One year ago, the top four at this weight were, in order, Robert Kokesh, Matt Brown, Mike Evans, and Logan Storley. Kokesh beat Storley 3-2 to advance to the final, where he beat Mike Evans (who had beaten Matt Brown in the other semifinal, 3-2) for the Big Ten title by a 6-4 score.
This year sets up in exactly the same fashion. Kokesh (1), Brown (2), Evans (3), and Storley (4) are your top seeds, and, based on this year alone, these four expect to make the semifinals again, and replay last year's final four. The other ten wrestlers appear to be vying for 5th place.
Robert Kokesh, Nebraska. This is one tough dude. As the 3-seed in last year's NCAAs, Kokesh tore up his knee early in his quarterfinal match against Minnesota's Logan Storley, before eventually dropping a heartbreaking decision in a fourth overtime. Then he wrestled back to finish fourth on one leg.
This year he's healthy, and he's relatively rested. Illinois' Zach Brunson, #10 nationally, is the only top-25 opponent Kokesh has faced since beating Matt Brown in the Southern Scuffle final, way back on January 1st. He already had the best neutral offense of the four at this weight, and thanks to Nebraska's schedule, Kokesh should start Saturday with his video game life-force-meter at full, bright green, 100%. It's debatable whether Storley, Evans, or Brown enjoy the same.
But, the top four here are never more than one takedown away from each other. It's been that way for three years. Overtime is as frequent, if not more frequent, than regulation. Evans, Brown, and Storley each can win this thing - and Matt Brown already has, taking the crown two years ago, when he was the 5-seed and Storley was the 1-seed. Mike Evans, then the 2-seed, beat Illinois' Jordan Blanton (who had upset the 3-seed Kokesh) to make the final that season, but made one mistake against Brown in the final and paid for it.
THE DARK HORSE
This is either cheating, or plain stupidity, and we won't know which until Sunday afternoon - but take a look at the 9-seed, Taylor Massa. He accumulated a mediocre 9-6 record at 165 lbs, and looked sluggish in doing so. That's a charitable description, actually.
Now, after just one match at 174lbs all season long, Massa is bumping into a weight where the top 4 seeds are also the top 4 ranked wrestlers in the nation. He wrestled just one match in the entire month of February - and lost. (Geez, I keep moving farther out on that limb). But, that loss was a 4-2 decision to Pitt's #6 ranked Tyler Wilps, known, as is the entire Wilps clan, for his freakish strength. In other words, it appears that Massa may have - may. have. - gained some juice by bumping up a weight. And, if nothing else, he at least owns the defense to keep matches close in the last two minutes. That makes him dangerous.
Did you know? The last guy not named Brown, Evans, or Kokesh to wrestle in the final at this weight was Ed Ruth, way back in 2012, when he sported a half-green hair-doo. Before Ed, it was Jay Borschel, who is currently sitting in a coaches' chair on the Northwestern sideline. That's significant because Northwestern is not entering a wrestler at this weight. Only 13 will compete this weekend.
Upset Alert? Maryland's 11-seed Josh Snook is just 6-12 on the season - but he's also 3-4 in the Big Ten, meaning, he got a ton better between December and February. He'll bring both energy and fight to the mat. Ohio State's 6-seed Kenny Courts needs to be ready Saturday morning.