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NCAA Wrestling Tournament Preview: the Upper Weights

Our weight-by-weight preview continues with the more dominant half of the Penn State lineup!

NCAA Wrestling: Division I Wrestling Championship
oh, memories...
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s the National Tournament. If you wanna be a National Champion, you gotta... beat everybody else.” - Cael Sanderson, yesterday.

Pretty sure you’ve got that one right, Coach.

I’ve scoured all the brackets of the 87 national tournaments and I’ve found zero National Champions who had sustained any type of loss during the national tournament.

Last year starting at 165, two Penn State wrestlers had already completed their 5-0 tournament records, when Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf were crowned National Champions. Then Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall and Bo Nickal each joined them by also “beating everybody else”.

This year, can those three repeat the feat with an everybody beat?

Can newcomer Shakur Rasheed?

Can Nick Nevills improve on his 5th place finish? Let’s ask your resident bloggy pundits about the upper weights and find out! —JP

How To Watch

What: The NCAA Division I Wrestling Tournament

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH

When: 12 pm Thursday, March 15: Session 1: Pigtails / Champ R1

7 pm Thursday, March 15: Session 2: Preliminaries / Consi R1 / Champ R2

11 am Friday, March 16: Session 3: Champ Qtrs / Consi R2 & Consi R3

8 pm Friday, March 16: Session 4: Champ Semis / Consi R4 & Consi R5

11 am Saturday, March 17: Session 5: Consi Semis / 3rd, 5th, 7th Place Bouts

8 pm Saturday, March 17: Session 6: Champ finals

Audio: Free, Jeff “Ironhead” Byers; all sessions free via GoPSUsports

Video: ESPN (for Sessions 2 & 4), ESPN 2 (for Session 6), ESPN U for all other sessions

LiveBlog: BSD, for all sessions, pbp scorekeeper volunteers welcome & deeply appreciated.


Vincenzo Joseph exhibiting his trademark calm, last month before this March storm.
Richard Immel, USA Wrestling

Pick to win

Bscaff: Isaiah Martinez, Illinois.

Cari: Vincenzo Joseph, Penn State.

Clay: Cenzo

JP: IMar feels to me kind of like Nico in his final season, like the achievement of a title this year will be more Relief than Joy.

One of many big differences of course is that IMar already has two titles, where Nico had none, so I won’t feel as sad for him if Cenzo finishes one takedown better and thwarts IMar’s totally not obsessed comeback. But Cenzo’s been wrestling sloppily lately and has found himself on his back in four of his last six matches, whereas IMar’s been sleeping with one eye open for nearly a year.

Our guy: Vincenzo Joseph (seeded 3)

Bscaff: Love Cenzo. Love his concrete hips and goofy smile. Don’t love his draw. And though I think he makes the final anyhow, I believe IMar respects him now, and will play the cagey strategic match thing with him. And IMar’s awfully good at that game. IMar by 8 seconds of riding time, or something stupid like that.

Cari: Cenzo has a head-scratching loss to Iowa’s Alex Marinelli (who had a horrible conference tournament) on the year, as well as the expected close loss to IMar in the finals of the Big Ten tournament. He likely won’t be able to avenge that loss in Cleveland, though, as the Hawekeye’s on Martinez’s side of the draw. And with my pick of Cenzo to make it through to the finals, that makes him more battle-tested for the fifth time the two wrestlers meet up - IMar’s draw is easier than Cenzo’s, so like last year, he’s likely to have had more close calls to weather. And though I’m not predicting a balls-to-the-wall pin to end the finals like last year, I think it’ll be Cenzo on top of the podium again.

Clay: Cenzo, like Nolf, got the a** end of the draw. While he deserved the three seed, he got a brutal draw after the first round. Ashworth (WYO) should be ahead of Wanzek (MINN 12) and Campbell (OSU 13) and Richie Lewis (RUT) getting the six is riduclous. Lewis should’ve have been ahead of Marinelli and probably Chad Walsh. Lewis has only lost four times this season, once to IMar and Cenzo and twice to Marinelli. But he avenged the Marinelli loss at Big Tens and finished three spots ahead of him in the conference. If Cenzo beats Lewis, he’ll likely see either McFadden of VaTech or Logan Massa of Michigan (again).

