March 8, 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 distance medley relays.
TV/Streaming: The meet will be streamed live on ESPN3.com.
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Men’s DMR (Friday 9:45 p.m. ET)
1 Oklahoma State 9:26.60D 1) 383 Chad Noelle SR 2) 384 Brandon Singleton SO 3) 382 Tre'Tez Kinnaird JR 4) 386 Joshua Thompson SO 2 Washington 9:27.19D 1) 623 Blake Nelson JR 2) 625 Jacopo Spano SO 3) 628 Izaic Yorks SR 4) 621 Colby Gilbert SO 3 Penn State 9:27.20D 1) 425 Jordan Makins SO 2) 426 Alex Shisler SR 3) 422 Isaiah Harris FR 4) 424 Brannon Kidder SR 4 Stanford 9:27.27D 1) 479 Thomas Coyle JR 2) 482 Jackson Shumway JR 3) 477 Justin Brinkley JR 4) 480 Sean McGorty SO 5 Michigan 9:27.67D 1) 272 Chase Barnett FR 2) 278 Philip Washington SR 3) 277 Brennan Munley SO 4) 274 Mason Ferlic SR 6 Oklahoma 9:27.70D 1) 368 Allen Eke SR 2) 365 Traveyon Armstrong SR 3) 369 Jacob Goldberg SO 4) 366 Jacob Burcham JR 7 Virginia 9:27.89D 1) 604 Matthew Novak FR 2) 602 Nathan Kiley JR 3) 600 Kenneth Hagen SO 4) 605 Henry Wynne JR 8 Georgetown 9:28.91D 1) 162 Michael Lederhouse JR 2) 163 Joseph White SO 3) 160 Ahmed Bile SR 4) 159 Amos Bartelsmeyer JR 9 Villanova 9:29.17D 1) 597 Jordan Williamsz SR 2) 594 Harry Purcell FR 3) 593 Ben Malone JR 4) 591 Robert Denault SR 10 UCLA 9:29.61D 1) 566 Ferdinand Edman SR 2) 568 Joe Herrera SO 3) 567 Nick Hartle SR 4) 570 Austin O'Neil SR 11 Oregon 9:29.89D 1) 408 Blake Haney SO 2) 415 Ben Thiel JR 3) 407 Grant Grosvenor SR 4) 413 Sam Prakel JR 12 Mississippi 9:30.48D 1) 297 Robert Domanic JR 2) 301 Ryan Manahan JR 3) 298 Craig Engels JR 4) 302 Sean Tobin SO
Note: Athletes listed are the ones who ran the qualifying time; a team’s lineup could change for NCAAs
Here’s the list of the 12 fastest DMRs in NCAA history:
1. Texas, 9:25.97 2008
2. Penn State, 9:26.59 2014
3. Oklahoma St., 9:26.60 2016
3. Penn State, 9:26.60 2013
5. Oregon, 9:26.78 2011
6. Oregon, 9:27.02 2015
7. Villanova, 9:27.04 2015
8. Washington, 9:27.19 2016
9. Penn State, 9:27.20 2016
10. Stanford, 9:27.27 2016
11. Michigan, 9:27.67 2016
12. Oklahoma, 9:27.70 2016
Notice a trend? It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but with the gradual increase of sub-4:00 collegiate milers over the past few years, DMR times have dropped as well. Until 2011, there had been two instances of an NCAA team breaking 9:28, and each of them had the benefit of a future Olympic silver medalist on the anchor leg (Leo Manzano for Texas in 2008; Nick Willis for Michigan in 2004). Since 2011, 13 teams representing 10 schools have accomplished the feat, with six of those clockings coming in 2016. Virginia Tech ran 9:30.65 this year; no school has ever run faster and failed to qualify. Truly, it has been a historic year in the men’s DMR.
The hope is that this year’s fast times translate to a classic DMR at NCAAs on Friday night. Last year’s race was a foregone conclusion the moment Edward Cheserek lined up to receive the final handoff; Ducks coach Andy Powell was doling out high-fives as soon as Cheserek hit the home stretch. The 2014 edition also lacked anchor-leg drama as Stanford broke the race wide open on the 400 leg and was never challenged thereafter. With no clear favorite and Cheserek unlikely to run (we’ll get to that), the 2016 men’s DMR has the chance to be the most exciting edition since 2011, when Miles Batty and BYU held off Andy Bayer and Indiana in a race in which six guys broke 3:57 on the anchor leg.
