Greetings, wrestling friends. It's nearly time to Thursday's weigh-in and kickoff of the national championships. And no - it can't get here soon enough. So tape the laces on your Asics, slap on your headgear, and let's dive into the last big wrestling preview of the 2015/2016 season.
WHAT: NCAA Wrestling National Championships
WHEN: Thursday, March 17th - Saturday, March 19th
WHERE: Madison Square Garden, New York City
HOW TO WATCH
ESPN will be broadcasting every match, from start to finish, for the price of on-the-house. Check out the awesomeness at this link.
HOW TO LISTEN
Jeff "Ironhead" Byers, for free, via GoPSUSports.com Listen to a gravelly voice explode thru the stratosphere*, and enter low Earth orbit with each PSU upset victory. Or pin. Or back points. Or takedown.
*Side effects may include chest pains, shortness of breath, and incontinence. BSD recommends asking your doctor if you're healthy enough to listen to Ironhead before clicking on that link.
SO...IS PENN STATE GONNA WIN?
Whoa - you're in a real hurry, aren't you? Alright, then - Yes. Penn State is going to win yet another national championship. Now you can ignore the rest of this preview, and proceed to the comments.
FOR EVERYONE ELSE
Here's how things look heading into Thursday. The brackets are set, and based on nothing but the bracket seeding, Penn State figures to be a pretty big favorite. Our Lions enjoy a comfortable 18.5 point lead over the next closest squad, Oklahoma State.
How comfortable is it? Well, that 18.5 points is greater than the distance between 2nd place Okie State (80.0) and 8th place NC State (63.5). At a tournament like this, 18.5 points is equivalent to an extra national finalist. In other words, it's a lot of points.
Here's something else about this 2016 season - there's a lot of good teams this year. In the last decade, the 5th place team has scored more than 70 team points only three times. But this year - with Cornell, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, and NC State - it wouldn't be too surprising to see the 7th or 8th place team break that 70 point barrier. That means it won't take a massive team point total to bring home the big trophy this year. More than likely, there will only be one team that scores more than 100 points.
Furthermore, it'll take some strange goings on for Penn State not to score 100 points. Let's dive into the weight classes to break it all down. (Here's a handy link to the brackets in case you don't have them memorized yet).
PSU OUTLOOK: Nico gets the 3-seed, and his bracket sets up very nicely for a run into the championship final. He'll face a pigtail winner in the opener (Tolbert (UVU) if he's not injured; else Jeske (ODU)); #14 Rodriguez (NDSU) in round 2; #6 Klimara (OKST) in the quarters. Bonus points are possible in the first three bouts, though certainly not sure things.
Then he gets #2 Dance (VT) or #7 Cruz (LEH) in the semi-final. He's a combined 6-1 lifetime against that pair, and you can mentally toss out the lone loss because it was a genuine fluke. Nico scores takedowns on both of them, all of the time, and that's the key to victory.
Best Case / Worst Case: 1st / 4th
Above Seed: #7 Darian Cruz, Lehigh (28-5). He placed 7th as a true freshman, redshirted, and has returned stronger. Some early season losses dropped him from the top 5 radar, but he can finish higher than his 7-seed.
Below Seed: #2 Joey Dance, Virginia Tech (28-1). I have Dance here not only because we think Nico beats him, but because Cruz might also. He's wrestled just two top-10 opponents all year long (1-1), and hasn't put bonus on anyone in the top 25. Close matches lead to upsets.
Top 8: 1-Tomasello (OHST), 2-Nico (PSU), 3-Gilman (IOWA), 4-Cruz (LEH), 5-McGhee (MIZZ), 6-Dance (VT), 7-Klimara (OKST), 8-Terao (AMER)
Round of 12: Millhof (OU); Rios (ORST); Lambert (NEB); Peters (UNI)
PSU OUTLOOK: Jordan got a pretty tough draw, with last year's 2-seed (current 12-seed Taylor) waiting for him in the second round. That's not exactly what you're hoping for when you're the 5-seed. If Jordan does squeeze past Taylor, he likely gets 4-seed and defending champ Cody Brewer in the quarterfinals. So again - this is not ideal.
