UPDATE: FULL SCHEDULE BELOW
Thu, 12p, ESPN3
Championship bracket Pigtails
Championship bracket R1
Thu, 7:30p, ESPN3
Fri, 11a, ESPN3, ESPNU
Fri, 7p, ESPNU
Sat, 11a, ESPNU
3rd Place Bout
5th Place Bout
7th Place Bout
Sat, 8p, ESPN
March Madness is cool. But March Matness will bust yo ass. 330 crazy fit and determined studs battle it out against the best the country can offer in their weight class in a search for individual glory. Since the powers that be still have not agreed on how to adjust their season to a more fan-friendly calendar, D1 college wrestling's premier tournament will once again share the spotlight with the wildly popular (and preposterously lucrative) basketball tourney opening weekend. With Pat Chambers' #ATTITUDE still a year or two away from making this a real conflict for Penn Staters, the Nittany Lion wrestlers once again have an opportunity to monopolize fan interest with a host of All-American candidates, some hopeful National Champions and enough firepower up and down their lineup to be the favorite to secure their 3rd team national championship in as many years.
But this is tournament wrestling, and these brackets are brutal. It's a double-elimination tournament in which every man has a chance to wrestle as many as eight matches and as few as two, in six 'sessions' during three exhausting days of the best competition. In addition to the alluring individual challenges & glory chases, this tournament has what I've come to understand is a very clever and honorable method of awarding team points for individual accomplishments. Team scoring has been in place since 1934 and has been modified about twenty times through the years before arriving at the present structure, which has been the same since 2001. It's got three flavors of points, but with a little look under the hood, they're all easily understandable. As the thirty-three men in each weight eliminate each other, the final eight earn All-American status and are considered to have 'placed' on the podium. As such, they earn Placement Points for their team for their finish in that top eight, like this:
1st place = 16
3rd = 10
4th = 9
5th = 7
6th = 6
7th = 4
8th = 3
Next, they earn Advancement Points for their team for simply proceeding forward in their bracket. I like this because it says 'Gradulations for even winning one freakin match in this brutal tourney' and because the points are accurately proportionate, imho, to those earned for placing: the team gets 1 Advancement Point for a win or a bye followed by a win in the Championship Bracket (no losses having yet been sustained) and .5 points for the same in the Consolation Bracket (at least one loss having been sustained).
Last are Bonus Points. Whereas the majority of team sports have eliminated margin of victory as a considerable metric and many discourage running up the score as classless sportsmanship, wrestling don't play that. Its ancient mano a mano motifs actually encourage the pursuit of domination, although some clemency is granted by stopping matches where a 15+ point victory margin has been earned. Here again, I think the point quantity is equitable and judicious:
2 = Fall, Forfeit, Default, DQ
1.5 = Tech Fall (15+ win margin) w/back points
1 = Tech Fall w/no back points or a Major Decision (8+ win margin)
The last piece of information the tournament organizers provide to data geek wrestling fans (two thumbs pointing at chest) to digest ahead of its much-anticipated commencement are the wrestlers' seeds and names dropped into the brackets. There's a lot of criteria that go into determining the seeds, which I'm not going to go into here, but as Penn State has been winning more team championships these past few years, I've garnered a better understanding of the sublime scoring that goes into this awesome tournament. As such, I thought it would be fun to dig a little deeper into the brackets to see what the seeds project and which weight classes could provide the most critical swings in the race for a team National Championship. Pop this link to the brackets open in another window for easy reference.
