After a brief, but totally annoying Ohio State two-year title run at the conference tournament, Penn State is poised to retake the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament crown from the hated Buckeyes and re-ascend to their rightful place on the B1G throne.
With that being said, our quartet of wrestling writers came together to give you their thoughts on this weekend’s tournament.
Today’s piece will cover the first five weight classes (125-157), while the second part of the series will run on Friday and detail the back half (165-285).
Saturday, March 9
Session I, 11 a.m. EST, BTN+ / Flo$
- Championship R16 (1 Advancement Point (including for byes followed by wins in the next round), 2 Bonus Points available for each bout)
- Championship Quarterfinals (1 Advancement, 6 Placement, 2 Bonus Points available)
- Consolation R16 (.5 Advancement, 2 Bonus)
Session II, 7 p.m. EST, BTN+ / Flo$
- Championship Semifinals (1 Advancement, 6 Placement, 2 Bonus)
- Consolation R12 (.5 Advancement, 3 Placement, 2 Bonus)
- Consolation Quarterfinals (.5 Adv. 3 Placement, 2 Bonus)
Sunday, March 9
Session III, 1 p.m. EST, BTN+ / Flo$
- Consolation Semifinals (.5 Adv. 3 Placement, 2 Bonus)
- 7th Place (1 Placement, 2 Bonus)
- Any 9-12 mini-tourneys, as needed to fill out conference auto-qualifier spots (No team points available)
Session IV, 4 p.m. EST, BTN TV
- Championship Finals (4 Placement, 2 Bonus)
- 3rd & 5th Place (1 Placement, 2 Bonus)
Story Lines to Watch
Clay: For me, the team race isn’t really important or notable here for the first time in three years. Penn State should roll to first place. That being said, the story I’m most interested in is how Spencer Lee performs. The Hawkeye’s 125er has struggled a bit this year by his standards. Will he rise from the ashes to win his first B1G title or will Sebastian Rivera cement himself as a true favorite going into NCAAs.
Cari: Last year, I said in early season that I thought Ohio State would win the Big Ten tournament, but Penn State would win the natty. This year is very different – I don’t see anyone who can compete. The biggest storyline for me regarding the team we’re all here to talk about is how the wrestlers not in our patented Murderer’s Row do – will Cassar be able to compete with Gable? Will Lee take down McKenna again, and truly how good is RBY in a really crowded field? Should Cael have stuck with Verk instead of Berge, or should none of us have ever even doubted him?
I’m also interested in seeing Tom Ryan’s tears after they aren’t even the runner up. Those’ll be tasty.
Bscaff: Prepare for Armageddon, friends.
At least one, and probably more than one, of the committed wrestling fan bases leaves The Barn angry and/or miserable. Just six points separates 2nd place from 4th place, if you believe the pre-seeds. Ohio State, Michigan, and Iowa each expect to be 2nd. Only one can be correct. And with the Gophers on their home mat, and the Huskers’ lineup tailor made for truncated, “congrats-you’re-already-in-the-quarterfinals” tournaments like Big Tens - well, it’s not ridiculous to imagine scenarios where one of Ohio State, Michigan, or Iowa not only fails to finish 2nd, but fails to finish 4th.
When results fall so far short of expectations - justified or not - well, friends, it makes for especially interesting interpersonal and internet banter. Place your wagers in the comments on which team or teams draw the most ire post tournament.
Jp: The number one story line for me is unseating Ohio State in the Greatest Tournament in All the Land. This tourney’s title has been the singularly most cherished achievement in the Buckeyes’ recent ascension into wrestling’s horseshoes and hand grenades tier.
Watching this healthy and dominant Nittany Lion lineup rip the crown away from their cold, dead nuts will be a cathartic joy.
Clay: Everything in my head is telling me not to be ridiculous and pick Spencer Lee. After all, this is sort of what he does. That being said, I can’t get it out of my head the way that Sebastian Rivera and then Nick Piccininni beat him. They were both able to weather the storm in the first period then looked far superior in the second and third (in Rivera’s case). I sort of think Rivera will be able to do that again, so I’m rolling with Seabass.
Pick: Sebastian Rivera - Northwestern
Cari: This weight is one of just a handful that I think will be full of questions this postseason. The first of those questions - can Spencer Lee have any hopes of repeating as national champ? - may well be on its way to being answered this weekend. Lee has lost twice this season, with the most recent loss (to OKST’s Nick Piccininni) of the thrown-to-your-back variety. Will he be able to beat Seabass this time, after what appeared to be ducking him in the dual? If he wins, or even comes close, he may be able to turn it up in Pittsburgh
Pick: Sebastian Rivera - Northwestern
Bscaff: Is it safe to be near Hawkeye fans this weekend? Spencer Lee’s commitment to Iowa, followed by his rampage through the 125 field as a true frosh sustained the Hawkeye faithful through two dark years. But if Spencer Lee doesn’t start looking like Spencer Lee again - and soon - you’ll probably want to avoid the Hawkeye fans after the sessions. They’ll either be murderous, suicidal, or both.
