Cael Sanderson had one goal when he came to Penn State win championships. For this season the team had two goals win a Big Ten title and win an NCAA title. They achieved the first by the slimmest of margins and will now head to philly to try and win their first NCAA title in over 50 years. Penn State survived several disappointing performances at Big Tens namely Cameron Wade and Brad Pataky. The points lost at those two weights were made up by James Vollrath who managed a 7th place finish and a huge pin that 7th place match. And of course Quentin Wright who avenged 3 losses on the year to find himself at the top of the podium.
The tournament was between Iowa and Penn State most of the weekend and it was clear one of those two was going to win it. The back and forth between both teams was truly amazing as each time one would get a big win the other would counter with a big win of their own. At several points in the tournament namely Sunday morning Penn State looked dead in the water but every time they bounced back the next round to put themselves back in contention. In place matches Penn State was 9 - 0 with a pin, tech fall and Wade's major decision. In what's a real testament to both Iowa and Penn State they managed to storm the field scoring points at just 9 weight class, as Iowa picked up 0 at 149 and Penn State picked up 0 at 197.
It's a win that should be celebrated by the fans but for the team there is still work to be done. Wade is in obvious need of improvement if he hopes to have any chance to reach All American honors. He went most of the tournament without a takedown until the final bout. Many matches he rarely attempted a shot even when down in the match. As mentioned in the preview story, several opponents got a lead and then forced him to take top when it was his choice. Every single person in the tournament for Penn State it seemed had at least one scary moment along the line but most survived. Which is the key in a tournament like this. I feel pretty confident in saying I don't think the team will rest on their laurels too much. I expect they had a solid week of practice last weekend to get ready for this weekends tournament.
At nationals you can expect the hawkeyes to be in the mix again, they should never be counted out. But I think the toughest test will likely come from Cornell. Who I expect to win the tournament, I think they are just way too talented this year. If they slip you can expect Penn State, Iowa and Oklahoma State to be in the mix.
The NCAAs are a whole different beast than any other wrestling tournament in the country. There are 33 guys per weight, winning this tournament is a battle of survival. For the new wrestling fans don't get too hung up early on how "impressive" guys are winning, the key is just winning. The tournament could come down to bonus points, but you get far more points for placing high in the tournament so just focus on the Penn State guys getting through. Unlike the NCAA basketball tournament where you rarely see a top seeded team go down in the first few rounds anyone can be beat in the NCAA wrestling tournament if they have an off match and the other person rises to the occasion. As always you can expect some of the most fierce competition to come in the quarterfinals as a win there ensures a all important All American finish.
Following Along The NCAA Tournament
This is a huge tournament but it's actually pretty simple to follow, much like the Big Tens don't get hung up on early team scores, late Friday is when the team race will really start to take shape. As long as Penn State doesn't completely collapse on Thursday they should be fine. There are two big rounds to watch the quarterfinals and the 'round of 12'. If you win in the quarterfinals you are guaranteed an All American finish, ditto with the round of twelve which includes the semifinals and the consolation quarterfinals. In fact if you follow the tournament at all you'll likely hear the round of twelve mentioned a good bit. A loss there means the wrestler fell just 1 win shy of being an All American.
Don't be surprised by big names dropping, the NCAA tournament has tons of huge upsets every year. It's part of what makes it so fun to watch. So don't be surprised to see some of the top 4 seeds beat in the first two rounds. Just hope they aren't wearing blue and white.
As for watching the tournament there is wall to wall coverage thanks to ESPN. The schedule is as follows:
11 AM First Round Action - Espn3.com
6:30 PM 2nd Round and Consolation Round 1 - Espn3.com
10:30 AM Quarterfinals and Consolation Rounds - ESPNU HD/ Espn3.com
7 PM Semifinals - ESPNU HD
11 AM - Medal Rounds (3rd, 5th, 7th place matches) ESPNU HD
7:30 PM - Championship Finals ESPN HD
Here's Jtothep's scoring breakdown per round, this shows the possible points one can pick up in a session:
Below you'll find my weight by weight Penn State recap of Big Tens along with some previews and predictions of Penn State's wrestlers at Nationals along with the guys from what figures to be their top competition, Iowa and Cornell. All three teams got some really tough draws in the tournament, and a few really good ones. I don't think any team can be labeled as having an edge although I think Iowa may have gotten some of the worst seeding.
