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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Best in show. It was a big weekend for the entire Iowa wrestling program, but no one had a better weekend than Matt McDonough, team leader and badass extraordinaire, who scored two pins, including an absolutely shocking pinfall out of nowhere in his revenge match with Northwestern's Brandon Precin that turned around a match he was on his way to losing. So it didn't come as a big surprise that the Big Ten singled McD out as "Big Ten Wrestler of the Week." He got the maximum number of bonus points for his team in a pair of key dual meet victories, avenged his lone loss on the season, and reasserted himself atop the 125-lb. division. All in all, not a bad weekend's work. That McD is the first Iowa wrestler to earn the award since Brent Metcalf last February is a slight surprise, until you take a look at the records of the Hawkeye wrestlers. Not many guys had recorded big wins until recently, so it's not much of a surprise that the Big Ten hadn't honored anyone.
Awards for everyone! Montell Marion's long, strange trip back to the Iowa starting lineup concluded Sunday with his surprising debut against Penn State's Andrew Alton, in a match where he overcame an early 5-0 deficit to win 11-9 in the final seconds. Given the adversity he's faced (some of it self-inflicted, to be fair), that slick takedown by Alton was the least of his problems. Fortunately, Tom Brands had his back:
"Montell Marion told Gary Barta that he was going to graduate from the University of Iowa, and I shrugged my shoulders and was like, ‘Put your money where your mouth is, stud. You’re not holding anybody hostage here.’ He didn’t approach it that way. He wasn’t holding anybody hostage. There were no guarantees, and he’s done a good job to put himself in this position, and because of that, I became an advocate for him."
Cynics might suggest that Brands might not have fought so vociferously for a kid who wasn't an NCAA runner-up, but screw it: haters gon' hate. Brands has been fiercely protective and supportive of his wrestlers in the past, so his backing of Marion is nothing new. For his part, Marion was also named Wrestler of the Week by TheMat.com for his excellent effort against Alton.
TEAM: #6 (Intermat - tourney) / #2 (NWCA/USA Today - dual) / #2 (d1collegewrestling - ?) / #2 (TheOpenMat - ?)
And now, a quick note about the team rankings. Some team rankings (like the Intermat rankings) are based on a team's performance in tournaments (both actual and projected). Some team rankings (like the NWCA rankings) are based on a team's performance in dual meets (both actual and projected). Some team rankings don't say what they're based on (like the d1collegewrestling and TOM rankings above), although in this case it seems likely that they're dual meet rankings. There's strong overlap between tournament and dual rankings, but because they don't measure the same thing, they'll never be identical. There will always be teams that are better at duals than tournaments (and vice-versa).
For instance, this year Iowa is (right now) a better dual meet team than a tournament team, while Penn State is the opposite. Iowa is a good dual meet team because they have a lot of solid talent from top to bottom; we typically go into a dual meet with at least a decent shot to win every match (except perhaps 149). However, at the moment we don't appear to have enough outstanding talent to win a tournament. The ability to win a one-off match at a dual meet is one thing; the ability to win multiple matches in a tournament is quite another. Conversely, while Penn State lost decisively in the dual meet to Iowa, they still appear to be a better tournament team right now because they appear to have more talent on their team that can make deep tournament runs and accumulate points.
Granted, it's often the case that the best tournament team is also the best dual meet team -- that was the case with Iowa the last three years and this year with Cornell (on paper, at least). Cornell now has six healthy wrestlers ranked in the top six at their weights -- that's good enough to win most dual meets and it's also good enough to have those guys rack up a lot of team points in tournaments if they perform up to their ranking. But team rankings are generally pretty useless in wrestling (unlike individual rankings, which can go a long way in determining seeding tournaments, which often is relevant to final results). Unlike college football, wrestling isn't a beauty pageant where your ranking determines your eligibility to compete for a championship. Your results throughout the season (and especially in conference tournaments) determine your eligibility for the national tournament -- and your head-to-head results there determine whether or not you can win a championship. Team rankings are an amusing distraction and a nice ego-boost, but that's all they are -- they ultimately mean nothing and they determine less.
INDIV (Intermat / TheOpenMat / d1collegewrestling / AWN)
125: Matt McDonough (#1 / #2 / #2 / #2)
133: Tony Ramos (#8 / #10 / #9 / #11)
141: Montell Marion (#3 / #5 / #4 / #5)
157: Derek St. John (#9 / #9 / #10 / #9)
165: Aaron Janssen (#13 / #14 / #13 / #16)
174: Ethen Lofthouse (#11 / #14 / #12 / #13)
184: Grant Gambrall (#13 / #14 / #12 / #12)
197: Luke Lofthouse (#12 / #11 / #11 / #14)
HWT: Blake Rasing (n/a / n/a / #25 / n/a)
Some interesting movement after a big weekend for Iowa. McD regains his top ranking in the Intermat rankings, but trails Arizona State's Anthony Robles in all the other polls. If results go according to ranking, that means McD would have to beat Precin again in the national semifinals to even get a shot to defend his national title. Ramos moves up slightly after knocking off PSU's Andrew Long, but the main movement there was Long slipping behind Ramos. Mark Ballweg drops out of the rankings at 141 entirely after losing his spot and Marion leaps into the top five of the rankings after his stunning win. Despite getting thoroughly trounced by PSU's David Taylor on Sunday, DSJ still moves up 4-6 spots in each set of rankings because of his upset win over jNW's Jason Welch on Friday. It's pretty much business as usual for Janssen and Lofthouse the Younger, while Gambrall and Lofthouse the Elder each moved up a handful of spots after their weekend wins.
