We Must Break You Picks Up The Pieces

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 bhgp.rosswb@gmail.com

The biggest news of the weeks was probably Montell Marion's quasi-return to the team; if you missed that make with the clicky.  Feel free to drop a line in the comments here if you want to discuss the matter.  In other news... 

Yeah, but there's still not going to be any jousting, right?  Normally, we'd be previewing Iowa's chances at the NWCA National Duals tournament this weekend, but Tom Brands made the controversial decision to skip the tournament this year, there's not much point in previewing it.  Still, whatever your feelings are about Iowa's absence from National Duals, it's hard to argue Brands' point that the tournament isn't living up to the stature implied by its name:

"It’s an invitational with some of the best teams in America," Brands said. "Penn State’s not there, Iowa’s not there, last year Oklahoma State wasn’t there and other teams aren’t there as well, and also there are teams that are ranked way outside the top 25. That’s not a national tournament.

And that's a shame, because wrestling really should have some form of recognized and celebrated dual meet tournament.  Wrestling may be a fundamentally individual sport, but team duals are an essential part of the sport's tradition and they provide a unique way to evaluate the strength of a team from top to bottom.  With a sport as individual-centric as wrestling, there will always be a significant place for tournaments like the Midlands Championships or the Big Ten Championships or the NCAA Tournament -- but there should also be room for a true national tournament for dual meets.  Winning a team title at the NCAA Tournament is most often a function of having a core of stud performers who can amass a ton of points (although top-to-bottom depth certainly helps); winning a title at a duals tournament is a function of having a roster with solid overall depth.  

Some years, that's the same team; Iowa would have been heavily favored in both formats in the three years prior to this year.  But this year you may have seen two different champions; Cornell is one of the favorites to win the NCAA Tournament because they have a handful of excellent wrestlers, but they could get tripped up in a dual meet setting because they have some definite weak spots on their roster.  Conversely, this year Iowa almost certainly has a better dual meet team than they do a tournament team (though still probably not the best in the nation).  Right now they appear to lack the high-end options that can make deep runs at the NCAA Tournament and carry a team to a national championship, but in a dual meet setting they have a roster with wrestlers at each weight who are at least solid (save perhaps 149).  

Fortunately, there's a movement afoot to radically transform the current National Duals tournament and make it a true national championship for dual meet wrestling: 

Moyer wants to make every dual matter. He wants to see the champions of the sport’s nine conferences and one super regional plus six at-large selections vying for the NCAA dual title. He wants to see those 16 teams tangling on the second Sunday of February in predetermined regional sites with the four winners advancing to wrestling’s Final Four the following Sunday.

That format seems infinitely more interesting than the current set-up.  Letting in the champions of every conference may let in a few weaker teams from smaller conferences, but that quality difference would probably be mitigated by the fact that teams from the Big Ten, Big 12, and out east would likely dominate the at-large bids.  The bigger problem is the radical shift in scheduling practices that Moyer's proposal would create -- conference meets would have to start up much sooner than they do now and high-profile non-conference meets like Iowa-Iowa State or Iowa-Oklahoma State may get squeezed out entirely (which would be awful for the sport).  There's also the small matter of what to do in the month between the new-look National Duals and the NCAA Tournament in March (although I'm also a staunch proponent of moving the NCAA Tournament away from the first weekend of March Madness, too). Still, while the proposal might need some tweaking, it's a good idea overall and one that could lead to the creation of another very exciting tournament.  Let's hope it happens.

The picture, it is still muddled.  Last week's rumble at the Midlands Championships was supposed to help sort out a few cluttered weights in the Iowa line-up; as Andy Hamilton notes, they may be even more muddled than before now.

 But the seventh-ranked Hawkeyes walked away from their most-recent outing without clear-cut starters across the board. There’s still an "or" at three weights on the probable lineup sheet for Friday’s 7 p.m. dual against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

It’s Tony Ramos or Tyler Clark at 133 pounds. It’ll be Matt Ballweg or Jeret Chiri at 149. It says Aaron Janssen or Jake Kerr at 165.

And there should probably be an "or" at heavyweight, too; it's not as though Blake Rasing has done much this year to cement his claim to that spot.  Jordan Johnson may not be quite the shaved bear that Rasing is, but he's perfectly capable of having dull matches decided by a single takedown, too -- and he even managed to be competitive against one of the top heavyweights in the country last week.

