Wrestling Team Looks To Win Their First Ever Big Ten Title

Yes that is correct in the somewhat storied history of Penn State wrestling they have never won a Big Ten title. They have a realistic shot of changing that this weekend in Evanston, but it won't come easy. Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota will all pose serious threats, a slip by Penn State or a solid tournament for any of those teams and Penn State will be heading to Philly with out a conference championship. 

I actually think Penn State has a better shot at a title in two weeks at the NCAA tournament then they do this week in the Big Ten. That may seem strange but with all the teams in the NCAA tournament there is a little more room for error, and Penn State is extremely top heavy this year. Most of their seeded wrestlers at the Big Tens will also likely draw seeds at the NCAA tournament. 

I'll break down each weight individually below but here are some general notes and things to look out for this weekend, mostly for our new wrestling fans. 

First, don't get too hung up on the scores early in the tournament. If Penn State has a bunch of upsets early there is room for concern. But most of the scoring will come from placing, the scoring after session two will include 2nd place points for all those in the finals. So that is a score to pay closer attention too. 

Bonus point will be key. This figures to be one of the closest team races in a long time. This is why I've been harping on all those 7 point decision wins throughout the season. Penn State will need to convert on bonus points every chance they get. 

The draws in the opening round are random, so don't be stunned if some 1 seeds or 2 seeds don't get byes. In a strange twist it would actually be beneficial for Penn State to get as many opening round matches as possible, as it will be a good opportunity for some of our guys to get extra bonus points. 

Penn State has the most 1 seeds in the tournament with 5, however that means there is no room for those guys to wrestle above seed, Penn State needs at least 4 to wrestle to seed to win in my opinion. If they manage to get all five their golden. 

Minnesota is dangerous, they are the only team to have guys seeded at all ten weights. They have quite a few guys seeded in the lower half, but if they wrestle above seed they could steal the title away from Iowa and Penn State. 

Wisconsin is a giant question mark, Graff is entering the tournament coming off and demolishing from Andrew Long, how will he look? Andrew Howe the returning NCAA champ is returning and is supposedly a 100% can he win the title? Is Rutt for real in an open weight class? If those guys and Brandvold deliver they could be looking at a title on Sunday. 

Iowa has a great shot to reign supreme once again, I would say Penn State is the favorite by the slimmest of margins. Iowa will need a few guys to wrestle above seed to win it but they're more than capable of pulling that off. On the other hand their some of their upper weights looked rather ordinary against Minnesota. If any of those guys falter below seed they'll have a very tough time winning the title. 

The tournament very likely could come down to heavyweight. As I've said numerous times none of the Big Ten heavys have impressed me all that much this season. Most of them have wrestled with a point or two of each other most of the year. If Wade gets upset early Penn State is in trouble, if Raising continues to improve Penn State is in trouble. I honestly think any one of the top seeds could win this weight. 

How close is the tournament well if you take away advancement points and go solely by placement points it's pretty darn close:
Penn State 93
Iowa 91
Wisconsin 73
Minnesota 65

Following The Tournament
Well unfortunately the Big Ten Network is again covering as little as they possibly can, having just one televised session and no internet streams available. The finals will be live on the BTN and it should feature several Penn State guys, and some great wrestling definitely worth tuning in. For the other sessions your only options are the Penn State radio feed which can be heard on the radio in state college or on gopsusports.com for a small fee. The open mat will also have live blogging and I believe audio available for most of the tournament. But remember they will be covering the big matches which won't always be the Penn State matches. However they should be able to keep you up to date on how everyone is doing. I don't have an exact link for the Open Mat coverage but their main page can be found here. You can also check out their predictions for the Big Ten tournament. 

The schedule is as follows:
Saturday:
11 AM: First Round and Quarterfinals
6 PM: Consolation First Round and Quarterfinals, Championship Bracket Semifinals

Sunday: 
2 PM: Consolation Semifinals and 7th place matches
4 PM: Championships, 3rd place matches, 5th place matches (Live on the BTN)

Brackets can be found here. These are the final brackets if someone pulls out now it will be a forfeit. Penn State and Iowa both got a lot of byes in the first round which could limit extra bonus points for both. Pataky got a 1st round match which he should win but Penn State probably doesn't want as it's one more chance for Pataky to get injured. 

125: 5 automatic qualifiers for Nationals

 

The top two at this weight are pretty much set with Precin and McDonough, I don't think anyone will touch those two. I also think 3 and 4 are pretty much set with Pataky and Sanders. That is of course barring injury which with Pataky is a huge question mark. I think the lower 4 seeds in this weight are all pretty far off the top 4. I realize Boyle beat Pataky once this year, but Pataky absolutely manhandled him the second time around before reinjuring his knee. The only real question is how do those two pairing finish up in the top 4. I think in what could be a national title preview Precin avenges his last loss to McD you can't throw out the pin but Precin was controlling the match up until that point. But this should be a great final match up. For 3rd place Pataky is capable of beating Sanders, he was right there in the dual meet and was even pressing the action at the end. The real question is his health. A win here would be huge not only for the team race but to try and get Brad a seed for NCAAs so he can avoid the awful draw he got last year. 

