We Must Break You is the weekly round-up of news regarding the Iowa wrestling program, a breakdown of the rankings, and a look ahead to the weekend's action. Feel free to send any links, tips, suggestions, complaints, or bribes to email@example.com
"Top Contenders" means they're, like, good and stuff. After nearly three weeks of inactivity the Iowa wrestlers return to the mat in a big way with the Midlands Tournament, a two-day dual hailing from the taint of the Big Ten, Welsh-Ryan Arena (Ryan Field is clearly the asshole). Iowa's the three-time defending champions and should have a solid opportunity to make it four in a row (the only participating team ranked higher in Intermat's rankings is Wisconsin at #3). That said, it's still a very solid field -- seven of Intermat's top fifteen schools are represented in the field (Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, American, Oklahoma, Lehigh, and Illinois). Anyway, the Midlands Tournament Committee released their "top contenders" last week, which are not technically official seeds but they're pretty damn close anyway. So how's Iowa stack up? Glad you asked.
One explanatory note: teams are allowed to submit more than ten wrestlers to the event but they can only designate ten as official point-scorers for the purpose of winning the competition. For instance, Iowa could submit multiple wrestlers at a loaded weight (say, Nate Moore and Tony Ramos at 133) and none at a weaker weight (say, 149) in the hopes of getting more points out of two wrestlers at a single weight than two wrestlers at two different weights. The downside to this approach is that it prevents you from scoring any points at certain weights and opens up the possibility of running into bottlenecks with two of your own wrestlers competing against one another at other weights.
To make things easier on myself, I'm just going to reference the Intermat rankings here.
125: Matt McDonough (ranked #1 by Intermat, #1 Top Contender at Midlands)
Biggest Threats: This is a pretty stacked weight, as six of the top ten are represented, including four of the top five (all but Arizona State's Anthony Robles). The most notable threats are Brandon Precin (jNW), James Nicholson (Old Dominion), and Jarrod Patterson (Oklahoma). To the best of my knowledge, McDonough hasn't wrestled any of these guys yet. Precin in particular is regarded as one of the top threats to a McDonough repeat and since they could meet as many as four times this year (here, the Iowa-jNW dual, and the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments), it should be interesting to see how they match up.
Prognosis: Call me a homer if you like, but I'm not going to pick against McDonough just yet. The only guy to beat him in his collegiate career is Angel Escobedo and he's not around anymore. Until he tastes defeat again, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. McD to win.
133: Tony Ramos (ranked #8 by Intermat, #4 Top Contender at Midlands); Nate Moore (unranked by Intermat, "Other Contender" at Midlands); Tyler Clark (unranked by Intermat; not listed by Midlands Tournament Committee)
Biggest Threats: Six of Intermat's top eleven wrestlers are appearing at Midlands at this weight, although the upper crust (three of the top four) won't be there. We will get to see Ramos and Co. compete against some of the best the Big Ten has to offer, though -- both of the Big Ten's top-ranked guys at this weight (#3 Tyler Graff of Wisconsin and #5 BJ Futrell of Illinois) are slated to be there. But perhaps the most important note about this weight is that this tournament should go a long way in settling who will man this weight for Iowa over the course of the rest of the season. All three top contenders are expected to compete, which should give us a much better idea of who the best man is and how well they compare with some of the top challengers nationally.
Prognosis: Ramos is only #4 among "Top Contenders," but I think he can do a bit better than that -- I could easily see a top-3 finish for him. That said, it also wouldn't be a shock if one of the other Iowa guys ended up doing better: they're more tested against nationally-ranked foes and they've bested Ramos in head-to-head competition in the past.
141: Mark Ballweg (ranked #12 by Intermat, #5 Top Contender at Midlands)
Biggest Threats: This weight isn't quite as loaded as the previous two weights. Only four of the Intermat top ten are scheduled to compete, and just two of the top five (#3 Jimmy Kennedy and #4 Boris Novachkov) -- that's why you see Ballweg cracking the top five of the "Top Contenders" rankings despite being only #12 in Intermat's rankings. The good news is that should make it easier for Ballweg to do well here (and pick up some team points for Iowa), although Kennedy, Novachkov, #6 Zach Bailey, and #8 Tyler Nauman will be formidable competition.
Prognosis: Ballweg has made a habit of confounding expectations this year, so it would seem a bit foolish to bet against him again here. I'll peg him for another upset or two and a top-four finish.
