One of the more underrated conferences in the country when it comes to distance running, the SEC combines both top end talent and depth. Not only do we have guys fighting for national qualifying spots, but we also have a national preview between two of the favorites in the 800. While most people might be watching the sprinters at SEC's, don’t forget to tune in to watch some of the best distance runners in the country compete in the first round of the indoor postseason.
If I forced you to only watch one race all weekend (I know that is so mean, I’m so sorry) you would have a lot of options. Maybe you go with the bloodbath that is MPSF 3k which our own Sam Ivanecky wrote about or maybe the BIG 10 mile or 3k so you could see Johnathan Davis compete with Morgan McDonald and Oliver Hoare. Those would be good choices, but I would go in another direction.
If I could only watch one race, then I’m picking the showdown between Marco Arop and Devin Dixon. These two have run the fastest 800 times of the year with Devin Dixon setting a U.S. collegiate indoor record by breaking 1:45. Arop, one of the preseason favorites after his runner-up performance last spring during outdoors, has also run well this season running 1:45.9.
In a loaded 800 field that includes Joe White, I still think that Dixon and Arop are the favorites going into Nationals which is why this race is so exciting. We don’t usually get to see the top two runners in an event face off on conference weekend. Not only is it cool that we get to see Arop and Dixon face at SEC's, but we also get to see how they react to running prelims the day before. They obviously won’t have to run as fast at SEC's to qualify for finals as they will at Nationals, but it is still another factor that will help us predict the 800 champ. Whoever wins this race will certainly be the favorite going into Nationals and will have a ton of confidence going into Nationals.
I’ve been a believer in Arop all season long, and I’m not going to stray from that in my prediction. I think Dixon will lead the race from the gun while Arop sits right behind him and inches Dixon out at the line.
Don’t think I forgot about the rest of the field! Carlton Orange, Dixon’s teammate at Texas A&M, has run well this year and has secured his place at Nationals. If either Dixon or Arop blows up a bit, Orange will be there to capitalize.
Filling out the rest of the projected final is John Rivera from Ole Miss, Mississippi State’s Dejon Devroe, and Kieran Taylor of Arkansas. All three have run 1:49 and will be looking to be pulled around by Dixon and Arop to a 1:48 which could earn them a spot at Nationals.
The clear favorite in the mile is Waleed Suliman who has run 3:56 and owns the #2 fastest time in the country. Whether the final is a sit-and-kick or all out from the gun, Suliman should be able to beat anyone. That said, Suliman will have plenty of competition.
Cameron Griffith from Arkansas has run 3:59 in the mile as 7:52 in the 3k. Unfortunately for Griffith, both times put him just outside national qualification, so he will be looking to earn his spot to Nationals in either the mile or 3k this weekend.
Behind Griffith is Missouri’s Kieran Wood who ran an exciting mile against Nebraska’s George Kusche which saw them both run 3:59. Like Griffith, Wood certainly wouldn’t mind if the final was fast, so he has a better shot at Nationals.
An underdog to keep an eye on is Ben Young from Kentucky. While he has yet to break four minutes this year, he has previously and came in 4th place in the mile last indoor season. Don’t be surprised to see the Wildcat in the lead group.
The SEC really flexes its depth in the 3k where there are multiple runners who have run sub 8:05 this season. Cameron Griffith owns the top seed time and as mentioned above, will certainly be looking to improve that time if he can. In addition, the Razorback will look to defend his 3k title from last year.
Derek Gutierrez of Ole Miss has been one of the most versatile distance runners in the country this year running 3:58, 7:57, and 13:58. If the race gets tactical, look for Gutierrez with his speed to launch himself to the front.
Behind him is the Alabama duo of Vincent Kiprop and Gilbert Kigen who, at the moment, have qualified for Nationals in the 5k. They both look like they are fully healthy after redshirting cross country and will be looking to better their top five finishes from last year.
Some other names to watch are Kieran Wood, Arkansas teammates Gilbert Boit, Matt Young, and Austen Dalquist, and finally Zach Long from Tennessee. Wood won’t be fresh after running the mile, but he has run 8:01 in the 3k this year. Boit ran an outstanding 13:42 in the 5k, so he will be one to watch as well. Finally, Zach Long hasn’t raced a ton this indoor season, but ran 4:05 early in the season and a converted 8:08 a few weeks ago. The Volunteer was 6th in the 3k last year and 4th in the 5k.
The pace of the 5k will be interesting to watch because Kiprop is right on the edge of qualification while Boit sits just outside of it. I doubt that the race will go out fast enough to earn either of these runners a better qualification time, but you never know.
Joining them in the race for the conference title will be Kigen, Gutierrez, Long, and Farah Abdulkarim. The race should play out similarly to the 3k with pretty much all the same people in it. Abdulkarim is one name we haven’t mentioned. In his first year at Ole Miss, the new Rebel had a good cross country season and ran 14:02 this season. Look for him to mix it up with the top pack.
Ole Miss is the clear favorite in the DMR after they ran a converted 9:26 last week and are running Suliman and Gutierrez. The race behind Ole Miss should be very exciting with Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky all running their top guys. Kieran Wood and Ben Young are anchoring their respective schools while Cameron Griffith is running the 400 leg for Arkansas (??). While these teams probably don’t have enough to earn a DMR spot (which is incredibly deep this year), it should be an exciting race to watch!