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BSD Big Ten Tourney Roundtable

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BSD’s resident Mat Heads circle up to pontificate about this weekend’s wrestling action.

Can Cael Sanderson lead a young lineup of seven underclassmen to another Coach of the Year award?
Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors

Against all odds, particularly after the way the season began, Penn State will not only take place in, but host the 2021 Big Ten Wrestling Championships this weekend at the Bryce Jordan Center.

We’ll have you covered throughout the weekend with photo galleries and recaps, but we start with a roundtable preview as JP, Cari and Clay walk through their picks and things to watch for throughout the weekend.

How to Watch

  • Big Ten Network: roving mat coverage, perhaps some split screens. All Producer-dictated; you get what they serve.
  • BTN Plus: individual mat cams for all for mats, selectable by us!

2021 B1G Wrestling Tourney Schedule

Session I Session II Session III Session IV
Session I Session II Session III Session IV
Saturday, March 6 Saturday, March 6 Sunday, March 7 Sunday, March 7
10a 7:30p 12p 4p
4 mats 4 mats 3 mats 3 mats
Championship R16 Championship Semifinals Consolation Semifinals Championship Finals
Championship Quarterfinals Consolation Quarterfinals 7th Place 3rd Place
Consolation R16 5th Place

Q1: Picks for Each Weight + Projections for Our Nittany Lion

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Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Clay

Champ: If you’re not picking Spencer Lee, you might want to get your head checked. Lee is the best college wrestler in the country and it’s not particularly close.

Our Guy: I actually don’t hate Robbie Howard’s draw. I believe he’s more than capable of beating Barnett, and could actually overturn an earlier loss to Heinselman in the dual. That being said, I think Heinselman pips him once again and sends Howard to the back side where he’ll need to win at least one match to qualify for NCAAs. I like his odds of doing so and think Howard could finish anywhere from third to seventh in the tournament.

Cari

Champ: Spencer Lee. Because he’s Spencer Lee. And he’ll probably bonus the entire way down, too.

Our guy: Robbie Howard, I think, has a good shot at a win in the first round, then a bump down to consis where he’ll win at least one. I think we’ll be biting our nails, but he’ll be a part of AQs for this weight.

Jp

Champ: Coach Spencer Lee, savior of the return of Iowa National Championship Hopes and widespread fan favorite. Seriously, who out there does not love Spencer Lee? He’s the most national People’s Champion in Division I since … (this is me engaging with our community—hit us up with your answers in the comments please).

Our Guy: The extremely limited sample size makes this one difficult, but we do know this kid is Jersey Tough. I thought he made some correctable mistakes against Heinselman in the dual, and Wiscy’s Barnett hasn’t looked overpowering. I’ll pick Howard to advance to Nationals. Either by beating both Barnett and Heinselman, or by beating Barnett, dropping a close rematch to the Buckeye and then winning his Bloodround match.

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Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Clay

Champ: Gimme RBY. He and Desanto are the class of the field at this weight by a good bit and any other final would be shocking. While I think the two are fairly evenly matched, RBY has a few more weapons in his arsenal to help make the difference in the finals.

Our Guy: See above.

Cari

Champ: RBY gonna win. I think he would have shocked some folks on Saturday night at last year’s NCAA tournament and will make up for it this year. He hasn’t shown the firepower consistently that we all know he’s capable of, but I don’t think that Austin DeSanto will be able to have figured him out still.

Our guy: see above

Jp

Champ: Our guy.

Our Guy: Champ.

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Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Clay

Champ: Give me one Mr. Jaydin Eierman. I think the top three here are very evenly matched and each could win it, but Eierman has the distinct advance of being the top seed. Beating any one of Eierman, Lee or Rivera is tough, beating two of the three is even tougher.

Our Guy: I think Nick makes the finals but ultimately falls short in a nailbiter. That being said, I could just as easily see Rivera winning the semi and then winning the whole thing. You know he’s going to get to legs, it’s just a matter of if he can finish on Nick and how much Lee can score.

Cari

Champ: Nick Lee. I *guess* I understand the logic behind Eierman being first, but Lee’s gonna win it all this year. He’s another one I’m convinced would have won the national title last year.

Our guy: see above

Jp

Champ: I’m also picking Nick Lee. The motor just never stops, his positioning is immaculate, and I think Eierman showed in the 2019 Senior Nationals that he doesn’t have much for Nick Lee in the way of neutral scoring. Not like Luke Pletcher did in last year’s B1G final, anyway.

