March 6, 2016
The 2016 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships will be held Friday and Saturday at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala. We’re previewing the mid-d and distance events (800, mile, 3000, 5000 and distance medley relay) one by one. Below, you’ll find our analysis of the men’s 3000 and 5000.
TV/Streaming: The meet will be streamed live on ESPN3.com.
Discuss the meet on our messageboard: Unofficial NCAA prediction and discussion thread
Men’s 5000 (Friday 9:05 p.m. ET)
|Edward Cheserek||JR||Oregon||13:35.86||13:18.71||9-time NCAA champ has by far the fastest PB|
|Thomas Curtin||SR||Virginia Tech||13:37.10||13:37.10||8th last year; 2nd to Justyn Knight at ACCs|
|Marc Scott||JR||Tulsa||13:37.34||13:36.81||5th last year|
|Colin Bennie||SO||Syracuse||13:38.81||13:38.81||3rd at ACCs|
|Ryan Walling||SR||Ole Miss||13:39.44||13:39.44||SEC 3k/5k champ|
|Pierce Murphy||SR||Colorado||13:40.12||13:37.05||MPSF 3k champ was 3rd at NCAA XC; 6th last year|
|Futsum Zienasellassie||JR||N. Arizona||13:44.89||13:44.89||Redshirted XC but finished 4th in XC in ’13 and 3rd in ’13|
|Daniel Everett||SR||Iowa State||13:44.90||13:44.90||5th year from Columbia has sliced 13 secs off pb this year|
|Gabe Gonzalez||SR||Arkansas||13:45.98||13:45.98||Only 6th in SEC 3k and 5th in SEC 5k this year.|
|Jerrell Mock||JR||Colorado St.||13:46.22||13:46.22||19th at NCAA xc. Runner-up in 3k and 5k at Mountain West to Corona and Abbey (two guys in the 3k).|
|Jake Leingang||SO||Oregon||13:46.41||13:46.41||12th in outdoor 5k in ’15|
|Dylan Lafond||JR||Illinois||13:46.72||13:46.72||19th at NCAAs in xc. He was Big 10 runner-up in 3k but only 19th in 5k.|
|Luis Vargas||SR||NC State||13:47.00||13:47.00||Former Elon star was 4th at ACCs behind both Curtin and Bennie.|
|Edwin Kibichiy||JR||Louisville||13:47.39||13:47.39||Only 8th in ACC 3k, 6th in 5k. 41st at NCAA xc.|
|Morgan Pearson||SR||Colorado||13:48.18||13:36.22||5th in indoor 3k last year|
|Aaron Nelson||SR||Washington||13:48.41||13:47.42||MPSF 5k champ.|
We’re previewing the 3k and 5k together because the races often feature the same cast of characters. The favorite in both races is the same man: Oregon junior Edward Cheserek. We’ll start with the 5k, where Cheserek’s path to victory is clearer.
Quite simply, it would take a miracle for Cheserek to lose the 5k. It’s his first race of the meet, so he’ll be 100% fresh, and his pb (13:18) is 18 seconds faster than the next-closest guy. If someone tries to take it out hard, they won’t be able to run fast enough to drop Cheserek. And if the race goes slow, Cheserek is fine with that too. Remember, he’s the reigning NCAA mile champ, a title that he secured by running his last 1k in 2:19. Cheserek can pretty much choose any point between when the gun is fired and 150 meters to go to make his move and he’s assured of victory.
Because the talent gap is so large between Cheserek and the rest of the field, the only way he loses is if he commits a tactical error (assuming he doesn’t fall or is ill or has food poisoning). The problem for everyone else is that Cheserek has made a few strategic blunders in the past and will have likely learned from his mistakes. Last spring, he allowed the anchor leg of the Penn Relays 4xmile to come down to the final 200 against a guy with great speed, Villanova’s Jordy Williamsz. Cheserek wound up getting outkicked. Then in October, he allowed Virginia Tech’s Thomas Curtin to open up a big lead at Pre-Nats and wasn’t able to close the gap. After losing both of those races, the chances are certainly lower that Cheserek makes a similar mistake on Friday.