Pick: Sebastian Rivera - Northwestern
Jp: This inevitable rematch in the finals is a coaching referendum. Remember how often in those early Cael years the Lions would go into Carver and get out-game-planned by the Brandses? Both Cody Brewer of Northwestern and then John Smith & Chris Perry at Oklahoma State have now applied the Beat Spencer Lee Gameplan: Stay remote and avoid the ties, get in and out and finish cleanly. On bottom, don’t give up the wrist.
Now, it’s the Brandses turn again. Can they gameplan Spencer to swing momentum back his way?
I say yes.
Pick: Spencer Lee - Iowa
Clay: While I like Malik Heinselman of Ohio State and think he’s improved a good bit throughout the season, but my pick here is actually Elijah Oliver. Oliver, the 11 seed from Indiana, hasn’t developed like some hoped he would, but he’s a solid wrestler and has a draw that could be favorable to him. He’ll need to steal one of the nine bids available, but there’s a plausible path to the semifinals with wins over Piotrowski (ILL) and Foley (MSU).
Cari: Malik Heinselman. Ohio State tends to peak in the conference tourney; despite having to face Seabass in the second round, I expect Heinselman to be a force in the consis, with a chance to wrestle for third.
Bscaff: Zeke Moisey, Nebraska.
Jp: I like Rayvon, but he didn’t stand a chance against Seabass in the dual a few weeks ago (13-3 Major). If I’m picking dark horses, I gotta find a vulnerable bracket path, and even though I’m picking Spencer to win, he’s been looking more vulnerable than Rivera, so I’m going with Michigan’s Drew Mattin. Not confidently.
Clay: Theoretically, this should be the last time for a long time that Penn State has a gaping hole in the lineup at 125. Schnupp has a tough path here and I’d be borderline shocked if he grabbed an AQ spot.
Cari: This is a tough road for Devin Schnupp. He’ll likely lose the first round (without the brackets being released, it looks like he’ll face Mattin) - and then have to win in the consis to make the NCAA tournament. He absolutely has the talent to do it. But will he be able to get out of his own head, and avoid being thrown or turned, in order to? I sure hope so!
Bscaff: Enjoy yourself, Devin. You have nothing to lose.
Jp: Schnupp has earned 27 takedowns and 5 reversals this year, and has averaged 52.8 seconds of riding time per 7 minutes. His third periods have been strong. Can he leverage those attributes into two wins this weekend?
Man, that would be a story, wouldn’t it?
Clay: I’ve been so sure of this pick all year. Stevan Micic was my preseason national championship pick even before Seth Gross went out with an injury and he’s looked the part ever seen. That being said, the match he had against Nick Suriano in the Michigan-Rutgers dual gave me pause and I thought Suriano actually looked the better of the two but didn’t finish on a number of occasions. I’m sticking with my pick, but not confidently.
Pick: Stevan Micic - Michigan
Cari: This weight is crazy this year. I can legit see any of the top six wrestlers at the Big Tens making Saturday night in Pittsburgh - and that doesn’t even take into account Daton Fix. The B1G tourney should flesh some of that out, and we may have a better picture next week.
Pick - Stevan Micic. With last year’s NCAA champ Seth Gross out this season due to injury (and also now in the transfer portal!), Micic’s the closest thing this weight has to a sure thing.
Bscaff: Austin DeSanto returns to Minnesota, whence he spat upon the mat and mocked the fans. Tom Brands might want to look into noise-cancelling headgear for young Austin. I have a hunch the sounds won’t be soothing.
Pick: Stevan Micic - Michigan
Jp: See: Guy, Our
Clay: Calling this guy a dark horse doesn’t even seem fair given his accolades, but I’m going with former NCAA runner-up and former third-place finisher Ethan Lizak of Minnesota. Lizak is the unfortunate soul who drew the six seed, meaning he’ll have a brutal path from quarterfinals on, but would anybody truly be shocked if he made the finals?
Cari: Ethan Lizak. It’s at his home arena, and he’s no stranger to the big stage after making the NCAA finals two years ago. He likely will face Nick Suriano in the 2nd round - but Suriano’s looked vulnerable this year. If he makes it to the semis, I can see him turning around his January loss and taking out DeSanto.
