The NCAA announced the qualifier allocations for each conference for the NCAA Tournament later this month today. What's that mean? Well, I'll let them explain:
Each qualifying tournament was awarded spots per weight class based on current year data. Each wrestler was measured on the following: Division I winning percentage at the weight class; rating percentage index (RPI); and coaches’ ranking.
For each wrestler who reached the threshold in at least two of the three categories, his qualifying tournament was awarded a qualifying spot in that weight class. Each qualifying tournament, with automatic qualifying status, was awarded a minimum of one wrestler per weight class, which will go to the tournament champion, even if they did not have any wrestlers reach at least two of the three thresholds. NCAA tournament spots for each qualifying event will be awarded at the tournament based solely on place-finish.
After all of the qualifying events have concluded, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will meet in person to select the remaining 40 at-large qualifiers, which will be announced on March 13. All weight classes will consist of 33 wrestlers. The at-large selections will be made based on the following criteria: head-to-head competition; qualifying event placement; quality wins; results against common opponents; winning percentage; RPI; coaches’ ranking and the number of matches contested at that weight class.
And here's the actual breakdown of the qualifiers at each weight by conference:
So how's it work? Let's use 125 in the Big Ten as our example. The NCAA allocated seven NCAA qualifiers to the NCAA Tournament at that weight. As long as the seven Big Ten wrestlers who earned those slots all compete in the Big Ten Tournament, then the top-7 finishers at the Big Ten Tournament will all automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Who those seven wrestlers are isn't specified, although we can make a pretty reasonable guess based on the RPI and Coaches Poll rankings: Matt McDonough (Iowa), Jesse Delgado (Illinois), Nico Megaludis (Penn State), David Thorn (Minnesota), Nikko Triggas (Ohio State), Sean Boyle (Michigan), and Camden Eppert (Purdue). If one of those guys doesn't at least step on the mat at the Big Ten Tournament (say, because of an injury) then the Big Ten's allocation would be reduced to six wrestlers and only the top-6 finishers at the BTT would automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
It's worth noting that automatic qualification is not the only means of getting into the NCAA Tournament -- there's also the at-large process. As you can see from the table above, all of the automatic qualifying spots together add up to 29 slots per weight. But the NCAA Tournament lets in 33 wrestlers per weight, so there are at least four at-large slots per weight (again, there could be more if circumstances force a reduction in a conference's allocation of automatic qualifier slots). The criteria for getting an at-large bid are listed at the bottom of that big block of text I quoted up above. In other words, though, if catastrophe struck and Matt McDonough went 0-2 at the Big Ten Tournament and failed to get one of the Big Ten's automatic qualifier spots, he'd still get into the NCAA Tournament -- he'd be a shoo-in to get an at-large bid.
Let's take a quick look at how things look for Iowa, weight-by-weight:
125: 7 automatic qualifying slots -- McDonough should have no trouble claiming one of these.
133: 7 automatic qualifying slots -- again, Ramos should also have no trouble claiming one of these.
141: 6 automatic qualifying slots -- Ballweg needs to snap out of his recent funk, but it would still be a surprise to see him finish lower than 6th at the Big Ten Tournament. He would certainly get an at-large bid anyway, though.
149: 8 automatic qualifying slots -- this would be a no-brainer qualification for Iowa if we had even an average option at this weight; alas, our struggles at 149 are well-documented at this point. The Big Ten got a whopping 10 (!) automatic qualifying slots last year and Mike Kelly still wasn't able to secure one of them. To even finish 8th, Kelly (or Grothus) will need to win at least one match at the BTT, perhaps two. Considering that neither Kelly nor Grothus won a single match against a B1G opponent in a dual meet this year, well... I don't have a lot of faith in that. Interestingly, there's been some scuttlebutt of Josh Dziewa bumping up from 141 to take a crack at this weight. That would be a little crazy, but hell -- it's not as though the more "conventional" options at this weight have done anything to lock down a starting job.
157: 7 automatic qualifying slots -- St. John should have no trouble claiming one of them.
