We broke down Iowa's performance at each weight in the Looking Ahead series (click here if you missed it), so now it's time to look at the big picture. What are the top five teams from this year's NCAA Tournament losing from their 2012 squads? What are they returning? What are realistic projections for 2013?
For the record, I think only three of that top five -- Penn State, Minnesota, and Iowa -- are legit title contenders. I don't think anyone else has the depth or the studs that those teams have to compete for a title. But Oklahoma State has a shot if everything breaks their way and I included Cornell out of respect for their strong showings in recent years.
Iowa's point total was almost entirely a product of five wrestlers -- Matt McDonough (125), Tony Ramos (133), Montell Marion (141), Derek St. John (157), and Bobby Telford (HWT). Those five accounted for 89% of Iowa's 107.5 points at the NCAA Tournament. The good news is that almost all of those points are returning in 2013 -- Iowa's only significant departure is Montell Marion at 141. Iowa returns 89.5 points in 2013 -- but we know that won't be enough to win an NCAA Championship most years (and almost certainly not with Penn State returning with a still-loaded team). So the question becomes: where can they make up points?
Don't look to McD. He contributed 27 points in 2012 and the only way he's going to improve that figure is by picking up 2-3 more pins, which will be hard to do. If he can match that 27-point total in 2013, we should be satisfied. Ramos added 18.5 points and a 3rd place finish in 2012 -- can he do better? Maybe. Oliver's expected departure from 133 could move Tony into the #2 spot at the weight (behind Ohio State's Logan Stieber), since he's had significant success against virtually everyone else at the weight. He should be a good bet to at least match his '12 efforts. Iowa figures to take a hit at 141; no matter who ultimately fills that spot, it's probably not reasonable to expect him to duplicate Marion's NCAA runner-up finish. Just making the podium and getting double-digit points would be a good outcome. (One area where Dwieza or Ballweg may be able to improve on Marion: bonus points.)
149 has been a massive hole in the Iowa lineup for the last two years, so any points they could get from that spot in 2013 would be an improvement. It's too hard to forecast that weight until we know more about the actual options at 149. At 157, St. John's job will be to better his NCAA runner-up finish, which will be very difficult if Dake stays at 157. Maybe he can get a few bonus points. Similarly, Telford will have a devil of a time improving on his 5th place finish at HWT in 2013, given the host of studs expected to be at that weight next year. Just duplicating his efforts there would be a great result.
Ah, but that leaves us with 165, 174, 184, and 197. Those points added just 12 points to Iowa's total and Iowa returns experienced options at 165, 174, and 184. If Iowa is going to make a move on Penn State, it's going to come from those weights. The upshot is that Evans, Lofthouse, and Gambrall are all capable of dramatically improving on their 2012 showings -- Gambrall has beaten several of the guys ranked ahead of him at 184 and finished 3rd in 2011, Lofthouse has been competitive with (and beaten several of) the current top guys at 174, and Evans has likewise done well against most of the top guys at 165. If those three guys could put up 5th place finishes in 2013, that could contribute roughly 35 points to Iowa's team total (about 12 points per weight, which assumes a few bonus points), or 23 points more than Iowa got out of those weights in 2012. That would push Iowa's point total to 130.5 based on 2012 point totals. We probably need to subtract another 10 points given the expected decline at 141. That leaves us at 120.5 points without any production from 149 or 197. That's a good point total -- a very good point total. It's also still 22.5 points short of Penn State's 2012 total and it assumes that no Iowa wrestler will backslide from his 2012 showing, which is perhaps a bit optimistic. Still: let's assume all that happens -- would it be enough to win?
