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Phat Mat Stats is Trying to Learn 2021 Lineups

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Phat Mat Stats is a periodic column that uses individual wrestler rankings, plots the top teams’ lineups, averages the rankings across top ranking services, uses the averages to project team scores at the National Championships, and leverages the entire exercise to have some fun and talk a little college wrestling.

Nittany Lions celebrate the 2016 National Championship, the first in their current streak of 4 in a row.
Jp Pearson

The Charts

The root of these projections are the summation of two of the three types of tournament scoring: Placement Points and Advancement Points, as laid out in this chart:

Placement Points are awarded to the top eight finishers as shown in the third column above.

Advancement Points are awarded for wins that move a wrestler forward in a bracket (but not awarded during final placement bouts such as for first or third place). One Advancement Point is earned in the upper championship bracket (when a wrestler has not yet lost any bouts in the tourney) and .5 points are awarded in the lower consolation bracket (after having lost once in the championship bracket).

The 2021 Nationals Tournament pandemic adjustments aren’t likely to affect these projections in a major way. Even if the field size gets reduced to 24, or even 16, it’ll only be a loss of 1-3 possible Advancement Points, depending on bracket paths.

Bonus Points, awarded to a team when its wrestler not only wins, but dominates, are a wildcard addition to the chart above. Even among the sport’s most dominant wrestlers, inconsistencies abound. Our friends at WrestleStat have mathematized a Bonus Point projection based on season dominance, but it’s empty for PSU now, and I don’t project or chart them in this column.

The Rankings Services

Rankings are the lifeblood of any wrestling content site interested in traffic. They’re the centerpiece of discussion and provide the nexus for the most engagement with wrestling fans.

In the seven years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve cycled through a couple different rankings services. For this pandemic-shortened sprint of a season, I’ve trimmed down the human resume services to two, added one algorithmic resume ranking service, and added our first human prediction ranking service.

  • WrestleStat. I’ve dabbled with charting WrestleStat rankings a few times before, but in a shortened season with an insane lack of head-to-head results available, the historical aspect of their modified Elo algo is extremely useful. It doesn’t help True Freshmen much yet, but Redshirt Freshmen and Greyshirt Freshmen usually have at least some results already built in to their WS ELO score. Plus, WrestleStat is where I begin all my college wrestling research, so I’m usually already there. To help simplify, I converted all WS rankings >33 to just be 33.
  • Flowrestling ($). I dig their inclusion of textual rationales (we can read, and not have to listen to or watch) for that week’s changes, advertised contact info (Andrew Spey & Kyle Bratke are Flo’s rankers this year), invitation for engagement, and columns for eligibility & previous rank. Cons: awkward navigation (separate dropdowns for 157+ and for the ranking week, despite a permanent-ish and inaccurate date stamp at the page top) and no season records. Also, why 25?
  • The Open Mat. I dig their inclusion of season records and streaks the most. Also the eligibility and previous columns. Easiest navigation of the four, with all weights being on a single page, and Earl Smith now ranks TOM out to 33. Cons: the team tournament points and dual rankings are on another page.
  • MatScouts ($). This is a new addition this year, for one key reason: Willie Saylor’s Crystal Ball Rankings are predictions. In a break from the traditional resume-based rankings, Saylor, in his new channel on the Rokfin platform, made a pivot that results in a more favorable outlook for Penn State’s young 2021 team. It includes text rationales for each weight, wrestlers’ career final placements at Nationals and predictions out to the Round of 16. To help simplify, I recorded all unranked by MatScouts as 33. Cons: Rokfin’s embedded table feature looks like it only fits 10 rows of data before another vertical scroll bar appears, slowing navigation and wasting a fair bit of screen real estate.

Others Receiving Votes

Some services I had to drop just to reduce data transcription level of effort. Too many weeks go by in which I have mental designs on this column, but never publish because I run out of time.

  • Intermat. I still dig their consistency, clearly-posted date updated stamps and eligibility and previous columns. Weights are on separate pages, but a single unchanging URL. Cons: no transparency about who creates or how to contact, and no season records.
  • TrackWrestling. I dig that they rank out to 25. Generally, the more, the better; although, I don’t really get the arbitrary stop at 25, instead of finishing out the 33 of the national tourney brackets. Cons are always navigation and popups on Track’s site. Its business model is so dependent on extra clicks that they pass it to the user in a bumpy experience.

The National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) puts out a weekly coaches poll that ranks teams in their Dual Meet structure; its website explains its methodology as such:

The NWCA Division I Wrestling Coaches Poll is voted on by two coaches from each Division I wrestling conference. Each first-place vote is worth 25 points, 24 points for a second-place vote, 23 for a third-place vote and so on through to one point for a 25th-place vote. The poll is based on dual meet results. Teams who are not competing this season are not included in the voting process.