Edward Cheserek: Will He or Won’t He?
Cheserek is the best guy in the NCAA at every distance from the mile on up, and if he were running this race as Oregon’s anchor fresh, we’d pick the Ducks without hesitation. But he’s also entered in the 5k, which starts at 8:05 p.m. (local time) on Friday night. The DMR starts at 8:45. So if Cheserek runs the DMR as well, it means by the time Cheserek gets the baton for the anchor leg, he will have had about 30 minutes’ rest. When Galen Rupp pulled off the 5k-DMR-3k triple in 2009, he had more than twice as much rest. As we explained in our men’s 3k/5k preview, we don’t think Cheserek will run the DMR. If you didn’t read that, here’s what we wrote:
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.
If Oregon does use Cheserek on the anchor leg, they have an outside chance but we don’t think they’ll win. Coming back to run a mile 30 minutes after a 5k is a lot to ask, even of Cheserek. Let us know your thoughts by voting in the poll below.
Predicting a Winner
Here are the last six winners of the DMR at NCAAs, with their seed entering the meet in parentheses:
2015: Oregon (1)
2014: Stanford (5)
2013: Princeton (2)
2012: Notre Dame (4)
2011: BYU (3)
2010: Oregon (1)
The sample size is admittedly rather small, but the results also suggest a few trends.
1) You need to run pretty fast during the regular season
This was true for all six title-winning teams. All six of them ran a top-five time in the country the year they won it, and two-thirds of them were ranked in the top three coming in. That doesn’t bode well for this year’s Oregon squad, as they qualified with just the 11th-best time in the country. Granted, they could have conceivably picked up a second or two by putting stud miler Blake Haney on anchor instead of leadoff, but the Ducks still aren’t in a great spot.
2) You either need to have a truly dominant anchor leg…
In 2015, 2011 and 2010, the races came down to the anchor legs and in all three cases, the team with the best anchor in the field won the race. Last year, Oregon’s Edward Cheserek was the mile champ and clearly the best guy in the NCAA. In 2011, BYU’s Miles Batty ran the fastest mile in the NCAA (3:55) and won the mile at NCAAs. And in 2010, Oregon’s Andy Wheating was the NCAA’s top runner as he wound up winning the 800 and 1500 at NCAA outdoors and running 1:44/3:30 that summer.
The problem is that it can be hard to identify these guys before the fact. It was obvious Oregon would win the DMR last year if Cheserek got the baton close to the lead, but in 2011, Batty wasn’t clearly the best guy in the NCAA (it didn’t become totally clear until after he pulled off the DMR/mile double). And though Wheating entered with by far the best 800 time on the season (1:46.36) in 2010, he was upset by Robby Andrews in the 800 the following night.
When you narrow it down, however, it can be possible to figure out who the dominant anchor will be. In 2010, we thought it was clear Wheating was the best guy going in and wrote:
“Wheating is the class of the mid-d guys at this meet and therefore we think the Oregon DMR will win.” It wasn’t as obvious in 2011, but in retrospect most people underrated Batty, who had the fastest mile sb among anchors by almost two seconds that year.
Note: for those saying Matthew Centrowitz was the best miler in the NCAA in 2011, you have a point as he wound up winning NCAA and USA titles outdoors and earned a bronze medal at Worlds. But while Centrowitz did anchor Oregon in that race, he lost his shoe and stopped to put it on, killing any chance of a Duck victory. And Batty was better than Centrowitz that year indoors anyway — Centro didn’t really come on until outdoors.
3) …Or you need to be completely fresh
In the other three years we looked at — 2014, 2013 and 2012 — the winning team didn’t have a super-stud on anchor but all three teams entered as a top-five seed and, most importantly, all four guys on the squad were 100% fresh. Looking at the 2016 field, four of the top five seeds (Oklahoma State, Washington, Stanford and Michigan) will have 100% fresh lineups on Friday.
What It All Means
Taking those lessons and applying them to this year’s race, we’re left with three teams that stand out above the rest: Oklahoma State, Washington and Stanford. All have qualifying times in the top five, all are completely fresh, and all have studs on the anchor leg.
Washington anchor Izaic Yorks ran 3:53.89 to win the mile at the MPSF Champs, just .06 ahead of Stanford anchor Sean McGorty. Those two times rank Yorks and McGorty #3 and #4 in NCAA history at that distance. Either could wind up carrying his team to the title.
