March 4, 2016
The 2016 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships will be held next 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 mile.
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 Mile (prelims Friday 6:30 p.m. ET, final Saturday 5:00 p.m. ET)
|Blake Haney||SO||Oregon||3:56.36||3:56.36||3rd in NCAA 1500 last spring; broke Oregon mile record at Millrose|
|Thomas Awad||SR||Penn||3:57.03||3:57.03||More of a 3k/5k guy but broke Ivy League mile record at Millrose|
|David Elliott||SR||Boise State||3:57.38||3:57.38||Mountain West champ was 8th in NCAA 1500 last spring|
|Jacob Burcham||JR||Oklahoma||3:57.46||3:57.46||First NCAA track appearance; 3rd in Big 12 mile|
|Cole Williams||SR||Georgetown||3:57.88||3:57.88||4th in Big East 1k; didn’t make final at NCAA outdoors last spring|
|Sam Prakel||JR||Oregon||3:57.95||3:57.95||10th in NCAA 1500 as a freshman in ’14|
|Jonah Koech||FR||UTEP||4:03.43||4:03.43||1:46 800 man is undefeated in mile this year|
|Amos Bartelsmeyer||JR||Georgetown||3:58.22||3:58.22||3rd in Big East mile|
|James Gowans||JR||Cornell||3:58.24||3:58.24||5th in Heps 800|
|Julian Oakley||SR||Providence||3:58.34||3:57.22||Big East runner-up|
|Joel Hubbard||JR||Syracuse||3:58.43||3:58.43||ACC runner-up|
|Dillon Maggard||SO||Utah State||4:03.76||3:58.37||Mountain West runner-up|
|Adam Palamar||JR||Syracuse||3:58.55||3:58.55||3rd at ACCs|
|Henry Wynne||JR||Virginia||3:58.74||3:58.74||ACC champ|
|Anass Zouhry||SR||CSU Northridge||3:58.87||3:58.87||3rd at MPSF|
|Rob Napolitano||JR||Columbia||3:58.98||3:58.98||2015 and 2016 Heps champ|
Let’s get it out of the way: this men’s mile field is not as strong as it could have been. After eight of the top 12 seeds elected to run an event other than the mile at NCAAs, messageboard poster “Whaaaaa??” started a thread: Most of the Top Milers Aren’t Running NCAAs!
It’s true. There won’t be a matchup like the Edward Cheserek–Cristian Soratos duel we saw last year. Cheserek is entered in the 3k and 5k instead (with a possible DMR appearance) and Izaic Yorks and Sean McGorty, the two men who went crazy at the MPSF meet with duelling 3:53s, are opting for the DMR-3k double.
But while the very top milers won’t be running that event in Birmingham, the mile remains very deep. To get into the meet, you had to run under 3:59 (only last year’s meet was harder to make in the mile). In all, 35 NCAA athletes ran sub-4:00 or a sub-4:00 equivalent this season, the most in history.
But scratching from the mile at NCAA indoors is nothing new. The mile is a crossover event, which means you can see anyone from 800 guys to 5k guys running it during the season. And often a top miler is expected to anchor his DMR squad, should they qualify. Yorks and McGorty are both opting for Saturday’s 3k, likely so that they can run the anchor leg of their schools’ DMR fresh on Friday. And then some guys will opt out of the individual portion of the meet entirely. That’s the case for Oklahoma State — Josh Thompson is running only the DMR and Chad Noelle, the reigning NCAA 1500 champ, didn’t even run a mile during the season. But both will be 100 percent fresh for Friday’s DMR, in which the Cowboys are the top seed after running the #3 time in NCAA history this year.
While this year may be an outlier in terms of the quality of the guys that scratched, it’s not uncommon for the mile to lose top runners to other events at NCAA Indoors. Look at the number of runners that scratched out of each distance event at NCAA Indoors over the past five years and you’ll notice the trend:
Could the NCAA mile be stronger in 2016? Yes. Is it boring? Hell no.
The Man Who Would Be King
On paper, the favorite is Oregon sophomore Blake Haney, and there’s a lot to like about the 19-year-old. He was third at NCAAs in the 1500 last spring (the two guys who beat him aren’t running the mile at this meet) and went on to claim U.S. and Pan Am junior titles in the same event over the summer (the former over Drew Hunter). Since then, he’s run 3:59.10 to take second at the Razorback Invitational on January 30 (he beat the #4 seed at NCAAs, Jacob Burcham, by over a second in that race but lost to Edward Cheserek) and then broke the Oregon school record in the mile by running 3:56.36 at Millrose.
