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Big Ten Wrestling Tournament Preview: Roundtable

The Big Ten tournament starts on Saturday! Penn State looks to upend the Buckeyes in the tournament as well as the regular season, and your BSD staff looks into that and more in our final tournament preview!

2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships
If he has his way, he’ll be a Big Ten champ.

Last year, Penn State sent a really good team to the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament.

The Nittany Lions had top-4 seeds at nine out of ten weights (three No. 1, three No. 1, a No. 3 and two No. 4) and a projected 27-point team lead had the BSD Punditry understandably bullish.

Then when Nick Suriano didn’t wrestle, one No.2 was down. Then Jimmy Gulibon got decked in both the championship and consolation quarterfinals AND the 7th-place match!

Another No. 2 down and about 25 projected team points were gone.

When 1-seed Bo Nickal dropped a semifinal match and another six or so team points to Myles Martin, the door was left open and Ohio State walked through to earn their second conference tourney title in three years.

2017 Big Ten Tournament team scores courtesy of

That Penn State recovered well enough to crown five individual champions and run away with the team title at what Cael Sanderson calls “The Nationals” two weeks later is not at all the point of this weekend.

Saturday’s trip to the conference tournament is all about washing off the stink of last year’s disappointing second-place finish and continuing to bury the hopes and dreams of Buckeye nation.

Reloaded, fully-stacked and ready to come at the king, 2018 Ohio State has talked a ton of smack. Head coach Tom Ryan, assistant coach J Jaggers and two-time national champion Kyle Snyder have each slung some form of shade at Penn State this year, but it wasn’t enough to overtake the Lions in the dual season.

So what about tourney season? During the first semester, it sure felt like Ohio State’s breadth would be too much for even Penn State’s top-end firepower, inside ten 14-man brackets with lots of byes. Especially given the open question marks the Lions then had at four weights. Since then, however, Penn State has answered two of those question weights with top-two seeds. Has the development of Nick Lee and Shakur Rasheed bolstered the Nittany Lions’ five other returning National Champions and sixth All-American enough to take back the conference title?

Only time—and the BSD Wrestle Staff—will tell. —JP

How To Watch

What: The Big Ten Wrestling Tournament

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI

When: 10 a.m. Saturday, March 3: Session 1: R1 / Championship Qtrs / Consi R16

6 p.m. Saturday, March 3: Session 2: Champ Semis / Consi R12 / Consi Qtrs

12 p.m. Sunday, March 4: Session 3: Consi Semis / 3rd / 5th / 7th Place

3 p.m. Sunday March 4: Session 4: Championship Finals

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

Video: BTN+ ($$) for Sessions 1/2/3; Free Big Ten Network for Session 4

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

First things first: who do you have winning it all?

bscaff: Ohio State. Nolf’s a question mark, and a mini-tournament like Big Tens favors Ohio State’s lineup. Enjoy it while it lasts, Buckeyes, because natural order gets restored 12 days later in Cleveland, when they hand out the big boy trophy.

Cari: Ohio State. Listen, Penn State is a slight point favorite, if everyone wrestles to seed. But as with so many of my sports predictions, I prefer to be pessimistic rather than optimistic, because that means I’ll be either right or happy. And both are ok, I guess (though of course, I’d rather be happy).

If you look at just the numbers, I think a few Buckeyes have a real shot at outperforming their seeds; Kyle Snyder especially should be able to get the Buckeyes a few extra points, though for a few of their wrestlers who are highly seeded (Moore, Micah Jordan, Campbell), it wouldn’t shock me if they didn’t wrestle to seed. Thus are the perils of coming in with a lot of high seeds.

But based on last year, when Ohio State outwrestled their seeds and Penn State dropped some unexpected matches and pulled more BYEs in the first round than really seemed arbitrary, this tournament is a tougher one for Penn State and their bonus machines than the NCAA tournament. And because of this, the margin for error is much lower.

But it’s either going to be Ohio State or Penn State, and I’m not sure it’ll be terribly close.

Clay: Surely my optimism won’t come back to end up breaking my heart on Sunday, but alas...Penn State. At the beginning of the season, I would’ve said Ohio State and it wouldn’t have been particularly close. Hell, I had the Buckeyes sweeping the tourneys. But then Nick Lee happened, and Shakur Rasheed. Suddenly Penn State’s six-person lineup looked like eight with even more bonus-point potential. With Rasheed and Lee projected as finalists, I just don’t think OSU finds enough points elsewhere to bridge the gap. Campbell is essentially a non-factor for the Bucks (nothing’s *wrong* with him, he’s just not good), Hayes and Mickey could end up going out in the quarters, and with Nolf presumably back Penn State has another sure thing. Give me our guys here and in Cleveland.

