Since 2007, the winner of the Big Ten tournament has also won NCAAs. That’s a full decade already on the books. It’s what math nerds call a “trend”.
This year, three programs have a shot, led by your #1 Penn State Nittany Lions, an unstoppable death machine motoring at ramming speed all season long. The other two who kinda have chance, but probably not really, are #4 Ohio State and #3 Iowa. Here’s how the pre-seeds, released earlier this week, break down from a team point perspective, before bonus.
1-Penn State: 138.5, 2-Ohio State: 111.5, 3-Iowa: 109
And that’s pretty much it. For the wrestling newcomers (welcome friends!), the projected 27-point lead for PSU is equal to one super stud on a two-day rampage. If Ohio State’s weakest weight, say 157lbs, currently seeded 11th, suddenly went on a pinning spree and won the conference title, that guy would score roughly 27 team points, unexpectedly. And the Buckeyes would tie PSU.
That doesn’t sound like too much to overcome, right? Just one guy out of nowhere. Has that ever happened? The short answer is lolnope. It’s actually an absurd ton-o’-points lead.
These guys have been wrestling each other since November. If you’re seeded 11th (out of 14), it’s for good reason. And that reason is that it’s much more likely that you’re the one getting decked, rather than the one who does the pinning. Consider this, too: in the last 5 years of B1Gs, we’ve seen exactly 7 wrestlers seeded lower than 4th even make the conference final. That’s 7 out of 100 chances (because there are 2 guys in a final, 10 weights, 5 years...(using calculator...) yep, 100). Just 4 of those 7 have won.
Each of those 7, by the way, was actually seeded. The lowest-seeded to make the final was 2016’s 141lb 8-seed, a guy by the name of Jim Gulibon, wrestling for Penn State, who had gone oh-fer-February before putting together his 2-day run in March. Three 6-seeds, and three 5-seeds make up the rest of the 7%ers. And that’s it. The lowest seed to win in the last 5 years was 2012’s 157lb 6-seed, Derek St.John, a returning All-American who was only seeded that low because of a knee injury.
Thus, as you might guess, it pays to have high seeds. And that’s why we’re pointing out the following table:
Big Ten Tournament Seeds
Pick to Win
Cari: Thomas Gilman, Iowa If Nick Suriano was completely healthy, this prediction would change. As it is, Gilman should have a relatively easy walk to the finals, and a top seed in St Louis. Gilman could be the Hawkeyes’ best (or only?) shot at a conference, and maybe NCAA, champion this year.
Garrett: Gilman Reluctantly. I hate Iowa.
Our guy: Nick Suriano (true freshman)
Cari: I expect Nick to make an appearance, and maybe even win a round or two. But then he’s done, healing up his ankle for the more important tournament – where he should get a wild card even if he loses in the first round of the NCAAs.
bscaff: What a freaking bummer. Suriano, from my perspective, had just started to take off, and had the look of a champion. He'd found confidence in his neutral offense, ripped Rodriguez (OHST) to shreds, tore a hole in Piotrowski (ILL), abused the Maryland kid, and hit the prettiest 2-takedown on Okie State's Piccinnini that you'll see - just a thing of beauty - and then, poof, it's all gone, and his ankle is the size of a cantaloupe. Nick from the 1st period of the Okie State match would be my pick to win B1Gs. Nick from the 2nd period of the Okie State match, hopping around on one foot, not so much. Hopefully he looks great on Saturday with no ill effects. But assuming that's not the case, then I'm pulling for him to wrestle once, default out of the tournament, and take another 10 days to heal in prep for NCAAs.
Garrett: Pre-ankle injury, I would’ve given Suriano a half-decent chance to win this weight and knock of Gilman. Post ankle injury, I’m just hoping he can hobble on the mat and medical forfeit and be ready to go for NCAA’s
Clay: Well, damn. Nick is almost assuredly going to step on the mat, start the match, and default out. I'm hoping he's still given the 2nd seed at NCAAs which he's earned. That being said, I'm skeptical that he'll be able to go or be near 100 percent in the national tournament.
Cari: Tim Lambert, Nebraska Lambert only has four losses on the year - to Gilman, Suriano, VA Tech’s Joey Dance, and Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak, whom he pinned later on in the season. He’s high scoring when facing good but not elite wreslters, and able to limit the firepower of his opponents (like Nick). And if Suriano does default out, that clears his path to the finals as third seed.
bscaff: Ben Thornton, Purdue Only the top 7 get automatic bids to NCAAs, and even with 2-seed Nick Suriano questionable to wrestle, I don't think #7 Elijah Oliver (IND) nor #8 Jose Rodriguez (OHST) grab a bid. This weight is sneaky deep.