But, stand firm in your faith, Penn Staters. Jordan has a very manageable consolation bracket. Giving him the longer road (losing to Taylor in round 2), Jordan will likely see something like the following in order to make the podium: Rossi Bruno (MICH), #13 Cam Kelly (OHIO), #7 Eric Montoya (NEB). And we like that, very much.
Best Case / Worst Case: 5th / R12
Above Seed: #12 Ryan (Bradley) Taylor, Wisconsin. This one is pretty easy. Taylor, a returning All-American, was injured all year long, and got healthy just in time for Big Tens. When healthy, he's definitely top 8, and probably in that 3-4-5 range.
Below Seed: #7 Eric Montoya, Nebraska. Here's the complete listing of All-Americans he's beaten in the last two seasons:
Top 8: 1-Garrett (CORN), 2-Clark (Iowa), 3-Brewer (OU), 4-Taylor (WIS), 5-Richards (ILL), 6-Conaway (PSU), 7-Dicamillo (UVA), 8-Hall (ISU)
R12: Beckman (LEH), #11 Forys (Pitt), #7 Montoya (NEB), Richardson (Penn)
PSU OUTLOOK: Jimmy needs to win his opener against 5-seed Matt Manley (Mizzou). Seriously. Because the loser of that match probably is not making the podium. The wrestlebacks at this weight are not very pleasant.
If Jimmy does win that opener, then he gets another winnable match against #12 Chris Mecate - a slow-down, leg-rider who struggles to score takedowns. #4 Ashnault would be waiting in the quarterfinals, and based on the Big Ten final, that appears to be a bridge too far for Jimmy. However, if he does make the quarters against Ashnault, a loss there still leaves him just one win shy of the podium - probably against someone like Nebraska's Anthony Abidin, or Michigan State's Javier Gasca. And we'd all take that.
Best Case / Worst Case: 3rd / 33rd. Jimmy has the talent. It's about believing.
Above Seed: Jimmy. We believe.
Below Seed: #5 Manley.
Top 8: 1-McKenna (STAN); 2-Heil (OKST); 3-Jack (NCST); 4-Ashnault (RUT); 5-Jordan (OHST), 6-Ward (UNC); 7-Gulibon (PSU); 8-Chishko (VT)
R12: Abidin (NEB), #5 Manley (MIZZ), #12 Mecate (ODU), #16 Cruz (LEH)
PSU OUTLOOK: Pain. Retherford is a gorilla. He's already bonused almost the entire top 8. The lone exception was 2-seed Sorensen at the Big Ten final - and nobody thought that (4-0) decision was anything other than a mauling.
Best Case / Worst Case: 1st, with a ton of bonus points / 1st, with only a few bonus points
Above Seed: UN BJ Clagon, Rider (19-10). He seems like he's finally getting healthy-ish. This isn't a podium call, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him finish there.
Below Seed: #4 Matt Cimato, Drexel (34-5). Tough kid, and a leech on top. But NCAAs is a difficult place to string together one-point decisions.
Top 8: 1-Zain (PSU), 2-Sorensen (Iowa), 3-Tsirtsis (JNW), 4-Mayes (MIZZ), 5-Henderson (UNC), 6-Pantaleo (MICH), 7-Sueflohn (NEB), 8-Cimato (DREX)
R12: Clagon (RID), Gardner (LEH), #11 Collica (OKST), #9 Oliver (CMU)
PSU OUTLOOK: Jason Nolf strikes me as the kind of guy who you don't want to wrestle after a loss. It's pretty easy to picture him using the overtime loss as "tackling fuel", in the words of Bobby Bucher. I just hope he doesn't get disqualified for ripping some dude's arm off and using it as a club to beat on him some more.
Assuming no DQ for Cro-Magnon antics, then put Nolf into the final. He owns victories over both of his likely quarterfinal (JoJo Smith, OKST) and semi-final (Gantt, NCST - last year) opponents. And while we have a ton of respect for his round 2 opponent (Boro's Austin Matthews) - one does not simply funk his way to victory against Jason Nolf. Funk is pretty much the last thing you want to do against Nolf.