JP: I don’t mind Cenzo’s draw as much. Fight Club’s Ritchie Lewis talks, cuts and gasses too much. If he escapes Nebraska’s Isaiah White, he’s a far better draw for Cenzo in the Quarters than the reincarnating Massa, the 7-seed, who Cenzo might even see again in the semis later that night. The fans win with this bracket, though, no matter what transpires. Marsteller - Chandler Rogers, for the right to face IMar in the Quarters?

Straight fire, in every early pod.

Hot Take

Bscaff: In addition to dumping the coaches from the seeding process, we should dump whatever crappy criteria they’re supposed to use for seeding (but frequently ignore). Just give the seeding to Dave Mirikitani at TrackWrestling, tell Dave it’s a weekly ranking exercise, 1 thru 33, and be done. Because as ridiculous as that sounds, at least Dave is an adult who employs logic in his decisions.

Cari: Ohio State’s Te’Shan Campbell doesn’t win a match at the NCAA tournament. And Wisconsin’s Evan Wick surprises some people in the wrestlebacks after narrowly losing to Michigan’s Logan Massa in the main draw.

Clay: Massa comes from the seven seed to make the semis against Cenzo.

JP: Four Dukie Finesilvers collectively go 3-9.


Can true sophomore Mark Hall earn his second NCAA title?
Richard Immel, USA Wrestling

Pick to win

Bscaff: Zahid Valencia, Arizona State.

Cari: Mark Hall, Penn State. Mark’s got the fortitude and knows what it takes to win the title this year; the only downside is he’s not underestimated and everyone’s on the lookout for him this year.

Clay: Marky.

JP: Zahid.

Our guy: Mark Hall (seeded 2)

Bscaff: It’s really difficult, and stupid, to pick against Mark Hall. But if Zahid doesn’t stop him this year, Mark’s probably a 4-time champ - which is, statistically speaking, highly improbable. So I’m going with math, and taking Zahid in the coin-flip final.

Cari: Hall has just looked so smooth amidst a very tough weight this year, never really feeling like the outcome of each individual bout is in doubt. His only loss on the season, albeit unattached, is to top seeded Zahid Valencia, whom Mark beat in the semis last year at this tournament. The two wrestlers know each other really well, and it’ll be a very exciting match (and one I wish would be the closer of the tournament, but that’ll likely be at heavyweight again).

Clay: There’s nowhere to hide in this bracket, but when push comes to shove Mark gets the job done. I think a match with he and Zahid is a toss-up and either could’ve been the top seed. Mark benefits from Lewis (MIZ) and BoJo likely beating the tar out of each other in the quarterfinals.

JP: It’s really stupid to pick against Mark Hall. Dammit, Scaff wrote that already. Anyway, I’ll stay consistent and pick a really stupid reason: it just might not be Penn State’s year this year.

Hot Take

Bscaff: Stealing it from one of our BSD Wrestling teammates - unseeded Ty Schoffstall, Edinboro, is a pretty good sleeper pick. The podium is no sure thing, of course, but I bet he’s still wrestling in Session 4.

Cari: Michigan’s Myles Amine goes for broke and scores bonus in his quarterfinal match before losing pretty handily to Hall (though the score won’t reflect the dominance).

Clay: There’s really not much to this weight and I think it sort of falls off a cliff after seven, but don’t be surprised if Bo Jordan has some tight, down to the wire matches in each of the first two rounds with some tough opponents in Womack (CORN) and (likely) Kocer (SDSU)

JP: Luke Pletcher and Joey McKenna will each impact the team race this year more than Bo Jordan.