Our Guy: The bigger challenge slash mystery is Sebastian Rivera, who dominated RBY in last year’s 133 final but is now seeing if he can take a bite out of a different Nittany Lion, from a new perch in his Jersey homeland. I think this one in the Semifinal is gonna be tight. But despite a relative lack of performance evidence from the 141-pound Rivera, there’s a mountain of evidence for Nick Lee, and it all points to a Nick Lee W.

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Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors

Clay

Champ: Sammy Sasso. Sasso isn’t always the most exciting guy out there, but he’s super creative and an absolute nightmare to finish against. That and his ability on top wins him a B1G title.

Our Guy: Let’s have some fun. I really like Bartlett’s draw and think the best is yet to come from him this year. It’s a bit bold, but I think Bartlett makes the finals this weekend.

Cari

Champ: Yahya Thomas. This field is wide open, IMO – any one of the top five or so guys can win. I just picked Yahya Thomas because he has the same first name as Yahya Abdul-Mateen, who was freaking awesome in Watchmen. At least I’m honest, right?

Our guy: Beau Bartlett could make some waves. Not a great draw for him, to be sure, but what would be at this weight? It won’t be easy to make the semis, but he can do it if he’s having a good tourney – I could see him lose out (though that’s unlikely) or make the finals, or anywhere in between. He has the talent – can he put it all together in time?

Jp

Champ: Gotta stick with Sasso at this point, right? Man, the way he bounced back from that Bartlett takedown in the dual, including the dominant 3rd-period ride that he didn’t quite finish (a minor, but important data point for the young Lion—he did succeed in escaping Sammy Sasso before the period ended) was impressive. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s crazy funky and can win the odd scrambles. And a nice performance from Sasso is a nice nod to our Buckeye friends, who otherwise don’t have much to celebrate this year.

Our Guy: Really, the only thing holding him back this weekend is a relative lack of size. The pedigree is elite, the positioning and timing are elite, and the confidence is exactly what you’d expect given those first three.

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Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Clay

Champ: Ryan Deakin is my favorite to win a national title if he’s healthy, so it stands to reason that I’m picking him to win the B1G title as well.

Our Guy: I don’t particularly love Brady’s draw. I think he would’ve been better suited as the No. 6 and going opposite Lee of Minnesota rather than Coleman of Purdue. If he gets by Coleman, he then has Deakin in the semis which is a big ask. EIther way, I’ll guess it’ll be a fourth-place finish for the Swedish chef.

Cari

Champ: Kaleb Young. Deakin’s the clear favorite here, based on past performance, but I’m not sure he’s back to 100% so I’m gonna go with another Hawkeye here. He also hasn’t wrestled a full season, but I have more faith in the Iowa coaching staff to get him there.

Our guy: Uh, is it weird that I really think Berge could take Deakin in the semis after taking out Coleman in the quarters? He’s wrestling the best he’s ever wrestled. If that Brady Berge shows up, with his third period takedown magic, he can shock some folks.

Jp

Champ: It’ll be the fiend, Deakin, but I’m with Vincenzo, who reminded us this week on Baschamania Coffee Talk, about Deakin’s famous “strategy” against Jason Nolf in the 2019 Northwestern dual. Trailing 16-7 to start the 3rd, Deakin opted for extended riding vs trying to close the scoring gap—to the tune of earning 3 stalling calls! He succeeded in reducing Nolf’s own riding time under a minute, but promptly gave the point back with the second stall call of the period, added a third call and second point, and still gave up the Major Decision. The poor BTN student announcers weren’t sure if they should join in the only narrative Deakin could have possibly hoped for: that he was able to, hurr durr, ride the great Jason Nolf. In any event, it was great for me to hear Cenzo bring that back up & make fun of this week.

Our Guy: Like so many of Penn State’s first-year wrestlers, Chef Bardy, himself a third-year starter, is also a bit of a mystery. But mostly because of the hellacious head injury he suffered at U23 Worlds early last season. He’s looked healthy this year, and extremely solid, if relatively unspectacular. I say relatively, because in a few of his one-score wins, that one score was indeed pretty spectacular. His defense and mat control are stellar and he’s a nasty matchup for both the 4-seed Coleman, and the beast 1-seed Deakin. If he can’t get past Deakin, I don’t see anybody in the consis who can stop him from placing third.

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Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Clay

Champ: Alex Marinelli is a good bit better than anyone else in this bracket if he’s healthy.

Our Guy: Who knows. I tend to believe Joe Lee is extremely talented and has the upside to finish second in this bracket, but so often he puts himself in bad spots. It’s something that he realizes and pointed out as an area of improvement in a recent press conference. If Lee can wrestle smart, he could be a finalist, but for now I think he outperforms his seed by two and takes fourth.

