Saturday's NCAA Championship meet in Terre Haute, Indiana represents #2 ranked Syracuse's best chance at a national title in over 60 years. The women's 6k race starts things off at Noon ET with the Men's 10k race following at 1:15 ET. What should you look for as you prepare to watch the race? Let's take a look:
1. Can anyone beat the Colorado men?
Not likely. The Buffaloes are looking to repeat their title and they've been dominant this season winning every meet they entered. The #1 ranked team placed their 5 runners in the top 13 at last week's Mountain Regional. Colorado looks to be a heavy favorite and likely to win by a larger margin than last year. Expect them to finish with a team score under 100, and to keep the title in Boulder for another year.
2. Where does this leave the Syracuse men?
SU will be among a group of teams battling for a spot on the podium (a top 4 finish). The chief competitors for the Orange should be Oregon, Stanford, Northern Arizona, Iona, Oklahoma State and Villanova. The top runner for each of these schools could finish in front of Martin Hehir, but the Orange depth should be enough to land the team in the top 4.
We've talked all year about the Syracuse depth and keeping a close gap between the 1st and 5th runners, and that is going to be the key this weekend. From my view, it's going to be tough for the Orange to overcome the 1-2 combination of Cheserek and Jenkins from Oregon. Both of those guys could be in the top 5, and unless the 4/5 runners for Oregon struggle, it should be enough for the Ducks to take home 2nd.
Syracuse is going to need to run well to hold off the other teams. Based on what they have been able to do so far this year, my prediction for the Orange men is that they end up in 3rd place.
3. How low can Martin Hehir go?
Ranked at #22 in the FloTrack 50, Hehir is expected to lead the way for Syracuse on Saturday. Last year's #113 place is not a good indicator of Hehir's ability and if SU is hoping to finish 2nd, I think he'll need to finish in the top 20. Individual projections are tricky, but I think it's going to be a top-25 finish and All-American status for Syracuse's #1 runner.
4. Which Syracuse runner could surprise on Saturday?
In terms of pure talent, many people would suggest Justyn Knight would be the one who could pop a huge performance on Saturday. Knight might not have the experience at the 10k distance, but he showed at this summer's World Jr. Championships that he's not afraid of taking risks. Knight has the talent, and Syracuse has the depth, that he could be encouraged to run up front. Putting two runners in the top 25 would be huge for the Orange's podium chances.
5. Will Margo Malone earn All-American status and get the women's team into the top 20?
With the success of the men's team, the SU women have been overlooked this Fall. It's been an up and down season for the team, but we should recognize the way Margo Malone has run the last two meets. Malone followed up her 3rd place finish at the ACC meet with a 5th place finish at the Northeast Regional. In order to earn All-American status, she'll need to finish in the top 40 and I think this will happen. I don't think it will be enough to put the women's team into the top 20, but it will give the women something to build upon in 2015.