Here is this week’s coaches poll:

2021 0119 NWCA Coaches Poll via NCAA

While I remain extremely interested in Missouri, Nebraska, Va Tech, Arizona State, surging Illinois, Ohio State, Pitt and Iowa State, I had to make some level of effort cuts and have only charted the NWCA Top-5.

So, let’s see who’s got what, and what the averages of one algorithmic ranking, one predictive ranking and two resume rankings look like this year!

Penn State

125

Elite recruit and True Freshman Robbie Howard is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. As of January 12, when Bill Horlacher interviewed Penn State Mic Man Jeff Byers in this State College dot com piece, Byers had not yet seen Howard wrestle. That’s a tea leaf that tells this pundit (hell yeah, let’s get back to self-ascribing pundit labels!) to be prepared to watch Baylor Shunk on the BTN/BTN+ video, and to look for Howard’s results in the Extra Matches in these early dual meets. The resume & algo services understandably have him unranked, but Mat Scouts’ prediction service saw enough of him in High School to predict him on the podium.

133

RBY is a known stud, and all three of the Rankings Service types reflect it. The expected return of OkSt’s Daton Fix (who finished 2nd in his lone Nationals appearance) and Michigan’s Stevan Micic (who’s finished 4th, 2nd & 3rd in his) are the only blockers to the number one spot.

141

When Penn State finally released their official roster on January 12, the final day of Spring semester registration, they listed Nick Lee in one weight class only: 141. Meanwhile, they listed a whole mess of bros at 149. Elite recruit Beau Bartlett was listed at 141/149. Tea Leaf translations, for you, our dedicated reader: Bartlett is currently trying to unseat Nick Lee for the 141 spot, Nick Lee is not currently under consideration for bumping up to 149, and we’ll get to watch a ton of battles for that 149 spot, including, possibly, Bartlett, if he cannot force the 2x All-American to sit or bump.

Before the roster release, Mat Scouts speculated that Nick Lee would bump up to 149, and with the postponement of the Rutgers dual and no bout evidence beyond the roster release, they’ve kept it unchanged. They’ve got Bartlett predicted for the Round of 12 / Bloodround at present, which drops Nick Lee’s average to 5 and reduces PSU’s projected points at that weight from 16 to 10.

149

Verkleeren is the incumbent starter who struggled mightily at Big Tens last year and failed to qualify for the subsequently-canceled Nationals. Terrell Barraclough (2 R’s, 2 L’s, 2 R’s in that name!) is a Redshirt Freshman 4x State Champ from Utah, who used to train with the Sanderson family there. He had a really nice Freestyle win in NLWC Event #2 in October over past AA Kyle Shoop, and fought an amazing battle with NC State’s elite recruit from Pennsylvania, Ed Scott, in an exciting 10-8 loss. Short story pertinent to college wrestling: he’s got a variety of attacks in neutral. Gardner’s a longtime scrappa trying to make his way into the postseason lineup for the first time.

157

Bardy Berge looks like he might be capable of competing this season, which is amazing news in its own right. Coach Cael and teammate Aaron Brooks had lots of great things to say about Berge in the season-opening press conference, and all three rankings service types have him projected to be a fringe All-American. Bo Pipher, like Gardner, is a longtime spot-starter who we should expect to see plenty of both Dual Meet & Extra Matches this season.

165

The official roster lists Mason Manville at both 165 and 174, so his appearance at this weight should be an interesting thing to watch for. Otherwise, the spot belongs to Redshirt Freshman Joe Lee, who is in his third year training in State College. He’ll have some opportunities to improve that spot in dual meets versus Michigan, Ohio State and, of course, Iowa.

174

In that opening presser, Aaron Brooks stated he believes Penn State has a strong chance at placing five National Champions, and I’m reading those leaves to say that Starocci is one of them (further guesses as to Brooks’ five: RBY, Nick Lee, Starocci, Kerkvliet & himself). He’ll have opportunities to improve his current projection in dual meets against all ranked ahead of him except Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola.

184

Brooks is already a leader in the wrestling room. He had minor knee surgery this offseason and missed some chances to display his greatness in the NLWC Fall events, but appears to be back at full strength, and ready to rock the 184 field. He already avenged his lone college loss, to Nebraska’s Taylor Venz (who just got majored by Iowa’s new 184 pounder, Nelson Brands), and the rest of this weight’s top-end strength is mostly non-B1G. Brands & Michigan’s Myles Amine appear to be the only real conference challenges, and Mat Scouts is speculating that when Amine reappears for Michigan, it will be at 197.

197

This is also Michael Beard’s third year training in State College. He went undefeated in open tourneys in 2019 as a Greyshit Freshman, took 3 L’s in his Redshirt Freshmen season, and showed a few gas tank issues along with some great offensive attacks in the NLWC Fall Freestyle season, where he went 2-1 with a ton of takedowns. He’ll get a great measuring stick on Sunday against Michigan State’s #5 Cam Caffey. Hopefully.