165: 8 automatic qualifying slots -- Nick Moore has had his ups and downs as a starter this year, but he should still finish comfortably within the top-8 at the BTT.
174: 8 automatic qualifying slots -- again, The 'Stache should have no trouble getting one of these spots.
184: 6 automatic qualifying slots -- things are a little more interesting for Iowa here. Ethen Lofthouse did enough during the year to help the Big Ten earn one of the six automatic qualifying slots that they received at this weight. But if Grant Gambrall wrestles here instead, the Big Ten would lose one of those automatic qualifying slots -- he didn't do enough at 184 this year to earn an automatic qualifying slot. So the Big Ten would only have five automatic qualifiers at 184 and Gambrall would need to finish in the top-5 to get an automatic entry into the NCAA Tournament. Gambrall would need to do that, too, because he probably didn't wrestle enough this season to be eligible for an at-large bid. Lofthouse, conversely, probably would get an at-large bid if he failed to get one of the automatic qualifying slots.
Could Lofthouse finish in the top-6 of the Big Ten Tournament? It seems likely on paper -- he's the 4th highest ranked B1G wrestler at 184 and he did go 4-2 in B1G dual meets this year. There's a popular line of thought that Lofthouse would be the safer pick at the weight (and more likely to qualify the weight for the NCAA Tournament for Iowa), but that Gambrall would offer more potential upside. That seems to be based fairly heavily on the fact that Gambrall had a torrid run at the NCAA Tournament two years ago, finishing 3rd; unfortunately, based on his results since that feat, it seems much harder to believe that he would be that much better (if at all) than Lofthouse at this weight.
197: 8 automatic qualifying slots -- Going into the season, this is probably the weight that I felt the least confident about qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, given the struggles at 197 a year ago and the fact that there was a decent chance that Iowa would be starting a true freshman at this weight (albeit a "true" freshman a year removed from high school and with a year at the Olympic Training Center under his belt). (Mind you, this was also when we thought that we had hit rock bottom at 149 and that it couldn't help but be better in 2012-13... oops.) But Burak has quietly had a pretty solid season -- did you know he went 4-4 in Big Ten duals this season? Granted, he's also lost to some less-than-impressive opponents, so I wouldn't write his name into the NCAA Tournament field in ink or anything... but I do think a top-8 finish at the BTT is within his means.
285: 9 automatic qualifying slots -- Bobby should have no trouble getting one of these spots.
So Iowa looks certain to qualify wrestlers for the NCAA Tournament at seven weights (125, 133, 141, 157, 165, 174, and 285) and pretty likely to get them at two others (184, 197). To get all ten weights qualified would require Iowa to somehow get a win (and maybe two) at 149, which... hey, miracles happen, right?
Pre-seeds for the Big Ten Tournament should be released early next week, so I'll breakdown the Big Ten Tournament weight-by-weight then. As far as the other NCAA qualifier allocations...
* As usual, the Big Ten is the 800-lb. gorilla on this particular block -- if you added the automatic qualifying slots for the conference with the 2nd most slots (EIWA - 45) and 3rd most slots (ACC or MAC - 30), they'd still only have one more automatic qualifying slot than the Big Ten (74).
* Meanwhile, the Big XII is down to a measly 19 automatic qualifying slots. Of course, that's what happens when your entire conference consists of one very good team (Oklahoma State), one solid team (Oklahoma), and two bad teams (Iowa State, West Virginia). Still, the Big XII has the same number of automatic qualifying slots as the Colonial Athletic Association -- that's just sad.
* In case you were wondering: Missouri and UNI will be competing in the MAC Tournament and trying to claim some of that league's 30 automatic qualifying slots.
Finally, the NCAA also released their final RPI rankings of the year, which contain a few head-scratchers -- Tony Ramos at #3 at 133, Kyle Dake at #6 at 165, Ed Ruth at #2 at 184, to name a few -- but none greater than 157. Just take a look:
Yes, that would be Derek St. John -- 21-1 Derek St. John -- at #10 in the RPI rankings. Even though he beat Alton. And Napoli. And Dieringer. And Green.
So yeah: the wrestling RPI is just a little bit flawed.