JP: Penn State. Last year, after Suriano’s default and Gulibon’s morning struggles, seven Lions competed in the semis on Saturday night. They went 3-4, with Cenzo, Nickal, McCutcheon and Nevills all taking L’s. But Nickal’s was the only upset. 4-seed Cenzo was still growing and faced the buzzsaw IMar. 4-seed McCutcheon got majored by 1-seed Pfarr and 3-seed Nevills got dancing bear’d 3-2 by 2-seed Medberry.

My prediction for this year’s semis? Seven for eight, Bonus in at least four of them, and over 55 fresh points to the team.

If Penn State manages to unseat Ohio State, which two non-Penn Staters will have contributed the most to the margin of victory? For example, Spencer Lee defeated Nathan Tomasello in the semis, thereby costing tOSU 6 possible Placement Points that NaTo could have earned for his squad.

bscaff: I’ll cop out and take Michigan as a team. Micic-Pletcher, Pantaleo-Mickey, Amine-BoJo, Abounader-Martin, Coon-Snyder - that’s five potential match ups where Michigan can take points from Ohio State, be it in the semifinals, final, or consi final. Go Blue, I guess.

Cari: There are a number of Ohio State wrestlers who have what appear to be tough match-ups in the semis; 141er Joey McKenna will face Nebraska’s Chad Red, Bo Jordan (174) has to face Myles Amine of Michigan, Myles Martin has to take on Dominic Abounader of Michigan at 184, and Kollin Moore has to face Wolverine Kevin Beazley at 197 (yes, the Michigan team is surprisingly dangerous this year!) I doubt NaTo, Snyder, or Luke Pletcher (Mitch McKee has been super unimpressive, and who else is going to challenge him on that side?) wrestle below seed – and any of them could win their weights and it wouldn’t be that surprising. Where Ohio State could make noise or flame out is 149 and 165; how goes those weights will likely determine who wins.

So I’m going to say Amine of Michigan. I think he has a legit shot to make the finals over BoJo, and could make Mark Hall’s life a little difficult (though it is Hall, after all) in the finals. Basically, you could insert most of the Michigan lineup in this slot.

Clay: GO. BIG. RED. Tyler Berger knocks Mickey Jordan out in the quarters and then Colton McCrystal does the same to Ke-Shawn Hayes at 149.

JP: Since this was my wac-a** question, I probably shouldn’t mail it in. I really had Spencer Lee in mind when I formed it, as you can see from the example. Man, two years ago I prognosticated that NaTo had already lost his last match (when he got decked by Gilman in the 2016 national semis), and now I’m picking him to lose a second time this season, and to a true freshman. But yeah, if a conference title sends 19 points to the team, and Lee blocks him from both that and a 2nd-place finish, that 6+ point difference could be the critical gap in the team race.

But I’m also with my friends here in thinking Michigan’s gonna spoil some useless nut milk too. In order: Amine over BoJo for 6+, then Micic over Pletcher for 4.

Which Penn State wrestler are you most looking forward to seeing compete at the Big Tens?

bscaff: Jason Nolf, if he actually wrestles. Otherwise, Shakur Rasheed. What does Shak do to his half of the bracket, and what does he have vs. Moore in the anticipated final?

Cari: It feels too easy to say my two favorites, Zain and Bo, because I really don’t think either of them will be challenged in their efforts this year – and Bo will finally get his second conference title, after unexpectedly being bounced to the consis last year.

So, instead, I will go with someone more unexpected – I’m going with Nick Lee. The true freshman will be competing at his first major tournament in an attached Penn State singlet, and though the 141 weight class is stocked of talent throughout the country, it’s one of the weaker weights in the Big Ten conference – which means he has a very legit shot to win the conference, and reasonably could lose in Cleveland before Friday evening. Of all of the weights Penn State has competitors at, 141 could be the one where we have a much better showing this week than in two weeks – and Lee could make a case for why he’ll be a force here in years to come.

Clay: It’s gotta be Rasheed. At this point, I’m fairly confident in Nolf given what I’ve heard about his health. I think he’ll be back and be his usual self regardless of whether it’s this weekend or in Cleveland. How Rasheed handles himself is a uuuuggeeee question that’ll tell us how PSU is viewed heading into Cleveland. Does he easily get to the finals like we all think? If he doesn’t, how nervous are we? If he does, how does he handle Moore’s size and pressure? If he tops Moore is he a title favorite in Cleveland? How highly would he be seeded? 2? 3? Could he vault over Darmstadt and get the 1? Probably not, but 197 is crazy bonkers banana nuts so there’s a ton of intrigue there.

JP: Nick Lee. Quoth Cael today:

“We look at him as a title contender, he has put himself in that position now,” Sanderson said. “Big Ten title contender and national title contender and if you can win the Big Ten, you can win the nationals. I think he has come a long way and he hasn’t really changed, his work ethic has been the same and he has been preparing for this for a long time.”

I want to see him make those improvement jumps that Cenzo & Hall did last year about this time.