125: Brad Pataky - Big Ten's 7th place - Wild Card Selection
Brad had a really disappointing tournament two weekends ago. He lost to two guys who he beat handily in their last matchups and his struggles from the bottom position seemed to be far worse than expected. Brad had some what of a strange tournament in that each of the matches he won he won by tech fall which helped offset the placement point loss. I think the two weeks will ultimately help Brad and I still think he has an outside chance for his first All American finish this year. He got a pretty favorable draw in my opinion. Garnett is a decent opening match and one that is certainly winnable for a healthy Pataky, tough to say how he'll handle Garnett with a bum leg. Although Pataky will have a big conditioning edge in this bout as Garnett tends to wear down late in matches. If Brad can keep it close, to the 3rd period he'll have a chance. If he wins that he'll likely have Sanders which again while not favored is a winnable match, he'll then run into the 4th seed James Nicholson which while likely a loss, is a decent draw in that he doesn't hit Robles, Precin, or McD until the semis. The three of them to me are the class of this weight class. While it's a good draw for Brad, I'm not saying he will win any of these matches. It's really tough to know what he's capable of with that injury. As always you can never count out a senior wrestling in his final tournament. It would be really nice to see Brad reach the podium especially after last years insanely unlucky draw where he wrestled the 9th, 8th, 1st and 2nd seeds in that order. He's due for a break or two.
McDonough for Iowa has a chance to win the whole thing but will have a really tough semi final rematch with Precin. Robles the 1 seed will also be tough. I think at the very least Iowa gets a finalist here. Perrelli from Cornell gets a winable first match before hitting PA native Nic Bedelyon who could be a dark horse in this tournament. I think Pataky has a chance to match Perrelli's point total at this weight.
Prediction: Finals McD vs Robles - Champion McDonough - Pataky: 6th to 8th
133: Andrew Long - Big Ten Champion
Andrew Long had a great Big Ten tournament earning his first Big Ten title. He struggled a bit in his first match, before really turning it on in the semifinals, and then surviving a major scare from Graff in the finals. There hasn't been much complaining on the internet from the Wisconsin or Iowa fans about the fleeing the mat call that sent the bout to overtime, the consensus is that it was the correct call and I agree. I really think Graff could have been nailed for stalling from the second period on. Long's conditioning seemed much better then it did against Ramos but the blueprint is definitely out there that if you can get a lead Long really struggles if you make him come forward and chase throughout the bout. It's also important to remember Long is a finalist from a year ago, so he knows what it takes to make the finals. That kind of experience is invaluable.
The class of the 133 is Jordan Oliver from Oklahoma State who is almost a sure thing for the finals. Luckily Long managed to get on the opposite end of the bracket from Oliver. Long and Ramos got a bit of a tough draw in that they'll face each other in the quarterfinals. The winner of that match will have a big leg up in the team race. Grey from Cornell hits Oliver in the quarters and will likely be headed to the consolation after that. Ramos has an extremely tough draw early. He drew a pig tail match against Cagnina of Lehigh who already has knocked off several big names this year, that's an extremely tough match for a seeded wrestler. He then gets Sentes from C. Michigan in the 2nd round which is another tough match, if he gets past those two and for me that is a big if he gets Long. Long shouldn't be tested too much in his match leading up to Ramos with the biggest test coming from Thorn who he beat easily a few week ago.
Advantage: Penn State
Prediction: Finals Jordan Oliver vs Andrew Long - Champion Oliver
141: Andrew Alton - Big Ten 5th place
Alton didn't get any big upsets that many were hoping for but he once again wrestled some close matches against the top guys and was able to wrestle to his seed. He struggled some in his fifth place bout in a spot where Penn State could have really used some bonus points. He got an awesome draw in the NCAAs, the top half of this bracket is insane with Marion, Kennedy and Russel. So just being in the bottom half is an plus, and he also gets a quarterfinal bout against Boris Novaschkov which is good only from the standpoint that it's someone different. He manages to avoid the Big Ten guys he's struggled against until at least the semifinals.
Despite a higher seed Marion got arguably a worse draw than Alton as he'll face Kennedy in the quarterfinals. And get Kemmerer from Penn in the second round who can be tough. Cornell drew a pigtail match at this weight and will be lucky to make the second round of the winners bracket. I think for all three of top teams, scoring will have to be done in the consis. I think all three will be out after the quarterfinals.
Advantage: Iowa (barely)
Prediction: Finals Russel vs Thorn - Champion Russel - Alton: 5th to 8th place
149: Frank Molinaro - Big Ten champion
Frank had an amazing Big Ten tournament as he didn't have a single point scored against him the entire tournament. There was no question this weight class was a little on the weak side. But Frank did what he needed to do and was impressive, even his final bout which while not overly impressive on the scoreboard was a pretty dominate match as Grajales never really managed to get into the match. Also the announcing in this match was awful as they complained about Grajales getting nailed for stalling for dropping to Molinaro's leg. Which is actually one of the examples of stalling given in the rule book. You can hate the rule but don't hate the ref for calling. Also I like the rule as Grajales was certainly not going to do any scoring from that position, which in essence is the definition of stalling.
