Monday afternoon the Big Ten released its pre-seeds for the wrestling championship tournament. What are "pre-seeds"? They're the conference's first shot at seeding the field of wrestlers, and are subject to change. The process is as follows: 1) people who've watched wrestling all year long consider each wrestler's season resume, and take a stab at seeding them; 2) those people release those seedings for the world to review and discuss; 3) those people sit down with all of the coaches from the 12 squads, and hear arguments - if any - for why a particular wrestler should be ranked higher or lower. This occurs the Friday before the start of the tournament; 4) the final seedings and brackets are released.
It's a process that involves all of the stakeholders, builds interest through intelligent debate, and ultimately reaches a better result at the conclusion. Compare that to FBS Bowl Selection, or the hoopeyshoot brackets. Kinda cool, right? Having said that, the seedings do not typically see much change; just tweeks. Maybe you see a wrestler bump from 6 to 5; you're not going to witness the 8th pre-seed end up as the overall #1. Of course, that's also because the pre-seeds have been made after careful consideration to begin with. #Smarts.
One last quick note before we dive into the amended bracketology: by rule, only the Top 8 wrestlers get seeded, and though we've drawn each bracket with the top 4 seeds receiving a first-round bye, that's not going to be the case. The only exception to this rule occurs when a weight class received 8 or more qualifiers. In that scenario, the top 11 get seeded (and that's still no guarantee that 1 thru 4 all get a bye). But with that out of the way....
125 LBS - Top 7 Qualify
Our guy Nico lands the #2 seed behind #1 McDonough of Iowa as we expected, who beat Nico at the dual February 1st on overtime rideout. Nico gets the toughest road possible, in my opinion, to bringing home the Big Ten title. His quarterfinal bout against Minnesota's Thorn is far from a gimme. Thorn was a round of 12 guy at 133 lbs two years ago, and has zero 'bad' losses on the year. He's tough. In the semi-finals he gets a third match against Jesse Delgado, who's a good bet to make the National semi-finals as well. And, of course, in the final Nico's likely to get a rematch with two-time national champion McDonough. There's not an easy match in that troika.
Conversely, #1 seed McDonough can sleep-walk his way into the final. He gets a quarterfinal match against the Duca/Malone winner. Malone is ranked 24th, but lost 0-10 to Cam Eppert. McDonough should get bonus from that one. In the semis he's likely to see Michigan's Boyle. And though Boyle himself is a former round of 12 participant, he's not a good matchup style-wise with McDonough. That could also be bonus for the Hawkeye.
With the easier road to the finals, and the 12 hour gap from last weigh-ins to the final, I'm giving the nod to McDonough.
133 LBS - Top 7 Qualify
Jordan Conaway snared the 4-seed; one spot better than we figured him for. Best of all, Thomas, who Conaway beat at Illinois immediately following his pinfall loss to Ramos, got the 5-seed. If Jordan can repeat that victory in the quarterfinals, he's into the NCAAs, since the Top 7 qualify. He wouldn't have to win another match (by my bracketing, at least. Consume this claim with caution).
Why stop at the semis? Why not put him in the final? Because sledge hammer Logan Stieber will be Jordan's semi-final opponent. I'd usually write a qualifier in there, such as "probable" or "likely" semi-final opponent. Not in this instance, though. Stieber's the returning National Champion, and, in my view, is a lot better than he was last year. He already owns a first period pinfall victory over Conaway, as well. So, yeah.
From a team race standpoint, Iowa's Ramos has a harder road to hoe than Stieber. With Minny's Dardanes getting the 7-seed, Ramos, like Nico at 125, gets an R12 opponent in the quarterfinals. Then he's likely to get All-American Graff in the semi-final, before facing Stieber in the nuclear explosion of the finals. All of that bodes well for Penn State, because Iowa's top point scorer this season might only score bonus if he gets a pigtail/opening round match. Hooray!