Bscaff: Ethan Lizak, Minnesota
Jp: We defined our dark horses to be a wrestler who outperforms his seed by 2+ places, so I’m going with 7-seed Ben Thornton. He beats Valdiviez in round one, gets Desanto to DQ himself in the Quarters from there he wins at least one more bout to finish 5th or above. Done.
Clay: Oh, Roman. What to make of you. True freshman Roman Bravo-Young has been, for the most part, spectacular this season. Besides what I’d consider some poor match management against Austin Gomez and even Ben Thornton, RBY has showed he can win in a number of ways. I like his draw here as the four, considering he’ll likely have Luke Pletcher in the quarterfinals rather than Lizak or Suriano. I think he’ll have a good chance of reaching the semis where Micic is just a bit too much for him right now. That being said, I think there’s a good chance that he’ll be wrestling for third.
Cari: A rematch with Luke Pletcher looms large in RBY’s bracket - and then, if he wins, he’ll have to face Micic. Welp. RBY won’t miss the NCAA tournament (with eight seeds in this weight, he just needs to win his first round and he’s in), but I expect most of his noise to be made in the consolation bracket.
Bscaff: Dear Roman, forget about SportsCenter, and remember the words of Ed Ruth, who said the #1 goal of Big Tens is to finish the tournament healthy. The real championship is still two weeks away.
Jp: That Pletcher bout the other week taught me the last thing I needed to learn about our youngest stud pup. He walked out to center mat relaxed and prepared to wrestle for twelve plus minutes. He stayed patient into overtime, used his athleticism at the perfect time, and won the bout riding out on top. That showed me he accepts, internalizes and applies the coaching he receives.
I think Roman Bravo-Young is the latest blueprint for this Cael Dynasty. An elite, 4x State Champion recruit comes in with a scorers mentality, an insatiable work ethic, a coachable attitude, and aspirations to be the very best. Throw in some sick athleticism and a natural quickness that no hand-fighting can defend, and this staff will make him a multiple time champion.
I may be just a few weeks early, but I’m picking Our Guy to stand on top of the toughest podium this season.
Clay: Ultimately, they got the seeding right here if we care about consistency. The seeding committee rewarded not losing over quality of wins, as they did at 165 and 184 as well. That being said, it leaves Nick Lee in a bit of a tight spot. I think he can absolutely win this tournament, but I’m not picking it.
Cari: I understand why Michael Carr was seeded first, I truly do. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Lee’s loss to Wisconsin’s Moran earlier in the season was a wake up call, and I really like his chances to beat Yianni when given the chance in Pittsburgh. But I’m a big believer that what happens in the Big Ten tourney doesn’t always happen in the final one - and I think McKenna gets the best of Lee, who reciprocates later this month.
Pick: Joey McKenna, Ohio State
Bscaff: How long can Mikey Carr reward the seeding committee’s vote of confidence?
Pick: Joey McKenna, Ohio State
Jp: I supposed I’m finished being conservative.
This squad’s a dang juggernaut, and it’s about to remind errybody.
Pick: Nick Lee, Penn State
Clay: Let’s get weird. I’m talking Big Ten finalist Mitch McKee weird. Which, honestly, if you had said to me two years ago, wouldn’t have been all that strange. But time changes things and now McKee enters the Big Ten tourney as the five seed and ready to bring the ruckus in his home gym. McKee takes out Moran in the quarters and then Carr in the semis before giving McKenna everything he asked for and more in the finals.
Cari: Chad Red of Nebraska. As the 8 seed, he’s likely to face Carr in the second round - and I’m confident in his abilities to get past him. I could see a McKenna-Red final at this weight pretty easily.
BScaff: Chad Red, Nebraska
Jp: I’ll go with 7-seed Max Murin of the Iowa Hawkeyes Wrestling Team. Each of his 6 losses have been by 3 points or less. He can totally win 3 bouts against this field after Nick Lee sends him to the consis.
Clay: If Nick Lee finishes anywhere but first or third in this tournament I’d be shocked. I think there are about three guys in the country who can beat him the way he’s wrestling of late and only McKenna is in this bracket. That being said, I think McKenna gets it done this time around in a back and forth bout. Lee takes third and I will lead the charge for him to be seeded above Carr at nationals even if Carr takes second.
Cari: If he had the one seed, I’d pick Nick to win. With McKenna on his side, though, I think he’ll wrestle to third.
BScaff: Maverick’s re-engaging, sir!
Jp: The two Nick Lee - Joey McKenna bouts have been razor close. 7-6 both times, each with a win. In each bout, the winner won the takedown battle, 2-1.
In the first bout last year, McKenna vet-savvied himself the extra one on the edge, at the end of the period. In the rematch this year, Nick Lee gas-tanked himself the extra one in the third period.