Bo Nickal looks ahead to possibly his second National Championship.
Richard Immel, USA Wrestling

Pick to win

Bscaff: Bo Nickal, Penn State.

Cari: Bo. If Ohio State’s Myles Martin has a better tournament than he did last year, it’ll be the ninth time the two grapplers go head to head. As Bo’s said, he’s better in every position, and this one won’t feel that close. Bo’s learned from his finals performance two years ago, and doesn’t give up those big moves on boneheaded offensive plays.

Clay: NoBickal

JP: Nickal

Our guy: Bo Nickal (seeded 1)

Bscaff: Bo’s better. Pick Bo.

Cari: Unlike Clay’s take below, I actually don’t think it matters who’s in front of Bo in the early rounds - he’ll get his bonus points. Just ask Sammy “business in the front” Brooks if Bo cares about seed or talent.

Clay: In sticking with the “draws I don’t love” theme, I think Bo got a rough one. Not that he’s at threat of losing to Ellingwood (CMU) or Foster (UNI), but both are going to be tough to get big bonus on and both could be considered slightly underseeded. Meanwhile, Myles Martin gets Marriot (Mizzou) and Venz (NEB) if things hold to seed. Each of Bo’s opponents are better wrestlers.

JP: Nickal’s gonna go 5-0 for about 25 points and his second title.

Hot Take

Bscaff: I think this bracket mostly falls according to seed. How’s that for hot?

Cari: Gabe Dean’s little brother makes some waves, wrestling above his seed to make the podium in his freshman year.

Clay: Myles Martin ain’t making the finals. I’m not sure how much I buy this one, but Ryan Preisch (LEH) has been great this season with just two loses, one to Bo by a 3-2 score and one by injury default. He has wins over Abounader (UM), Zavatsky (VT) and Dean (CORN) and looked fantastic at EIWAs.

Jp: Myles Martin will out-bonus Nickal until they meet in the finals.


Can national tourney newcomer Shakur Rasheed take out 1-seed Kollin Moore?
Richard Immel, USA Wrestling

Pick to win

Bscaff: Jared Haught, Virginia Tech. Unspectacular, but definitely solid, in a topsy-turvy weight. Hokie’s first national champ.

Cari: Kollin Moore, Ohio State. I think he has many close scares way earlier than you’d think (with an overtime win or two), but somehow gets his head in the game and gets it done.

Clay: Haught. Haught doesn’t have the upside that Moore does, but he’s Moore (heh) likely to avoid a landmine early on.

JP: Cornell Freshman Ben Darmstadt

Our guy: Shakur Rasheed (seeded 5)

Bscaff: I like Shak to make the semifinals. Anything and everything after that is gravy.

Cari: Sugar’s draw for the early rounds is pretty favorable, and now that he’s shaken off the rust of representing Penn State in a major tournament, he’ll be able to make waves. He’ll score some much-needed bonus for the Lions, and while those extra points will likely cool off on Friday and Saturday, being able to wrestle through a less than ideal tournament and make it to the finals should help his confidence. He’s a five seed, and the PSU wrestler, for a reason.

Clay: Shak didn’t wrestle particularly well at Big Tens, but I’m not too concerned. He should move into the quarterfinals pretty easily with some bonus point opportunities. After that I’m pretty sure he’ll see Macchiavello of NCState, though don’t sleep on Kasunic (AMER 13). Macchiavello only has three loses on the year, twice closely to Haught and then once to Weigel of OkState. I give the slightest of edges to Macchiavello, who has tourney experience on his side, but if Shak can get past him he could get an opportunity at Moore on a night when he can’t afford to gain too much weight back.

JP: Rasheed wrestled really tight at B1Gs and the coaches were in his ear a lot. He looked scattered and unsure. A bit like Tom Ryan, actually.

But that should be gone now and we should see the relaxed, nothing-to-lose Rasheed we loved so much in dual meet spot duty, but finally fully unleashed, like we saw at the Scuffle. I’m pretty sure we’ll see him in the semis on Friday night and I won’t even be terribly surprised if he ends up winning it all (but I will be insanely stoked).

