Penn State won its fifth Big Ten Championship in impressive fashion, at the most hostile of environments, venerable Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, IA. The 23.5 point margin of victory was our Lions' largest of its five conference crowns.
In the wake of victory or defeat, myriad hypotheses get argued to explain how or why. If this guy had beaten that guy, or their guy didn't get a first round bye, then we'd have witnessed a different result. Let's jump into the numbers a bit in an attempt to discern fact from fiction.
According to Seed - No Bonus
Penn State entered as the favorite, based solely on seeding within the brackets. As shown in the table above - not counting bonus points, of course - Penn State began the tournament as an 18 point favorite over the defending champion Ohio State, and a 19.5 point favorite over the home-standing Iowa Hawkeyes. In wrestling - where one champion counts as 19 points - those are pretty big numbers to overcome.
Final Results - No Bonus
Looking at placement points for all wrestlers after the fights were fought on the mat, the totals played out about as expected among the top three squads. Iowa wrestled exactly to seed. Penn State dropped 3 points. Ohio State shed 6.5 points. Nebraska gained 2.5 points. But Rutgers - yeah, I know...Rutgers - blew up. The Knights wrestled with abandon, and increased their total by a whopping 26 team points over bracket seeding. (Not that it mattered to the team race, but...great job Coach Goodale.)
What About Bonus
In past championship runs, Penn State bonus points dominates the reasoning for why our Lions bring home the hardware. This year - not so much. Certainly, Penn State's 23.0 bonus points - the 'extra' points awarded for destroying your opponent on the mat - pushed PSU far ahead of the competition in the final standings. But PSU's 127.5 placement and advancement points, by itself, would have won them the title. And - get this - Penn State wasn't the top bonus point team. That was Nebraska, with 24.5.
No, friends - the usual explanations won't do. It wasn't solely the Cinderella run to the finals from Jimmy Gulibon (though that was awesome), because overall, PSU placed a tiny bit below seed. And it wasn't solely bonus points, either - since PSU was neither the top bonus point earner, nor possessing a significant margin over its top competitors.
Instead, it's all of the above. It is, apparently, the culmination of Coach Casey and the brothers Sandersons' program design. Namely, top to bottom championship contenders, up and down the lineup, all bent on scoring points.
Point Scorers Ordered
Set aside individual names, weight brackets, byes, and match-ups for a minute, and consider the table above which displays the points scored by all 10 wrestlers for all 14 Big Ten teams, and orders them 1st thru 10th on their respective teams. Penn State's best point scorer chipped in 24 team points. Second and third tied with 23. Our fourth best added 20 points, which would have been 1st on seven other squads.
Ordered Scorers Differential
The fact that Penn State's 4th best scorer (which was Jason Nolf, by the way) would have been the top scorer on half of the league's teams is one instance of the larger point. And that larger point is this: scorer vs. scorer, Penn State beat everyone, all of the time. Well - almost. The green background highlights the small handful of cases where, on an ordered basis, the other team gained points on Penn State. As you can tell, there's not a whole lot of green in that table.
Compare Penn State to 2nd-place Iowa. The Hawks' three best point scorers at this tournament lost 3, 4, and 6.5 points to their Nittany Lion counterparts. That's 13.5 points of the 23.5 margin. Penn State, then, had better top-end firepower at this tournament.
But Penn State's margin increased everywhere else, too. In the middle - spots 4 thru 7 - Penn State picked up another 9 team points on Iowa. And the bottom 3 - where both PSU and Iowa were battling injuries and late lineup changes - Penn State added one more point on the Hawks.
Iowa, of course, gave Penn State the hardest test. Ohio State did a better job at the top end - losing only 9 points, the best of anyone - but got crushed by PSU's depth, giving up 18 points from scorers 4 thru 7. Nebraska and Rutgers - both with outstanding tournament performances - actually picked up 8 and 5 points, respectively, from the bottom 3 slots (8 thru 10), illustrating their balanced lineups (and those fantastic tournament performances). But neither had the top end talent to keep pace, and allow those bottom three slots to make a difference. They were both blown out of the water on the front end.
That's what's different about this 2016 Penn State squad from the past championship teams. Yes, they have phenomenal talents at the top end. Yes, they pile up bonus points. But the depth of point scorers is unmatched by anyone in the Big Ten - and, probably, by anyone in the nation. But we'll have to wait two more weeks to confirm it.