DSJ out; Marion in. The biggest questions for the Iowa team leading up to this event have been: will Montell Marion wrestle? Will Derek St. John wrestle? And who the heck will wrestle at 149? Now, thanks to Tom Brands, we have some answers to those questions.
Marion ran into some more trouble with the law earlier this month, but for now it doesn't appear to be impacting his ability to wrestle for Iowa. He's still slated to wrestle at Midlands:
Brands said Tuesday that Montell Marion will wrestle Thursday and Friday at the Midlands Tournament.
Marion was arrested Dec. 16 for driving while barred. Afterward, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and associate athletics director for student services and compliance, Fred Mims, both indicated the situation was going to be handled according to the student-athlete code of conduct.
"The comment has been made and said by my bosses, both of them, that there will be no further comment," Brands said. "I’m a loyal guy. If the athletic department stance is no further comment … I’m part of the athletic department."
We'll see if things change, but for now it appears to all systems go for Marion (which is very good news indeed).
As far as St. John's status:
St. John suffered a knee injury in the Hawkeyes’ dual against University of Northern Iowa on Dec. 8. If it were necessary, Brands said St. John could compete, but they are taking things slow for a return.
"The biggest thing is continuing to get him stronger and not rush it," Brands said. "If we had to go, we can go."
While it would be nice to see him go at Midlands, it's more important that he's ready to go for the rest of the season; if having him skip out on Midlands insures that, so be it. The good news is that it sounds as though his injury in the UNI match wasn't too serious and that he should be okay going forward; considering how bad it looked at the time (and how much pain St. John was reportedly in while leaving the mat), we'll take it.
And at 149?
Brands said the Hawkeyes would take redshirt freshman Mike Kelly and freshman Brody Grothus to Midlands to compete at 149. Grothus, who is 9-1, will wrestle unattached.
No mention at all of Dylan Carew, which probably doesn't bode well of his chances for seeing the mat the rest of the year. The only mention of the Ballweg bros. was of Mark, who's returning to 141 lbs. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see if the foggy picture at 149 gets any clearer.
Champions of the middle lands. A year ago, Iowa's quest for a fourth-straight Midlands title was derailed in spectacularly ugly fashion -- they stumbled and bumbled their way to a 4th place finish, well behind eventual champions Missouri. That was almost certainly the nadir of Iowa's season and considering they rebounded to finish second (by the slimmest of margins) to Penn State at the Big Ten Tournament and third (to Penn State and Cornell) at the NCAA Tournament, it may have been the kick in the pants that they needed to get things going for the remainder of the season. This year's Iowa team returns to the event seeking revenge, redemption -- and a little more hardware to add to their overstuffed trophy cabinet. In terms of teams, it's a solid field (15 of InterMat's top-25), although slightly lacking in high-end teams other than Iowa, who's the only member of the top-5 at the event. We'll have to wait to see how Iowa might fare against the likes of Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Penn State, and Cornell.
Midlands coverage (all times CT):
12/29: 9:30am -- Session I, 7pm -- Session II (Quarterfinals, consolation rounds)
12/30: 12pm -- Session III (Semifinals, consolation rounds), 7:20pm -- Session IV (Finals, consolation rounds)
TV: Northwestern All-Access (Thursday Quarterfinals); BTN (9:30pm CT; tape-delayed coverage of Friday's Finals)
Radio: Takedown Radio (internet radio), Hawkeye All-Access ($$$), AM-800 KXIC (free if you're in Iowa)
Liveblog: The Open Mat will be providing a liveblog, and I suspect Andy Hamilton will do the same at Hawk Central/The Des Moines Register; links when they become available. I'll also be open threading the event on Thursday and Friday.
And, yes, BTN's airing of the Finals will also be opposite the Insight Bowl. It appears that you can also access NW All-Access if you're a video.BTN.com subscriber, too.
Let's look at it weight-by-weight. The numbers on the left are the pre-seeds for the tournament; they're not binding, but for the purposes of this preview we're going to assume this is what the final seeds will be. The number on the right is the wrestler's current InterMat ranking. Onwards and upwards...