Cari

Champ: The Bull. I think it’s pretty clear that this is Marinelli’s weight to lose in-conference now that Cenzo’s gone. He’s been consistently good in the Big Ten tournament, and this year should be no different.

Our guy: Not an easy draw, but not an unbearable one for Joe Lee. He gets a rematch with OSU’s Smith (my new most-disliked wrestler) in the quarters, where undoubtedly he’ll have been coached to wrestle smarter this time and not put himself in such a vulnerable position. I think he’ll easily do what it takes to make the national draw.

Jp

Champ: Bull Strong, Win Many.

Our Guy: Joe Lee’s primary directive in this tourney is: do not get sloppy. That’s a tough challenge for a guy who really does seem to enjoy letting it fly, but he has GOT to advance, if PSU has any chance of unseating Iowa at Nationals. Ethan Smith showed and proved that he can scramble & flow with Joe, so hopefully he and Coach Casey have an improved game plan for the matchup here. If he cannot solve Smith this time around, he should have a very winnable first bout in the Bloodround, and can let it fly again after he qualifies by winning that.

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Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Clay

Champ: He’s barely wrestled this year, but if he can be on form I think it’s silly to pick against Kemerer in this one.

Our Guy: Another situation where I really hate the draw. Despite losing to him already, I really would’ve like to see Starocci wrestle Washington of Indiana rather than Romero of OSU in the quarters. If Starocci wins that one, he most likely gets Labriola of Nebraska in what should be a fun one. I’d favor the more senior Labriola in that one and I think Starocci ends up taking fourth in this one, falling to Massa in the consi finals.

Cari

Champ: Carter Starocci. There was drama in this weight class’s seeding, since Labriola has double the matches (and wins) as the also-undefeated Kemerer. And the latter didn’t wrestle in Iowa’s dual with Nebraska. But I’m gonna say that ultimately, it doesn’t matter – Starocci’s feeling it right now and he’s my darkhorse to win it all (but that can’t be too unexpected, as a 3 seed, right?). Listen, I know I should probably save this #hottake for the NCAA tournament, since that’s when Penn Staters shine and other just sorta…sit there. But I can’t help it, this young guy’s got me excited.

Our guy: see above

Jp

Champ: I love Michael Kemerer, I really do. He’s an easy PA guy to root for, and I actually respect that he took his talents to Iowa City, when Nolf was already in State College. But I can no longer pick against PSU stud Carter Starocci.

Our Guy: This guy. Dang. He’s the grittiest guy on a team that features third-year starter Nick Lee!

Last year’s redshirting True Freshman campaign gave us glimpses, but this year’s Big Ten slate showed us what he’s really made of. Those wins against both Logan Massa and Kaleb Romero were unreal. Just insane stubbornness. I’m not historically a fan of the overwrought cliche ‘refuses to lose’, but I’m dropping my distaste for it now after watching Starocci.

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Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Clay

Champ: Brooks, next topic.

Our Guy: Aaron Brooks is significantly better than anyone in this field. The only surprise I could see is him wrestling against Max Lyon or Taylor Venz in the finals.

Cari

Champ: Aaron Brooks. Not even a question. This is a weak weight and he won it all last year, no one’s gonna touch him until the NCAAs.

Our guy: see above

Jp

Champ: Adopted 717 son, Aaron Brooks.

Our Guy: This weight class is not very deep nationally, but is especially not deep in conference. Brooks’ challenge for this tourney, beyond winning his second of a currently possible five Big Ten Titles, is to hone his Bonus Point scoring for St. Louis.

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Sam Janicki, sjanickiphoto.com

Clay

Champ: Myles Amine.

Our Guy: Again, another weight where I think the draw was bad for Penn State. I think Michael Beard could beat anyone in this bracket, except for Amine, who he’s set to see in the quarterfinals. Beard could easily have been the sixth seed above Penola of Purdue and that would’ve put him on track for a killer quarterfinal with Iowa’s Jacob Warner. Alas, he probably heads to the back side where he’ll be favored in at least the first two matches he has. I get why Amine isn’t the one here, but it really screws the rest of the bracket up.

Cari

Champ: Myles Amine. I’m not a fan of the Amine brothers (most of them wrestle pretty dirty and then act shocked when they get called on it), but the heaviest of them is legit. He’s rightfully seeded 2nd here but I think he wins the finals by close to bonus.