Which non-Penn State wrestler are you most looking forward to seeing compete?

bscaff: Isaiah Martinez, The Taker. When IMar’s protecting, he’s still great but not as fun. When IMar’s attacking to take what he wants - that’s some pretty fun viewing.

Cari: It’s gotta be Snyder. He’s so impressive and I love watching him wrestle at his true weight, and he’s coming into this tournament not ranked first for the first time in a few years; he’ll be pissed, and it will be great to watch. He’s the only Buckeye I’m unashamed to be rooting for.

Clay: Spencer Lee, IOWA. Spencer Lee is terrifyingly strong for a guy who weighs in at 125 pounds. He’s made for tournament wrestling and he’s shown it time and again. I don’t necessarily expect it, but there’s a non-zero chance he goes out and just beats the ever-loving crap out of everyone in his way in East Lansing.

JP: Chad Red, Nebraska. Why does he have seven losses? I get the ones to Meredith (2x), Alber & Jack. But why Mike Carr, Nate Limmex & Cole Weaver? Also, why is he only bonusing at 25%? Is he at the wrong weight? The rigors of Nebraska academics (Ed. Note: Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha) wearing him down? I gotta get my eyes on him to find out!

Which wrestler do you think will not win the B1G tournament but will win the NCAAs (if any)?

bscaff: Spencer Lee. I actually like Spencer in his semi-final rematch with Tomasello, but losing that one only to claim his revenge in Cleveland makes for better tasting OSU schadenfreude.

Cari: I think Snyder beats Coon in the finals this weekend, but the Wolverine comes back and wins in Cleveland. I also think IMar wins this weekend but loses in two weeks, though I’m not as bullish on Cenzo’s chances of repeating (though he has as good a shot as anyone). Additionally, Iowa’s Kemerer has a shot at winning the conference title depending on how good to go Jason Nolf really is – but I like Nolf’s chances at the big tournament.

Clay: Vincenzo Joseph (PSU). There’s an old saying in Texas that goes “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...can’t get fooled again.” If Cenzo takes second at B1Gs as I’m predicting, he’ll likely be seeded third in Cleveland behind Martinez and VaTech’s David McFadden. Marinelli *should* be the four here with one loss on the year to Cenzo and Cenzo gets the benefit of having the last win. McFadden, who is damn good, hasn’t wrestled anyone in the top five this season. I like the way that sets up for Cenzo to make a run to the finals and Martinez will have to get through an absolute war with The Bull in the semis. I think the two (IMar and Cenzo) meet yet again in the finals, with our guy using his composure and a strong game plan to come out on top again.

JP: This is so tough. Let’s go with Logan Massa. Will he beat Marinelli, Cenzo, then IMar for the conference title? Probably not, but in the deeper national pool, when Marsteller, McFadden, Chad Walsh and Chandler Rogers enter the fray, his path from the Quarters on could be more navigable due to inevitable upsets.

What is the biggest surprise for you after the brackets/seeding have been released? Ie, biggest over-seed or under-seed.

bscaff: I’m surprised the seeding committee put far more emphasis on national ranking than conference record (and in particular, conference dual record). That’s a marked change from past seasons. Example: Dylan Duncan (ILL) is probably the 7th best 133-lber at B1Gs, and is ranked as such. But he went (9-2) in conference, and (7-2) in duals - 3rd best record at 133 (mostly thanks to an unbalanced schedule). Duncan got handed the 7th seed anyhow. If the B1G keeps making sense, then we won’t need the weekly conference standings posts next year, which try to guess seeding.

Cari: 165 is such a cluster, but what else would you do? I personally would have put Wick over Lewis, and Massa deserves some respect (despite the injuries this year) based on past performance. Additionally, Sugar Shak should have been seeded first in my not unbiased opinion, but I understand why he was given the two to Moore’s one.

Clay: Conference record apparently doesn’t matter, as BScaff said. Neither does H2H, except in the cases where it does. I have no really big gripes, I’d just like to see some consistency. DeLuca could’ve been ahead of Hayes having beaten him in the dual. Rasheed was undefeated in the conference but behind Moore who took a loss. While the loss wasn’t to somebody in the tournament, context exists and if the thought is that Cassar beat Moore and Rasheed took the spot from Cassar, I could see an argument for moving Rasheed up to the 1. Again, nothing too egregious and I’m not sure either really matters, but consistency is supposed to be a thing. If JRent gets the 4 at 133 with a 5-1 conference record, I’m not sure why Shak going 4-0 with wins over the 3 and 4 seeds wouldn’t be enough to vault him to 1. Oh well. Should out Dan Lobdell (@WrestlingNomad) for walking through a lot of this before seeds were even released.

JP: I’m definitely mailing this one in. Like the rest of America, seeding committees just needed more practice consuming information and using critical thinking to analyze it. We’ll all get better at it before the robots obsolete us. Go State!