1) Jesse Delgado, Illinois (6)
2) Matt McDonough, Iowa (2)
3) Jarrod Patterson, Oklahoma (5)
4) Levi Mele, Northwestern (8)
5) Ryak Finch, Iowa State (10)
6) Trent Sprenkle, North Dakota State (16)
7) Joe Roth, Central Michigan (18)
8) Jared Germaine, Eastern Michigan (19)
There's a solid representation of talent at 125 this year: 8 top-20 wrestlers, including five in the top-10. The match we're all dying to see is a Delgado-McDonough rematch to see if McDonough can avenge his surprising loss to Delgado at a dual meet earlier this month, but both guys will have to get by some quality wrestlers to get to that point: Mele or Finch will test Delgado and Patterson has probably been the best 125-er of the last few years that McDonough has never wrestled before. Despite both being juniors and multi-year starters, they have to face each other in their careers.
FINALS PREDICTION: McDonough vs. Delgado; all that said, these two wrestlers appear to be the best of the bunch here. I think McD will be motivated to avenge his defeat, while Delgado will continue to prove that he's a legit contender this year.
1) Tony Ramos, Iowa (2)
2) Devin Carter, Virginia Tech (4)
3) A.J. Schopp, Edinboro (8)
4) B.J. Futrell, Illinois (7)
5) Cashe Quiroga, Purdue (6)
6) Bryan Ortenzio, Penn (13)
7) Steven Keith, Harvard (9)
8) Ryan Mango, Stanford (10)
* Jordan Keller, Oklahoma (12)
* Tyler Clark, Iowa (NR)
133 is another very strong weight class at this year's Midlands; there are nine wrestlers ranked in the top-13 and Tyler Clark might very well make it ten if he wasn't stuck behind Tony Ramos in the Iowa lineup. This sets up as an excellent opportunity for Ramos to solidify his claim as the second-best guy at 133 (behind Okie State's Jordan Oliver). Based on the pre-seeds, he could get a shot at longtime nemesis B.J. Futrell in the semis here; he whupped Futrell 13-5 at a dual meet earlier this season. Clark could make some noise as well; he's a very good wrestler that just happens to be blocked by a slightly better wrestler in Ramos; hopefully he'll be on the opposite side of the bracket from Ramos so one of them won't derail the other one before the finals.
FINALS PREDICTON: Ramos vs. Carter; Ramos has looked like a machine of late, so I'm not betting against him claiming one of the other spots. I'm tentatively going with Carter, although neither he nor Schopp have the most impressive resumes this year. Honestly, if Clark is on the opposite side of the bracket, it wouldn't shock me at all to see a Clark-Ramos final.
1) Montell Marion, Iowa (1)
2) Boris Novachkov, Cal Poly (4)
3) Zack Kemmerer, Penn (2)
4) Kendric Maple, Oklahoma (7)
5) Stephen Dutton, Lehigh (8)
6) Matt Mariacher, American (9)
7) Zach Neibert, Virginia Tech (NR)
8) Mitchell Port, Edinboro (18)
And now we reach the glamour weight class of this year's Midlands: six of the top-10 are represented here, including three of the top-4. This weight could be a mini-preview of the NCAA Tournament later this season (although chances are Michigan's Kellen Russell will have something to say about the final result here). As noted above, Marion is expected to wrestle at this event, which is good because it means we'll finally get to see how he fares against high-end competition. He's rolled up a nice 11-0 record full of bonus point wins... but he also hasn't been remotely tested yet (not a single match against an InterMat Top-20 opponent). That will change at this event. Novachkov and Kemmerer are very good wrestlers and Maple has been tearing people apart so far this season: six of his seven wins have had bonus points and he's been a virtual takedown machine. A semifinal match between he and Marion could be one of the most exciting matches of the entire tournament.
FINALS PREDICTION: Marion vs. Novachkov; I'm going with chalk here, but it wouldn't stun me if this wound up being Maple v. Kemmerer or some other combination of those four guys. This figures to be a very tightly contested weight class, but for now I'll go with the veteran savvy of Marion and Novachkov to carry them through to the finals.