141 LBS - Top 6 Qualify
Everything we wrote above about Conaway, paste it here for Pearsall. Bryan earned the 4-seed. He should make it to the semi-final. And then he'll face a hammer named Stieber. With the Top 6 at this weight heading to the NCAAs, Bryan shouldn't have to win another match besides his quarterfinal (again, according to my bracketing).
The downside to this weight is that either Iowa or Minnesota will get a(nother) finalist. Nebraska's Ridge Kiley, with the 6-seed, is the only guy with a shot at ruining that - and it's not a very good shot. Though Kiley is ranked 23rd nationally, he sports just a 14-9 record which includes a 1-6 loss to his quarterfinal opponent, Iowa's Ballweg. So that sucks.
149 LBS - Top 8 Qualify
You have to feel bad for the seeding committee on this one. There are some real head scratchers, but none of the top guys wrestled each other. Ness missed time with injury. Tessari sat out a couple of matches. Grajales and Lopouchanki didn't miss time - but they did miss all of the top competition. And, of course, our guy Andrew missed the entire month of January.
All of that said, the seeding committee came up with the same Top 6 that BSD did. So they must be really smart. Andrew Alton gets the 6-seed, and could really wreck the whole bracket from there. Hopefully he gets an opening round match against a bottom-of-the barrel opponent, and puts him on his back in the first minute as is Andrew's custom. Either way, Andrew's quarterfinal opponent is 3-seed Lopouchanski, who owns a 5-2 decision over James English. Lopouchanski transferred to Purdue from UNC-Greensboro, when that program was cancelled. He's never made All-American. He can be had here.
I'm hoping Andrew takes him, because if he does, he's likely to see Minnesota's Dylan Ness in the semi-final. And that is a matchup I'm dying to see. Ness, of course, finished National Runner-Up last year to Frank the Tank at this weight. But what makes this match so intriguing is that both of these guys throw. We could see 10 different, really wild ass 5-point throws that you might not see again for six years. Haymaker and haymaker.
From that point, I'm putting Andrew into the consolations, where he exacts revenge on Sueflohn and then takes out 1-seed Grajales to finish 3rd. A strong finish from Andrew is just what the head shrinker ordered before Nationals.
157 LBS - Top 7 Qualify
As if to underscore the fact that NWCA All-Star matches do not count towards the season's record, our guy Dylan Alton takes the 3-seed. Not that it matters all that much. The top 4 guys at this weight are all within a takedown of each other. And then the 5 thru 8 guys are similarly comparable.
Dylan will start off with another match against Ohio State's Demas, against whom he's never lost. And then he'll get a semi-final (re)match against Northwestern's Welch. Dylan dropped his first match against Welch last year 1-2 at the Welsh-Ryan dual. But he's won both bouts since then: a 6-2 win in the national 3rd place match, and a 3-2 decision at the aforementioned NWCA All-Star dual.
In the final - Penn State's second finalist - Dylan gets a rematch with Iowa's St. John. Discussing their bout at Carver-Hawkeye this year makes me want to vomit, so I'll skip over that and simply note that I'm taking Dylan as Penn State's first Big Ten champion this year.
165 LBS - Top 8 Qualify
In a stunning move, the seeding committee handed the 1-seed to David Taylor. Taylor truly is head and shoulders above everyone in this bracket. But from a team perspective, the seeding committee put Iowa's and Minnesota's 165-lbers on Taylor's half of the bracket. And, of course, Taylor has tech falled both of them (Moore from Iowa, and Yawn from Minny). So that was a nice move, particularly since, if Moore had been on the other half of the bracket, he had a decent shot at making a finals run. Hooray, seeding!
174 LBS - Top 8 Qualify
As previously mentioned, this bracket consists of almost nothing but All-American candidates. Even 9th and 10th seeds Leigel and Welch are dangerous. It's a ridiculous amount of talent on display.
