiopian-born, now US citizen? Erassa is in his third year at OSU but is only 19. He ran at World Juniors this summer after his sophomore year. 7th at Big 12.
Shane Moskowitz – 3:44/8:07/14:26 RS So –  Never run NCAA cross. 8th at Big 12.
Joseph Manilafasha –  8:16/14:24 – RS Jr - Former HS star (3-time FL Finalist has only run 8:16/14:24 in college and was only 16th at Big 12. 96th last year.

Can anyone beat Oklahoma State? Is it possible that a team with a 13:15 3rd man loses?

Let’s look at the contenders: There are two #2-ranked teams in the land – Stanford and Iona. Can they do it?

#2 Stanford

On paper, they are the second-ranked team in the land. But they got crushed at their conference meet by a ton, 49 to 82. On that basis alone, we were going to rule them out for the title but then realized that their new coach Chris Miltenberg last year won NCAAs with the GTown women with a team that was third at its conference meet. Last year, Stanford had senior Chris Derrick and two other seniors in its top five so the fact that they are ranked #2 is a credit to Miltenberg, but we are given them no shot at winning.

Do you really think a team that has as it’s #1 and #2 runners guys that are American-born sophomores (and who could easily be redshirt freshman) are going to win it all even if they did run 8:09 and 8:10 for 3k in HS? If anyone in the world wanted to say yes to that question, it would be us here at LetsRun.com because Stanford’s #1 and #2 this year are identical twins in Joe and Jim Rosa and LetsRun.com has a thing for twin power as does Stanford.

But it’s just not going to happen.

Think of it this way, Stanford’s #3 guy, Tyler Stutzman, has PRs of 1:50/3:40/8:06 and 14:04. Pretty good, until you remember that Oklahoma State’s #3 has run 13:15.

Odds of Winning: 0% 1% (after saying when Meb was injured this summer he had 0% chance of medaling at the Olympics and he ended up 4th, we’ll stay away from the 0%).

#2 Iona

Iona is tied with Stanford at #2 in the rankings and they narrowly lost to Stanford at Wisconsin 125 to 135. But we are giving Stanford zero* shot of winning. We give Iona a chance because they would have easily beaten Stanford if they’d had a fifth guy at Wisco. At Wisco, Iona’s Jake Byrne was their fifth scorer in 85th. He is better than that (he was 43rd at NCAAs last year) and was their third guy in the regional, where he finished 8th.

The 2012 Iona Gaels
(Listed in order of finish at NE Regional)

Mitch Goose – 7:51/13:34 – Gr – Is it just us or has this guy seemingly been in college since like the year 2000? NE champ. 53rd in 2010.
Daniel Clorley –  8:06/14:10 – Jr - 29th at Wisco, 4th in NE Regional.
Jake Byrne - 14:01  - So – 85th at Wisco, 8th in NE (224th last year).
Matt Gillespie – 8:12/13:57 – Gr - 3rd at Wisco, 13th at NE Regional.
Matthew Bayley – 8:01/14:01 – Sr – 28th at Wisco. Didn’t run NE. 43rd last year.
Mike O’Dowd – 8:31/14:47 – So - Rare American on Iona roster ran 9:06 in HS for 3,200. Was a surprise 19th at Regional after finishing just 21st in B Race at Wisco.

But we just don’t see how a team with two sub-14 guys beats a team with at least 4 sub-13:50 guys.

Odds of Winning: They have a chance but we’d say it’s no better than 10%.

So if the co-#2 teams are unlikely to win, can anyone else do it?

Well, we dismissed Stanford earlier because they were blown out at Pac-12. Who did they lose to? None other than Mark Wetmore‘s Colorado Buffaloes. The man of Running With The Buffaloes fame has a very good team.

#7 Colorado

One thing is certain in our mind, it’s an absolute disgrace that Colorado is ranked behind Stanford in the national polls. Teams aren’t necessarily going all out at a regional and Colorado clearly wasn’t. How could anyone in their right mind not have Colorado ranked as #2 based on their body of work for the year?

We know one thing about Colorado. If they scored seven runners at NCAAs, we’d pick them to win as they are very deep and Wetmore is great at getting guys to run when it counts most.

Most teams are worried about a likely fifth guy having a bad day (more on that idea below) and there goes there NCAA title hopes. Not Colorado.