If he does let it come down to the very end, Curtin could be dangerous, as he closed the ACC 5k in 25.58 seconds (though that still wasn’t good enough to defeat Justyn Knight). But we still put Cheserek’s chances at 95% or greater in this race. The real battle is for second place, where Curtin is one of several guys in contention. Tulsa’s Marc Scott is the top returner from this race last year and enters with the #3 time; Colorado’s Pierce Murphy, who was 3rd at NCAAs in cross country and finished just .11 behind Scott in last year’s race, is also a threat for the runner-up spot. If it’s a tight race, we like Curtin’s speed for second (though don’t sleep on Scott — he used a big kick to defeat Knight and Stanford’s Sean McGorty at the Wisconsin Invite in October). If the pace strings out up front (which is less likely since Cheserek has no incentive to make it fast), Murphy is the pick for runner-up honors.
LRC prediction: Cheserek rolls to his 10th NCAA crown.
Men’s 3000 (Saturday 7:10 p.m. ET)
|Edward Cheserek||JR||Oregon||7:40.51||7:40.51||9-time NCAA champ will be doubling back from 5k (and possibly DMR)|
|Patrick Tiernan||SR||Villanova||7:48.55||7:48.55||NCAA XC runner-up|
|Justyn Knight||FR||Syracuse||7:48.71||7:48.71||4th at NCAA XC, won ACCs in 3k/5k|
|Sean McGorty||SO||Stanford||7:48.79||7:48.79||Ran 3:53 mile at MPSF; should also be running DMR|
|Luis Vargas||SR||NC State||7:54.26||7:54.26||4th at ACCs in 5k; doubling back from 5k|
|Izaic Yorks||SR||Washington||7:50.20||7:50.20||Has run 1:47 and 3:53 this year; should also be running DMR|
|Willy Fink||JR||E. Michigan||7:56.04||7:56.04||MAC champ in 3k/5k|
|Patrick Corona||SR||Air Force||7:50.60||7:50.60||Mountain West champ|
|Jefferson Abbey||JR||Colorado St.||7:51.38||7:51.38||Only 4th at Mountain West Champs but did win 5k at that meet|
|Pierce Murphy||SR||Colorado||7:51.51||7:51.51||MPSF champ was 3rd at NCAA XC; doubling back from 5k|
|Ahmed Bile||SR||Georgetown||7:51.77||7:51.77||Son of 1987 world 1500 champ Abdi Bile|
|Morgan McDonald||SO||Wisconsin||7:52.09||7:52.09||Aussie won Big 10 champs|
|David Elliott||SR||Boise State||7:53.15||7:53.15||Doubling back from mile|
Here’s where things get interesting. Cheserek will be doubling back from the 5k on Friday night, which by itself is very manageable. If that’s all he’s doing, he’s almost certainly your 3000 champion. But it’s also possible that Oregon coaches Robert Johnson and Andy Powell elect to use Cheserek to anchor the DMR on Friday as well. The 5k starts at 8:05 (local time) and the DMR starts at 8:45. When you consider that Cheserek would be finishing up the 5k around 8:29 and running the anchor leg of the DMR around 8:50, he’d basically have half an hour to rest between races. It’s an extremely tough double. And if he had to pile a 3k on Saturday night on top of that? Even harder.
Of course, there is a precedent: Oregon’s Galen Rupp won the 5k, anchored the DMR to victory and won the 3k in 2009. But Rupp’s triple was more easily accomplished than Cheserek’s: in 2009, the 5k started at 7:30 and the DMR started at 8:40. Plus there were two heats of the DMR that year (Oregon was in the second heat), which meant Rupp had around 70 minutes of rest compared to Cheserek’s 30. Don’t get us wrong, what Rupp did was utterly ridiculous, but if Cheserek can win the same three events this weekend, it will be an even more impressive accomplishment.
The other thing that makes it harder is that this year’s crop of men’s 3k runners are unlikely to surrender to Cheserek, as they did against Rupp seven years ago. Again, Rupp deserves a ton of props for going out in 2:02.7 for his first 800 in the 3k the day after his 5k-DMR double, but if Cheserek goes out that hard (and he never would, because that’s not his style), you can bet Justyn Knight and Patrick Tiernan — both of whom will be completely fresh — won’t be far behind him.