Frank received the two seed for NCAAs but man is it a tough draw. In the semifinals he'll draw LeValley from Bucknell who just beat 4 seed Kyle Dake. The change between Dake and LeValley is probably minimal. But Frank first has to get to the semifinal as in the quarterfinal he'll likely face Mario Mason who is the only person other than Dake to beat him this year. It's important to remember Frank was still coming back from his ankle at that time but this is still a scary quarterfinal match up. Dake has a pretty easy road to the semifinals where he should meet Darion Caldwell and will likely lose. Dake has been struggling some of late so an upset is definitely possible here. But watch out for the Caldwell Grajales match in the 2nd round. Caldwell should win easily but style wise that could be an intriguing match up. Iowa has no one at this weight.
Advantage: Cornell (barely)
Prediction: Finals Caldwell vs LeValley - Champion Caldwell - Molinaro: 3rd or 4th
157: David Taylor - Big Ten Champion
The Magic Man picked up his first Big Ten championship as expected. The final match with St. John was much closer than many expected but it seemed like Taylor took his foot off the gas in that match a bit. St. John seemed to have some of Taylor figures out, but at then end it still turned into a comfortable win for Taylor. You really have to credit his composure for a freshman. The announcers and some of the fans started to get pretty excited when St. John got the first takedown and then got a minute of riding. But Taylor never seemed to panic and just wrestled his match, which turned into a comfortable 5 point win. I have to say the officials in this match let a lot of "riding" go from both guys that could have been stalling as both seemed to love to hang on to an ankle.
Taylor ended up the 3 seed in the NCAAs and has an extremely tough tournament ahead of him. Taylor will likely see St. John for the 3rd time in the quarterfinals, I think Taylor wins again but that will be a tough match up. He then faces Steve Fittery from American in the semfinals who many think is the top guy at the weight. In fact many have Fittery and Taylor 1 and 2. That should be a barn burner of a semifinal. I think whoever wins that will likely be your champion at 157 this year. Unfortunately for Penn State fans we won't get to see a Taylor Jenkins match until the finals if it happens. Taylor also has a fairly tough 1st round match as he got Big 12 champ Erisman. It's not very often you see the champs from the two power conferences wrestle in the first round. For reference Intermat has Erisman ranked 10th. St. John has a really really tough 2nd round match against Peppelman of Harvard, by way of Central Dauphin. If he can get his tilt going St. John could be in trouble. Cornell drew the top seed in the first round of this weight and figure to be a non factor.
Advantage: Penn State
Prediction: Finals Adam Hall vs David Taylor - Champion David Taylor
165: James Vollrath - Big Ten 7th place finish
Vollrath had several close loses and some epic overtime bouts in this tournament. If he could have won just one Penn State could have had a 9th qualifier. As it is Vollrath picked up a huge fall in the 7th place bout and his points earned was enough to help to earn Penn State it's first team title. He not surprisingly didn't receive a wild card selection for the NCAAs.
Kerber from Cornell got a really tough draw in this weight as he'll see Winston from Rutgers in the 2nd round if he can past him he gets Burroughs the number 1 seed and that will be the end of his run in the winners bracket. Janssen is in some what of an interesting spot he's not going to be favored much other than his first bout. But he gets Bailey from Oklahoma State who beat him 6 2 earlier in the year. And then gets Caldwell from Oklahoma, I don't know why but the way Jannsen is wrestling I think he has a shot at winning those two. I'm not saying it will happen but don't count it out. If he makes the semifinal that would be huge for Iowa.
Prediction: Finals Burroughs vs Caldwell - Champion Burroughs
174: Ed Ruth - Big Ten Champion
Ruth defied his critics who said he was a likely upset victim heading into the Big Ten tournament. He won the tournament but did have some scares along the way including a close 3 2 win over Lofthouse in the semifinals. He almost got a huge pin in the championship bout but then instead hung on for an 8 5 win for his first Big Ten title. He'll need to be a little sharper in the NCAAs but he still has a great shot at at least reaching the finals.
Ruth got the 2 seed, and he could get Heflin again in the quarterfinals, he'll likely get a rematch with Lewnes in the semifinals. Ruth dominated Lewnes the first time they wrestled I expect things will be much closer this time around. But I still believe Ruth is good enough to beat him and likely will be a finalist at this weight. Where he'll have a tough match up against Reader from Iowa State. Although you would think he should have a pretty good scouting report on him if he gets that far. Lofthouse has a really tough draw as he gets Letts from Maryland in the 2nd round who is wrestling very well currently. If he manages to get past him he gets Reader. I don't see him getting past that. Lewnes has a fairly easy road to Ruth he'll likely run into Lehigh's Austin Meys in the quarterfinals that could be tough but he should win.
