The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Bumped for another awesome job -DV

Tomorrow Penn State wrestling will compete in its 21st Big Ten Championship tournament since joining the league in 1993. Thanks to my friends Roar Lions & NoVALion at Fight on State's wrestling board, I've taken a look at some of the history of the Big Ten tournament and reorganized it to give us a picture of how well Penn State and its wrestlers have fared in it since joining the league, how competitive the league was before Penn State joined and what some of its long-standing records are, and how Penn State might hope to fare in this weekend's tournament.

The best starting point is to remind how the wrestlers competing for individual glory send points to their team during their weight class's bracketed competitions. They do so in three ways: by simply advancing, by margin of victory in their individual bouts and by placing in the top-8 in their weight class. The points distributed look like this:


1st place = 16
2nd =12
3rd = 10
4th = 9
5th = 7
6th = 6
7th = 4
8th = 3

These placement point amounts have been in practice since 2001, but the first placement points awarded in team scoring began for good in 1934 when 1st place was worth 5, second worth 3 and third worth 1. In a chronological context, portions of these points are awarded to the team as soon as the wrestler has earned 'at least' that place. For example, a win in the quarterfinals guarantees the wrestler will finish no worse than 6th place, so his team is credited with 6 points at that time. This is helpful to note when following the team race in between tourney sessions.


One point is awarded for a win or a bye followed by a win in the championship bracket (before the wrestler has suffered any losses). A half point (.5) is awarded for a win or a bye followed by a win in the consolation bracket (after a wrestler has earned at least one loss). These scoring rules have been around since 1974 when a consolation advancement win was dropped from 1 point to .5 points. The addition of the points following a bye were added in 1985.


Two points are awarded for a fall, forfeit, default or disqualification. These points have been around off and on since 1929, the first year team scoring was kept for the end of year national tournament. They were switched from 1 to 2 points in 1995. Also in 1985, the Technical Fall--a bout win by 15 or more points--replaced the Superior Decision (a win by 12 or more points) and has been recognized in some form since then, including a brief period from 1995 to 1997 when it was called a Match Termination (this is helpful to note when viewing archived brackets from those years). It used to be worth 1 team point, then .75 team points (1988 to 1995), then back to 1 until 1997. At that point, two flavors of it began to be recognized: a 15+ bout win which included back points and a 15+ bout win with no back points. The former is worth 1.5 to the team and the latter worth 1. Also worth 1 bonus point to the team is a bout win by Major Decision (8 or more points). In summary, bonus points now look like this:

2 = Fall, Forfeit, Default, DQ
1.5 = Tech Fall w/back points
1 = Tech Fall w/no back points or a Major Decision

Team History

In the early years of conference wrestling, the Big Ten team champions were determined by dual meet records or in a 'closed meet format' which I suppose was at the end of the year. Indiana and Illinois dominated back then. They kept that up after team point scoring began to be used to crown the team champion in 1934 but in the forties, Purdue crept in and won a few titles. The fifties, sixties and early seventies saw the rise of Michigan and Michigan State, until the mid-seventies when Iowa took over. The Hawkeyes had won the 1974, 1975 & 1976 conference titles before Dan Gable was lured to Iowa City and from there they continued crushing the league en route to a record 25 consecutive conference championships. It wasn't until 1999 that another team would win, when Minnesota scored 139 points in Ann Arbor to break the Hawkeye stranglehold.

Penn State's arrival in the conference didn't do much to upend the Iowa-Minnesota dominance at first, but in 2011, PSU joined those two teams and Illinois as the only programs to win a Big Ten tourney team title in those 20 years. They've also clearly been in the conference top 4 during that span, finishing 4th or better in eleven of those years.


Here are the final standings and points for each year since 1993:


Note the highest team score in that time was Minnesota's 174. They crowned 5 champions that year, which is the most Penn State has ever had in one year (2011). But that's nothing compared to the all-time Big Ten record, held by, no surprise, a Dan Gable-led Iowa team. In 1983, Iowa crowned 9 conference champions and demolished the Big Ten field by scoring 200 points. Next closest was Michigan State with 81.5 points. Michigan State, by the way, is the only non-Iowa team to ever place more than 5 champions in one year, which they did in 1969 with 6. Using this list of Big Ten Individual Champions (again, thanks Roar!), sorted by year, team & weight, we can see that there were 12 years when a team had 6 or more individual Big Ten champions. Iowa crowned 6 in '78, '79, '87, '92 and '95; 7 champs in '81, '82, '84 & '86, 8 champs in '85 and 9 in '83. That's right: Gable's Hawk teams earned 6 or more champions in every year from 1981 to 1987. It should come as no surprise that during those years Iowa was in the middle of 9 consecutive national championships as well.

In the 20 years Penn State has been competing in the tourney they have crowned 19 individual champions:


That's good enough for third place behind Iowa and Minnesota:


Here's the full list of Big Ten champions by 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, all-time. Please just let me know if you ever write anything that uses it (it should be easy to download), because I know I'll want to read it. Note that there have only been two wrestlers who have been 4x champs since 1993: Michigan's Kellen Russell and Iowa's Mark Ironside. Just to emphasize the obvious: that means they never lost in the Big Ten tourney their whole career. It's very impressive. There have only been 11 all-time and seven of them have been from Iowa. It's worth noting that Penn State has two wrestlers on their current team, David Taylor and Ed Ruth, who are candidates to join that elite group. Which brings me to my last hot sprot #analysis: how can Penn State expect to fare in the tournament this weekend?

Projections with Preseeds

Using two of the three tournament scoring flavors laid out above, we can declare how many team points can be earned, from Placement & Advancement points, by each of the top 8 placements. Bonus points are less fixed and impossible to predict. Here are those point sums:

1st place = 19 (16 + 3)
2nd = 15 (12+3)
3rd = 12.5 (10+2.5)
4th = 11.5
5th = 9
6th = 8
7th = 5.5
8th = 4.5

So using the pre-seeds and assuming every wrestler finishes exactly in the place their seed projects, we would have this order of finish, with points:

PSU: 130
Minny: 122.5
Iowa: 120.5


Illinois and Ohio State are really good teams, top-ten nationally. But they just don't have the firepower to compete with the top three. I don't trust brutus, because beyond the Stiebers, they haven't shown they can rise up. Lots of good athletes (and tans), but that coaching staff hasn't shown they can get those kids to really perform. Those are pretty tight scores. Especially when you remember that our two 4th's are Conaway & Pearsall, who could really drop from those lofty spots. Alternatively, Andrew is our 6th and Brown is our 5th. Not hard at all to project them to improve on those. Lawson's probably about right as our lone 7th. Also, our three 1sts are way more solid than Minny's two, Nelson & Storley. Nelson's great, but McMullan, Medberry & Telford are all studs and often a single TD wins a HWT match. And Storley's in that 174 hellfire. Iowa's Nico (ed: whoops) McD & DSJ only last weekend showed their vulnerability.

Iowa's Dziewa could be a wildcard, but I think this tourney comes down to the performance of the Minnesota & Penn State twins. Dylan (3rd) and Nick (2nd) have been pretty steady, but Andrew (6th) and Chris (7th) are real wildcards. Bonus is the other real wildcard, of course, and Penn State has a decent record of performing in that category, but without pigtail matches, our studdiest studs only get three bouts and pinning through to the title is a tall order to request. Still, I like Penn State's chances. They're arguably the most talented and are favored for a reason. Sanderson coaches all year long for these two weeks and I expect the lads to perform. And it sure is gonna be fun to watch.

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