1) Mario Mason, Rutgers (3)
2) Jake Patacsil, Notre Dame WC (NR)
3) Eric Terrazas, Illinois (6)
4) Ivan Lopouchanski, Purdue (8)
5) Nick Lester, Oklahoma (12)
6) David Habat, Edinboro (10)
7) Cole Schmitt, Wisconsin (9)
8) Josh Wilson, Utah Valley (13)
* Brody Grothus, Iowa (NR)
* Michael Kelly, Iowa (NR)
Another weight class with solid representation (seven of InterMat's top-20), although the lack of elite guys (only one wrestler ranked in the top-5) is kind of a buzzkill. This is also the first weight where Iowa doesn't have a legitimate title contender; hell, they don't even know who the starter is at this weight. As we've noted extensively this year, 149 is (again) a black hole, although this tournament should go a long way in clearing up who gets the nod here going forward. Brands has confirmed that Grothus and Kelly will be competing at 149 here and that Matt Ballweg has moved back to 141. I don't know if anyone other than Grothus or Kelly will be competing for Iowa here. The onus here isn't on winning a title -- it's on giving us a reason to be a little hopeful about this weight for the rest of the season. Hopefully either Grothus or Kelly can provide that.
FINALS PREDICTION: Mason vs. Terrazas; as noted above, it's not the most thrilling field around. Mason and Terrazas look like the best of the bunch. Patacsil is a potential wildcard; he's a former Purdue wrestler now competing with the Notre Dame Wrestling Club. He's been out of college for three years.
1) Derek St. John, Iowa (2)
2) Jason Welch, Northwestern (3)
3) Ganbayar Sanjaa, American (4)
4) James Fleming, Clarion (8)
5) Matt Lester, Oklahoma (11)
6) Steven Monk, North Dakota State (14)
7) Kyle John, Maryland (12)
8) Donnie Corby, Central Michigan (NR)
* Nick Moore, Iowa (NR)
As noted above, DSJ won't be competing in this event in order to continue his recuperation from the leg injury he sustained in his match at the UNI dual almost a month ago. Even without him, though, this is still a pretty decent field: six of the top-14 are here and Welch and Sanjaa appear to be the best 157ers around not named DSJ or Kyle Dake. With DSJ's absence, Nick Moore is apparently getting the nod to go here. He looked good at 165 earlier this year (just not good enough to unseat Mike Evans) and wrestled part-time at 157 last year (to decent, if not blowaway results). St. John is expected to be able to wrestle the rest of the season, though, so Moore is just a fill-in here. Still, this will be valuable experience for Moore against high-end competition, should he be needed as an injury replacement for either DSJ or Evans later this year.
FINALS PREDICTION: Welch vs. Sanjaa; This assumes that they'll be on opposite sides of the final bracket, which seems likely with DSJ sitting this event out. As I said above, they seem to be the best wrestlers here (both were All-Americans last year). Hopefully Moore is able to put together a nice run.
1) Steve Fittery, DCAC (NR)
2) Josh Asper, Maryland (2)
3) Scott Winston, Rutgers (7)
4) Andrew Sorenson, Iowa State (4)
5) Bekzod Abdurakhmanov, Clarion (8)
6) Brandon Hatchett, Lehigh (9)
7) Peter Yates, Virginia Tech (13)
8) Mike Evans, Iowa (14)
* Ben Jordan, Wisconsin (15)
* Bubby Graham, Oklahoma (18)
* Luke Manuel, DCAC (NR)
If 141 is the glamour weight class here, then 165 isn't too far behind: five of the top-10 and nine of the InterMat top-20 are here and Fittery and Manuel are no slouches, either: Manuel was a four-time NCAA qualifer at Purdue and Fittery finished 3rd at 157 at last year's NCAA Tournament (and dismantled DSJ in the third-place match). That much quality should lead to some excellent matches here. It also creates a good news/bad news situation for Mike Evans: the good news is that we'll get plenty of opportunities to see how he sizes up against the nation's best, but the bad news is that it could be difficult for him to finish highly here. If the final bracket resembles the pre-seeds, Evans could be looking at a quarterfinal match with Fittery, which would be... daunting.