Our gut feeling: Cheserek doesn’t do the DMR. This is the most loaded DMR year in NCAA history (of the 12 fastest times in NCAA history, six have been run this year; Oregon’s 9:29.89 qualifying mark — without Cheserek — only ranks 11th). There are also a ton of killer anchor legs: Stanford’s Sean McGorty and Washington’s Izaic Yorks have both run 3:53 this year; Penn State’s Brannon Kidder has 1:45 800 speed; Virginia’s Henry Wynne is one of the favorites in the mile. To win the DMR, Cheserek would probably have to split something in the 3:53-3:55 range or close incredibly hard for the final 200 off a slow pace. Both of those things are really hard to do right after running a championship 5k. Oregon doesn’t need to win the DMR to win NCAAs (projections have the Ducks winning the team title comfortably without scoring any points in the DMR) so running Cheserek on anchor is an unnecessary risk. Let someone else anchor the DMR and allow Cheserek to focus on locking up 20 points in the 3k/5k. If the Ducks were really worried about points, Oregon could have entered him in the mile, 3k and 5k. Sure he’d have to run two races each day but it would arguably be easier than doing the 5k/DMR/3k given he’d have more than two hours between the races on each day.
Assuming Cheserek only has to do the 5k on Friday night, he becomes the favorite in the 3k, but it’s not a total lock like it is in the 3k. Tiernan showed at NCAA XC that he’s unafraid to take it to Cheserek, and he enters NCAAs undefeated with a 7:48.55 (#2 in the NCAA) under his belt. Likewise, Knight pulled off the 3k/5k double at ACCs and has flashed good speed, running a 3:56 mile this year and closing his ACC 5k victory in 25.57. If Cheserek is pushed in the 5k on Friday (unlikely), Tiernan and Knight have the strength to put a scare into him in a fast race. McGorty is another guy to watch out for, as he’s run 3:53 and 7:48 this year (losing to Yorks in the former and Knight in the latter race). But unlike Tiernan and Knight, he’s expected to run the DMR on Friday night, which could tire him out. If McGorty skips the DMR on Friday night and is fresh, and Cheserek is pushed in the 5k, McGorty is someone you might want to pick in an upset.
One final intriguing opponent for Cheserek is Washington’s Izaic Yorks. Yorks will be coming back from the DMR, but his impressive range and top-end speed make him a threat to steal a slow race. So far this year, he’s run 1:47.89, 7:50.20 and 3:53.89 — the latter the fastest time ever for an indoor mile by an American collegian (oversized track). You know how many Americans did that in 2015? Zero. 2014? Zero. You have to go back to David Torrence in 2013 to find the last American to run all three of those times in one year. Yorks has managed to do it in two months.
1:47/3:53 speed is about equal to what Cheserek possesses. Cheserek doesn’t run the 800 much, so his pb dates to his junior year of HS (1:49.98). But it’s hard to imagine him running much faster than Yorks’ best of 1:47.89. And Cheserek’s 1500 pb of 3:36.50 is essentially equal to Yorks’ 3:53.89.
However, Cheserek still presents a tough challenge for Yorks. He’s much stronger and the 5k figures to take less out of him than a hard DMR anchor leg. Furthermore, Yorks has made NCAAs in the 1500/mile four times in the last two years, but he’s made the final just once: last spring, when he was only advanced due to a fall in his prelim and wound up finishing last in the final. Cheserek, on the other hand, has a pile of NCAA trophies that’s almost as tall as he is.
LRC prediction: Cheserek is vulnerable here if he runs the 5k/DMR double on Friday, but if he only does the 5k, we expect him to win the 3k as well. This is a loaded field, but Cheserek is almost unbeatable in NCAA finals. Eric Jenkins and Lawi Lalang are the only men to defeat him at NCAAs, and no one in this field is as accomplished as those guys were when they beat Cheserek.
Lalang’s PRs were 3:33/7:42/13:00 when he beat Cheserek in 2014; Jenkins’ bests were 7:44 and 13:18 when he beat Cheserek last year. More importantly, Cheserek likely won’t be nearly as tired as he was when he’s lost at NCAAs. Remember, last year when Cheserek lost to Jenkins, Cheserek was coming back from the mile final that day (as well as the DMR the night before) whereas Jenkins was fresh for that day (had run the 5k the night before). When Cheserek lost to Lalang outdoors in 2014, he was doubling back from the 10,000 final. Cheserek FTW.
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