149: Matt Ballweg (unranked by Intermat, not listed by the Midlands Tournament Committee); Jeret Chiri (unranked by Intermat, not listed by the Midlands Tournament Committee)
Biggest Threats: Everyone. Seriously, have you seen Iowa's results at this weight this year? It hasn't been pretty at times. More seriously, four of Intermat's top ten should be in action here, although only two of the top five. From an Iowa-centric standpoint, the most interesting aspect of this weight is seeing whether Ballweg can be a legitimate option at this weight and whether Chiri can perform a bit more consistently (and, er, better).
Prognosis: Pain -- lots of it. And for the first time in three years, Iowa will be on the receiving end rather than delivering it at this weight. Chiri's showings this year have been pretty erratic and Ballweg has yet to even officially compete at this weight this season. It's impossible to expect anything good here; any points Iowa gets will be pure gravy.
157: Derek St. John (#8 by Intermat, #4 Top Contender at Midlands)
Biggest Threats: Only three of Intermat's top ten are represented here (including DSJ), but one of those three is a pretty significant threat: #1 Steve Fittery of American. Another name to note is Jake Patascil, who graduated a few years ago after finishing up a career at OMHR (he's representing the Central Wrestling Club at Midlands, I believe). The depth of the field at this weight isn't stellar, but there are also four other top-20 wrestlers in the field and a potential DSJ-Fittery match (or DSJ against #5 Jason Welch) would be pretty enticing.
Prognosis: DSJ didn't look great in his last few matches before Iowa's long absence; poor weight-cutting was one popular theory. Hopefully he has that sorted out now and can regain the scintillating form he displayed early in the season. I'm not willing to pick him past Fittery just yet, but a top 2-3 finish seems pretty plausible.
165: Jake Kerr (#14 by Intermat, #7 Top Contender at Midlands); Aaron Janssen (unranked by Intermat, not listed by the Midlands Tournament Committee)
Biggest Threats: I don't believe it's been officially confirmed that Janssen will also be competing at Midlands, but it seems like a no-brainer, given how evenly matched he and Kerr have been this year. The bad news is that four of Intermat's top ten should be here, including the top three (#1 Andrew Howe, #2 Jordan Burroughs, #3 Josh Asper). Either Kerr or Janssen will have their work cut out for them at this weight; I'll settle for just getting some clarity on which guy is the better option going forward at this weight.
Prognosis: A 7th-8th place finish seems reasonable.
174: Ethen Lofthouse (unranked by Intermat, "Other Contenders" at Midlands)
Biggest Threats: Four of Intermat's top 10 should be here (#3 Jon Reader, #4 Nick Amuchastegui, #5 Brian Bennett, and #7 Tyler Caldwell) and eight of the top 17, which should make for a pretty formidable field. Lofthouse has had a disappointing start to the season and while he probably isn't in danger of losing his spot (Iowa simply doesn't have many options at 174 unless it wants to burn a redshirt), a good showing here could certainly jumpstart his season.
Prognosis: Much as I'd like to predict a breakout performance from Lofthouse here, we really haven't seen anything to indicate that it's all that likely. I hope to be proven wrong, but I don't think he cracks the top-8 here.
184: Grant Gambrall (#4 by Intermat, #1 Top Contender at Midlands)
Biggest Threats: As you might have guessed, this isn't one of the deeper weight classes at Midlands -- four of the Intermat top ten are represented (Gambrall, #5 Robert Hamlin, #6 Travis Rutt, #10 Josh Ihnen), but none of the top three. On the bright side, that could make it easier for Gambrall to place highly. Along with the strong performances of Tony Ramos and Mark Ballweg, Gambrall's excellence has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season for Iowa thus far; a strong showing at Midlands would only enhance his standing. Plus, a match with Rutt (the highest-rated Big Ten wrestler at this weight other than Gambrall) could go a long way in establishing a pecking order in the league.
Prognosis: Gambrall hasn't been tripped up yet, but like DSJ he struggled in a few matches prior to Iowa's long lay-off and he hasn't been steamrolling all comers this year. Even though he's the top contender, I'm not totally sold on him winning it all here, so I'll hedge my bets and go with a top-two finish.
197: Luke Lofthouse (#12 by Intermat, #4 Top Contender at Midlands)
Biggest Threats: Only two of Intermat's top ten are expected to be here (#3 Trevor Brandvold and #8 Zac Thomusseit), so it's possible that Lofthouse could make some noise here. He lost a narrow 4-2 decision to Brandvold a year ago and Lofthouse has generally been better this year (if occasionally prone to his old problems finishing takedowns).
Prognosis: Given the shallowness of the field, it's not unreasonable to assume that Lofthouse could make a run at the title here, but he simply hasn't been consistent enough to expect that sort of performance. Do I really think he can consistently finish his takedowns for as many matches as it would take to secure a top-two finish here? Not especially. A top-four finish sounds reasonable.