When they meet for Round 3 in Saturday night’s Semifinals, McKenna will be fully rested, fed & hydrated from his morning weigh-in and it is gonna be another battle.
And Nick Lee is going to win.
Clay: This is really a two-man bracket when we talk about threats to win it in my opinion. Anything can happen, but if you’re taking anyone other than Anthony Ashnault or Micah Jordan here you’ll have to explain it to me. That being said I’m picking the guy who hasn’t lost this year.
Pick: Shcnaulty B. Mobbin, Rutgers
Cari: I miss Zain Retherford.
Pick - Anthony Ashnault and I hate myself
Bscaff: Rutgers gets its second-ever conference champion - and it’s the same guy as its first-ever conference champion.
Pick - Anthony Ashnault
Jp: Schnaulty has looked great this year. Really, really great.
Pick - Anthony Ashnault
Clay: It’s gotta be Brady Berge, right? Berge comes in as the six seed. He’ll likely meet the inconsistent Patricio Lugo in the quarters and a win there gives him a matchup with Mickey Jordan in the semis. Jordan would be the logical pick there, but who knows? Berge’s good enough to stay in matches with most anyone in the country and that makes him inherently dangerous.
Cari: Brady Berge. He’s talented enough to beat anyone at this weight. I like him versus Lugo, and with how Verk (whom he’s beaten a few times in the PSU room) handled Jordan, that could be close. He’ll wrestle for third, at least.
Bscaff: Brady Berge.
Jp: I just typo’d my man’s name as Bardy Berge, and I actually love it. Like, who would be at all surprised if this Minnesota Lothario possessed mad sonnet game and periodically regales the practice squad with poetic tales from his deep arsenal of spit-fire bars?
So, yeah: of course, he’s going to out-perform his 6-seed by 2+ places.
Clay: While I think Berge can reach the finals, I think it’s more likely that he’s wrestling against Lugo for third. I think that’s the case regardless of what happens in the quarterfinal match between the two. That’ll just determine how difficult it is for Berge to get to the third-place match.
Cari: See above.
Bscaff: What the heck - I’m jumping back onto the Charlie Berge bandwagon. I really like Charlie’s arm-drag-go-behind offense, against Pat Lugo’s struggle-bus-leg-finishes offense in the quarters.
Jp: (sliding the mf back in between my j and my p). Bardy’s totally gonna beat Micah.
We all know that now, right? Verkleeren taught him how to score on Micah, and Bardy’s gonna bring his own keep-Micah-off-my-legs defense.
Not sure if he has enough for Schnaulty in the finals, but I’m comfortable picking him to arrive there.
Clay: Nolf, next topic.
Cari: Tyler Berger is forced to leave social media entirely after the beatdown he gets in the finals here.
(ED Note: Sorry Tyler, those are the rules.)
Pick - Jason Nolf, next topic.
Bscaff: Think about this weight class if Nolf wasn’t in it. What an exciting weight! Berger, Deakin, Pantaleo could all win NCAAs! Maybe 6 AAs out of this field! Instead, the story is much more simple: Hail, King - Jason Nolf.
Jp: Nolf, next...section, where we’ll talk some more about Nolf.
Clay: This one is tough because I think the top four are pretty locked into those spots in some order, but there’s some volatility down below with only nine auto bids going out. I think John Van Brill of Rutgers, seeded 10th, could make some noise and bump way up.
Cari: Eric Barone, Illinois. He really impressed me in the Illinois dual - he wrestled to win, which is more than I can say for two of the other top three guys in this weight. He won’t beat Nolf if they do meet in the 2nd round, but he can make some noise in the consis. I’m expecting him to wrestle for 5th, unless Berger falls before the finals - then I think he might make the third place bout.
Bscaff: 10-seed John Van Brill, Rutgers
Jp: Yeah, I agree with Cari on Barone. I think he’s more likely to place 5th than 7-seed Hayes is. He also looked far more interesting against Jason Nolf than stalling Deakin or ankle biter Berger did.
Clay: I mean, come on.
Bscaff: Our guy is the best 157-lber of all-time (which began in 1998).
Jp: I hope to get a chance in Pittsburgh to ask Bardy Berge for a performance of one of his, I’m sure, many sonnets about Jason Nolf. Berge trekked to State College for the initial intent and purpose of getting rag dolled by Jason Nolf for two years. Daily.
I’m certain that decision was an exploratory case study—to improve his wrestling, sure, but more likely to amp up his poetic whimsy and lyrical deliveries.
The sad thing about Sunday afternoon’s finals is that Nolf will be facing Deakin again, instead of Berger, who would put more buts on couches at 4p EST.
Even still, I’ll bet ya Nolf doesn’t get “ridden” for an entire period this time.