Virtually all (94%) of Cornell's points at this year's NCAA Tournament came from five weights -- 125, 141, 157, 184, and 197 -- with over half of those points coming from two of their NCAA Champions, Kyle Dake (157) and Cam Simaz (197). Unfortunately for Cornell, their window to contend for an NCAA title is probably closing for the time being. They lose 58% of their points from this tournament, as Frank Perelli (125), Steve Bosak (184), Simaz (197), and Maciej Jochym (HWT) are all seniors. (Note: Cornell's website lists Bosak as a SR, while InterMat and d1collegewrestling both list him as a JR, so he might be back next year.) Even if Bosak returns, though, Cornell is basically down to two studs -- Dake and Bosak. Marshall Peppelman (165) is a talented wrestler and Cornell is bringing in a lights-out recruiting class, but it doesn't look like they'll have the horses to contend with the other top teams.
Oklahoma State had an even more one-sided point distribution than the other title-contending teams: over one-third of their points (35%) came from Jordan Oliver (133)... and he didn't even win a title. Meanwhile, 45% of their points came from Chris Perry (174) and Cayle Byers (197), who each finished 3rd. That would be a whopping 80% of their points from three weights. On the bright side, Oklahoma State returns 72% of their points from 2012 and they should return a wrestler who would have likely scored around 20 points for them in Alan Gelogaev (HWT). Of course, even if he does that and they're able to replace the 18.5 points that Jamal Parks (149) and Byers (197) brought to the table in 2012, they'd still only be at around 86 points... which isn't going to be anywhere near enough to contend for the national title in 2013 (barring an outbreak of Ebola among Iowa, Penn State, and Minnesota).
The 'Pokes also got a recent boost when Tyler Caldwell opted to move from Oklahoma to Okie State (reportedly his decision was down to either Iowa or Oklahoma State; oh, how he could have added some much needed reliability to Iowa's 164-184 weight range). He should be a significant improvement for Oklahoma State at (probably) 165. But even if he adds another 15 points to the 3 points that Dallas Bailey contributed at 165 in 2012, that still puts OSU at 101 points... which is probably good for 4th. In addition to everything already listed, OSU is going to need to bank on stud recruit Jordan Rogers being able to make an instant impact at 184 (not easy, given the quality at that weight) and wrestlers like Jon Morrison (125) and Josh Kindig (141) to improve upon their so far pedestrian results. Oh, and they also need to shake the choker tag that's become affixed to them after recent NCAA Tournaments; it's hard to find another team that's done less with more than the Pokes in recent years.
Unlike Cornell, Minnesota went with a more balanced approach in their scoring -- only two weights contributed no points (157 and 165 and 157 didn't even qualify for the NCAA Tournament), while seven other weights contributed at least 11 points apiece. Minnesota also had a young team in 2012 -- 76% of their 2012 points are expected to return in 2013. Their only seniors were Zach Sanders (125) and Sonny Yohn (197).
The question for Minnesota is how much they can realistically improve upon their 2012 performance. Sanders underachieved slightly with a 3rd place finish at 125, but they don't have anyone on the roster who is likely to match (let alone exceed) that result. Chris Dardanes had a very nice NCAA Tournament, finishing 4th, but as we discussed a few weeks ago, 133 looks to be a brutally tough weight class, so he'll be doing well just to match that result. On the other hand, Dardanes' brother, Nick, has a good opportunity at 141 to improve upon his '12 showing. He lost out just a round short of achieving All-America status and with the clear-out at the top of 141 next year, he should be in line to move up a few notches and make the podium. Dylan Ness is another wrestler who will have a tough time bettering his 2012 efforts; he was NCAA runner-up this year, so the only way to do better is to win the title and/or grab more bonus points. Realistically, just matching his 2012 showing would be a good result.
157 and 165 are the two weights were Minnesota got no points, so any points there would be a step up. Yohn went 0-2 at the NCAA Tournament and while he's shown flashes of talent at 165, that also figures to be one of the nastiest divisions in the nation next year, which doesn't figure to help Yohn's odds of a high finish. He may be able to win a match or two at the NCAA Tournament, but he's not likely to get double-digit points. At 157, Minnesota still needs to replace the prematurely-retired Jake Dietchler; none of the other options they've slotted in there over the past two seasons have done much to inspire confidence. 174-197 represent Minnesota's best hopes for improvement in 2013. Logan Storley (174) finished 6th in 2012 while Kevin Steinhaus (184) finished 5th; both are talented enough to move up a notch or two (and Storley might even be able to contend for the title at the Ruth-less 174). Sonny Yohn (197) had a nice NCAA Tournament, finishing 5th, but given the weakness of 197 and the high regard Gopher fans have for Scott Schiller, it's not crazy to think that he might be able to come close to matching Yohn's showing at 197. Finally, Tony Nelson won the title at HWT; the only way to do better is to grab more bonus points, but just repeating as champion will be difficult enough given the quality of contenders (re-)entering the weight next year.