At Pre-Nats, which they won easily, they put 7 in before anyone else even had 4 finishers. At Pac-12, they almost had 7 in before Stanford had 3 (Stanford’s 3rd was 17th, Colorado’s 7th was 18th) and they ended up with eight in before Stanford’s fifth.

But fortunately for the other teams, they only score five at NCAAs and Colorado may be in trouble as, while incredibly deep, they don’t seemingly have a big-time frontrunner. Side note: If Olympian Donn Cabral hadn’t taken the money and instead went to run for Colorado, the Buffaloes would be hard to bet against.

At Pac-12, Colorado put six in the top 14 and seven in the top 18 but their top finisher was just seventh as they went 7-8-9-12-13-14-18 (and 21) – that’s a sick 9-second spread for the top five. But it really helps to have a 13:15 or 27:30 guy you know can be counted on to score in the single digits. Colorado doesn’t have that but they can’t be ruled out. If you put their team at the Wisco invite, they would have won it easily.

We say that because at Pac-12, Colorado easily had five in before Stanford had three. Well, at Wisco, which Stanford won, Stanford’s third guy was 21st and they won with 135 points. So let’s say Colorado averages 20 points per man for each of the top 5 – then they score 100 and win easily.

Here is the Colorado top seven in order of finish from Pac-12 and their PRs. Nothing by Oklahoma State standards, but their fifth guy is a 29:21 guy – not too shabby.

The 2012 Colorado Buffaloes
(Listed in order of their finish at Pac-12)

Blake Theroux – So -  8:11
Jake Hurysz – Jr – 8:01/13:38 - Transferred in from UNC.
Hugh Dowdy – Jr – 3:47/8:56 steeple
Aric VanHalen – Sr – 14:01 5k/8:42 steeple
Martin Medina – Sr – 1414/29:21
Pierce Murphy – RS FR - Former Hawaii prep star ran 9:14 in HS.
Morgan Pearson – So – 8:06/14:14 - Former NJ HSer ran 8:06 and 14:04 for Duke as a frosh last year. Transferred out.

But can they win?

It’s hard to say how that pack will finish at NCAAs.

But what we decided to do instead is figure out – where does their tight scoring pack have to finish for them to have a chance at winning?

We looked at the last 10 years of NCAA winners on the men’s side and the highest winning team score belonged to Oklahoma State in 2009 when they had 127 points, which is close to the all-time high winning team score of 134 that Tennessee put up to win in 1972.  So 127/5 is 25.4. So at a minimum, they need to score no more than 25 points per man.

If we assume the results are the same as last year’s and Colorado’s third man is 25th in the team scoring and their top five all finishes within plus or minus 10 seconds of this and they all average 25 points (so basically we just more than doubled their 9-second spread at Pac-12 to 20 seconds), what does that mean?

It would mean that Colorado’s 1-5 would all finish between 19th and 40th individually. Is this possible – that they have 5 All-Americans (40th is last All-American)? It is not out of the realm of possibilities, but it’s not easy by any stretch as Wisco only had four in the top 40 last year. And 125 is not likely to win. And since their top guy was just 7th at Pac-12 – it’s not going to be easy.

But it’s not impossible. Last year, the 6th guy from the Pac-10/12 was 20th overall.

Earlier, we said we think they could have put five in the top 20 at Wisco. 20th at Wisco might be 40th at NCAAs as 20 of the 31 NCAA teams were at Wisco and there were 45 teams there as well.

Regardless, we think Coach Wetmore deserves major props for having his team in the discussion. Who else could put a team full of all American-born runners in the hunt, considering he lost his entire top five from last year’s team (three graduated and the two potential returners in Amar Moussa and Joe Bosshard haven’t run a step for the Buffs this year)?

If they win this year, Chris Lear should write a sequel.

Odds of Winning: Less Than 10%

(PS. Yes, we know Colorado was third in their regional but voters overreacted to that. They were probably taking it easy and only ended up 13 points out of first (69 to 56) and the two teams that beat them (BYU and NAU)  are both in the top 10.

So we’ve looked at the two #2 teams and a third team that we think should be #2 and said one has no chance of winning, the other two only have maybe a 10% chance of pulling it off.

So a very boring team race at NCAAs, huh? Not so fast.