Oklahoma State doesn’t have anyone who’s run that fast, but they posted the #3 DMR time in NCAA history and could have the best overall team. Look at the potential squads each team could trot out (athletes are listed with their PBs):
|Oklahoma St.||Chad Noelle 1:48/3:38||Brandon Singleton 47.49 (48.33 sb)||Tre’Tez Kinnaird 1:47 (1:48 sb)||Josh Thompson 3:58|
|Washington||Colby Gilbert 2:25/3:59||Jacopo Spano 47.83||Derrick Daigre 1:48 (1:51 sb)||Izaic Yorks 3:53|
|Stanford||Thomas Coyle 2:25||Jackson Shumway 47.36||Justin Brinkley 1:50 (1:52 sb)||Sean McGorty 3:53|
Cowboys coach Dave Smith said that the above lineup will likely be the one he uses at NCAAs (in that order); we’re guessing for Washington and Stanford but those squads make the most sense.
OK State should have the best first three legs. They have the reigning NCAA champion, a 3:38 1500 man, running leadoff, and though they may lose a little ground on the 400 leg (Brandon Singleton hasn’t broken 48 since he was in high school two years ago, his seasonal best is almost a full second slower than Jackson Shumway‘s of Stanford), they should more than make up for it on the 800 leg, where they’ve got Big 12 champ Tre’Tez Kinnaird.
On paper, OSU has the weakest anchor leg, as Josh Thompson has only run 3:58 to Yorks and McGorty’s 3:53s, but Smith doesn’t feel that way.
“I think a 3:53 following a rabbit around is different than when you’re in a competition,” Smith said. “If one of those guys wants to run 3:53 wire-to-wire leading, I’d be shocked. I think it comes down to who can close and if you have a 1-2 second lead, you might be able to [hold em off]. But you also might be able to beat them if you get the baton together. The way Josh Thompson is running races, I think he’ll be perfectly confident going up against anybody… Josh doubled in our conference meet and beat [3:57 miler] Jacob Burcham and Chad Noelle an hour apart. Those are two pretty good kickers.”
When it comes down to it, there’s no obvious answer about who to pick this year. No team has a miler that is clearly superior to everybody else (yes we know Yorks and McGorty both just ran 3:53 but that was on an oversized track and in a time trial), and there are several teams that will be 100% fresh heading into the race.
Then you’ve got a team like Penn State. The Nittany Lions were second last year, and though they’ll likely have two guys doubling back from prelims, those two guys are both incredible: superfrosh Isaiah Harris (1:46.24 800 to win Big 10s) and senior Brannon Kidder (1:45.58 pb; split 3:55 on anchor in DMR earlier this year to beat McGorty). As long as Harris and Kidder aren’t too tired from the 800 prelims (about 80 minutes before the DMR), they will be a major factor. But we just don’t think they win as they’ll be tired from their prelims.
And don’t forget defending champion Oregon, who should be formidable with 3:56 man Blake Haney and 3:57 man Sam Prakel even if Cheserek doesn’t run (both Haney and Prakel will have to double back from the mile prelims).
What about Villanova? They are a real threat as everyone on their team is fresh as 3:58 miler Rob Denault didn’t enter the mile. Anyone remember what Jordy Williamsz can do in a tactical anchor leg? But Nova didn’t even win the Big East as they (with Denault on the anchor, not Williamsz) lost to Georgetown.
Smith’s Cowboys are the top seed, but even he knows that there are a bunch of teams that could win it on Friday.
“Having a fast time doesn’t really mean much going into the DMR at NCAAs. It’s really about how well can your miler close and that’s how it’s going to end most of the time….There’s a lot of pretty good teams in there. It’s hard to know who’s going to feel good and who’s got their legs under them at this point in the season.”
LRC prediction: We aren’t sure if we’ll see a classic DMR as those are few and far between (personally we much prefer the 4 x 800 to the DMR) but hope we do as this field is loaded on paper. Picking Oklahoma State may not be smart but we are going with our heart on this one. Josh Thompson’s rise to the top of the NCAA ranks – he hadn’t even broken 4:15 at the start of the year – is one of the better stories in recent years so we’ll pick them.
If you haven’t read our feature on Thompson, you can find it here: LRC Meet The Most Interesting Man In NCAA Running: He’s 5’9″, Can Dunk A Basketball And In One Year Has Gone From 4:17 To The #3 Time In NCAA History: Meet Oklahoma State’s Josh Thompson.
Discuss the meet on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard: MB Unofficial NCAA prediction and discussion thread