2016 NCAA 800 Preview: The Men’s Race Promises To Be An All-Time Classic

By LetsRun.com
March 3, 2016

The 2016 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships will be held next Friday and Saturday at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala. We’ll be previewing the mid-d and distance events (800, mile, 3000, 5000 and distance medley relay) one by one. Since USA Outdoors are also next week, we’re starting our previews early and we’ll start with the 800 meters. The men’s preview is below. The women’s is here: 2016 NCAA 800 Preview: Raevyn Rogers Should Dominate Women’s Field

*Schedule/start lists/resultsEntries *Men’s team projections & analysis *Women’s team projections & analysis

Other LRC previews: M 800 * W 800 * W Mile * M Mile * W 3K/5K *M 3k/5k *Men’s team analysis *Women’s team analysis 

TV/Streaming: The meet will be streamed live on ESPN3.com.

Discuss the meet on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: Unofficial NCAA prediction and discussion thread

Men’s 800 (prelims Friday 8:25 p.m. ET, final Saturday 6:30 p.m. ET)

Name Year School SB PB Comment
Donavan Brazier FR Texas A&M 1:45.93 1:45.93 SEC champ’s 1:45.93 was fastest by an American indoors since ’03
Clayton Murphy JR Akron 1:46.13 1:45.59 4th at USA Outdoors in ’15 and semifinalist at Worlds
Andres Arroyo JR Florida 1:46.20 1:46.20 Just .12 behind Brazier at SECs; 8th at NCAA Outdoors in ’15
Isaiah Harris FR Penn State 1:46.24 1:46.24 True frosh coming off huge school record and Big 10 meet record
Hector Hernandez SR Texas A&M 1:46.32 1:46.32 His 1:46.32 was amazingly only good for 3rd at SECs
Eliud Rutto JR Mid. Tenn. St. 1:46.87 1:45.37 5th at NCAA Outdoors in ’14
Shaquille Walker JR BYU 1:46.97 1:45.58 5th at NCAA Outdoors, 6th at USA Outdoors and 1st at World University Games in ’15
Brannon Kidder SR Penn State 1:47.01 1:45.58 Big 10 mile champ was 2nd at NCAA Outdoors in ’15; broke NCAA 1k record in Jan. (2:18.26)
Goaner Deng SR Minnesota 1:47.13 1:47.13  Runner-up to Harris at Big 10s.
Drew Piazza JR New Hampshire 1:47.28 1:47.28  Ran 1:47 outdoors last year but this is his first NCAA appearance
Robert Heppenstall FR Wake Forest 1:47.35 1:47.35 ACC champ
Carlton Orange FR Arkansas 1:47.38 1:47.38
Joseph White SO Georgetown 1:47.44 1:47.40 Big East champ
Dylan Capwell JR Monmouth 1:47.70 1:46.70 Top returner from last year (2nd)
Jake Burton JR Florida State 1:47.72 1:47.72
Will Teubel SR Iowa 1:47.74 1:47.74

Last year, we made a big deal about the crazy amount of talent in the men’s 800 at the NCAA level. The result was a sensational performance from Iowa State’s Edward Kemboi, whose 1:46.05 winning time was the fastest at NCAAs since 2001. Kemboi has since graduated, but the event has only become more loaded in the ensuing 12 months. An astonishing seven men have broken 1:47 in 2016, and for just the second time since 2001, an NCAA runner broke 1:46 indoors. To put that in perspective for you, realize that in terms of American professionals for 2016, only two men have broken 1:47 (Berian 1:46.00, Andrews 1:46.98).

In all, there are five men in the field with a 1:45 PR, including World Championship semifinalist Clayton Murphy of Akron, outdoor USAs 6th placer (and World University Games champ) Shaquille Walker of BYU, outdoor NCAAs runner-up (and collegiate 1k record holder) Brannon Kidder of Penn State.