There is one more team that might contend. Don’t forget:

#4 Wisconsin

Mick Byrne Hoisting The 2011 NCAA Xc Trophy

Mick Byrne hoisting the 2011 NCAA XC trophy

Wisconsin is the defending champ. They were the pre-season number 1. That is the good news.

The bad news it hey finished 17th at their own Wisconsin meet and proceeded to plummet in the polls. But don’t take that too seriously. Yes, they ran very badly but they didn’t run two of their three best guys so it was basically a JV team out there. If you take away a team’s top two, most teams aren’t very good.

Here is Wisco’s lineup:

The 2012 Wisconsin Badgers
(Listed in order of finish at Big 10)

Maverick Darling – 13:36 – Sr – 46th last year. Big 10 runner-up.
Mo Ahmed – 13:41/27:34 – Sr
– Canadian Olympian didn’t run until Big 10. He was 5th last year. Didn’t run Wisco this year.
Reed Connor - 7:56/13:48 – Sr – 36th last year. 6th at Big 10 and Regional. Didn’t run Wisco this year.
Rob Finnerty - 3:41/8:11/14:15 – Sr – 5th at NCAAs in 1,500 in spring. Finnerty, who was 9th at Foot Locker in HS in 2007, had basically done zero in XC until this year.
Without help up front, he struggled at Wisco (65th) but rebounded to get 7th at Big 10.
Alex Brill – Jr – 8:03/14:14/8:37 steeple – Brill was awful at Wisco (214th) but 15th at Big 10 and Regionals.
Alex Hatz – So – 3:58 miler – Cross isn’t really his thing yet. Big trouble if he scores. He was 93rd at Wisco, 23rd at Big 10, and 49th at the Regionals.

On paper, one can argue, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State are very evenly matched.

Wisconsin returns three from the top 50 last year (5th, 36th and 46th). Oklahoma State returns two (31 and 50th) but basically three as Ok. State’s Mecheso has three times been in the top 25, so it’s really three as he was hurt last year.

Both teams are probably very confident in their top three guys but not 100% confident after that. Both teams are relying on a #4 that was 7th in his conference meet and has never run at the NCAA cross-country meet. Both teams are probably going to be nervous if their top five at conference aren’t their top five at NCAAs.

One area, which could be very important, where Wisconsin has an edge on Ok. State is experience. Wisconsin’s top four are all seniors, whereas Oklahoma State only has one senior in its top six. Moreover, Oklahoma State didn’t run Pre-Nats or the Wisconsin meet mid-season, so many of their guys aren’t really battle tested in a huge XC meet. We know that’s their normal way to operate but we don’t like it.

The edge still belongs with Oklahoma State for a number of reasons. One, Oklahoma State has four sub-13:50 guys, Wisconsin has three.

Two, while both coaches are a little unsure of things after #3, Wisconsin is in panic mode in our minds after #5, whereas Oklahoma State seems to be about six deep.

If one of his top five from conference is off a bit, Dave Smith and Oklahoma State can at least relax a little bit in knowing that his sixth runner was 96th at NCAAs last year and was 16th in the Big 12 this year. Contrast that to Mick Byrne of Wisconsin – his 5th runner was 15th at conference this year.

So to sum up the Wisco/Ok. State analysis, Ok. State has four studs as compared to Wisconsin’s three and Oklahoma State is deeper.

Both teams have big time firepower up front, which is why they both have real legitimate shots of winning. This lack of firepower is why Stanford has zero* chance of winning and why Colorado, despite having the best 7th man by a long shot, is a big underdog.

Wisco’s Odds of winning: 30%

Summary: Odds of Winning:
Oklahoma State 60% (close to 2/3)
Wisconsin 30% (close to 1/3)
Colorado 6% (1 in 15+ years)
Iona 4% (1 in 25 years)

More: *2012 Individual Men’s Race Analysis

LRC NCAA Cross Country Fan Polls Men’s Predictions The first votes are in and we present to you the projections for 31 teams and 79 individuals at NCAAs. Voting still open in our $200,012 NCAA prediction contest.

 

LRC NCAA Cross Country Fan Polls Women’s Predictions Jordan Hasay is the favorite over Abbey D’Agostino, but you helped us rank 86 individuals and all 31 teams.

*2011 NCAA Men’s XC Photos
*2011 NCAA Men’s XC Recap
*2010 NCAA Men’s XC Photos
*2010 NCAA Men’s Cross Country Recap

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