But even if Schiller replaces Yohn's points, Steinhaus, Storley, and N Dardanes are able to improve enough to make up for the loss of Sanders' points, and C Dardanes, Ness, and Nelson are able to duplicate their 2012 efforts, it's hard to see Minnesota doing better than the 113.5 points they put up in 2012. Will that be enough to win the title in 2013? In many years it would be.
Ah yes. Penn State. The two-time defending national champions. The big kitty cat on the block. What do their prospects look like for 2013? Unfortunately, pretty damn good. They return 81% of their points from 2012 -- everyone but Frank Molinaro (149) and Cameron Wade (HWT). That 81% still amounts to a whopping 115.5 points, though, which means that even if Penn State took zero points at those weights in 2013 (pretty unlikely), a challenger would still need to score almost 120 points to topple Penn State if they duplicate their 2012 effort. My somewhat pie-in-the-sky plan for Iowa got them to that point, but that's admittedly going to be a difficult bar to clear. So the real question is: will Penn State drop points from 2012? The good news is that does seem possible for several reasons.
125: Nico Megaludis was one of the surprise stories of the NCAA Tournament this year, vastly outperforming his #10 seed and finishing as NCAA runner-up to McD. Did he just wrestle the tournament above his head this year or was it a harbinger of things to come for young Nico? Probably a little of both; Nico wrestled well, but he also got the benefit of some... favorable officiating early on (against Oklahoma's Jarrod Patterson) and it's still far from certain that he can consistently beat some of the other top options at 125, like Illinois' Jesse Delgado, Missouri's Alan Waters, Northwestern's Levi Mele, etc. I wouldn't be surprised to see Nico backslide a bit in '13.
133: Frank Martellotti contributed a whopping 1.0 point to PSU's total in 2012, and whether or not he goes at 133, Penn State figures to have a hard time getting too many points at this weight, given the stunning depth and quality here.
141: Bryan Pearsall steadily improved for Penn State in 2012 and likely would have made the NCAA Tournament if the Big Ten had been allotted more than five wrestlers, but it's still a stretch to consider him a strong option at this weight. His ceiling would appear to be low All-America, with a 2-4 point performance more likely.
149: Here's where Penn State figures to take a hit. Andrew Alton, the likely replacement for the Italian Stallion, should be very solid... but he's not likely to duplicate Frankie's 23-point national champion effort. He may be an All-American, but I'd be surprised if he got any more than half the points that Molinaro contributed.
157: Ah, the other Alton. Next to Megaludis, Dylan Alton was Penn State's other big overperformer at the NCAA Tournament; he rode a #7 seed to 3rd-place finish. I like his odds of duplicating -- or at least coming close -- his 2012 results in 2013 more than Nico's, though. Alton was pretty solid throughout the year and, frankly, 157 is a weaker weight nationally than 125. I don't think Alton will drop any lower than 6th here.
165: Now here's a bit of a pickle for Penn State: Taylor is probably their best wrestler, but 165 could be one of the nastiest weight classes in the nation in 2013. As dominant as he's been in college, duplicating his 30.5 point total in 2013 could be a tall order. But a lot of that depends on the decisions of other wrestlers -- will Dake, Andrew Howe, or Tyler Caldwell (or some combination thereof) decide to wrestle at 165 in 2013? If so, Taylor will have some definite competition -- which would be a very good thing from an Iowa perspective. All that competition would make it more challenging for Evans to improve his position, but if those guys can chop Taylor's gaudy point total down to size, it might be worth it.