Matt Brown comes in as the 5th seed, after four painfully close losses in conference to 1-seed Storley (a defensive pin while leading 4-2), 2-seed Kokesh (time expired as he locked up a cradle), 3-seed Evans (I'm going to be sick if I have to describe how Brown lost that scramble), and 4-seed Heflin (hooray for stalling). So yes - this 5-seed was earned on the mat. But if you look back through the brackets, you won't find another 5-seed with the finals potential of Brown, either. Just about all of those 4 losses could have gone the other way, in which case Matt Brown would enter this bracket as the national #1 and front-runner for the title.
All of that is not to whine, but to point out that the difference between 1 and 5 is paper thin. Actually, make that 1 and 6, as 6-seed Blanton lost a nail biter to Storley after a takedown was reversed. But whatever. You get the idea. Unfortunately I was not able to fully separate my homerific tendencies, and so I have Brown making the final. I do give the Big Ten title to Cumberland Valley's Mike Evans. But that's just because I want Hawkeye fans to have hope of winning the team title before those hopes ultimately get crushed.
184 LBS - Top 6 Qualify
Well, look at this: Ed Ruth is the #1 pre-seed. I'm betting that this one doesn't change.
Beyond that, like Taylor's weight, there isn't a whole lot to discuss. Minnesota's Steinhouse is a pretty good bet to make the final, and it'll be a fun matchup to watch. Steinhouse is a textbook technical wrestler with a really great duckunder that he doesn't use often enough. But, no. I see no way he knocks off So Fresh, So Clean.
197 LBS - Top 8 Qualify
Quentin is undefeated, ranked #2 nationally, and squares with the 1-seed in this bracket. But - even though this is tournament time - this isn't the NCAAs just yet. Last year proved that Quentin can throw out a headscratcher when it's not win or go home. And 3-seed Gonzalez and 4-seed Campollattano both posses the athleticism to hang around with Q and make him work. Minnesota's Schiller, as the 2-seed, is not as athletic, but he's a better wrestler than those two. So Q's anticipated final match up isn't a gimme, either (though Q did put up a comfortable 9-5 win at the Scuffle on Schiller).
With those qualifiers out of the way - yes, Quentin takes home another Big Ten title in his last Big Ten tournament.
285 LBS - Top 9 Qualify
When the Top 9 finishers qualify for Nationals, and four of the 12 competitors include White, Lopez, Ohio State's Tavanello for an injured Capone, and 197-lber Johnson from Nebraska - well, then Jimmy Lawson is going to the NCAAs. That's the good news.
The bad news is that for a conference to garner 9 automatic bids, the weight class is pretty stacked. And, after looking at the bracket, that premise seems to hold water. Jimmy comes in as the 7-seed. He should get a patsy in an opening round match that he, hopefully, bonuses. And then it's a showdown with Wyoming Seminary's 2-seed Mike McMullan, now wrestling for Northwestern. McMullan is one of those slim and fit heavies, probably around 220 - 230. Can Jimmy pull the upset? Yes. Does he? What the heck - let's say yes.
Jimmy moves onto the semi-finals, where he faces what I consider to be the most dangerous wrestler in the bracket not named Tony Nelson - Wisconsin's Connor Medberry. Medberry looks like he plays Guard for the Badgers football team. Can Jimmy pull another upset here? Yes. Does he? I don't think so. That's one too many upsets to project. In the wrestlebacks, he's likely to get a McClure or Chalfant in the consolation semis. I think Jimmy finishes 5th or 6th, either of which are above his pre-seed.
More bad news: Minnesota's Nelson is a good bet for champ. More good news: Iowa's Telford is on the same side of the bracket, so they both can't make the final. Hooray seedings!
Ten semi-finalists, 6 finalists, and 4 champions. Does that bring home a third straight championship? It does, by a fairly comfortable margin too. I could see that semi-finalist total at 8 instead of 10 pretty easily. Finalists at 4 instead of 6, and champions at 3 instead of 4. If that's the scenario, does it bring home the title? Ehhhh. I'd be close.
I guess we'll have to tune it to find out.
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