FINALS PREDICTION: Sorenson vs. Asper; Personally I'd rather see Fittery beat Sorenson and set up a potential Sorenson-Evans rematch in the consolation brakcet, but Sorenson has looked quite impressive this year, so I can certainly see him making the finals. As far as Evans goes, I'm less interested in his final placement than I am in how he wrestles against so many top guys and whether he's able to get much offense going from his feet -- that should give us an idea about how to calibrate our expectations for the rest of his season.
1) Ryan DesRoches, Cal Poly (3)
2) Chris Spangler, Iowa State (6)
3) Ethen Lofthouse, Iowa (8)
4) Jordan Blanton, Illinois (9)
5) Greg Zanetti, Rutgers (10)
6) Jim Resnick, Rider (12)
7) Lee Munster, Northwestern (13)
8) Jimmy Sheptock, Maryland (16)
Like 149, this is a weight class with good overall representation -- eight of the top-20, five of the top-10 -- but the lack of high-end options (only one of the top-5) causes it to lose a bit of its luster. Still, DesRoches has a pair of wins over top-5 wrestlers (Michigan's Justin Zeerip and Ohio State's Nick Heflin), Spangler and Lofthouse have looked impressive at times, and Blanton has been impressive outside of his loss to Lofthouse.
FINALS PREDICTION: Blanton vs. Lofthouse; this prediction is entirely predicated on Good Ethen showing up for the entire tournament, which is by no means guaranteed. He's been inconsistent this year and if Bad Ethen shows up here, he could easily lose prior to the finals. I'm going to put on my homer googles, though, and say that we get Good Ethen and that he avenges his earlier loss to Spangler to get to the finals. DesRoches has an excellent record (17-0) and some impressive wins, but he also has a ton of close wins on that resume: eight of his wins have been by two points or less. I think Blanton trips him up in the semifinals.
1) Robert Hamlin, Lehigh (1)
2) Ryan Loder, UNI (6)
3) Ben Bennett, Central Michigan (8)
4) Boaz Beard, Iowa State (13)
5) Erich Schmidtke, Oklahoma (16)
6) Brad Dieckhaus, Northern Illinois (19)
7) Braden Atwood, Purdue (20)
8) Tony Dallago, Illinois (NR)
* Vinnie Wagner, Iowa (NR)
This weight might be the biggest disappointment of the entire tournament, frankly. Nationally, this is one of the deepest and most talented weights around, with probably at least 15 guys who can legitimately contend for All-American honors. Unfortunately, just seven of the top-20 and three of the top-10 will be at Midlands. On the bright side, that should boost Wagner's odds of having a solid showing here.
FINALS PREDICTION: Hamlin vs. Loder; In truth, this looks like a three-man race (Hamlin, Loder, Bennett), but Loder has already beaten Bennett once this year (a 3-1 decision), so I'll opt for him to do the same and set up a finals match with Hamlin. Hamlin has a 2-0 career record against Loder, was NCAA runner-up a year ago and beat NCAA champion Quentin Wright 8-3 in a match earlier this season, so his bona fides are pretty legit.
1) Chris Honeycutt, Edinboro (3)
2) Joe Kennedy, Lehigh (8)
3) Micah Burak, Penn (9)
4) Christian Boley, Maryland (10)
5) Byron Tate, Wartburg (NR)
6) Daniel Mitchell, American (15)
7) Grant Gambrall, Iowa (7)
8) Mario Gonzalez, Illinois (14)
* A.J. Kissel, Purdue (17)
* Alex Thomas, Clarion (20)
Now here's a fascinating weight class: nine of the InterMat top-20 and five of the top-10 are here, plus Wartburg's Byron Tate, the two-time defending NCAA Champion at the DIII ranks. There's a good chance he would be at least a top-20 guy at the DI level. All of that quality should make this one of the most competitive -- and unpredictable -- weights at this year's Midlands. From an Iowa standpoint, it will be intriguing to see how Grant Gambrall performs at 197. A good showing here could soldify his decision to stay at this weight, while a poor showing could send him back to 184. If Gambrall is able to be solid at 197, that would definitely make up for his absence at 184 -- and he might have a better chance of reaching All-American honors at 197, which is a shallower weight class than the beartrap that is 184.