Hot Take

Bscaff: Dammit, Clay takes every one of my sleeper picks. I guess they’re not sleepers then? Whatever. Yes, 9-Weigel over 1-Moore in the quarters. Also, Lehigh’s unseeded Chris Weiler starts the tournament 2-0, and finishes on the podium.

Cari: Missou’s Miklus helps his team out significantly by making the finals (at the least, by placing third).

Clay: Moore gets tripped up in the quarterfinals by either Weigel or Rotert (SDSU) after a tough second-day weight cut. However, he still manages to wrestle back for third.

JP: There’s a dude in this bracket from the Citadel whose name is Sawyer Root and I keep giggling like it’s dirty.


Nick Nevills showed in February what it will take this weekend to come away with his first National Championship.
Richard Immel, USA Wrestling

Pick to win

Bscaff: whew...I dunno. Captain America, or the lean, 285lb astronaut? I’ll take Coon, for sympathetic reasons - 5th year senior who doesn’t yet own a title finally gets his in dramatic fashion.

Cari: Adam Coon, Michigan. Much with 125, I don’t think the winner of the Big Ten title will win the tournament rematch; I don’t think it’ll go to extra time this time, either, with Coon getting Snyder in the finals (note: had Coon won the conference, I’d be picking Kyle Snyder here. They’re that much of a toss-up to me).

Clay: Kyle Snyder, OSU. Yeah, I got no clue. Going back to the match at B1Gs, I’m still not sure Snyder had that takedown in bounds to give him the win. Would he have been able to find a way in TB2? I don’t know, but betting against Snyder usually ends poorly.

JP: Coon.

Our guy: Nick Nevills (seeded 3)

Bscaff: I’ll take Nick to place 3rd. He had a rough couple of weeks as the calendar rolled into 2018, but he’s been back on track since February, and is looking solid in all phases.

Cari: At this point of the year, Nick is very clearly the best wrestler in the field not named Adam Coon or Kyle Snyder, and he should be an early favorite to win the title next year when the other two run out of eligibility. He’ll score some bonus in the early round (he did have a pin last year at this tournament) but he won’t be able to get out from below Coon in the semis, and that match won’t feel as close as the final score.

Clay: I’m still gushing over how well Nick wrestled in East Lansing. As the conductor of the “Nick Nevills is fine” bandwagon after a rough start to January, I take great pride in watching him easily take third in a tough weight at B1Gs. He’s earned his three seed with a number of good wins in the regular season and while I think Dhesi (ORST 6) is a tougher draw than Stoll (IOWA 5), I still think he advances to the semis before falling handily to Coon. He could see Hall (ASU 8) in a potential consi semifinal, which is a tough draw, but I think Nevills and Kasper will see each other again in that third-place match.

JP: Nevills is our lone returning All-American who did not win a National Championship last year. Is it his turn this weekend? The two giants of this class may still be a bridge too far, but Nevills is wrestling far better than he did over New Year’s at the Southern Scuffle. I’m pretty sure Penn State’ll need his 3rd-place points as well.

Hot Take

Bscaff: There are actually a lot of pretty good heavyweights in this field, aren’t there? I believe it’s a considerable upgrade from the days of Tony Nelson, Dom Bradley, Jarod Trice, Bobby Telford. Some of these big boys can really move their feet, and score a few points. I like it.

Cari: Youssif Hemida of Maryland makes the podium.

Clay: Big Mike Boykin (NCST) scares the ever-loving sh*t out of PSU fans in the second round before Nick pulls through in sudden victory.

JP: This is my last chance to root against “Captain America” Kyle Snyder, so I’m gonna take it. I really, really want the Giant Astronaut from Michigan to thwart Snyder—and, most importantly, Ohio State—from a third title. I’m warming up my boo-sounding “Coooooon” for use in the arena seated next to my internet buckeye friends.