Advantage: Whoever wins the semi, so I'll go with Penn State
Prediction: Finals Reader vs Ruth - Champion Reader
184: Quentin Wright - Big Ten Champion
As I said in the preview never count this kid out. Wright had an awesome tournament sure he got a call or two his way but most said they were the correct calls. No one deserved an outcome like this more than Wright and he was definitely the key for Penn State's title, which is a fitting end to the Big Ten season in which he struggled mightily. That said all his matches were razor thin margins so at NCAAs it's tough to think he could do it again, but we'll see you have to think his confidence is pretty high right now. His win over Rutt was an awesome win for him, and you could see a big difference after that bout. The takedown that was waived off was I've heard was the correct call from everyone except maybe the Wisconsin coaches. That win was big for several reasons not just did Wright move forward but it forced Grambrall to wrestle Rutt in the consolations early which cost Iowa some big points.
Wright got by all accounts a terrible draw in the NCAAs. He managed to wrestle his way into a seed at the Big Ten tournament which was a plus but his draw is horrendous. In the 2nd round of the tournament we have a Big Ten championship rematch between Wright and Steinhaus, that seems extremely unfair to both guys, the winner of that gets the top seed Chris Honeycutt. Even Wright's first match against Faussey could be a tough one. Wright will have to do most of his damage in the consolations.
Grambrall in my opinion actually has a much better draw. He'll hit LeBlanc from Wyoming in the second round which is tough but of the top 5 seeds that's probably the most beatable. Although winning that would earn him a rematch with Rutt and I can't see him winning that. State College's Steve Bosak earned the 3 seed for Cornell, but even he got a rough draw. He'll hit Kirk Smith in the quarterfinals. Smith was many people's pick for the top seed before being injured. If Smith is any healthier at this tournament that's a really awful draw for Cornell. After that the two seed is Lehigh's Robert Hamlin who seems like a bit of a soft two seed to me. So Bosak could easily reach the final.
Prediction: Finals Rutt vs Bosak - Champion Bosak - Wright: 7th place - Round of 12
197: Nick Ruggear - DNP
Ruggear went 0 - 2 and his season is over.
Cam Simaz earned the top seed for Cornell and he'll at least reach the semifinals where he'll run into Kilgore from Kent State. That should be a tough match up. Lofthouse earned the 5th seed after his Big Ten runner up finish. He should at least make the quarterfinals before I think we'll see him fall to Kilgore.
Prediction: Finals Simaz vs Brandvold - Champion Brandvold
Hwt: Cameron Wade - 5th place Big Ten finish
Wade was hailed as the hero picking up a major decision in his fifth place bout to give Penn State the 1 point it needed for a team title win. But Wade had an awful tournament. As I mentioned in the preview I thought it was bound to happen. He has not wrestled well over the final month of the season. He wrestled himself out of probably a top five seed at Nationals with his performance. He seems to have abandoned all offense from neutral trying to only score from the top position. The major decision in the 5th place bout against Apland who he has wrestled close before could be a good sign. But until Wade starts shooting and scoring from neutral he's still going to struggle.
Wade fell to 9 seed with his performance at the Big Tens and even worse he runs into Nelson from Minnesota in the 2nd round. Nelson beat Wade 3 0 at the Big Tens after Wade beat him in the regular season. That's if he gets to the 2nd round as he could have a tough match with Clayton Jack of Oregon State who Wade beat in the Scuffle earlier this year. All that gets him is a quarterfinal match against top seed Zach Rey from Lehigh. I would expect Wade to lose that match.
Blake Raising who really stepped up for Iowa winning a well deserved Big Ten title, gets a 7 seed, and likely will not make it past Jarrod Trice in the quarterfinals. So both Wade and Raising will have to do their damage in the consolations. I give Raising the edge based on how he is wrestling right now he certainly seems to be peaking at the right time. Cornell has no one at this weight.
Prediction: Finals Russo vs Flores - Champion Russo - Wade: 3rd - Round of 12 ( I honestly have no idea)
All in all it should be a great tournament. In a tournament this size it's tough to predict how any one team will do. There will be plenty of upsets which could make guys that appeared to have tough draws, suddenly have a favorable spot to wrestle above seed. What I can say is I think the team race in this tournament will be won in the consolations. All the teams have their big guns who should run deep in the championship bracket but it will come down to how the other guys do. Who can get the most guys to finish above seed, will be of the utmost importance. With Iowa's draw I could see the dropping to 5th but, I don't see them falling from the top 5. Penn State can easily win this thing and they should have a strong contingent of fans to support them. A finish lower than 3rd would have to be considered a disappointment for them.
2nd: Penn State
4th: Oklahoma St.
6th: Boise St.