Our guy: Michael Beard got a super tough bracket, facing my predicted winner in the 2nd round. He can definitely win one in each of the regular and consi brackets, but I’m not sure that’s enough to make the big dance. Really unfortunate for him, as I think he’s much better than what his ultimate results in this tournament might be.

Jp

Champ: Myles Amine. Dude has been around for a long time and come up jusssst short sooo many times. This year is his year.

Our Guy: Michael Beard is ready to blow up this entire scene, I believe that! Dude has been grinding in the shadows of Lorenzo for three years now, just chipping away at his little weaknesses, learning from his cadre of amazing coaches, practicing against an unreal slate of upper weight workout partners and improving his gas tank. He’s got slick neutral skills and a sick top ride. Arsenal is not a problem.

He’s got to be careful here, though, with only 6 qualifier spots! Similar to Berge, if he’s unable to solve Myles Amine this time (and I sincerely will not be surprised if he can), he should wreck the consis to finish 3rd.

And while I’m woofin, if that is indeed his path this weekend, please let Iowa’s Jacob Warner advance to be his opponent there! Pretty please?

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Penn State heavyweight Greg Kerkvliet hasn’t wrestled enough yet to get on my photography friends’ shooting schedules, so here is a picture of two of his coaches.
Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors

Clay

Champ: Give me Gable Steveson. I am the driver of the Mason Parris hype train and think he can absolutely go with Steveson, but Gable has looked great in the last calendar year and has finally shed the baby fat. Throw in a still emerging Greg Kerkvliet and you have quite the bracket on your hands.

Our Guy: Kerkvliet has unlimited upside and given a proper season, I think he’s a national title threat. But it’s hard to wrestle in the Big Ten Tournament with about two weeks of practice under your belt after recovering from minor knee surgery. He also somehow found himself overseeded at No. 7, which gives him Parris in the quarters. I’m taking Parris this time around, with Kerkvliet wrestling back for third with a win over Cassioppi in the consi finals.

Cari

Champ: Gable Steveson. It’s his year. Parris might make it interesting, but Gable’ll do what it takes to win the conference title. The NCAAs, on the other hand…

Our guy: Greg Kerkvliet is back, but he’s got a super tough draw, potentially facing Parris in the 2nd (quarterfinal) round. Even presuming he loses that, he can make some noise in the consis (including bonus points), though that bracket would include Cass and Hillger of Wisconsin – though I think he can take them both. This is exciting but nerve-wracking.

Jp

Champ: Steveson. He’s alright, he’s ok. He’s gonna be in Pro Wrestling some day.

Our Guy: Another spot where the only reason I’m not picking our guy to be Champ is relative lack of evidence. And relative is doing a fair bit of work there, given what Kerkvliet showed us in the Fall NLWC Freestyle events.

I love, love, love this bracket! With apologies to our beloved Ant The Champ, it’s hosting three of the most athletic D1 Heavyweights evah—in one weekend of smash-mouf. I sincerely can hardly wait.

Q2: Penn Stater Most Likely to Over-perform?

Clay: Give me Beau Bartlett. As I said earlier, I love his draw at 149. I believe he’s a favorite over Blockhus in the 11-6 match and then matches up well with Parriott of Purdue. The only concern there is how he handles what will likely be a 10-plus pound size advantage for Parriott. But if he can stay out from bottom, I like Bartlett there and then I think he matches up well with Iowa’s Murin, who should be closer to his size.

Cari; I would say Greg Kerkvleit, but that draw is pretty brutal. Instead I’m gonna go with Beau Bartlett. It takes a lot of confidence to say you should be starting at a weight that Nick Lee is in, so Bartlett’s got the balls to make a run here.

Jp: My colleagues picked the best one, so I’ll go with Kerkvliet. I mean, his ceiling is Olympic Champion, right? So, it’s really just a matter of time, and perhaps of healing that repaired left knee? There are unreal obstacles ahead of him, in Parris & Steveson, but with his talent and recent training partners, he qualifies as ‘most-likely’ for this exercise.

Q3: Penn Stater You May Be a Bit Worried About Qualifying for Nationals?

Clay: I’m worried about Robbie Howard, y’all. I know that seems contradictory given my earlier prediction, but the margins are so slim at 125. Everyone from seeds two to 10/11 in that weight can win bouts. Of the three wrestlers who probably wouldn’t get at-large bids (Howard, Bartlett and Kerkvliet), Howard has the toughest path to qualification. I think he gets in, but if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t shock me. A lot of solid guys in that 125 field.

Cari: Michael Beard. That draw is TOUGH.