285

Greg Kerkvliet has apparently been blowing minds in the Lorenzo Wrestling Room this past year. David Taylor, on the mic with Jeff Byers in one of the NLWC events exclaimed he was ready to earn the USA’s Olympic spot this year! We all watched him absolutely dismantle past AA Youssif Hemida (5 takedowns in 2:23) and 2020 Nationals 7-seed Demetrious Thomas (pin in :46 seconds) in those events. Unfortunately, Kerkvliet’s father confirmed in this BWI post that Greg is now injured & rehabbing toward a “strong possibility that timing will align with him making Big Tens.”

Seth Nevills last year got injured in a loss to Ohio State’s Gary Traub, returned for a Major Decision win against American, but got reinjured at Big Tens and had to default out, failing to qualify for Nationals. It’s a tough, tough weight, and a very short season. We’ll find out soon enough how this will play out.

Iowa

Iowa survived the Injury Bug last year, but the Pandemic Bug came through and afflicted all teams equally. They have a broadly-stocked lineup widely considered, as they were last year after injuries to PSU’s Cassar, Berge & Nevills and before pandemic cancellation, to be the favorite if Nationals do indeed occur in 2021.

Spencer Lee’s lone possible obstacles are the aforementioned Injury & Pandemic bugs. Alex Marinelli has 2019 National Champion Mekhi Lewis and maybe two Sophomore challengers in Stanford’s Shane Griffith and OkSt’s Travis Wittlake, but otherwise looks ready to again compete for his first National Championship. Michael Kemerer has a Big Ten slate of studs chasing him, but sits alone in the top spot. The Hawkeyes added Missouri transfer Jaydin Eierman, who owns a nasty 12-4 Major Decision over Nick Lee way back in the 2018 Nationals Consolation Semifinals, and they’re stacked with potential AA’s at every other weight. While we’ll learn a ton about how PSU’s young team might stack up in weeks leading up to it, we’ll probably have to wait until the February 12 dual, in an empty Rec Hall, to really see where Penn State stands against this mighty Hawks lineup.

Michigan

Michigan is intriguing in this free eligibility season, with the return of Micic & the eldest Amine to this steadily improving lineup. Micic began his college career in 2015 at Northwestern, went 17-3 as a redshirt there, transferred to Michigan without eligibility penalty and Medically Redshirted the 2016 season. He then competed for Michigan in the 2017 (placing 4th), 2018 (2nd) & 2019 (3rd) seasons, before Olympic Redshirting last year while training to compete for Serbia in the since-postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He hasn’t competed in Michigan’s three duals so far this young season (all wins).

Myles Amine’s career is quite similar. He NCAA-Redshirted in 2016, finished 4th, 3rd & 3rd the next three years (while going 0-5 against PSU’s Mark Hall) and Olympic Redshirted last year, preparing to compete for San Marino in Tokyo. He also has not yet returned to Michigan’s lineup, and Mat Scouts raises an interesting question for Penn Staters: if and when he does return, will it be against Aaron Brooks or Michael Beard?

Add to those two Mason Parris and Logan Massa, and Michigan could very well have 4 Finalists this year! Backing those four up is a broad lineup of plenty of capable & potential All-Americans, including a new young stud at 125, Dylan Ragusin.

Penn State fans should recognize this an excellent recipe for a team National Championship.

NC State

This year’s Wolfpack squad looks like a typical back-end-of-the-Top-Five team. They’ve got 3 possible projected Finalists, a bunch of experienced Seniors, and a few stud underclassmen who could all threaten the podium.

Oklahoma State

This year’s Cowboys lineup shapes up somewhat similar to NC State’s, but skews a bit younger. Coach John Smith has been dominating the recruiting trail lately, and three of his new studs are just now hitting the lineup. Note the rankings gap between the resume + algo services, and the predictive one for True Freshmen AJ Ferrarri, Dustin Plott and Trevor Mastrogiovanni.

Penn Staters may remember that Travis Wittlake once committed to Penn State and was at the time projected to the 174-184 pound classes that Starocci & Brooks now inhabit. I’m always interested in watching for performance degradations from weight cuts, but Wittlake hasn’t demonstrated much of that so far in his previous two years in Stillwater, and he’s 4-0 so far this year. He owns an 8-4 decision win over Joe Lee in last year’s Southern Scuffle. Each scored two takedowns—all four were on Joe Lee shots, but Lee got ridden hard, earned zero escapes, gave up a riding time point and a stall point. I’ll be very interested to see a rematch.

Daton Fix hasn’t yet returned to competition, but the services all seem to expect him to. They also seem to have read some tea leaves or outright news (which I haven’t yet) about Rutgers’ Nick Suriano, and no longer have him in the 133 mix. Is Fix somebody whose defense RBY can solve? Can’t wait to find out!

That’s it for now! Apologies for only charting & covering the NWCA Top-5, especially to Missouri, Nebraska & Va Tech! It’s a short season, and a long task.

As always, please feel free to kindly offer suggestions for improvements, in the comments or on twitter @JpPearson71.