Still, for all the uncertainty implied by an "or" on the lineup sheet, it's hard not to think that there's a definite lean in a few of the pairings.  After beating Kerr in the consolation bracket and finishing 5th at Midlands (and compiling a 14-2 record overall), it's hard not to think that Aaron Janssen has an edge in the race to be the 165 starter.  Likewise, Matt Ballweg may not officially be the starter at 149 yet, but he did win one more match than Jeret Chiri at Midlands and he seems to offer more potential to not get completely wiped out by opponents.  133, though, remains a complete toss-up, as both Tony Ramos and Tyler Clark are good -- and both have unique strengths.  Ramos offers a more aggressive style and the potential for more points (as well as a higher upside overall), while Clark offers better defense  and more experience and greater potential to upset higher-ranked opponents.  With big duals against Oklahoma State and Penn State coming up quickly, though, it's incumbent on Brands to identify the best man and stick with him.

Rankings like BY GOD, THAT'S THE BROOKLYN BRAWLER'S MUSIC.  Following an underwhelming effort at the Midlands Championships, pretty much every member of the Iowa wrestling team took a jobber-like tumble down the rankings.

TEAM: #12 (Intermat) / #7 (NWCA/USA Today) / #6 (d1collegewrestling) / #6 (TheOpenMat)

INDIV (Intermat / TheOpenMat / d1collegewrestling / AWN)
125: Matt McDonough
 (#2 / #3 / #3 / #3)
133: Tony Ramos (n/a* / #12 / n/a* / #10)
141: Mark Ballweg (#17 / #15 / #15 / #18)
149: none
157: Derek St. John (#18 / #16 / #22 / #18)
165: Aaron Janssen (#15 / #12 / #15 / #19)
174: Ethen Lofthouse (#16 / #12 / #13 / #17)
184: Grant Gambrall (#17 / #17 / #16 / #12)
197: Luke Lofthouse (#16 / #18 / #18 / #17)
HWT: Blake Rasing (n/a / n/a / n/a / #20)

* Intermat ranks Tyler Clark #11 at 133; d1collegewrestling ranks him #10 at 133.

As you'd probably expect after what happened at Midlands, almost everyone tumbled down the rankings; the only guys to actually improve their standing were Clark (who was unranked by everyone pre-Midlands), Janssen (who parlayed his solid run at Midlands into a decent showing in the rankings), and Ethen Lofthouse (another guy who used a relatively strong showing at Midlands to improve his standing here).  McD tumbled a few spots after his close loss to Precin.  Ramos, Ballweg, and Luke Lofthouse dropped a few spots after mixing in a handful of wins with a few losses.  The big losers were DSJ and Gambrall, who both tumbled from the top ten to the lower teens; they were clearly penalized for sustaining multiple lopsided losses to inferior competition.  

While the entire team needs to step up their performance over the next few months, no one needs to pick things up more than DSJ and Gambrall.  Based on the current rankings, Iowa would have exactly one All-American at the NCAA Tournament in March: McD.  To retain even a faint hope of repeating in March, Iowa's going to need to have a few guys make deep runs into the tournament and DSJ and Gambrall are the most likely candidates outside of McD to make those runs.  So we really need to hope that their performance at Midlands was an aberration and not any kind of indication of how they'll perform in March.

I was told there would be no vampires.  There's no point in a detailed preview of tonight's match with SIU-Edwardsville (7pm CST; radio: 800 KXIC; TV: Mediacom Connections; internet: bigtennetwork.com).  Iowa's 7-0; the Cougars are 1-6.  They have no ranked wrestlers of note.  This should be every bit as lopsided as Iowa's blowout wins earlier in the season over UNI, Coe, and the like.  The good news is that some dominant wins may help boost the confidence of some of Iowa's young wrestlers.  The bad news is that it isn't going to tell us a thing about their ability to compete with quality foes.  They really should be at the National Duals.  But they're not and so we must make do with what we've got.  There are still a few things to watch out for tonight:

* Who gets the starting nods?  As noted above, there's definite uncertainty at 133, 149, and 165 (and potentially at heavyweight, too, if Rasing continues to underperform).  The wrestler who gets tabbed to start tonight may not be the definite favorite to win the spot -- but a strong performance sure as hell can't hurt.  I think Ballweg and Janssen get the nod at 149 and 165, respectively, but the decision at 133 will be very interesting.   

* Cardio: does Iowa haz it?  They sure as hell didn't have it at Midlands, where multiple Iowa wrestlers appeared to gas out late and lose close matches.  Whether that was a (mostly) temporary problem brought on by illness or too much Christmas ham is TBD; seeing the Iowa wrestlers looking fresh and active in the third period tonight would be a lot more reassuring, though.

* Blowouts.  To be sure, Iowa's middling performance last week indicated that they need to improve their efforts in close matches if they want to finish high at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.  That being said, I'd really rather not see them get more experience in matches of that nature against guys the caliber of SIU-Edwardsville.  These are matches that (most of) the Iowa guys should be winning handily -- so let's see some bonus points and domination.

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