This is the spreadsheet I've used to keep score of the last few tournaments I've followed and I plan to update it after each session this weekend. Feel free to download it to keep score yourself; for those of you interested in accelerating your wrestling geekdom, it can be a fun way to better understand the scoring rules. I've updated it with the four most legitimate team title contenders: Penn State, Oklahoma State, Iowa and Minnesota. The next likely three--Missouri, Ohio State & Cornell--are all really good and could each have a couple finalists, but they just aren't deep enough or don't have enough top-end firepower to post any real threat to the top four. At least not without an absurd number of preposterous upsets or injuries. Actually, it should end up being a rather good fight for that 'coveted' #5 spot. Last year Ohio State bumped Oklahoma State to #6 with the controversial Stieber over Oliver title at 133, which gave Okie State one of its only nine (!) times it has finished outside the Top 5 in the 79 years the tournament has kept an official team score (for that matter, the whole back end of the Top 10 should have some interesting battles as well--with those three, Oregon State, Oklahoma, Illinois & Virginia Tech). Anyway, for the top four teams, I went ahead through each of their wrestlers' brackets and projected their Won/Loss results using the following methodology (thanks again to Roar & NoVA for their help to me on this):
1. Seed. The NCAA assigns seeds to the top 12 wrestlers and the rest are dropped in using some arbitrary or mad method I'm not confidently familiar with (but which I will enthusiastically digest if provided from the gallery).
2. Wrestling Report rank. These were last updated 2/25/13, so they do not include conference tourney results, but Gregg A. Henry (GAH) puts in work ranking each weight out to thirty-three wrestlers, and that is really what I needed to project the brackets for the 21 unseeded wrestlers in each class.
3. In the consolation rounds, I'm assuming they don't meet someone of higher seed or rank (they always advance according to their seed/rank grouping). This is the first start of the absurdity of projecting bracket results ahead of time--making an assumption of zero upsets.
4. Non-AA finishers are considered equal to every other wrestler in their group at finish (9th = 12th, 13th = 16th, etc). There is no functional difference between the 9th 'place' wrestler and the 12th 'place' wrestler, since those wrestlers' tourneys are finished after a loss in the Round of 12 and they do not face each other to determine a true ranking between them. The same goes for losers in the Round of 16 and the Round of 24.
So what did we find? Remember that no Bonus Points are projected (even more impossible and muddy than what I'm attempting here)--only Advancement Points & Placement Points. Here are the breakouts of projections based on seed (Advancement, Placement, Total):
PSU: 37 / 64 / 101
OkSt: 32.5 / 61 / 93.5
Iowa: 32.5 / 54 / 86.5
Minny: 33 / 41 / 74
Note that Minnesota's Advancement Points are a half point higher than OkSt's and Iowa's but their Placement Points are so much lower. Why is that? The quick answer is that 5 of their 6 projected All-Americans are seeded on the back half of AA (5, 6, 7 or 8). So (again, big asterisk here on the model--in reality there are more ways than this projection method for wrestlers to arrive at their final placement), they only have one projected semifinalist. The other five, using this methodological model, are projected to all encounter their first loss in the quarterfinals. As such, they'll go 2-0 before exiting the championship bracket and, with pigtail byes, they'll each earn 3 Advancement Points before doing so. Here's a table showing the summaries:
(click to get your Jimmy Johnson on)
Iowa's points are structured, in a way, opposite Minnesota's. 4 of their 6 AA's are projected in the top three, so they've got more bang for their All-American buck. Okie State is being carried by their two projected champions. They also match Iowa's definite goose egg at 149 (no qualifier), with two projected ones of their own--at 125 & 141 (GAH has Klimara & Feikert ranked #29), whereas PSU & Minny project to score at least some points from all ten wrestlers. But beyond Okie's two projected champs, their next best two are semifinalists and not finalists. That makes a big difference compared to Penn State, who's even more top-heavy with four finalists & one champ. Zeroing in on each team's top four, here are the average Placement Points:
This might be an easier way to look at each team's structure. It's each team's count of wrestlers at each seed. And the Score column varies slightly from the results sheet and uses the max possible Advancement Points, assuming each wrestler at that projected finish won his first championship bracket match even if he was matched up against a higher ranked/seeded wrestler. Oklahoma State's first round match-ups matched the max possible route, while PSU's, Iowa's & Minny's wrestlers in that end-place position all project to lose first round (so this table shows them a few points higher than the other, 'more accurate' one).
You can see that Penn State's four Top 2's double OkSt's and Iowa's, but you can also see that they're not far behind with those 3's. Penn State's empty at 5's, 6's & 7's, where OkSt & Iowa have two wrestlers each and Minnesota starts to creep in with four there. All four teams are dead even with six projected AA's, but they're also all squared up in the crucial Round of 12, with two each. Dudes that get that far are only one win away from AA and that round can be pretty distinctive in the team race, bringing an additional 3.5 points to the team. Perhaps more importantly, a win there brings another opportunity to wrestle again.
