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WRESTLING: Big Ten Championships Preview

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The wrestling post-season begins, with a big showdown in Iowa City.

Top-ranked Penn State travels to Iowa City, IA for the 2016 Big Ten Wrestling Championships this weekend.  Our Nittany Lions enter as the favorite, but will need to wrestle well to bring home the hardware, as a pair of challengers - Ohio State, and the home-standing Hawkeyes - are close on their heels.  Ohio State and Iowa shared the conference title last year (wrestled at Ohio State), finishing with matching 120.5 point totals.

How Are Points Scored

In an individual tournament like the Big Ten Championships, each team enters 10 wrestlers - one at each of the 10 weight classes.  Those wrestlers earn points for their team in three ways:

1) Advancement Points - also known as "winning".  Win your match in the top half of the bracket, advancing to the next round, and you've earned 1 point for your team.  A win in the consolation bracket is worth 0.5 points.

2) Placement Points - if you place in the top 8, you get points for that, too.  A sliding scale is used, reinforcing the maxim that it pays to win.

  • 1st Place = 16 points
  • 2nd = 12 points
  • 3rd = 10 points
  • 4th = 9 points
  • 5th = 7 points
  • 6th = 6 points
  • 7th = 4 points
  • 8th = 3 points

3) Bonus Points - winning is good.  Destroying your opponent is better.  If you crush your opponent, you get extra points for that, known as bonus points.  Winning by major decision is worth 1 extra point.  A technical fall is worth 1.5 bonus points.  And a pin gives you 2 extra points.  Hooray for the gorillas.

Add up the points from those 3 categories at the end of the tournament, and most team points wins.

How To Watch The Action

WHEN

  • Session One: Saturday, March 5th, 11am ET
  • Session Two: Saturday, March 5th, 7pm ET
  • Session Three: Sunday, March 6th, 1pm ET
  • Session Four: Sunday, March 6th, 4pm ET

VIDEO

Sessions 1 - 3, all mats, are on BTNPlus (Innernets Subscription Required; thanks, Delany)

Session 4 (Championship Finals) are on BTN (CableTV Subscription Required; thanks Delany)

AUDIO

Listen to Jeff "Ironhead" Byers for FREE, from GoPSUSports.com

You can also follow along with the BSD gang right here.  The open threads are a lot of fun.   If you still have questions about this tournament, go read this handy guide, and then come back here.  Now - let's get to the preview.

125 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: Nico's the 3-seed, and already owns a major decision (11-3) over expected quarterfinal opponent Johnny Jimenez of Wisconsin.  Feel free to mentally advance Nico into the semi-finals - where he'll get to face Iowa's unbeaten Thomas Gilman, for the chance to wrestle Ohio State's Tomasello in the final.  Nico has faced Gilman once before, taking a comfortable 4-1 decision at Carver Hawkeye Arena.  The widely accepted notion is that Gilman has improved a lot since then - and he probably has.  The principle evidence used to push this concept is Gilman's gaudy season record: 21-0, with 18 bonus point wins.  And that makes sense, until you look at his 21 opponents - he's wrestled just 5 ranked opponents all year, the best of whom was #6 Eddie Klimara in the opening match of the season (also a recent victim of a Nico pin).  In other words, we remain skeptical of this new bonus point machine version of Gilman.

NCAA OUTLOOK: Tomasello and Gilman are the lone unbeatens.  VaTech's Dance has just one loss (to Tomasello).  And then comes Nico.  If Nico takes the Big Ten title, beating both Gilman and Tomasello, he probably gets the 2-seed at NCAAs (with Dance taking the 1-seed).  If he finishes runner-up to Tomasello, then it's probably Tomasello, Dance, Nico, Gilman.  If Nico finishes 3rd, then he'll be the 4-seed, on the same side of the NCAA bracket as the Tomasello/Gilman winner.  Worst case, Nico could fall to the 5-seed at NCAAs, should a banged up Dylan Peters (Northern Iowa) get healthy and win the MAC title.  None of these scenarios, by the way, are very frightening.  Nico's a stud at NCAAs.

PREDICTION: Tomasello DEC Gilman.  Nico takes 3rd.  (Yes, this is a reverse jinx.)

133 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: With this weight getting seeded to 14, we know Jordan's first round opponent - Minnesota's Sam Brancale.  Brancale is dangerous because he brings 6-point moves to the table, which is not something you typically see from a wrestler at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.  He's basically a Greco wrestler - and Jordan's right-handed high crotch and two-on-one tilt should work well.  It's the quarterfinal that's a little more worrisome.  Wisconsin's Taylor is freakishly strong, is a returning All-American, and was last year's Big Ten runner up.  He's been injured this year, and has yet to resemble last year's version.  But he's also had two weeks of rest.  That match could get interesting.  However, even if Jordan was to get upset, we think he wrestles back to the 3rd/4th place match.