Then there’s the phenom – the true freshman, the guy hasn’t lost a race above 400 meters all year and a guy who just recorded one of the fastest times ever at 800 meters by a true freshman. Last weekend he broke the meet record at a major conference championship, running 1:46-low. His name is Isaiah Harris, and he runs for Penn State.

Of course, those descriptors also apply to Texas A&M’s Donavan Brazier as well, who, as you may recall, ran an NCAA-leading 1:45.93 in his first collegiate 800 (LRC: His 1:45.93 Opener Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg for 800 Phenom Donavan Brazier). Then last weekend, Brazier broke the 26-year-old meet record at SECs by running 1:46.08. The thing about that race though is Brazier barely won as shown by this photo which shows you how close Andres Arroyo (1:46.20) and Hector Hernandez (1:46.32) were to Brazier:

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Forget winning the thing. Even making it to the final is a massive accomplishment against this field.

Who Wins It?

It’s impossible to call any one man in this race a huge favorite, especially in the indoor 800, where a ton of random stuff can happen (anyone remember Mason McHenry?). So let’s look at the top contenders one by one and make the case for and against each of them.

Brazier made 1:45.93 look easy in January Brazier made 1:45.93 look easy in January

Donavan Brazier, freshman, Texas A&M
1:45.93 sb/pb; SEC champ

The case for Brazier: Quite simply, he may be the most talented 800 runner to enter the NCAA in a long, long time. He looked spectacular in his 1:45.93 on January 16 (which is the #2 time in the world this year), winning by almost six seconds, and he’s since proved that he can win against competition, winning the Charlie Thomas Invitational on February 6 in 1:47.80 over teammate Hector Hernandez and UTEP’s Jonah Koech and then breaking the SEC meet record by blazing a 1:46.08 to hold off Hernandez and Florida’s Andres Arroyo. Plenty of guys have run fast this year, but Brazier has been the fastest, with the two best times in the NCAA in 2016.

The case against Brazier: He’s an 18-year-old true freshman who has never run in an NCAA Championship. As noted above, there’s a ton of really good guys entered in Birmingham, meaning Brazier won’t have a cakewalk to the final. And once he gets to the final, he’ll face a level of competition and intensity that he’s never seen to this point in his career. SECs was good preparation in this respect, but if Brazier isn’t where he wants to be after 200 meters, will be able to make the right decisions to claim victory?

Murphy's 2015 season went all the way to the semifinals of the World Championships Murphy’s 2015 season went all the way to the semifinals of the World Championships

Clayton Murphy, junior, Akron
1:46.13 sb/1:45.59 pb; MAC champ

The case for Murphy: He had the best 2015 season of anyone in this race, finishing fourth at USAs and making it all the way to the semifinals at the World Championships. He also comfortably took down a quality field at the Iowa State Classic on February 13, winning by .66 of a second in 1:46.13 defeating reigning NCAA champ Edward Kemboi, Eliud Rutto and perhaps most importantly Andres Arroyo. Murphy beat Arroyo by 1.38 – Brazier beat him by just .12.

He’s also a tremendous championship runner. He PR’d in the final at NCAA Indoors last year and PR’d in all three rounds at USA Outdoors.

The case against Murphy: Murphy was a distant last in the six-man field at the Penn State National on January 30, finishing 1.66 seconds behind winner Brannon Kidder. The silver lining is that, unlike most of these guys, Murphy was coming off a cross country season and likely not as race-ready at that point as his competition. He’s looked tremendous since that race, running a 3:57.11 mile and 1:46.13 800 and may be rounding into form at the perfect time. So in reality, his early-season loss may be a reason to back him now. If he was in the NCAA mile, he’d be our favorite.

Brannon Kidder, senior, Penn State
1:47.01 sb/1:45.58 pb; Big 10 mile champ

The case for Kidder: He’s no stranger to the big stage, making four NCAA finals (3rd in the 800 outdoors in ‘13; 2nd in the 800 outdoors in ‘15). He’s a senior, and he’s made his final year at Penn State count: a collegiate 1k record (2:18.26), a big 1:47.01 win over Murphy and others at the Penn State National and mile/DMR victories at Big 10s. His only loss this season was a squeaker to two-time U.S. champ Duane Solomon at Millrose on February 20. That was a real race, unlike a lot of the collegiate action which are almost pure time trials. 

