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NCAA Wrestling Tournament Preview: The Upper Weights

The best of the best of collegiate wrestling head to St Louis this week, and we’re previewing 165-285!

Photo courtesy of GoPSUSports

How to Watch:

Day Session Round Time TV
Day Session Round Time TV
Thursday I First 12:00 PM ESPN U
Thursday II Second 7:00 PM ESPN
Friday III Quarterfinals 11:00 AM ESPN U
Friday IV Semifinals 8:00 PM ESPN
Saturday V Medal Round 11:00 AM ESPN U
Saturday VI Finals 8:00 PM ESPN

All sessions will be broadcast on ESPN3 simultaneously with the live tv broadcast. The Penn State radio network’s Jeff Byers will also have the call, but the links to those broadcasts are not yet live.


Pick to Win

Cari: Isaiah Martinez, Illinois Martinez is a returning NCAA champ, and the sole undefeated wrestler at this weight. Who could challenge him? Basically, any of the other top four. IMar hasn't faced Ike Jordan yet; Jordan split decisions against Cenzo Joseph, and lost to Michigan's Logan Massa three times. Massa hasn't faced Cenzo, but lost to IMar twice. And Cenzo lost to IMar in decisions the two times they met this season. The three are very close, but the one thing that sets IMar apart is the fact that he's undefeated - and he wrestles smart, and learns from his opponent every time he wrestles them. He'll be tough to top.

bscaff: Martinez He's really quick, with a freakishly strong core. Plus, he's really smart. Oh by the way - the gas tank's not a problem at 165, like it was at 157 last year. And finally, on the off chance that he's actually in trouble, he has a killer lefty high crotch. So...he's pretty good.

Clay: Martinez I've said it before and I'll say it again, until somebody at the weight beats him, I will continue to pick him to win matches against any and everybody.

Our guy: Vincenzo Joseph (redshirt freshman)

Cari: If someone can beat IMar, though, my money's on Cenzo. Their two matchups were incredibly close, and Cenzo's victory over Ike in the Big Ten semis meant that he got the third seed at the NCAAs - on the other side of the bracket from IMar. The potential Massa semifinal should be a darn good match, and an exciting one - one that the freshman can win. He's got a revenge match against Stanford's Keaton Subjeck up first, though, so look for big bonus immediately.

bscaff: I was iffy on Cenzo most of the year, because Cenzo was young and wild and would do young/wild things. But the last 5 weeks - whew, he's really turned it on. Awesome leg attacks, good on bottom, and heavy, heavy hips. I think he makes the semi-finals, with a coin-flip chance to wrestle Saturday night.

Clay: Cenzo's win over Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin for third at B1Gs looms huge here, as it earned him the third seed. He'll have a super tough quarterfinal with Daniel Lewis of Missouri, but if he can get my Lewis I think his semifinal with Logan Massa of Michigan is a toss up.

Sleeper All-American pick*

Cari: Te’Shan Campbell, Pitt Campbell was one of the few wrestlers to keep Cenzo to a regular decision, and he just won the ACC tournament. This isn't a great weight for the ACC, but still, that's not a easy conference either way. Also, I wish I could pick Chad Walsh of Rider here, as I think he's a very good wrestler stuck in a weight class behind four great ones - so, alas, he's maxed out at the fifth seed.

bscaff: Campbell He's young, and far from a complete product - but he can roll.

Clay: Campbell Keep an eye on Te'Shan Campbell of Pitt here. The ACC champ is seeded 10th and while I think he'll probably lose to Anthony Valencia of Arizona State in round two, an upset wouldn't shock me. Should he lose I think he can do some damage in wrestlebacks.