Who takes those spots? I kinda need to see how the bracket gets drawn up. I think it’s between Paetzell (Rutgers), Thornton, and Piotrowski (Illinois).
Garrett: Connor Youtsey, Michigan Pre ankle injury, I would’ve given Suriano a half-decent chance to win this weight and knock of Gilman. Post ankle injury, I’m just hoping he can hobble on the mat and medical forfeit and be ready to go for NCAA’s
Clay: Ethan Lizak, Minnesota About a month ago Lizak had Gilman on the ropes. Up 6-0 late in the second period with riding time clinched, he was reversed and then totally fell apart in the 3rd period. The next week he did something similar against Rodriguez of Ohio State. If Lizak can put it together for 7 minutes it should be an interesting tournament for him.
Pick to Win
Cari: Nathan Tomasello, Ohio State NaTo is handling the bump up to 133 about as well as anyone could, and he’s been pretty darn dominant. This is, essentially, his weight to lose this year, both at the Big Tens or NCAAs – but it’s competitive at the top.
Garrett: Tomasello NaTo is two for two in winning Big Ten Tournaments and the smart money is him being three for three after this weekend.
Our guy: Triston Law (redshirt freshman)
Cari: We’ll be lucky to have Triston Law win one match in this tournament – he’s seeded 14th for a reason. On the plus side, no matter what happens (he exceeds or meets these expectations), wherever he wrestles it’ll be above or at seed!
bscaff: Go for broke, Triston Law. Throw headlocks and screwlocks. Try suicide rolls and flying cement jobs. You have nothing to lose.
Garrett: We’re going with Triston Law. It won’t be great. Lose two and barbeque, as they say on the travel baseball circuit.
Clay: Didn't matter whether Triston or George Carpenter went here. Don't think either would have or will win a match.
Cari: Cory Clark, Iowa You could make a case for Nebraska’s Eric Montoya or Illinois’ Zane Richards here too, but my money’s on Clark to make the final vs NaTo. The Hawkeye has been underrated this year, and despite a few losses, he has the talent and potential firepower to limit what Tomasello can do – and a close, low-scoring battle, that neither of those two wrestlers is used to, could be just what gives Iowa their first big upset of the tournament.
bscaff: Clark He's injured, so that's not good. But the kid is tough as nails. I think he can make the final, and once there, it wouldn't surprise me to see Tomasello go ultra conservative, shoot only once, and Clark pull out a wild scramble for the W.
Garrett: Eric Montoya, Nebraska Hard to call a guy like Eric Montoya a sleeper, but if I were to pick someone else to win other than NaTo, I’m picking Montoya.
Clay: Stevan Micic, Michigan Can you really call a top-10 guy nationally a sleeper? I guess when he's the four seed you can. Micic is a stud recruit who's only gotten better as the year has gone on. His potential QF and SF matchups with Zane Richards and then possibly Tomasello should be fantastic.
Pick to Win
Cari: Anthony Ashnault, Rutgers This weight is wide-open, and I could see any of the top four guys taking home the conference crown. So why not go with the guy who’s been there before, and went far in the NCAAs last year? Rutgers could have its first Big Ten champ since joining the conference, setting up Ashnault for a nice run in Missouri.
Garrett: Ashnault Tough to bet against Anthony Ashnault, given his obvious talent plus a favorable weigh in structure for him.
Our guy: Jimmy Gulibon (senior)
Cari: Jimmy’s shown the latter half of this season that he can wrestle with darn near anybody. He’s been an enigma wrapped in a mystery for much of his Penn State career, but with his time in the blue and white singlet almost over, he’s saved his best wrestling for his final semester. Last year at the tournament he made a surprising deep run before comparatively faltering at Madison Square Garden; this year, he’ll be taking no one by surprise as the 2nd seed.
bscaff: Jimmy can win the whole thing. Jimmy can also lose to #7 Gasca in the quarters. Just relax and have fun, Jim.
Garrett: Jimbo, as I call him on the Black Shoe Diaries Matcast, is wrestling as well as he has in quite some time. I expect him to get to the finals.
