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LRC: A Fan's Guide To The 2009 NCAA Championships - Men's Preview
June 5, 2009 - Below you will find a preview of all of the events included in our 2009 NCAA Track & Field prediction contest which are all mid-d and distance events plus both relays, the 100, the 400, and the team competiton. Our women's preview can be found here. For a preview of all events, we recommend the T&FN Men's Form Chart as well as Women's Form Chart. In a few days, we'll make our predictions.
More than the NCAA title is on the line when these two race. The title of fastest football player ever is also up for grabs. Holliday tied footballer Jeff Demps at 10.01 earlier this year (Demps ran that time in high school!). We very well could have the first ever sub-10.00 by an active football player. Ford is clearly the better football player as he's expected to be Clemson's go-to guy next year. He was 6th in the ACC with 55 receptions last year.
Washington's Jordan Boase sits only 10th on the national list with a 45.6, but this guy can play at the national level.
So too can the Borlée twins of Florida State. Only freshmen, these two little guys from Belgium can really run and are used to the bright lights. They ran as individuals and relay members at the 2008 Olympics for Belgium.
With the injury to the winner of the 2008 outdoor and 2009 indoor 800 titles, Jacob Hernandez, a lot of casual fans are probably just assuming this race will be a cake walk for 2008 Olympian Andrew Wheating. They would be making a big mistake with that assumption. Wheating is a great runner no doubt, but his style of come-from-behind running hasn't proven itself to be a winner on the national stage yet. He has a very good chance of winning, but he faces at least one very formidable opponent.
The guy to beat very well may be Hernandez's teammate - Texas' Tevan Everett - who leads the nation with his 1:47.39. Sure, we're biased for twins like Everett, but the guy has been unreal outdoors. The most talented 800 guy in the NCAA? Yes. Don't believe us. Please watch the video that we recently found after being tipped off about the race by a prominent coach. That is the race where Everett set the national leader at 1:47.39. He wasn't feeling great going into it so he was just going to rabbit it for 600. He was so far ahead at 600 that he didn't step off the track; instead, he just looked over his shoulder and slowed down. He let the field catch him and then he kicked it in the last 50 to win.
Look at how effortlessly he goes out in 49 or 50. The guy was making a joke of a race that included US Olympian Lopez Lomong. After doing that, he killed Hernandez by 1.62 to win the Big 12 title after going out in 50.38!!! At the Regional, he killed Baylor's Chris Gowell, who sports the nation's #2 time, by 1.06 seconds.
We were a bit disappointed not to see Georgetown's Liam Boylan-Pett in this race as we think he could have been a factor as, after Everett, Wheating and 2008 indoor champ Tyler Mulder, the field seems to be a little bit lacking in big-time star quality, which isn't a surprise as 5 of the 8 finalists last year were seniors and gone and now Hernandez is gone so there are only two finalists back from last year in Mulder and Wheating. Boylan-Pett's 1:46.00 split at Penn, when he gave the fans a thrill thinking he might walk down Hernandez, would do very well in the final here. His strength from his background as a miler would be interesting to see contrasted with Everett's speed.
Converting things the other way, Michael Coe has run 3:37.98, which equates to a 3:55.34 mile. So you have seven 3:55 milers in the field - well really you have 8, as Andy McClary ran 3:37 last year.
So you have a ton of quality and you also have some real up-and-coming star power. The favorite has to be national leader and redshirt freshman Matt Centrowitz of Oregon. The youngster has not only run fast, he has won a ton of races and clearly is in good form, whereas some of the other fast runners may be suffering a little bit of burnout. The PAC-10 is the best conference in the country in the 1,500 this year and Centro won that as well as the West Regional, which is probably the best region in the country this year for the 1,500.
Centro has run 3:36.92 in his first year of competition for the Ducks. The American collegiate record is 3:35.84, held by Brian Hyde and Joe Falcon. It'll be interesting to see what Centro does after NCAAs, but he might want to take a crack at the WChamps with a stint in Europe.
Indoors, no one was better than Lee Emanuel, who absolutely dominated, but we aren't picking him at NCAAs. He did run 3:37 at Stanford (losing to Centrowitz), but since then his results haven't been impressive. He only ran the 800 at the Mountain West conference and he was just 5th in 1:53.15 in that event. At his Regional, he was just 7th. Rumors were that he was taking it easy and knew he was in the final (and at NCAAs on time), but if you weren't already worried about burnout, why would you be taking it easy in your Regional?
Stanford's Garrett Heath is the #3 seed at 3:37.57. He's a guy that almost certainly will score but we don't see him being a factor for the win as he was just 4th at PAC-10s and 3rd in his Regional. Cal's Michael Coe is the other 3:37 guy in the field, but given the fact that he didn't score at PAC-10s (10th) and was only 7th in the West Region, it wouldn't surprise us to see him not make the final.
So that leaves us with super true frosh German Fernandez. It will be interesting to see Fernandez in a real race this year as he's been totally untouched all year at the 1,500/mile given the fact that he didn't run NCAA indoors and given the fact that the Big 12 is down this year in those events. Fernandez's 3:55.02 indoor mile was sensation - a new junior world record - but there are lots of guys at NCAAs running that fast outdoors.
There are two schools of thought around Fernandez. The pessimist would say he's looked really good because he hasn't faced anyone all year as the Big 12 is way down - no one else from the conference made NCAAs in the 1,500. Fernandez is a great time trialer who won't run any faster in a real race than he does by himself. Given how he dominated so much last year in HS and that he didn't do NCAA indoors, he may very well not have good racing tactics. Plus championships are often slow-starting kicker's races - how will a guy who will likely end up in the 5k/10k or even marathon do if it comes down to a fast 300?