Jp: Joe Lee, mostly because he feels like the most ... unrefined of this year’s young guns. Howard, Bartlett and even Beard are less likely to find themselves in a compromising position than Joe Lee.

Also, even if his bouts do not appear to be in impending danger, I hope we see a fair bit of choosing neutral when it’s his choice. We’re way past the time of choosing down to get some practice getting out from bottom.

Q4: Non-PSU Storyline You’re Interested In?

Clay: This Ohio State team is sort of stinky, right? Sasso is a favorite, then Heinselman and Romero are pretty solid. But after that, the Buckeyes have been pretty awful this year. Jordan Decatur is probably going to qualify because the wonky allocations gave the B1G far too many spots at 133, but it’s very possible OSU (a noted great great program) could need a lot of help from at-large selections to qualify more than, say, five guys.

Cari: I’m just interested in seeing how many points Iowa scores here, and wins by. Because the more points it is, the more overconfident they’ll be headed to the actual important tournament…

Jp: Iowa’s Fun-Loving Team Camaraderie!

Gone are the days of a grumpy Mike Evans and Bobby Telford glumly posing for shared conference title pics. Coach Spencer Lee envisioned rebuilding Iowa in his image, when he spurned Cael Sanderson’s solicitations (including convincing the Nittany Lions to wear pajama bottoms on Spencer’s recruiting visit) and took his talents to Iowa City. Goodbye old tired Gable-Brands talking points of toughness and grinds; hello, modern narratives of team-wrestling, pokemon and, gasp, fun!

Count on BTN’s Tim Johnson, Shane Sparks and Jim Gibbons to take up these talking points enthusiastically.

Q5: Potential Matchup You’re Most Looking Forward To?

Clay

Penn State Matchup: I am both extremely excited for and extremely curious about a pair of matches. The first is Nick Lee-Sebastian Rivera, and the second is DanGreg Kerkvliet-Mason Parris. We know Rivera is good, but how well will he handle the added size. He certainly looks big enough for the weight to me. Likewise, we know how good Kerkvliet can be, but where does he stack up right now?

Non-Penn State Matchup: I think Gable Steveson and Mason Parris are your two favorites at Olympic Team Trials, so the fact that we get to see them potentially wrestle at the Big Ten Tournament is wild. Give me a best of two out of three please!

Cari

Penn State Matchup: Lee vs. Eierman.

Non-Penn State Matchup: Hillger-Cass.

Jp

Penn State Matchup: Beard-Amine II. Look for Beard’s persistent attacks to be just a bit more measured—and successful!

Non-Penn State Matchup: Logan Massa vs Michael Kemerer. Next to Spencer, these two might be my favorite non-Penn Staters in the whole field. Both crazy savvy and deeply experienced.

And the winner gets Carter Starocci on Sunday afternoon!

Q6: Can DanGreg Kerkvliet Go With/Defeat Parris and/or Steveson?

Clay: If he’s healthy, sure! The other two I think have a bit of a size and maybe strength advantage. Cael Sanderson mentioned this past week that Kerkvliet lost weight while injured and has since put on 10 pounds or so after returning. If he doesn’t get bullied, Kerkvliet certainly has the quickness and skill to stay with the other two.

Cari: He can. Not sure if that’s this year or next, but he definitely can.

Jp: Yes, yes, he can. I’ve picked him to fall to Steveson, but will know more when he faces Mason Parris tomorrow night.

Q7: Team Winner & Why?

Clay: I hate it, but I’m taking the Hawks. Too much experience and too many bullets in the chamber. Penn State could pull an upset if absolutely everything falls perfectly, but that’s a huge ask.

Cari: Iowa. It can be a lot tougher to win Big Tens than NCAAs due to somewhat nonsensical seeding and draws (and subsequent BYEs), so bonus points mean less at this tourney. I think they win the team title pretty easily, but it’s more of a fight in two weeks.

Jp: The Hawkeyes and their squad of fun-loving playful miscreants!

If Michigan’s lower-weights were a bit stronger, I’d include them as possible contenders. As is, there are still enough nasty Wolverines who could help Penn State unseat the Hawks. If Sean Bormet can convince Will Lewan to attack, he could be a problem for Kaleb Young. Amine the Younger could give The Bull some opposition? Maybe, lol. Massa could wreck things with a win over KemDawg.

And remember how well young Bullock wrestled against Aaron Brooks? He could surprise and win two bouts, to face Brooks in a Semifinals rematch. Throw in extreme title contenders Amine the Elder and Mason “The Hurdler” Parris, and Michigan could end up being Penn State’s best friend.