FINALS PREDICTION: Tate vs. Burak; because there has to be one nutty weight class, right? I think Tate will be motivated to prove his quality in one of his rare opportunities against top-tier DI competition. Burak (older brother to incoming Iowa recruit Nathan Burak) lost to Kennedy 6-2 earlier this year and has a 1-2 career record against him, but I'll say he comes out on top in their semifinal. As far as Gambrall goes, it's hard to say how he might do here. He hasn't looked terribly impressive in his matches at 197 earlier this year, but he's still talented and hopefully he's continued to improve his conditioning in the three weeks Iowa has had off since the UNI dual.
1) Ryan Flores, American (1)
2) Jarod Trice, Central Michigan (NR)
3) Zack Rey, Lehigh (3)
4) Peter Sturgeon, Central Michigan (6)
5) Bobby Telford, Iowa (9)
6) Spencer Myers, Maryland (13)
7) Ernest James, Edinboro (20)
8) Blake Rasing, Iowa (NR)
* Atticus Disney, Cal Poly (17)
Heavyweight wrestling is, almost by definition, the antithesis of glamourous... but this is still a very loaded weight class, with eight of the top-20, four of the top-10, and two of the top-3 (and it might be three of the top-3 if Trice wasn't redshirting this season). Much like Marion at 141, Evans at 165, and Gambrall at 197, this sets up as a great chance to see how Telford stacks up against some of the heavy hitters at this weight class. Hypothetically, he could wrestle three of the top six heavyweights in the country here (Sturgeon in the quarters, Flores in the semis, and Rey in the finals). Welcome to the big time, Bobby. This might also be the last chance for Blake Rasing to stake his claim to the starting spot here; a strong showing by Blake and a wipeout by Telford could give him a few more opportunities to start.
FINALS PREDICTION: Flores vs. Rey; they were last year's NCAA finalists and I see no reason to against that here. Although, personally, aside from Telford and Rasing, the wrestler I really want to see go on a run here is the sublimely-named Atticus Disney.
So would that be enough for Iowa to reclaim the Midlands crown? Quite possibly. My predictions have Iowa with four finalists (McD, Ramos, Marion, and Lofthouse), and I think Evans and Telford could definitely do some damage in the consolation bracket and finish highly. With a healthy DSJ, I think Iowa would probably be a prohibitive favorite here; without him, they're probably "just" a solid favorite.
Realignmentpalooza leaves no sport untouched. Meanwhile, there was an interesting article last week from Andy Hamilton discussing the possibility of a reshaped college wrestling landscape:
The Big Ten and 14-team EIWA would remain intact while the eight other conferences would merge under Moyer’s concept — the ACC with the Colonial Athletic Association, the Eastern Wrestling League with the Southern Conference, the Big 12 and Missouri with the MAC and the Pac-12 with Northern Iowa and other Western Wrestling Conference affiliates.
This change wouldn't have much impact on Iowa -- as noted above, the Big Ten would remain untouched -- but it would certainly impact several other schools, including Iowa's in-state neighbors. At least on the surface, it seems like it would make it harder for them to qualify for the NCAA Tournament since they'd be going against increased competition in the new qualifying tournaments.
That said, there is one proposed change that could affect Iowa:
Moyer’s vision would bring conference dual seasons to a close each January, setting up a regional dual tournament the first weekend in February. It would pit the No. 1 team in each conference against the champion of its partner league. Other teams would be matched by conference finish against another team from its partner league.
Regional champions and wild card selections would advance the following weekend to the National Duals Championships. The dual concept isn’t a radical departure from the revamped format put into place this year. The bigger changes would occur with NCAA qualifying tournaments.
As Hamilton states, this isn't too different from the new National Duals format starting this year, but anything that would create a more coherent, all-encompassing National Duals tournament is a good idea in my book, although some more fleshing out is likely required (for instance, how would the wildcard selections be determined?). Any decisions on these proposed changes are unlikely to be made until after the completion of the current season, but they still bear watching.