The optimist would say the kid is a phenom. He runs 3:55 by himself so of course he'll run faster in the final.
Outside of those guys, you have a lot of talented guys from the East Region, where 6 guys finished within .7 of each other and 5 of them ran 3:41 in the final. The class of the East Region appears to be Providence's David McCarthy, who was 4th indoors - one spot ahead of Centrowitz. Second through 6th at the East Regional were very tightly bunched (.30 apart), but he was .34 ahead of second. Given his 1:46.00 split at Penn, Georgetown's Liam Boylan-Pett shouldn't be discounted; nor should Ohio State's Jeff See, who seems to be coming on at the right time.
And of course the Ivy Leaguers will be obsessed with the antics of Cornell's bad boy Jimmy Wyner.
The favorite, though, is Jake Morse of Texas, who redshirted last year. Morse was the surprise runner-up in the mile in 2008, so he clearly has good speed. He's the national leader at 8:34 and likely will end up as our pick to win.
Arizona State's Brandon Bethke has also run 13:28. He won PAC-10s over Oregon's Shadrack Biwott by .06 but at Regionals he was beaten by both NAU's David McNeill and Rupp. McNeill is the top returnee as he was 4th last year. Biwott seems to be coming on at the right time so he could surprise.
Super-frosh Chris Derrick, the American junior record holder at 5k, who was a double scorer indoors, is running just this race outdoors. He's had an AMAZING freshman year but it seems that he's getting a little tired (maybe he's not that tired, but the other guys are just stepping up their game). He should score but no way does he touch Rupp.
Of guys not seeded in the top 15, we say watch out for the SEC 10k champ Tyson David, as well as East Regional winner Ryan Sheridan. Soon-to-be Oregon Duck Michael Maag of Princeton has run 13:41 and is seeded 8th.
This race is a big one for GRupp. He's had a simply perfect senior year up to this point but if he loses this race, the perception of Rupp's senior year will instantly change As a result, it's simply a race he has to win. The NCAA runner-up in this event as a frosh, Rupp has never won an NCAA outdoor title. This should be title #1 for him but it's by no means an automatic for Rupp. Trying to block his path is no other than the collegiate record holder in Liberty's Sam Chelanga, who ran 27:28.48 at Cal.
Rupp got the best of Chelanga in XC and indoors, but if one is looking for a reason as to how Chelanga might be able to turn the tables on Rupp, they need to realize that Chelanga will be fresh, whereas Rupp will have had to run a 5k heat. That being said, Rupp is still the favorite in our minds. If Chelanga had run faster than the 13:30 for 5k at last week's Reebok Grand Prix, say 13:15 or so, then we might have picked him for the win. But he didn't and thus we say "Advantage Rupp."
Rupp ran a 27:36.99 last year in less-than-ideal conditions at the Beijing Olympics. That race showed us that Rupp very well may have been in American record shape (27:13). He's even better this year than last, so he should be able to beat Chelanga even if Chelanga is in 27:28 shape as the old knock on Rupp of "he has no kick and can't win big races" was totally put to rest indoors. The only question we have is, "Will Rupp still have energy in the tank to go for the ARecord later on this summer?"
Rupp or Chelanga will win this thing but Arkansas' Shawn Forrest is the likely third placer (or possibly 2nd if Chelanga falters) as he's a 27:52 guy. 27:52 is amazingly fast for college but it's a long, long way from the 27:28 that Chelanga ran and truly even farther away than the 27:36 that Rupp ran in Beijing. Forrest was the runner-up last year and is the only scorer back from last year's senior-dominated event. Forrest certainly isn't overraced coming into this event as he only singled at the SEC Meet. We got a flood of angry emails after we asked if anyone knew why Forrest didn't double at the SEC meet and never got an answer we felt comfortable with, so we thought we'd mention it again. We weren't trying to insinuate anything negative about Forrest. We just wanted to know if he was hurt or not. No emails that we received mentioned anything about an injury so we'll assume he's ready to go.
The #4 seed in Georgetown's Dan Nunn has struggled mightily after his hot 10k at Stanford, as he was just 4th in the Big East 5k and 5th in the IC4A 5k.
Men's 4 x 100m
Men's 4 x 400m
Florida State has the Belgian Borlée twins, who are experienced, tough relay runners who have excelled on the international scene. FSU, Tech and Baylor are all 3:02 teams. Whichever team becomes a 3:00 or 3:01 team will win the title.
Handicapping this race, it's always hard to tell how the open 400m race will affect the relay. The open 400m final is Saturday afternoon, only a couple hours before the relay, but sometimes guys really surprise you. They'll disappoint in the open race and then roar back for a "nothing to lose" stellar 4 x 4 leg. The Baylor guys will be fresher than the FSU guys and Tech guys.
On paper we'd say FSU has the most talent and perhaps the most experience. Tech has a ton of talent and a great anchor, as does A&M.
Baylor has Hart. They train all year (yes, even during the fall) specifically to win this event and this is their number one focus.
NCAA Men's Team Race
Arkansas will be hosting the meet and team leader Dorian Ulrey had some fightin' words earlier this week, saying they'll be tough to beat on their home track. We're not saying they won't be tough to beat in events where the Hogs are running, and we love the fighting spirit. But they don't have half the firepower of Oregon. It's almost impossible to look at their lineup and find 60 points. 50 is a stretch. As the charts look, they'll score about 35 and battle with Florida for a distant third.
T&FN's Men's Form Chart will have it broken down with way more depth than we have here.
Oregon Men NCAA Points: 66
Decathlon: 10, Eaton
Texas A&M Men NCAA Points: 55
100m 3 Phiri
Arkansas Men NCAA Points: 30+
Triple Jump Balumbu 5th 4
Florida Men NCAA Points: 37
100m: 6, Hall, Wilks