Clay: Jimmy has a tough QF matchup with Gasca but I think Thorn at the three is the best possible semifinal draw for him. If he can make the final, which he should, I think Ashnault may be a step beyond for him. But who knows, nothing is impossible.
Cari: Gulibon Because why the hell not. Jinx be damned.
bscaff: Tommy Thorn, Minnesota Thorn was the 2-seed last year, ahead of Ashnault (who was the 3), because Thorn had beaten Ashnault 8-1. They didn't face each other this year, but Thorn hasn't lost since January 20th.
Garrett: Topher Carton, Iowa Iowa guys usually wrestle well in the Big Ten tournament, so I’m going to pick Carton.
Clay: Luke Pletcher, Ohio State Pletcher, the five seed, was forced out of a redshirt when Ke-shawn Hayes went down injured early in the season. Since then he's been solid if unspectacular. But Pletcher has been known to step up in big moments before, can he do it against this weekend?
Pick to Win
Cari: Zain Retherford, Penn State he was voted last year’s most dominating wrestler for a reason (a feat he’s on track to repeat), and he’s one of five wrestlers (3 PSUers) at this tournament who are undefeated on the season. Unlike last season, Zain’s shown a little bit of a vulnerability – he’s let others escape faster than last season, for instance, and has allowed takedowns against him – but you can’t pick against him until he’s shown that, even with the flu and a brutal schedule, he can’t tackle adversity and win.
Clay: Zain Come on, really?
Our guy: Retherford (redshirt junior)
Cari: See above. Lots of pain.
bscaff: Zain uses but one match strategy (beat you up, fold you in half), and wrestles at one pace (suicidal). It's not hard to put a game plan together for facing him because he's always the same, and that's part of the reason we've seen a couple of close matches from him this year against guys ranked #2 and #3 nationally. Of course, Zain's still unbeaten, too. So maybe you can make it close using fancy pants strateegery, but actually pulling it off and beating him remains another matter.
Garrett: Zain is good. He will win the tournament. He will score a lot of bonus points, pinning his way to the final.
Clay: Zain is going to pin his way into the finals where he has an intriguing rematch with Sorenson of Iowa looming. Has Sorenson actually closed the gap or will Zain show why he's considered by many to be the best folkstyle wrestler in college?
Cari: Brandon Sorensen, Iowa I guess. But really no one. Sorensen’s just come the closest, taking Zain to TBs in Carver Hawkeye – a feat I don’t expect to be repeated again.
bscaff: None. Not much to pick from in terms of sleepers here. 1-2-3 look poured in concrete. Wouldn't shock me to see Maryland's Alfred "Baby J" Bannister come up well short of his 4-seed, though. He hasn't wrestled a match since January 15th.
Garrett: Ken Theobold, Rutgers This weight sucks, but I guess if I were to pick someone to wrestle above their pre-seed it would be Theobold
Clay: Micah Jordan, Ohio State Jordan could upset at the apple cart and beat Sorenson in the semis, but I don't think it's likely.
Pick to Win
Cari: Jason Nolf, Penn State Nolf has faced next top four guys in this tournament, and dominated them all - it hasn’t been this close, including a 9-4 demolishing (more dominant than the score) of good 2nd-seeded Michael Kemerer, whose only loss this year has been to the Nittany Lion. This weight this year is Jason Nolf, and everybody else. He’s in contention for the Hodge, for good reason.
Clay: Nolf I mean, seriously guys...
Our guy: Nolf (redshirt sophomore)
Cari: See above. He’ll play with his food before he eats it.
bscaff: There was a point this year where Nolf's always bloody nose had exploded again, and his head had been taped up in such a way that it looked a lot like Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the pseudo hockey mask thing the warden used to forestall Lecter from eating people. I'd like to see Nolf don the real thing. It'd be a perfect fit, figuratively speaking. Maybe literally speaking, too.
Garrett: Jason Nolf is good. He will win the tournament. He will score a lot of bonus points, pinning his way to the final.
Clay: Nolf may be even further ahead of the field at 157 than Zain is at 149.
bscaff: None. It's not a pick for him to win it, but keep an eye on #6 Brian Murphy. He could make a run to the final (and then get eaten alive by Hannibal Lector).
Garrett: Brian Murphy (Michigan) As I said in the Matcast this week, Murphy is an experienced wrestler who can get hot and make runs in tournaments.
Clay: Murphy He could well catch lightning in a bottle and make a run to the finals from the six seed.
Stay tuned for our upper weight preview on Friday!