1st: Precin (NW)
2nd: McDonough (Iowa)
3rd: Sanders (Minn)
4th: Pataky (PSU)
5th: Boyle (Mich)

133: 8 automatic qualifiers
This not surprisingly has been one of the most discussed weight class as the pre seeds go. As you have Ramos from Iowa undefeated in Big Ten duals seeded third. The pre seeds are determined by the coaches and I think most looked at the overall body of work and I think Ramos's 3 losses are what hurt him here, that in combination with not wrestling Graff or Futrell during the dual season, and losing to Futrell at the Midlands. This is another weight where I think the top 4 seeds are much better than the lower 4. I have to say I hoped the final seeds move Ramos to 1 and slide Graff and Long down. Futrell is a bit of a wild card and he wrestled Long tough in the dual meet. I think he is much more capable of upsetting Long than Graff is at this point. I think he'll get past him again but this weight could go a long way to deciding the team race. One low seed wildcard to watch in this weight would be Paddock, he was extremely highly ranked earlier in the year and while he's struggled this year he is a dangerous wrestler capable of scoring a big upset. 

1st: Long (PSU)
2nd: Ramos (Iowa)
3rd: Futrell (Ill)
4th: Graff (Wisc)
5th: Mele (NW)
6th: Paddock (OSU)
7th: Stevens (Mich)
8th: Punchy (Thorn) (Minn)

141: 6 automatic qualifiers
The top 5 in this weight are all again far ahead of the other three however this is a very very dangerous weight class. If there is an upset early you could have to guys ranked in the top ten of the country wrestling in the consolations with a chance of not finishing in the top six of the tournament. I think Alton is dangerous as always and if he hits a throw he could score a major upset. He's capable of beating a lot of these guys it's just a matter of if he can do it. I think his best chance is against Thorn. But I think he'll likely end up wrestling to seed. I think the top 4 is basically a pick em at this weight. Should be a lot of fun to watch. 

1st: Kennedy (Ill)
2nd: Marion (Iowa)
3rd: Russel (Mich)
4th: Thorn (Minn)
5th: Alton (PSU)
6th: Fleckenstein (Pur)

149: 8 automatic qualifiers
This weight is Molinaro's to lose, he seems to be clearly ahead of the pack having solidly beat most of his top competition at this weight. Nadhir from Nortwestern figures to provide the toughest test if they meet up in the finals they haven't met this year, and Nadhir is tough but I can't see Frank losing to him at this point. However Frank can't afford any bad matches like he had in Minnesota. There are some quality kids at this weight who will beat him if that happens. Speaking of Minnesota, much has been made of J Rob's comments about Frank after the Minnesota match. Well this maybe a case of be careful what you wish for as Zilverberg draws Frank in the quarterfinals. A match Frank told Cael he was very very excited about getting. Zilverberg is funky and tough, but I expect a beat down on Saturday. 

1st: Molinaro (PSU)
2nd: Nadhir (NW)
3rd: Schmidt (Wisc) 
4th: Grajales (Mich)
5th: Kinser (Ind)
6th: Terrazas (Ill)
7th: Zilverberg (Minn)
8th: Ballweg (Iowa)

157: 6 automatic qualifiers
Again like 149 this weight is Penn State's to lose, if David Taylor doesn't win this tournament I will be absolutely stunned. His toughest competition figures to come from St. John of Iowa who has improved dramatically over the final 2 months of the season. The last time they wrestled Taylor won a dominate major decision. At worst I would expect a decision win this time around. This is a weight where Penn State figures to rack up tons of bonus points. 

1st: Taylor (PSU)
2nd: St. John (Iowa)
3rd: Welch (NW)
4th: Young (Ind)
5th: Salazar (Pur) 
6th: Zeerip (Mich)

165: 5 automatic qualifiers
A lot at this weight will depend on the health of returning NCAA champion Andrew Howe. Howe should take the weight class if he's anywhere close to healthy. Other guys to watch would be Colt Sponsellor and Cody Yohn. Sponsellor has looked a lot better since moving to 165 and Ohio State guys have a tendency to peak at the Big Ten tournament so he could be one to watch if Howe is still banged up. As far as Penn State goes they've decided to put Vollrath in the tournament after he apparently wrestled off with Fischer. I don't think it changes much about Penn State's chances. Vollrath did have a good Souther Scuffle but that was at 157. His only Big Ten dual meet win came against Wisconsin's backup 157 pounder who moved up to fill in for Howe. In that match Vollrath did pick up a win but it came mostly on a big 5 point move in the early moments of the match and then was even down the stretch. Being unseeded if he's able to place at all it would be a bonus for Penn State but I think it's unlikely. Against the field he has a pretty lopsided decision loss to the 6th seed Yates from Michigan. I think at best Penn State may get an 8th place finish here. 