Pick to Win

Cari: Brian Realbuto, Cornell I am not a Brian Realbuto fan, so the fact that I'm picking him over freshman phenom Zahid Valencia, who is Realbuto's only loss on the year, says a lot. A two-time All American, Realbuto had to injury default out of last year's NCAA tournament; he's back with a vengeance in his last season, and he's likely looking for revenge. Realbuto also will be wrestling with little to lose as he's not the top seed - and Valencia is facing a super tough draw, including a first round matchup with a Pfarr brother from Minnesota, a quarterfinal bout with either UNC's Ethan Ramos or Michigan's Myles Amine, and then a semifinal matchup against either PSU's Mark Hall or Virginia Tech's Zach Epperly. Woof.

bscaff: Zahid Valencia, Arizona State America wins, getting to watch this bracket. What it lacks in a dominant male gorilla, ala Zain/Nolf, it makes up for it with 10 - 14 guys who can all beat each other. Prepare for a wild one. Forced to pick, I'll take Zahid Valencia, Arizona State. The freshman's no stranger to winning or big stages, or winning on big stages.

Clay: Valencia Zahid has taken on any and all comers this year in his redshirt freshman year. I think anybody in the top six seeds at the weight could win it all, but I'm most confident in Sparky's 174 pounder.

Our guy: Mark Hall (freshman)

Cari: Hall's shirt was burned halfway through the season, and it's in tournaments he thrives. He fell in a close one to Ohio State's Bo Jordan, in sudden victory, in the Big Ten finals; Jordan's on the other half of the draw, so the only way they'd meet again is in the finals of this tournament. Wreck has a good first few rounds on the bracket (the 2nd round is tough, but he can do it) before a potential matchup with Epperly - a Friday morning matchup that could favor the freshman. I'd also like his odds against another very good freshman in Zahid Valencia, who for all of his talent hasn't faced the competition of Hall - whose schedule this year has made him battle tested.

bscaff: Mark Hall can win it all, but man does he have a tough draw. David Kocer, his 1st round opponent, has 3 wins over All-Americans this year. Both of Hall's 2nd round opponents were All-Americans last year. And from there, of course, things start to get difficult. But Mark Hall's not your average true freshman, either. Like Cenzo, Hall can make a run to the semis, and has a good shot at the final.

Clay: Mark Hall is one of those top six seeds and could win it all, but he could just as well finish seventh or eighth. This weight is loaded up top and Mark is going to have tough matches starting round two with returning All-American Casey Kent of Penn.

Sleeper All-American pick

Cari: Taylor Lujan, Northern Iowa All of Lujan's losses on the year have been really close - Epperly, Lehigh's Ryan Preisch, Iowa State's Lelund Weatherspoon, Penn's Casey Kent - all by a combined 16 points. He also has victories over multiple wrestlers in this field, including my original darkhorse, Illinois' Zac Brunson. A potential second round matchup against Epperly again is tough, but the wrestlebacks could be where he does damage.

bscaff: Alex Meyer, Iowa Until he flamed out at Big Tens, Meyer had been wrestling fairly consistently. But now that he's back into the up-and-down, who-knows-? mode, I think he makes a ridiculous run to the podium. Wouldn't surprise me if he loses his opener to unseeded, unranked Austin Dewey by major - and then wins 5 straight in the consolations, including a tech fall of 2-seed Brian Realbuto.

Clay: Ethan Ramos, UNC It's tough to pick a sleeper here because they're all so talented, but I'll go with Ethan Ramos of UNC. Ramos has two losses already to Valencia this year, but each came by just one point. I wouldn't expect it, but it's possible he flips that result around and send Valencia to the back half in the quarterfinals.


Pick to Win

Cari: Bo Nickal, Penn State The money is on Gabe Dean, but when Bo Nickal wrestles angry, he's near unstoppable. And he'll be angry after his second loss to Myles Martin. Dean is used to having his opponents intimidated by his size and strength; Bo is intimidated by no one. I almost kept this pick to myself in order to not jinx it, but my picking Bo has been good for him almost the entire season - so why stop now?

bscaff: (big exhale...) Give me 2-seed Bo Nickal, Penn State.

Clay: Gabe Dean, Cornell Dean, similar to IMar, is just a guy I refuse to bet against. He always brings his best stuff in March and is looking to go 3-1-1-1 in four trips to the NCAA tournament with his lone loss coming to one Ed Ruth.

