The flip of the wall calendar from February to March signals a similar change to the wrestling season. Duals are over. And now the post-season begins. Let's run through a quick recap of the dual season - because Penn State finished as undefeated champs - and then turn our attention to the greatest season of all, wrestling post-season.
As noted, Penn State (16-0) finished its first unbeaten dual season since 1992/93 (when Coach Fritz's squad finished 22-0-1, with a national duals title), and its first unbeaten, untied dual season since 1971/72 (Coach Koll's team went 12-0).
That's right, friends. While PSU's been busy winning four of the last five national championships, none of those championship squads managed a spotless dual record. Granted, they never lost more than once. But, yeah - zero perfect dual records out of those four national title squads. This unblemished dual season underscores the transformation the brothers Sanderson and Coach Casey have made to the roster. There are no "holes" in this lineup. In fact, the roster was strong enough to overcome multiple injuries during the year, and still blow out ranked teams. For example: they wrestled #9 Nebraska without 30% of their lineup - and still won by two touchdowns, 24-10.
It was an incredible dual season. But the destruction doesn't end there. To wit:
- They beat the EIWA Champ, long-time rival Lehigh, on the road 28-9;
- They beat the ACC Champ, VaTech, on the road 21-15;
- They beat the Big12 Champ, Oklahoma State, 29-18;
- They beat the Pac12 Champ, CSU-Bakersfield, on the road 39-3;
- They beat the EWL Runner-up, Rider, on the road, 38-4;
- They beat seven other ranked opponents 254 to 56;
- They outscored all opponents 548 to 132;
- They outscored all Big Ten opponents 312 to 71;
- Takedowns? Oh yes. Penn State 423, Victims 105.
Four-hundred and twenty-three, to 105. Nuts. And that's despite wrestling numbers 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12 (according to the final Intermat poll, which seems a bit questionable to me), yet never once having a fully healthy starting lineup.
Overall, it was a pretty fun dual season. Our Lions weren't too shabby.
Big Ten Seeding Projections
But now it's time to shift our focus to the post-season, and individual tournament time. It's the hap-, happiest season of all. Let's take a look, weight by weight, at how things stack up heading into the Big Ten Conference tournament.
Projected NCAA Bids: 5 or 6
If you're looking for an upset or darkhorse, find a different weight. This one will feature Tomasello from the top half, and the winner of Nico / Gilman from the bottom half. And that's about it. Not much else to note here. Let's move along.
Projected NCAA Bids: 8 - 10
This weight likely gets seeded to the full 14 spots. That doesn't guarantee the top 2 seeds receive a bye in the opening round (or, more specifically, that Jordan Conaway gets to face the conference's weakest link) - but it would make sense. On the other hand, this is the Big Ten conference we're talking about. So - let's not count our chickens just yet.
Like 125, we figure to have another big PSU-Iowa showdown in the semi-finals. Iowa really needs to win both of these. They're favored in both (by seed), and the Hawks will be counting on Gilman/Clark to put up big points to have a shot at winning the conference title (and national title). Losing either one (or both) would be a huge punch in the face, especially on their home mat. (Did we mention Big Tens are at Carver Hawkeye this year?)
Projected NCAA Bids: 7
This is your weight for upsets. The top 3 have earned their seeds, but there isn't a ton of distance between them and the second pack. And that second pack stretches from #4 all the way back to #13 - Michigan's Fisher, who despite a brutal season, remains a tough out.
It's been a rough season for Jimmy, and a particularly rough month. He finished Oh-for-February, and hasn't scored a takedown since January 31st, against the aforementioned 13-seed Fisher. That doesn't bode well, friends. But there's Penn State precedent here that Jimmy can lean on in the form of Quentin Wright. See if this sounds familiar. In 2011, Wright began the season ranked in the top 5 at 184. He was injured early, suffered some not-good defeats, tumbled down the rankings, and entered the Big Ten tournament on a 3-match losing streak (which included a major loss and a loss by fall). He was seeded all the way down at 8th (in an 11 team field).
Then he went unbeaten in March, winning his first national championship. (Plus his semi-final pin of Iowa's Gambrall remains my favorite PSU wrestling memory of...well, a long time.)
So, let it rip, Jimmy. Fire that right-handed high crotch. It'll score, and you'll win Big Tens and NCAAs.
Projected NCAA Bids: 7-ish
These seeds, by the way, are a joint effort with Pants honcho RossWB - so if any Iowa fans find their way to this corner of the interwebs and furrow their brows at Jason Tsirtsis as the 7-seed, know that this is not just wishful PSU homer thinking. It is also depressed Hawkeye thinking.