Best Case / Worst Case: 1st / 3rd - only because he's a freshman. Though that "freshman" tag is pretty much in name only.
Above Seed: #12 Brian Murphy, Michigan. He was top 5 almost the entire season, until a knee injury dropped him. But, with that taped up, he wrestled pretty well at Big Tens, taking I-Mar to the limit. I think he finishes on the podium.
Below Seed: #7 Cody Pack, SDSU. I smell a 7-10 upset in round 2. But even if that doesn't happen, it's gonna be tough for Pack to make the podium. He has a challenging road.
Top 8: I picked I-Mar the first time, and was wrong. I picked Nolf the second time, and was wrong. So I'm picking I-Mar this time, and fully expect to be wrong again. 3-Miller (KENT), 4-Gantt (NCST), 5-Brascetta (VT), 6-Smith (OKST), 7-Palacio (CORN), 8-Murphy (MICH)
R12: #15 Walsh (RID), #14 Matthews (BORO), #7 Pack (SDSU), #9 Lewis (RUT)
PSU OUTLOOK: Welcome to the big show, Geno Morelli. Like, Jimmy Gulibon, you're unseeded, and the key will be winning your opening match. You really - really - need to win your opener, because if you lose to fellow PA high schooler #11 JP Staudenmayer (UNC), you likely are wrestling George Pickett (not that one - the one from Cornell) in the consolation first round - and you've lost to him a couple of times already this year. Chances are it'd be a pretty quick (0-2) exit.
However, if you do get past Staudenmayer, then you're looking at #6 Rodrigues (ILL) - that's one you can win. But even if you don't, and you fall to the wrestlebacks, things are do-able down there. You're probably looking at unseeded Austin Reese (OHIO) and #14 David McFadden (VT) - a freshman. Win that pair and you've made the blood round, where, if fortunate continues to shine its face upon you, you'd be facing someone like #8 Chad Welch of Purdue. But again - that wonderous scenario depends upon you winning the opener vs Staudenmayer, to whom you lost an OT decision earlier in the year.
Best Case / Worst Case: 8th / 0 wins
Above Seed: #14 McFadden, Virginia Tech. Admittedly, this is a gamble. But the freshman has a motor, and he'll wrestle hard all 7 minutes. Plus his bracket sets up pretty nicely.
Below Seed: #8 Chad Welch, Purdue. I'm not a buyer of Welch stock at any seed, but especially not the 8.
Top 8: 1-Dieringer (OKST), 2-I Like Ike (Jordan, WIS), 3-B.Jordan (OHST), 4-Lewis (MIZZ), 5-Rodrigues (ILL), 6-Rohskopf (NCST), 7-Perrotti (RUT), 8-McFadden (VT)
R12: #10 Wilson (NEB), #8 Welch (PUR), #12 Brennan (RID), #9 Weatherman (ISU)
PSU OUTLOOK: Bo's bracket sets up nicely because he's the 1-seed, and because he's already beaten...(deep breath)...the guys seeded #2, #4, #5, #6, #8, #10, #11, and #16. So that's pretty good. The first big challenge figures to be #8 Epperly in the quarterfinals.
Best Case / Worst Case: 1st / 3rd - but again, that's mostly because Bo is a "freshman". However, Bo's wild style - name one other guy you can remember who attempts double-overhook outside trip?!? - could lead to a slip and a 4-point hole. Fortunately, it's almost always the other guy who goes flying.
Above Seed: #11 Myles Martin, Ohio State. A true freshman, sure - but the bracket is favorable, and the kid is certainly talented.
Below Seed: #6 Bryce Hammond (CSUB) or #3 Blaise Butler (MIZZ). One of the two - or both - could miss the podium.
Top 8: (this is a reverse jinx) 1-Realbuto (CORN), 2-Nickal (PSU), 3-Brunson (ILL - can't believe I wrote that), 4-Epperly (VT), 5-Butler (MIZZ), 6-Martin (OHST), 7-Ramos (UNC), 8-Walters (OHIO)
R12: #10 Ottinger (CMU), #6 Hammond (CSUB), #12 Jackson (IND), #9 Rogers (OKST)
PSU OUTLOOK: Realistically, not great. Mouse has been battling through injuries since December. And if there's one tournament where you can't afford to be nursing an injury (let alone a knee and a back) - it's NCAAs. The fights get brutal, and no potential advantage is left un-tweaked. Not when glory (the podium) is within grasp. Nobody takes any pity, because everybody's beaten up by Friday night.