Breaking a distance record at the University of Oregon — and doing so before your 20th birthday — is an impressive feat. Here are the guys that now sit behind Haney on the UO all-time list (runners in bold won an NCAA individual title):
Haney can follow in their footsteps by winning an NCAA title on Saturday. He’s demonstrated terrific closing speed (52.01 final lap in a tactical 1500 final at NCAAs in June), has the fastest seed time and he’s got the pedigree: he was the #1 recruit in the high school class of 2014 and ran 4:04/8:46 in high school. Last spring, after NCAAs, he beat both Grant Fisher and Drew Hunter to win US juniors (Haney is 13 months older than Fisher and 17 months older than Hunter). Under Andy Powell, Oregon’s stars have almost always risen to the occasion at NCAAs and Haney looks set to continue that tradition and add his name to the school’s long list of NCAA champions this weekend.
Haney may be the favorite, but he’s far from a lock for the win. He may be called into action on the DMR Friday night, and if that’s the case, his odds shrink, especially if he has to run the anchor. (It should be noted that last year, Oregon had three milers at NCAAs and planned to use whichever didn’t make the final as the anchor on its DMR. All three made it, so Cheserek wound up running the anchor leg. Oregon has two guys entered in the mile this year, Haney and Sam Prakel.) But even if Haney’s fresh, there are a few guys that could beat him.
Penn’s Thomas Awad, the #2 seed, is more of a 5k guy in our mind (that’s what he ran at NCAAs as a freshman). He’s an outstanding runner, but he’s never scored at NCAAs and he’s not winning an NCAA mile title. #4 seed Jacob Burcham, who was a HS star in West Virginia, has run 3:57.46 but Haney already beat him this year and he was only third in the Big 12 mile. He’s out too. If Haney loses, it’s to one of the following three guys:
- David Elliott, Boise State: He was 8th at NCAAs in the 1500 last spring, and has lost just one race this year: the 3k at the Mountain West Champs, where he was doubling back from the mile (at altitude) and lost to two distance studs in Patrick Corona and Jerrell Mock. Elliott won marquee races at the University of Washington’s two big invitationals, taking the 3k at the UW Invitational over a field that included Canada’s 3:34 man Charles Philibert-Thiboutot and winning the mile at the Husky Classic over Burcham, Sam Prakel, Josh Thompson and others.
- Jonah Koech, UTEP: Two years ago, a UTEP athlete upset a Duck to win the mile at NCAAs. Now the freshman Koech, whom we’ve been hyping as the “real deal” since September, will look to replicate what Anthony Rotich accomplished in taking down two-time NCAA 1500 champion Mac Fleet (not to mention collegiate record holder Lawi Lalang) in Albuquerque in 2014. Koech has won all four of his mile races this winter (most recently at the Conference USA Champs) and has lost just one race overall, an 800 to Texas A&M studs Donavan Brazier (1:45 pb) and Hector Hernandez (1:46 pb). With a 1:46.8 (hand-timed) 800 best, Koech has the speed to pull the upset. “But he’s only a freshman,” you say. Well Koech’s coach Paul Ereng won an Olympic gold in the 800 in 1988 after his freshman year at UVA.
- Henry Wynne, Virginia: Speaking of UVA, Wynne won the ACC title comfortably over Syracuse’s 3:58 men Joel Hubbard and Adam Palamar and also outkicked Justyn Knight on the anchor leg of the DMR to give Virginia the victory in that race (both Wynne and Knight were fresh for that one as it was the first distance race of the meet; Wynne split 3:56.37 on the anchor leg). However, he too might have DMR duties which will make the mile final tougher.
LRC prediction: If Haney doesn’t have to run the anchor leg of the DMR, he wins. If he runs the DMR…he’s not likely to be your mile champ (we’d say Wynne if he’s fresh or Koech). If Haney somehow anchors Oregon to a DMR win and wins the mile on Saturday, he’ll join the ranks of Oregon’s legends as a true sophomore.
Discuss the meet on our world famous fan forum / messageboard: MB Unofficial NCAA prediction and discussion thread
*MB Henry Wynne dusts Justyn Knight at ACC meet
*MB From 2013: Henry Wynne – A Force in NCAAs?
*LRC Blake Haney Takes Down Andrew Hunter & Grant Fisher to Win USA Jr. 1500 Title