NCAA OUTLOOK: Finishing 3rd (or better) would be a good thing, because this weight class offers a real mess of similarly accomplished wrestlers from 5th - 20th.  Jordan - currently ranked 5th - is unblemished against anyone below him, so he probably wouldn't fall too far if he finished 4th at Big Tens.  But ideally, he'd wrestle well enough here to be seeded higher than 8th, because Cornell's Garrett (the probable 1-seed) has been destroying everyone.  The longer you can stay away from him at NCAAs, the better.

PREDICTION: Richards DEC Clark.  Conaway takes 3rd.

141 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: Your guess is as good as mine.  Gulibon started this season ranked 3rd, and beat returning All-American Dan Neff in his first match.  Then he got in deep on a high crotch against #9 Chishko at the VaTech dual, but didn't finish cleanly and lost the scramble and match.  He came out flat-footed against Stanford's #2 McKenna and paid for it.  Then he got injured, lost some headscratchers, sat out for a while, came back looking "okay", and finished the regular season on a 4-match losing streak, and hasn't scored a takedown since January.  In other words, there's evidence that he can win this weight, or go 0-2 and miss the NCAAs.

If we take something in the middle, then he gets a rematch with 1-seed Micah Jordan in the quarters - certainly a winnable match, but let's put him into the consolation bracket.  Win his next bout - likely against an unseeded wrestler - and Jimmy's in the hunt.  He'd have two chances to punch his ticket to NCAAs.  First, against the loser of the Gasca-Oster quarterfinal.  Win that, and he's already 6th or better.  Lose, and he'd be down to his last chance, wrestling for the 7th spot, probably against Purdue's Sabatello, or Nebraska's Abidin, the former who's been in a funk all season, and the latter who's been in funk the past month.

Or Jimmy could simply beat Micah Jordan in the quarters, and he's golden.  He's happy, we're happy, everyone's happy but Ohio State and Iowa - which seems like an ideal situation to me.

NCAA OUTLOOK: Pass.  Let's just wrestle Big Tens first.

PREDICTION: Ashnault DEC Jordan.  Thorn 3rd.

149 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: Things look pretty good when Zain takes the mat for Penn State.  He's given up one takedown all year, while folding 92% of his opponents in half.  He'll get a rematch with the Pantaleo-Tsirtsis winner in the semi-finals, and then it's on to the final, where he'll face the Sueflohn-Sorensen winner.  Those will be two tough matches.  But Zain's a pretty tough dude.

NCAA OUTLOOK: Five of the top six nationally ranked dudes are in this bracket, so there's a distinct impact on NCAA seeding here.  If Zain wins, he's the clear NCAA 1-seed.  If he's 2nd or 3rd, he's probably the 2-seed.  It's not worth spending time on any other scenarios.

PREDICTION: Zain DEC Sorensen.  Tsirtsis 3rd, Sueflohn 4th, Pantaleo 5th.

157 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: So this Jason Nolf guy is pretty good.  He's 27-0 with 25 bonus wins, including the shocking pin of previously unbeaten defending champ Isaiah Martinez.  The entire wrestling world will stop this weekend in anticipation of their rematch here in the Big Ten final.

NCAA OUTLOOK: here's where things get messy.  Nolf and Martinez are everyone's top 2 wrestlers, so they'll get the top two seeds no matter who wins the final, right?  Nope.  Kent State's Ian Miller is also undefeated, and likely will remain that way through the MAC conference championships - as will NC State's unbeaten Thomas Gantt.  And if the NCAA seeding committee has shown anything over the past few years, it's that they love - LOVE - unbeaten resumes, even if it brags 0 quality wins.  (2014 Retherford-Stieber-Port, and 2014 Ruth-Sheptock-Dean are exhibits 1 and 2).  So if Nolf wins the rematch, he'll be the top seed.  But if he loses, he's probably the 4-seed.

PREDICTION: I'm not going to jinx this with a prediction.  Two truly great wrestlers.  Should be an awesome, awesome match.

165 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: Worst case scenario here is that Geno draws Sutton or Krone in the opening round, gets bounced to the wrestlebacks immediately, and has to claw his way into the consolation semi-finals by winning 4 straight.

The best case scenario is that Geno scores bonus on an opening round victim before pulling the upset against 2-seed Bo Jordan - who's spent all season looking like a guy that's cutting too much weight.  It's a shame that the quarterfinals aren't wrestled in the morning of day 2.  But, in the words of Marty Schottenheimer, "there's a gleam, men.  There's a gleam."

Reality is probably in the middle.  He drops a tight decision to Jordan in the quarters, and heads to the consolations, where he'll need to bounce back against an unseeded guy, and then beat Nebraska's 6-seed Austin Wilson to punch his ticket to NCAAs.

NCAA OUTLOOK: If Geno places better than 6th at Big Tens, there's a chance he could secure a low seed.  If he fails to place 6th, then he'll need to finish 7th and hope for the best - which may or may not be good enough to secure an at-large.  Anything below 7th, and his season is almost certainly done.

