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June 6, 2017

Wednesday NCAA Viewer’s Guide: Running Events

The NCAA Championships get underway today, and the running events begin at 4:30pm in Eugene (7:30pm EST). The now-wide-open men’s 10,000 meters is the highlight of the night.

I’ve split my preview for today into two parts; field events and the decathlon were published this morning. Each event preview includes a treasure trove of information on every competitor. You’re going to want to keep this handy while watching tonight’s action.

Key Links:
Live results
ESPN3 coverage
Live twitter coverage via yours truly

The Schedule
To the left is today’s schedule presented in visual form.

Blue for all events indicates that it’s men-only competition today. Starting times for field events are exact but how long each will take is a guess.

ESPN3 will cover the decathlon and field events up through 7:30pm (Eastern), when the television broadcast will begin on ESPNU. It will switch over to ESPN2 at 8:30pm.

Who is going to win the team championship?
The experts at Track & Field News rate this as a toss-up between Texas A&M and Florida. The Aggies and Gators have been in this position before; the title was decided by a mere half-point at this year’s NCAA Indoor Championships and the two tied for the championship in 2013. Since the NCAA awards trophies to the top four teams, I have identified nine teams most likely to contend for those trophies (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, BYU, Florida Georgia, LSU, Oregon, and Texas A&M) and have highlighted their entries in my individual event previews.

10,000 meters
Begins at 7:08pm local time (10:08pm Eastern)
This is tonight’s only running event final. The entries along with relevant information about each (click for larger version):

There are events where season’s best times and PRs tell you a lot about how the final order will shake out. The 10k is not one of them.

Instead, look at who has a history of winning the races they enter. None of tonight’s entries have ever won an NCAA Championship because Oregon’s Edward Cheserek won virtually all of them over the last four years, but he’s out with injury. In his absence the mantle of favorite falls to Tulsa’s Marc Scott, who took second and third in his two events at this year’s NCAA Indoor Championships. Track and Field News picks Butler’s Eric Peterson for sixth and I think he’s capable of more than that.

In terms of picking up team points, you don’t have to be Master Po to know the importance of patience. If your ability is just on the edge of getting into the top eight, you can do a lot by waiting early and then picking off those who overextended themselves. Neither Alabama, Oregon, or BYU is likely to win the team championship, but could nab a third- or fourth-place trophy if they have a good weekend.

SEMIFINALS
All of the rest of tonight’s running events are semifinals. The goals are to survive and advance.

4×100 Relay
4:32pm local time (7:32pm EDT)
Qualifying format: top 2 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


Every major contender in the team standings save BYU has a team in the semis, and this is the event that makes coaches’ hair stand on end until the last exchange is completed. Houston has speed to burn but had problems getting the stick around at the Texas and Penn Relays. There is no other event in which the words “survive and advance” have greater meaning.

1500 meters
4:46pm local time (7:46pm EDT)
Qualifying format: advance top 5 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


You know these semifinals are going to be three laps of jogging and then a mad dash to the finish, which means that chaos could reign supreme. The two favorites, Kerr (heat 2) and Engels (heat 1) have proven their abilities in those kinds of races, as has Oregon’s Haney (heat 1). Other than those three, I think this is a bit of a “roll the bones” situation.

Steeplechase
5:02pm local time (8:02pm EDT)
Qualifying format: advance top 5 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


Of all the distance races, the steeplechase is the one where season’s best times are most indicative of how things will play out in a championship race. The barriers expose differences in ability and discourage wild swings in pace. Barring a fall–which does happen every now and then–this is likely to go to form.

110m Hurdles
5:32pm local time (8:32pm EDT)
Qualifying format: top 2 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


Florida needs Holloway (heat 3) to get to the final, but the freshman has been very consistent in the hurdles and should come through. Mallett (heat 3) is probably the next most consistent of the top hurdlers, but everyone else has been up and down.

100 meters
5:46pm local time (8:46pm EDT)
Qualifying format: top 2 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


Coleman (heat 1) is the undisputed star, and Mitchell-Blake (heat 3) might have been the defending champion if not for suffering an injury during the 4×100 at last year’s NCAAs. I think Carnes (heat 2) is underrated while Burrell (heat 2) hasn’t run at all well until two weeks ago. It would be a major boost to Florida’s title hopes if Clark (heat 1) were to make the final but that looks like a tall order.

400 meters
6:00pm local time (9:00pm EDT)
Qualifying format: top 2 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


If you like seeing people run fast then you don’t want to miss this. Fred Kerley (heat 1) has put up the year’s two best times (and two of the three fastest in collegiate history) in q-rounds and might go even faster than his 43.70 of two weeks ago. Given the tremendous depth here, I think Friday’s final will be the best men’s 400 meter race of the year until the World Championships. It’s entirely possible that it could take sub-45.00 just to qualify.

800 meters
6:14pm local time (9:14pm EDT)
Qualifying format: top 2 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


800 meter semifinals are among the most exciting races in any meet, unless you have a dog in the fight, in which case they are among the most nerve-wracking. Both Texas A&M and Florida have potential qualifiers to the final, which could make a big difference given how close the final score is expected to be. Texas A&M has Dixon (heat 1), a freshman who ran great at the SEC Championships but otherwise has very little big-meet experience. Florida has Arroyo (heat 3), a guy who always posts fast times during the season but who has scored a grand total of one point in his NCAA Championships career.

400m Hurdles
6:30pm local time (9:30pm EDT)
Qualifying format: top 2 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


This is the event that basically won the championship for Florida last year, when Futch (heat 2) and Holmes (heat 1) went 1-2. Suddenly they have serious competition. Robinson (heat 3) has qualified to more Olympic finals in this event (one, last summer) than NCAA Championships (none), and JC transfer Mowatt (heat 2) has come on strong as well. Texas A&M needs Grant to get through to the final. Like the flat 400, Friday’s final will be by far the world’s best race of the year in this event.

200 meters
6:44pm local time (9:44pm EDT)
Qualifying format: top 2 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


If the Track and Field News formchart is accurate then the second and third heats are very imbalanced, since the qualifying format guarantees that no heat can have fewer than two or more than four qualifiers to the final. Still, the three best sprinters (Coleman, Mitchell-Blake, and Richards) are in separate heats. Many of these athletes will be on their third semifinal of the day and conditioning could play a role.

4×400 Relay
7:48pm local time (10:48pm EDT)
Qualifying format: top 2 from each heat plus next 2 fastest to final


Like the 4×100, everyone contending for one of the four team trophies, save Oregon and BYU, are in the semis. Heat one could have a tremendous anchor leg: UTEP has shockingly fast half-miler Emmanuel Korir, but Texas A&M and Alabama have legitimate sprint stars in Fred Kerley and Jereem Richards.

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