But that's really the key question to this weight class: where do you slot 2x All-American and former NCAA champ Tsirtsis? He's had a horrendous season by his standard, for lots of painful reasons. But he's also won his last three bouts comfortably, and appears to be rounding into shape.
If T-Shirt is the 7-seed, then the Hawks' Sorensen gets a brutal quarterfinal bout, in addition to a tough semi-final bout, before the (presumed) showdown with Zain in the final. Woof. He's not likely to have a more difficult road at NCAAs, which underscores the meat-grinder nature of Big Tens.
Projected NCAA Bids: 7 - 8
Everyone will be waiting for Nolf vs I-Mar Round 2. And there hasn't been much reason to expect anything else. But one thing to keep an eye on - Nolf's projected quarterfinal opponent (Berger) and semi-final opponent (Lewis) won't give up bonus easily. I know, I get it - Nolf's already tech'd Berger, and he bonuses pretty much everyone he wrestles. I'm just pointing out that he'll definitely have to spend some energy to do it. Frankly, I'd rather have I-Mar's half of the bracket than Nolf's.
Projected NCAA Bids: 7-ish
Cael doesn't say much, but when he does, we listen. And according to Cael, this post-season belongs to Morelli. So we've pulled Rasheed from the bracket, and put Geno in as the 8-seed. If you want to argue for the 7-seed, have at it. But the 1-3 conference record is a real anchor - and he's getting one of the Jordan's in the quarters either way.
With seven-ish bids, and an 8-seed, Geno's gonna have to pull an upset to get to NCAAs. He's likely to run into Wilson, Welch, and/or Sutton in the wrestlebacks - and that's the match (or two) he'll have to win to put points on the board for Dear Old State, and punch his ticket to NCAAs.
Projected NCAA Bids: 8-ish
Michigan's Mahomes hasn't wrestled since defaulting to Bo in the Jan 31st dual. So Bo's semi-final match projects as Indiana's Jackson, his only loss this season. But fear not, PSU faithful. It's not likely that Bo attempts another double overhook outside trip (which no one in college ever attempts). And even if he does, I'd expect him to hit, like he did against Cornell's Realbuto at the Scuffle. That's part of what makes Bo so fun to watch.
Why put Bo at #1 when he has 1-loss, while Iowa's Meyer is unbeaten in conference? Because Bo's wrestled and beaten the national numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 already, while Meyer's beaten only 3 ranked opponents all year, none of whom are in the top 10, whilst also dropping decisions to #s 8 and 9. That's why.
Projected NCAA Bids: 7-ish
Iowa's Brooks lost on Monday night to NC State's Pete Renda, didn't look very good doing so, and also appeared to have injured his ankle. Neither that loss, nor Mouse's default to Boyd Sunday, is reflected in the table above - but it probably doesn't change things anyhow.
With Mouse just a tweak away from default, the best strategy might be to hope for an opening round bye, beat Courts in the quarters, and forfeit out of the tournament for 6th place and a ticket to NCAAs. I'd rather have a healthier Mouse at NCAAs, pushing for the podium, than a few more points at Big Tens, but a no-show at Madison Square Garden. I'll be curious, though, to see if Tom Brands is thinking the same thing about Brooks.
Projected NCAA Bids: 6-ish
Who has better finishes to his takedowns than Morg, especially up at the big boy pants weights? Answer: no one. He's wrestling as well as we've ever seen him wrestle - loose, confident, and firing lots of shots. When he's shooting, he's scoring. And when he's scoring, no one is beating him.
Projected NCAA Bids: 6 or 7. Let's call it 7.
Welcome to Big Tens, young Master Nevills. We expect that you'll enjoy your experience. But we have no idea where to seed you, or whom you'll face in the opening round.
It'd be nice to avoid Coon and Snyder in the opening round, but it probably doesn't matter all that much. Your challenge will be to beat at least one, and probably two, of the following wrestlers: Stoll, Smith, Kroells, Jensen, Goldman, and Black. They're the 3 thru 8 underbelly of this weight, and they're all there for the take(down)ing. Make the consolation semi-finals, and you're headed to NYC. Or, you can make it easy on all of us and upset your way into the semis of the championship bracket.
By the way, Iowa's Stoll default (knee) against Gwiz Monday night. Iowa doesn't have a backup heavy (that I'm aware of), so more than likely, Stoll's bid comes to Big Tens. But, depending upon his health, he might not choose to stick around very long, because he's certain to receive a wild card.
Injuries stink - but we don't have to tell that to Nick.
What's It All Mean For The Title?
How does Penn State look for Big Tens? Glad you asked. Here are projected points by weight for each of the contending teams - without bonus - if everything finished as exactly as projected in the seeding tables above (note to reader: there's zero chance of that happening).