PREDICTION: Ike Jordan DEC Bo Jordan.  Perrotti 3rd.

174 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: this weight brought a whopping 9 bids to NCAAs, so Bo's going to be wrestling a mini NCAA tournament here - a first round BYE, followed by nothing but matches against NCAA qualifiers.

Things get interesting once we hit the semi-finals, where Bo's likely to face Ohio State's Myles Martin for the 3rd time this season.  Bo does some wild stuff out there, which makes him a ton of fun to watch.  It'll probably take a mistake during one of those wild moves to upset him in the semis or finals.

NCAA OUTLOOK: If Bo wins the title, he's a lock for the 1-seed.  And with wins over numbers 2 thru 6 already, it's difficult to imagine him falling very far should he come up just short at Big Tens.

PREDICTION: Bo DEC Brunson.  Martin 3rd.

184 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: None of the unseeded wrestlers are very frightening, but we'd still rather see Mouse get a first round bye.  His knee and back injuries mean that he's only ever one tweak away from default.  And this is a brutally tough sport that we're talking about.  So the fewer matches, the better.

A healthy Mouse runs to the finals - he's shown massive improvement over last season.  A hobbled Mouse still gets past Koepke - who's a goer - in the quarters, and also owns a win last season against Iowa's Brooks, his likely semi-finals opponent.

NCAA OUTLOOK: There's actually a fair amount at stake here.  If Mouse finishes runner up, he's likely looking at a top 8 seed - prime condition to make the NCAA podium.  Something in the 3rd - 6th range, and he's probably knocked down quite a few pegs, towards the teens.  And in a weight class that already features 10 past All-Americans, seeding is going to matter - even before considering injuries that you're trying to nurse.

PREDICTION: Abounader DEC Brooks.  Dudley 3rd.

197 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: we go from intrigue to mundane.  Morg's wrestling as well as we've ever seen him - aggressive from neutral, with textbook finishes, and punishing on top.  Among the three main contenders - Huntley, Burak, and Pfarr - Morg's a career 11-0, having never surrendered a single takedown.  So we're feeling pretty good about his chances here.

NCAA OUTLOOK: Win Big Tens, and Morgan gets the 1-seed at NCAAs.

PREDICTION: Morg DEC Pfarr.  Burak 3rd.

285 LBS

PENN STATE OUTLOOK: Here's what I really like - Nevills has a slick snatch single, plus a few other neutral tricks, and he'll score with them.  You could make an argument for Nick having the 2nd best neutral offense in this field, behind only World Gold Medalist Kyle Snyder.

The bad news is that Nick's not had a ton of mat time since his return from serious injury.  And in the two matches of his that we've seen, it looked like he's not had a ton of mat time.  Go figure, right?  This weekend will be just his 3rd week back out there.  So we need to keep that in mind.

Assuming he doesn't upset top-seed Adam Coon, then the wrestlebacks boil down to one match: beat the loser of #12 Billy Smith vs #10 Michael Kroells.  Win that one, and he's guaranteed to finish 6th or better - and be a real threat at NCAAs.  Lose there, and he'll be down to just one final chance, wrestling for 7th against Nebraska's Jensen or Illinois' Black.

NCAA OUTLOOK: 6th (or better) here at Big Tens, and Nick shows he's a podium threat at NCAAs.  He might even get a seed.

PREDICTION: Coon DEC Snyder.  Smith 3rd.

OVERALL

WT PSU OSU IOWA
125 12.5 19 15
133 12.5 5.5 15
141 8 15 0
149 19 0 15
157 15 11.5 9
165 5.5 15 4.5
174 19 12.5 11.5
184 11.5 8 15
197 19 8 12.5
285 5.5 15 11.5
TOTAL 127.5 109.5 109

First, let's point out the obvious: 1) each of PSU, Ohio State, and Iowa have fewer points in the above predictions than they do if everyone simply wrestles to seed; and 2) Iowa, wrestling in Carver Hawkeye Arena, comes away with zero individual champs.

Not bloody likely.

Or is it?  For reference, here's how things looked heading into last season's Big Ten Championships.  Iowa and Ohio State, the two front-runners, both underperformed their pre-seeds.  Penn State had a rough tournament as well, salvaged mostly by a big run from 8-seed Mouse McCutcheon (who got injured and default to 4th place), and 2-seed Morg, who won his first individual Big Ten title.

Team

Pre-Seeds

No Bonus

Actual

Placement

Bonus

Points

Final Team

Total

Iowa 120.5 109.5 11 120.5
Ohio State 118.5 113 7.5 120.5
Penn State 83.5 84 12.5 96.5

What's also clear, though, is that each of those three squads have room for positive or negative variance.  And, given the reasonably large gap in projected pre-seed points between Penn State (130.5) and next closest Ohio State (112.5), it will likely take a sizable negative variance from Penn State, plus a great performance from Ohio State or Iowa, for our Nittany Lions to leave Iowa City without the shiny trophy.