The case against Kidder: Other guys have run faster, and Kidder will likely be called upon to run a leg of the Penn State DMR on Friday night after the 800 prelims. That’s an extra race in his legs that most of his competitors won’t have.

Isaiah Harris, freshman, Penn State
1:46.24 sb/pb; Big 10 champ

The case for Harris: It’s similar to the case for Brazier — the guy just oozes talent. He shaved over a second off his PR at Big 10s to win by a big margin against Minnesota’s Goaner Deng (no slouch at 800 himself). Asking for a repeat performance against a better field at NCAAs is tough, but the ceiling for Harris and Brazier seems to be ridiculously high. As we pointed out in the Week that Was, Harris is undefeated at 800 this year and is only now beginning to realize his potential after playing basketball in high school in Maine.

The case against Harris: He’s a true freshman with very little experience at the NCAA level. Earlier in the year, he was racing in the ‘B’ heat at Penn State. His pb came on an oversized track whereas Brazier’s came on a regular 200m track. 

Andres Arroyo, junior, Florida
1:46.20 sb, 1:46.20 pb

The case for Arroyo: Arroyo certainly has a shot to win the whole thing as he’s come the closest of anyone to beating Brazier, finishing just .12 behind him at SECs.

The case against Arroyo: Murphy destroyed him convincingly (1.38 seconds) in Iowa a month ago. Has gone to NCAAs every season he’s been in the NCAAs but only made the final once (outdoors last year) and scored one point (8th).

Shaquille Walker, junior, BYU
1:46.97 sb/1:45.58 pb

The case for Walker: He was sixth at USAs last year and among the runners in this field, only Rutto has run faster than him in his career.

The case against Walker: He didn’t even make the final at NCAA Indoors last year and he’s run just one open race this season.

Eliud Rutto, junior, Middle Tennessee State
1:46.87 sb/1:45.37 pb; Conference USA champ

The case for Rutto: He’s got the fastest PR in the field (1:45.37) and like last year’s champ, he fits the profile of a Kenyan athlete who has been performing well in the NCAA for several years (he was 7th at NCAA outdoors in ’13 and ran 1:45 before taking 5th at NCAA outdoors in ’14).

The case against Rutto: His season best only ranks him sixth in the NCAA this year and he was beaten convincingly by Murphy in that race. He also barely raced in 2015.

Honorable mention

  • Hector Hernandez, senior, Texas A&M (1:46.32 sb): The senior knocked off over 1.43 seconds from his PR at SECs, but he’s 0-2 against training partner Brazier.
  • Dylan Capwell, junior, Monmouth (1:47.70 sb): He’s the top returner, but his sb ranks him just 14th in this field.
  • Robert Heppenstall, freshman, Wake Forest (1:47.35 sb): Another freshman who won a major conference (ACCs), Heppenstall hasn’t flashed quite the same talent as Brazier or Harris.
  • Carlton Orange, freshman, Arkansas (1:47.38 sb): He’s had a good season, and 4th at SECs is a great run for a freshman, but he wasn’t in the same league as Brazier, Arroyo or Hernandez.

LRC Prediction: We like Brazier. He’s got the two fastest times in the NCAA and looked incredibly strong and smooth while running them. He’ll have his hands full at NCAAs but his talent will win out. If he doesn’t win, we’re going with Murphy.

In case you are wondering, Brazier and/or Harris company have a long way to go if they want to a) break the collegiate record or b) be considered the greatest freshman talent in NCAA history. Way back in 1988, current UTEP coach Paul Ereng was a freshman for UVA. He picked up the 800 (he was a 400 guy previously) and ended up winning the Olympic gold in 1:43.45 as a true frosh. The next year (1989), he broke the world indoor record and set the current collegiate record of 1:44.84, a time he ran to win World Indoors.

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