HWT: Blake Rasing (#15 by Intermat, "Other Contenders" at Midlands); Jordan Johnson (unranked by Intermat, not listed by the Midlands Tournament Committee)
Biggest Threats: Like Janssen at 165, it hasn't been officially confirmed that Johnson will be competing at Midlands this year, but it seems pretty plausible since Rasing hasn't done much to lock this weight down. That said, this is probably the most loaded weight class at Midlands this year: seven of Intermat's top ten are expected to be there, including all of the top five (#1 Zach Rey, #2 Ryan Tomei, #3 DJ Russo, #4 Ryan Flores, #5 Dom Bradley). The good news is this could be one hell of a preview for the NCAA Tournament in March; the bad news is it's still heavyweight wrestling and it could be awfully ponderous and dull.
Prognosis: Even if Rasing had been performing at a higher level during the early part of the season it would be hard to expect much from him against a crop of challengers this talented. I'll be pretty shocked if he cracks the top-eight here.
So what does all this mean for the team race? Iowa has seven wrestlers listed in the "Top Contenders" rankings, more than anyone else except Oklahoma (who also has seven), and five inside the top-four. jNW has six wrestlers in the "Top Contenders" rankings and three inside the top-three. Wisconsin has five wrestlers in the "Top Contenders" rankings, but four inside the top-three -- and three ranked #1 at their respective weights. Oklahoma has seven wrestlers in the "Top Contenders" rankings and three inside the top-four. Wisconsin has an extremely top-heavy line-up, but if their guys perform up to their seeds (especially the trio at #1), they could be difficult to catch. On the plus side, Iowa has a "Top Contender" at each of the weights where Wisconsin has the top-ranked contender, which means the Hawks may be able to slow down the Badgers at those weights. It would be asking a lot for Kerr to knock off Howe at 165, but it's far more possible that Ramos (or Moore or Clark) could topple Graff at 133 or Lofthouse could edge Brandvold at 197. Iowa also has guys with the potential to slow down some of jNW's top-ranked contenders (McD at 125, DSJ at 157), which would be immense for the team match. Finally, bonus points could come into play as well -- which means bonus point magnets like McD, Ramos, DSJ, and Gambrall might really need to show up in a big way here. Again, Iowa should have a very good opportunity to defend its title here and get the first of (hopefully) three four-peats this year -- but it's not going to be easy.
Rankings like meh. Your weekly rankings round-up:
TEAM: #5 (Intermat) / #6 (NWCA/USA Today) / #6 (d1collegewrestling) / #5 (TheOpenMat)
INDIV (Intermat / TheOpenMat / d1collegewrestling / AWN)
125: Matt McDonough (#1 / #1 / #1 / #1)
133: Tony Ramos (#8 / #9 / #9 / #8)
141: Mark Ballweg (#12 / #13 / #11 / #19)
157: Derek St. John (#8 / #7 / #9 / #11)
165: Jake Kerr (#14 / #11 / #13 / none)
174: Ethen Lofthouse (none / #20 / #24 / none)
184: Grant Gambrall (#4 / #6 / #4 / #9)
197: Luke Lofthouse (#12 / #18 / #14 / #18)
HWT: Blake Rasing (#15 / #11 / #14 / #15)
Is there really much point in parsing the tiny differences in these rankings when they're entirely based on what other wrestlers have done and have nothing at all to do with the performance of Iowa guys (seeing as no Iowa wrestler has competed in a few weeks) and when there's a big tournament coming up that will likely shake up these rankings quite a bit? No, not really. They're presented for the sake of completion and amusement more than anything. The only change of more than one or two ranking spots was Jake Kerr going from #14 to unranked in AWN's rankings; maybe they just forgot about him.
And your obligatory Montell Marion update. It's not much, but hey: news is slim over the holidays.
Montell Marion has taken another step in his bid to rejoin the Iowa wrestling program.
The suspended All-American submitted a request for reinstatement to Iowa coach Tom Brands.
Yes, filing paperwork is the sum total of this update. You're welcome.
Finally, your Midlands schedule. So when is this shindig and how can you follow it?
Session I (12/29 -- 9:30am)
Session II (12/29 -- 7pm)
Session III (12/30 -- 12pm)
Session IV (12/30 -- 7pm)
There's no live video coverage on TV or the interwebs, but BTN is broadcasting a tape-delayed version on January 8th at 3pm CST. Way to keep it timely, BTN. Takedown Radio is providing internet radio coverage; if you live near Iowa City, you should be able to listen in on KCJJ.