By John Lohn
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., March 22. THE NCAA Division I Men's Championships are knocking on the door and this year's event is shaping up to be one of the finest in history. So, what does the University of Minnesota have in store? Here are five questions heading into the meet.
1. Can Auburn capture a third consecutive team title?
Of any team in the nation, Stanford probably had the most impressive conference-championship outing, as the Cardinal uncorked a number of stellar performances at the Pac-10 Championships.
Still, Auburn is the team to beat, what with its top-flight talent and dynamite depth. Although the Tigers ruled at the SEC Championships, the results seemed to indicate that their best swims have yet to come. That's a scary thought with the likes of Fred Bousquet and George Bovell on the roster.
If Auburn can win the team crown, it will mark the fifth championship for the men's program, which won its first title at Minnesota in 1997. The Tigers also prevailed in 1999, 2003 and 2004.
2. Will the 19-second barrier go down in the 50 freestyle?
We raised this question a few weeks back, but it's worth discussing once again. After all, the swimming community has been waiting for an 18-point mark for a long time.
With the record held at 19.05 by Tom Jager and Anthony Ervin, it will take a phenomenal swim for magic to occur. Certainly, though, there are a few challengers. Time will tell whether Duje Draganja (Cal), Fred Bousquet (Auburn), Ben Wildman-Tobriner (Stanford) or Matt Grevers (Northwestern) can deliver.
3. What can we expect from Milorad Cavic?
There's no questioning California's ability to contend for the team title, or a top-two slot. With loaded relays and a spectacular sprinting contingent, the Golden Bears boast the necessary firepower.
But, the swims of Milorad Cavic may have the most influence on how California finishes. The former short-course world-record holder in the 100 fly, Cavic is slated to swim the 50 free, 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke.
For the Bears to push for a top-two spot, it's critical that Cavic advance to the finals of each of his three events and come away with an individual effort in the 50-point range.
4. Can Ryan Lochte continue his torrid pace?
The University of Florida standout had an eye-popping showing at the SEC Championships, which included American-record swims in the 200 backstroke and 200 individual medley.
Perhaps the second-best swimmer in the world, behind Michael Phelps, Lochte is set to contest both backstroke events and the 200 I.M. at the NCAA Champs. He'll also play a key role on Florida's relays, which will greatly determine the Gators' finish in the team standings.
While Lochte is likely to push his American standards in the 200 I.M. and 200 back, he could also give a run at Neil Walker's American mark in the 100 back, set in 1997 at 44.92.
5. Where will Texas finish?
The firm of Hansen, Peirsol & Crocker has moved on, but the Longhorns are still strong and capable of landing their 25th consecutive finish in the top-five.
Rainer Kendrick is the defending NCAA champ in the 200 butterfly and, let's face it, Eddie Reese is a genius. Simply put, betting against the Longhorns is not exactly a bright move.