Twelve. This weight offers 12 automatic qualifying bids to Nationals. That's more than one-third of the entire Nationals field. Maryland's Geoff Alexander, a senior, ranked 18th in the nation, is the 11-seed. It would seem that there are only 17 guys better than Alexander in the entire nation, but 10 of them are in his own conference.
That might not be too far off. The top eight seeded wrestlers at this weight combine for an impressive 129-26 record. But 19 of those 26 losses are to fellow Big Ten foes - that is, themselves. They've lost a grand total of seven non-conference matches all season long.
Chris Dardanes, Minnesota. He's back. After one sluggish junior year at 141 lbs, which ended far short of the podium, the Gopher senior two-time All-American completed an undefeated regular season back down at 133 lbs, and earned the 1-seed. That underscores Dardanes' modus operandi. He's a grinder. He's a good athlete, but not a great one. Physical strength must be his forte, and that was something that became all too average up one weight class.
Dardanes, though he's wrestled just 18 matches on the year, has been thoroughly tested. He survived Penn State's Jimmy Gulibon despite leading off the dual, just one hour after weigh-in. He came back from a 5-point, 1st period deficit against Illinois' Zane Richards. And he put considerable distance between himself and most of the rest of conference.
But, whooo boy, Dardanes will have to earn it. Wisconsin's Taylor, the 2-seed, may be stronger. He rag-dolled Illinois' Richards, tech falling him in part by moving seamlessly from a pure power mat return into a tilt. It was an impressive display of strength from the Badger which should serve notice on the rest of the field - most of whom have yet to wrestle him this season, thanks to a screwball Big Ten schedule (Taylor did not wrestle Dardanes, Gulibon, DiJulius, or Clark - the 'other' top 5 seeds). Speaking of which, Gulibon, DiJulius, and Clark each head to Columbus, OH, with solid odds of getting his hand raised on Sunday afternoon in the last bout.
THE DARK HORSE
Take your pick. Sure, we've already rattled off the top 5 seeds in this tournament. But the #8, #9, #12, #16, #18, #21, and #23 wrestlers in the nation are still on the board.
They all have flaws, which makes them dark horse candidates. Zane Richards is brilliant on his feet, but can get bullied. Danny Sabatello, when he slows the match down and doesn't make the egregious mistake, can beat anyone - but he makes egregious mistakes. Bruno, DelVecchio, Alexander, and Malone are all tough, tough outs. And Nebraska's Montoya is funky enough to be dangerous to everyone in the field.
Did you know? Twelve bids is a record, besting the previous mark (10) by two. And, oh by the way, this weight class lost three seniors who placed 1st (Tony Ramos), 2nd (Tyler Graff), and 5th (David Thorn) at NCAAs last year.
Upset Alert? Keep an eye on the bottom half of the bracket, and the 6-vs-11 (Richards vs Alexander) and 7-vs-10 (Sabatello vs DelVecchio) pairings.