Having said that - and being fully conscious of a 2nd round matchup against king ape Gabe Dean - Mouse has a better than average shot of reaching the podium. Follow me on this one. He beats DuBois product Tom Sleigh (BUCK) in the opener, loses to Dean, and falls to the consolations. From there, he gets: Jordan Ellingwood (CMU), #9 Matt Miller (NAVY), and #6 Blake Stauffer (ASU) to make the podium - the same Blake Stauffer whom Mouse upset in round 2 last year.
Best Case / Worst Case: 7th / R24 (1-2).
Above Seed: #13 Pete Renda (NCST). The PA prep is wrestling well, has experience, and ought to bust through this year.
Below Seed: #2 Sammy Brooks (Iowa). I'm a fan of Sammy's, and Sammy's mullet. But I'm a bigger fan of Nate Brown's (Lehigh) consistency. And at this weight class, there's a pretty slim difference between 3rd and 13th.
Top 8: 1-Dean (CORN), 2-Brown (LEH), 3-Avery (BORO), 4-Abounader (MICH), 5-Zavatsky (VT), 6-Renda (NCST), 7-Boyd (OKST), 8-Stauffer (ASU)
R12: #7 Dudley (NEB), #11 Thomas (PENN), #2 Brooks (Iowa), #16 McCutcheon (PSU)
PSU OUTLOOK: Let's keep this one simple. Morgan's the top seed, and he's earned it. He's wrestling as well as we've ever seen him. His finishes on takedowns are textbook, and he's punishing guys on top. He's the only 197lber in the top 10 "Most Dominant" rankings for a reason. The semi-final (#4 Burak or #5 Hartmann) will be close, as will the final (#3 Pfarr or #2 Cox). But if it takes a takedown to win those matches, I can't picture anyone but Morg scoring it.
Best Case / Worst Case: 1st / 3rd.
Above Seed: #10 Max Huntley, Michigan. The top-5 here is pretty much off limits to new entrants. But Huntley seems a little low at #10. Also, special shoutout to unseeded Pat Downey, Iowa State. The former junior world medalist had a rough start to his college career, bounced out of the big time, but fought his way back up the hill.
Below Seed: #7 Brett Harner, Princeton. If Huntley's in, then Harner is probably out.
Top 8: (this is another reverse jinx) 1-Cox (MIZZ), 2-Morg (PSU), 3-Burak (Iowa), 4-Pfarr (MINN), 5-Hartmann (DUKE), 6-Haught (VT), 7-Huntley (MICH), 8-Studebaker (NEB)
R12: #15 Rotert (SDSU), #14 Nye (UVA), Downey (ISU), Barnes (ARMY)
PSU OUTLOOK: Just wait until next year. Nevills will get his timing back, and he'll be scoring takedowns. Some big boys are gonna pay a heavy price for Nick's unfortunate 2016 season.
Best Case / Worst Case: NA
Above Seed: #16 Nathan Butler, Stanford. He's a big boy.
Below Seed: #6 Denzel Dejournette, Appalachian State. He's a smaller, movement type of heavyweight, without world-class neutral offense. And those guys tend to suffer at NCAAs, where the fatties wait for a go-behind, and play the spiral ride game.
Top 8: 1-Gwiazdowski (NCST), 2-Snyder (OHST), 3-Walz (VT), 4-Coon (MICH), 5-Marsden (OKST), 6-Dhesi (ORST), 7-Kroells (MINN), 8-Butler (STAN)
R12: Soloman (Pitt), Shaw (CLST), #12 Smith (RUT), #6 Dejournette (APST)
If you're buying the above, then you're gonna be pretty pleased with the final standings. Here's how the above results look from a team point perspective, with bonus points included:
|7||North Carolina State||72|