174: Ed Ruth's move up to 174 paves the way for super-backup Matt Brown to make the lineup. Much like Andrew Alton at 149, though, while he figures to be a very good option, he's unlikely to duplicate his predecessor's efforts. Ruth added 27.5 points in his NCAA title run in 2012; Brown isn't going to match that.
184: Meanwhile, Ed Ruth's move to 184 will displace Quentin Wright, but what does that mean from a point standpoint. Well, as good as Ruth is (and he's very good), he's unlikely to be able to improve on Wright's '12 showing that much. Wright added 21 points and an NCAA runner-up finish this year -- it will be asking a lot for Ruth to do better than that, especially with the quality at 184.
197: Meanwhile, this is the weight where Penn State figures to see the biggest improvement. Hyped freshman Morgan McIntosh had decent results during the season, but a tough draw (he faced eventual champion Cam Simaz in R2) contributed to him only putting up 2 points for Penn State. The Ruth move likely pushes Quentin Wright to 197 (and allows McIntosh to take a redshirt year). I'm curious to see how Wright does at 197 since to me he seems to have a smaller frame than many of the guys at that weight, but two things are working in his favor: his considerable talent and the general weakness of the 197-lb. weight class. I don't know if he'll be a title contender at 197, but he should get several more points for PSU than the 2 points that McIntosh got.
HWT: Wade only added 4.5 points to PSU's point total in 2012, but they don't appear to have a great option to immediately replace him. Since HWT also appears to be a strong division in 2013, it's going to be even harder for PSU to pick up points here.
Ultimately, I think Penn State will get more points at 197, but I think there's a good chance they'll get fewer points at 125, 149, and 174 -- and a possibility that they'll get fewer points at 165. Is that enough for Iowa or Minnesota to pip them for the title? Maybe -- assuming those teams get something close to best-case scenario showings from their teams. Even if Iowa gets a surprise result or two and high-end outcomes from most of their wrestlers, the sad reality is that unlike 2008-2010, Iowa doesn't really control their own destiny for the title. They're likely going to need help in the form of Penn State coming back to the pack and/or underachieving in some way. I think that's very possible -- it's realistic to see diminished results from them at some weights and, frankly, after the way they've had wrestlers outpace expectations at the NCAA Tournament the last few years, they may be due for a few upsets or bad results to go their way.
And, barring that, we can always try to slip a mickey into their pre-match scrapple feed. The 2013 NCAA Tournament is at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, so all the waitstaff should be on our side...
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Just for fun WAY TOO EARLY PREDICTIONS FOR EACH WEIGHT
125: Matt McDonough (Iowa) v. Jesse Delgado (Illinois)
B1G: same (duh)
133: Logan Steiber (Ohio State) v. Tony Ramos (Iowa)
141: Kendric Maple (Oklahoma) v. Jordan Oliver (Oklahoma State)
B1G: Hunter Stieber (Ohio State) v. Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern)
149: Jason Chamberlain (Boise State) v. Dylan Ness (Minnesota)
B1G: Dylan Ness (Minnesota) v. Cam Tessari (Ohio State)
157: Kyle Dake (Cornell) v. Derek St. John (Iowa)
B1G: Derek St. John (Iowa) v. Dylan Alton (Penn State)
165: David Taylor (Penn State) v. Andrew Howe (Wisconsin)
174: Chris Perry (Oklahoma State) v. Logan Storley (Minnesota)
B1G: Logan Storley (Minnesota) v. Ethen Lofthouse (Iowa)
184: Robert Hamlin (Lehigh) v. Ed Ruth (Penn State)
B1G: Ed Ruth (Penn State) v. Kevin Steinhaus (Minnesota)
197: Dustin Kilgore (Kent State) v. Matt Wilps (Pitt)
B1G: Quentin Wright (Penn State) v. Mario Gonzalez (Illinois)
HWT: Alan Gelogaev (Oklahoma State) v. Dom Bradley (Missouri)
B1G: Tony Nelson (Minnesota) v. Bobby Telford (Iowa)