The most encouraging thing is that Iowa's roster is continuing to evolve and develop into a lineup that could be a threat at the NCAA tournament. Up above I noted that "at the moment" we don't have enough outstanding talent to win a tournament, and that's true: based on Intermat's rankings, we have only three guys (McD, Ramos, Marion) who would be All-Americans. But, again, that's "at the moment" -- the NCAA Tournament isn't being wrestled this weekend, it's being wrestled six weeks from now in March. And Iowa's guys have been steadily improving. Ramos and DSJ have been inching closer to the top eight since their Midlands pratfalls. However, even if we assume that they continue to improve and perform well enough to be All-Americans in March, that's still unlikely to be enough for Iowa to win another title; they key for this defense might be how well the guys at 165-197 perform. On paper, none of them would be expected to be All-Americans right now -- they're all in the 11-14 range, essentially. Iowa's going to need better than that if they want to have a realistic shot at repeating. Obviously, even if they continue to inch up the ranking and Iowa winds up with 6-7 guys ranked around the top eight at each weight, that doesn't guarantee success -- they'll still have to go out on the mat and perform well in March -- but it would give us a bit more confidence. (And, frankly, even if that happens, Iowa is still likely to need a little help in the form of teams like Cornell, Boise State, and Penn State tripping up, but that's a discussion for later.)
#6 Iowa vs. #18 Indiana (7pm CST; VIDEO: live stream on btn.com; RADIO: KXIC, Hawkeye All-Access ($$$))
LIKELY MATCHUPS (Iowa wrestlers listed first; rankings from Intermat)
125: #1 Matt McDonough (SO, 16-1) vs. Justin Brooks (FR, 13-13)
133: #8 Tony Ramos (SO, 14-3) vs. Matt Ortega (JR, 14-12)
141: #3 Montell Marion (JR, 4-0) vs. Mitchell Richey (FR, 13-14)
149: Mark Ballweg (SO, 15-4; 0-1 at 149) or Matt Ballweg (SR, 4-4) vs. #14 Kurt Kinser (SR, 21-7)
157: #9 Derek St. John (rsFR, 12-3) vs. #5 Paul Young (SR, 21-5)
165: #13 Aaron Janssen (SR, 20-5) vs. Ryan LeBlanc (FR, 7-7)
174: #11 Ethen Lofthouse (rsFR, 14-5) vs. Nick Avery (SR, 9-14)
184: #13 Grant Gambrall (SO, 14-4) vs. Eric Cameron (SR, 12-15)
197: #12 Luke Lofthouse (SR, 13-4) vs. #5 Matt Powless (JR, 30-2)
HWT: Blake Rasing (JR, 11-4) vs. #9 Ricky Alcala (SR, 23-7)
125: McD FALL Brooks (Iowa, 6-0)
133: Ramos MAJ DEC Ortega (Iowa, 10-0)
141: Marion MAJ DEC Richey (Iowa, 14-0)
149: Kinser DEC Ballweg (Iowa, 14-3)
157: Young DEC DSJ (Iowa, 14-6)
165: Janssen DEC LeBlanc (Iowa, 17-6)
174: Lofthouse MAJ DEC Avery (Iowa, 21-6)
184: Gambrall DEC Cameron (Iowa, 24-6)
197: Powless DEC Lofthouse (Iowa, 24-9)
HWT: Alcala DEC Rasing (Iowa, 24-12)
Iowa shouldn't have too much trouble extending their unbeaten streak to 74 meets in a row. Based on rankings, they'll be favored in six of the ten matches -- and heavy favorites at that. It wouldn't be a shock to see Iowa get bonus points in all of those matches, frankly. I'm calling for four bonus point wins -- major decisions for Ramos, Marion, and Lofthouse the Younger, and a fall for McD because that's how he rolls right now -- but Janssen and Gambrall could do better than just decisions. They just haven't shown much inclination to get bonus points this year.
That leaves four matches where Iowa will be an underdog (149, 157, 197, and HWT). As it has been this entire year, 149 is essentially a throwaway weight for Iowa; the most interesting aspect of that match will be seeing which Ballweg gets the nod there. 157 is yet another tough test for DSJ (his third-straight opponent in the top ten) and another good measuring stick for him. He notched a solid win against jNW's Welch last weekend, but got thrashed by PSU's Taylor. Young is good, but perhaps not quite the dynamo that Taylor is. Lofthouse the Elder has a tough task in Powless and while we'd love to pick the upset, it's too difficult to overlook his continual struggles against upper echelon opponents. Rasing's struggles against top-ranked foes continued last week as well; it's hard to have confidence in him beating a guy like Alcala until he actually goes out and does it.