Our guy: Nickal (redshirt sophomore)

Cari: Bo was the odds-on favorite last year at 174, a relatively weak weight. He got upset by an upstart Martin in the finals. This year, he bumped up to a very deep weight with a returning national champ - and one who's undefeated, to boot. What an exciting challenge, and one that will show just where Bo is in his collegiate career.

bscaff: Nothing against Gabe Dean, who's awesome. I just like how Bo matches up against him. I picture Dean getting in on a high crotch, and Bo cracking down, rolling into a scramble, and coming out of it with 6 points. And what's Dean got for Bo at that point? Gonna go upper body? Because Bo's better there than Dean.

Clay: I still favor Bo to get to the finals and the loss to Martin doesn't really change anything. He's still the second seed and he's still the same wrestler he was before that match. I have no clue, however, what to make of a potential match with Sammy Brooks in the semis or Dean in the finals.

Sleeper All-American pick

Cari: Nick Gravina, Rutgers Gravina has a lot of firepower in his arsenal, wrestling with big moves and shots that allow him the opportunity against most wrestlers in the field. He's unseeded here, and on Dean's/Martin's/Sammy Brooks's/TJ Dudley's side of the draw (and in fact gets Brooks in the first round, so it won't be easy. But his potential is there.

bscaff: Maybe 11-seed Emory Parker, Illinois? I don't feel great about the pick. It's probably one-year early to be picking Parker, and this weight is chock full 'o tough guys. But Parker has a lot of talent.

Clay: Zach Zavatsky, Virginia Tech It's sort of a cop out, but I expect fifth-seeded Zack Zavatsky of VaTech to upset Nolan Boyd in the quarters and meet Dean in the semifinals.


Pick to Win

Cari: J’den Cox, Missouri Last year, our own Morgan McIntosh was seeded first to Cox's second - but Cox was really the favorite, and for good reason. After winning the NCAA tournament, he went on to the Olympic squad - not an easy feat. And here he comes into a loaded field, undefeated, up against a number of very talented wrestlers. He's shown vulnerability during the season, but if last year is any indication, J'den Cox knows how to wrestle when it counts. Look out for youngster Kollin Moore, though - he's darn fun.

bscaff: Cox I mean, he's the Olympic Bronze medalist. He didn't give up a takedown in the Olympics, for crying out loud. So, you know, he's pretty solid.

Clay: Cox Cox is an Olympic Bronze Medalist, nobody else in the field can say that. He's also the best athlete out there, possibly at any weight. He's position ally sound, experienced, and wrestling in front a a home-state crowd. He ain't losing.

Our guy: Matt McCutcheon (junior)

Cari: Mouse stormed back after losing to Moore, and wrestled above seed to third in the Big Ten tournament. He's on opposite sides of the bracket as Moore in this tournament, but that means he has to face Cox in the semis - if he gets past Virginia Tech's Jared Haught in the quarters (his first two rounds look eminently winnable). This should be a much better finish as he goes up a weight than he did last year, when he didn't win a single bout in New York.

bscaff: There's not a guy on the PSU squad I want to see on the podium more than Mouse. I think he gets the job done this year.

Clay: Cutch got a good draw! He earned a good draw, but he got it. I think he make the quarters against Jared Haught of VaTech fairly easily, even if the scores don't show as much. From there I think that match is a toss-up. A win would ensure the lowest he could finish is sixth, and would also mean he'd avoid somebody like Preston Weigel of Okie State on the backside.

Sleeper All-American pick

Cari: Frank Mattiace, Penn Mattiace has a winnable first round against Northwestern's Jacob Berkowitz, then McCutcheon to wrestle. That'll be a tough one for the sophomore, who won the EIWA tournament; but he could make noise in the consis.

bscaff: I'll give you two: Brett Harner, Princeton (from Norristown), and Tom Sleigh, Bucknell (from DuBois)

Clay: Aaron Studebaker, Nebraska This isn't a particularly deep weight, but I wouldn't be shocked if seventh-seeded Aaron Studebaker of Nebraska made a run to the finals. He's a combined 0-5 against potential opponents Brett Pfarr of Minnesota and Kollin Moore of Ohio State, but his last two losses to Pfarr were 3-1 and 5-3 in sudden victory, while his losses to Moore were 3-2 and 10-8. None of those scorelines seem irreversible.