It's not hard to envision any of those final scores swapping around with the slightest of plausible results that differ from seeds. If DSJ defeats Welch (who he's beaten a few times) or Ramos solves Stieber or Iowa's 3x Finalist, 2x Champ bests his #3 seed, they're right in the mix at the top. Evans could win a title. Ballweg, Lofthouse & Telford can all throw some decent points on the board to accentuate. On the other hand, they've been struggling to score bonus points (and even takedowns recently) and one of their studs looks more vulnerable than he ever has.
Oklahoma State's Oliver appears on a mission to a title, but their other number one seed, Perry, is in the crucible of the 174 pound weight class and it's not hard to picture him either winning the whole thing or missing the semifinals. But their heavyweight can win a title and they can really compete at 133 and 157,and their guys at 184 and 197 could be real sleepers. Despite the relatively (for their historically dominant program) poor performances of late (since their last team title in 2006, they've finished 5th, 5th, n/a, 6th, 4th & 6th), it's very realistic that they could win this year's title.
Minnesota looks like maybe the longest shot of the four with some real iffy chances to score significant points at a number of weights. It's also a bummer that maybe their second-best wrestler (Steinhaus) drew a #5 seed and a quarterfinal match-up against a guy he's got a career 0-5 record against (Bosak). If he finally clears that hurdle, he's got Ed Ruth in the semifinals. But on the other hand, they've got a returning champ at heavyweight, Dylan Ness wouldn't surprise me by reaching the finals again and despite the close shaves at B1Gs last weekend, Storley can definitely win his weight class too. Plus those mysterious Dardanes twins, who've been known to go on some wicked pinning rampages. Still, they will need an awful lot to come together to win it this year.
Penn State is most likely the favorite, but it's not by an awful lot. I think they're seeded perhaps more accurately to their abilities than the other three. But even so, man have they got possible potholes! At the top, Brown has to navigate this year's toughest weight class, Q still has to get through Wilps again just for the chance to even see Kilgore and Taylor famously has Dake. Nico's seeded just where he should be, but possible match-ups against Va Tech's Garnett & Mizzou's Waters, while perhaps favorable considering Delgado & McDonough on the other side, are against big dudes he's never seen before. I'm trying to remind myself how well he solved both Sanders & Perrelli at just the right time last year.
Then we have the Altons. Their seeds project to 3 & 6.5 pts without Bonus. Two years ago, Andrew earned 5pts on his way to the quarters before going 0-2 from there and barely missing All-American. Last year Dylan earned 4pts into the quarters where he lost another close one to DSJ, but then he went 4-0 in the consis and finished with 15.5 points for the team! So we know there's talent and potential there. But Andrew has really struggled late in periods this calendar year and Dylan got put on his back by all three of the cats who beat him at B1Gs last weekend. If they only do as well as their seeds say they will (and they both have some tough early match-ups) and the other contenders hover around the top end of their potentials, this race will be really, really tight. If, however, they manage to put together one or two runs close to performances they've made in the past and which we assume they remain potentially capable of, the team race will be a lot less stressful. Conaway, Pearsall & Lawson could be gravy at that point.
Penn State definitely has the talent and experience to win it again. They also have the coaching. While PSU has yet to go undefeated in dual meets the past four years of Cael Sanderson's tenure here, they are undefeated in their last eight tourneys against top competition: three Southern Scuffles (one was a tie), three Big Ten tourneys and two National tourneys. They've had a number of guys out-perform their seeds at different times during that span, and doing that was an underrated hallmark of some of the best Dan Gable teams. This year's Penn State team sure has the ability to do some great things this weekend, but it's more than likely going to be pretty tight. The 4-5 hours between sessions on Friday afternoon could be really stressful. The quarterfinals will be over, the Round of 12 will be set and some big, big points will be on the table Friday night. It's going to be brutal.
And man it's gonna be fun.