1st: Howe (Wisc)
2nd: Sponsellor (Osu)
3rd: Yohn (Minn)
4th: Janssen (Iowa)
5th: Yates (Mich)

174: 8 automatic qualifiers
Much like 149 and 157 this is Penn State's weight class to lose. Ed Ruth should be the favorite by a wide margin over the field. I think despite the seeds his toughest competition could come from Glasser of Minnesota who he beat by 7 points in the dual, much to the dismay of the fans. Don't rule out Ben Jordan from Wisconsin who got a lower seed then I think he may have deserved and gave Ruth a pretty good match in the dual meet. It would take a major meltdown from Ruth to not win this, and I don't see that happening. The rest of the weight class is pretty even, I think Heflin seems like a bit of a soft two seed to me, so he could slide down. 

1st: Ruth (PSU)
2nd: Glasser (Minn)
3rd: Jordan (Wisc) 
4th: Manuel (Pur)
5th: Heflin (Osu)
6th: Lofthouse (Iowa)
7th: Zeerip (Mich)
8th: Jacobs (MSU)

184: 6 automatic qualifiers
This is the weight class that could make or break Penn State's chances. Wright is seeded 8th and will need at least 1 "upset" to reach qualification status. Even if he doesn't improve from how he's been wrestling I think he'll get that. He owns a dominate win over the 4 seed, and lost on a last second reversal to the 5 seed both are beatable. This is a weight where Penn State could make up ground by finishing above seed if one of the one seeds loses. This weight is actually pretty open, and I think Rutt is very beatable. There has been a lot of message board chatter that the coaches should try to move Wright up in the seeds. If I'm the Penn State coaches I actually like right where he's at. His path to the finals is Rutt and the winner of Hinton/Dallago either of which he could beat. Wright was wrestling well against Rutt and I think he can beat him. I'm not as positive with his chances against Steinhaus and Gramball who dominated him in dual meets earlier this year. The fact that he can avoid both of them is a huge plus. 

1st: Rutt (Wisc)
2nd: Steinhaus (Minn)
3rd: Gramball (Iowa)
4th: Wright (PSU)
5th: Dallago (Ill)
6th: Kissel (Pur)

197: 6 automatic qualifiers
Let's be honest the Big Ten could qualify 10 guys at this weight and Penn State would still have trouble getting someone to qualify. If Ruggear manages to win 1 bout then it will be a win for Penn State. I've been impressed with Brandvold the times I've seen him this year and I think he's deserving of the 1 seed and wins the tournament. The wildcard at this weight is Yohn. He's a great wrestler and has experience but he is clearly not 100% returned from his injury, and faded fast against Lofthouse in the Iowa dual meet. I wouldn't be surprised to see some improvement over the last week and a half but I'm not sure it's enough to get him to the finals. Brown from Purdue also has a chance to score and upset and find himself in the finals.

1st: Brandvold (Wisc)
2nd: Lofthouse (Iowa)
3rd: Yohn (Minn)
4th: Brown (Pur)
5th: Biondo (Mich)
6th: Powless (Ind)

Hwt: 6 automatic qualifiers
Wade enters as the top seed but I have I'm about 15% in my confidence he'll win it. I don't know why but I have a sinking suspicion he's due for a bad tournament and drop down podium. If that happens it would also likely sink Penn State's chance at a title. The problem with the Big Ten heavyweights now and in the NCAA in general is there is no real dominate guy that likes to get after it and score points. There's no McCoy no Konrad, heck even an Anspach could destroy this field. With that means that each match is close and one bad call, or one sloppy takedown given up could be disastrous. Wade has been relying way too much on his offense from top lately which could be troublesome if he can't get on top. I think a lot of other teams will start taking neutral forcing him to choose between bottom and top when it's his choice. His neutral defense has also been suspect at best in recent weeks. All those negatives being said for the most part he has found a way to win. And it a tournament like this it's all about survival it doesn't have to be pretty just win and move on. Thankfully for Penn State Rizquallah who embarrased Wade a few weeks ago is the 7th seed and not the 8th seed so he won't see him until deep in the tournament. That said he gets Nelson from Minnesota in the semis that could be an interesting semifinal match but it's a winnable one for Wade. Also there's a good chance Apland upsets Nelson, this would be the 4th time Wade has wrestled Apland he's won the first 3 but another meeting would figure to be a toss up. For Iowa Raising is also a bit of question mark he could go anywhere from winning this thing to finishing 5th or 6th. The key in the team race at this weight will be simple Penn State just needs to beat Iowa head to head. If Wade finishes ahead of Raising on the podium it will be ok for Penn State. 

1st: Alcala (Ind)
2nd: Apland (Mich)
3rd: Wade (PSU)
4th: Rasing (Iowa)
5th: Bugenhagen (Wisc)
6th: Rizqallah (MSU)

Team race: I think Penn State's big advantage he is they have some big point scorers in Taylor and Ruth. I think in matches not against the top 4 Alton will put up some serious bonus points. I think Molinaro will need to step up in that regard. Penn State is a slim favorite. But I think this is finally the year they bring home the crown. But don't be surprised if this race is close enough that it comes down to heavyweights much like the southern scuffle.

1st: Penn State
2nd: Iowa
3rd: Wisconsin
4th: Minnesota
5th: Michigan

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