Pick to Win

Cari: Kyle Snyder, Ohio State This is Kyle Snyder's world, we all just live in it.

bscaff: Snyder

Clay: Snyder King, Conqueror, Your Olympic Hero...Kyle Snyder, Ohio State.

Our guy: Nick Nevills (redshirt sophomore)

Cari: Nick is up there with everyone not named Kyle Snyder; his three losses on the season are to Snyder, and two times to second-seeded Connor Medbery of Wisconsin. He's also seeded behind Duke's Jacob Kasper and Virginia Tech's Ty Walz at this tournament, despite being ranked by most services ahead of Kasper, whom he could meet on Friday morning; that's a winnable match for the sophomore, before a potential showdown with the reigning Olympic champion. There's potential to easily wrestle above seed this week.

bscaff: Nick had a good argument for the 3-seed. Instead he got the 5. I think he makes the semi finals anyhow, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see some bonus point wins from our big boy along the way. He's wrestling well.

Clay: Oooof, a loss to Medbery in the Big Ten semis sees Nick drop all the way to the five seed, leaving him with potential matches again Doug Vollaro of Lehigh, Billy Miller of Edinboro and Jacob Kasper of Duke just to reach a semifinal against Snyder. I like him in each of those matches, but he's going to have a brutal road.

Sleeper All-American pick

Cari: Collin Jensen, Nebraska Jensen placed fifth in a not-as-loaded-as-past-seasons field at the Big Tens, but he's a senior competing in his fourth straight NCAA tournament--and he has the ability to make noise, and even put a scare into Kasper.

bscaff: Thomas Haines, Lock Haven 14-seed Haines, PA District III Solanco. Light(er), athletic heavyweights who score points take the podium by storm, extinguishing the reign of Bobby Telford / Tony Nelson / Dom Bradley / Zach Rey.

Clay: Denzel Dejournette, Appalachian State Big Soup is going to have a tough second-round match against Michael Kroells of Minnesota staring him down, and if he gets by that he has a loss to Snyder to look forward to. But the SoCon big man is a great athlete for his size and could putting a hurting on guys in the wrestlebacks to grab that fifth or sixth spot.

*We decided to go for sleeper All-Americans this year, instead of sleeper picks overall. It’s tough to have sleeper picks when there’s an undefeated wrestler in each bracket.

Team Prediction

Cari: Everything, or almost everything, that could go wrong for the Nittany Lions in Bloomington went wrong for the Nittany Lions in Bloomington - and still, Penn State almost pulled off the victory, despite the opposite (everything going right) happening for Ohio State. Neither of those two things are sustainable. Even if Suriano doesn’t wrestle to seed, there’s too many variables, and too many bonus points to be had, for the Nittany Lions not to come in the odds-on favorite. I was nervous two weeks ago. I’m not now. Penn State #1, Ohio State #2, Oklahoma State #3

bscaff: If you tell me how many of Suriano, Cenzo, Hall, Nickal, Mouse, and Nevills can go from the quarters to the semis Friday morning, and from the semis to the finals (or, bloodround to the podium) Friday night, then I'll tell you definitively who wins. I believe we'll have a pretty fun Friday, and, consequently, PSU will bring home the big boy trophy. But because injuries have tightened the gap, we won't get to celebrate until Saturday evening - probably around the time Zain gets his hand raised, again.

PSU 127

OKST 112

OHST 111

Clay: As I am far too lazy to actually go through the team point calculations for where I think Penn State's guys will finish, I will guestimate. Penn State will likely be too much to overcome given how top heavy it can be.

I have the Nittany Lions winning their sixth team title in seven years.

PSU 122.5

Oklahoma State 119

Ohio State 110