Tables, charts, graphs, brackets, seeds - all of that stuff is fine and dandy for some. But this is the Friday before the Big Ten Wrestling Championships. We can talk about this stuff for hours.
So we did. bscaff from BSD, Dan from the Holy Land, and I rambled along in conversation about each of the weights. As is customary, 125 through 157 are right there at BHGP. You can find 165 through the Big Boys at BSD. We hope you enjoy hanging out with us.
bscaff: But I suppose we could start at 125lbs, where Nico's intensity has already burnt a clear path into the final - his first Big Ten final, by the way. What I'm curious about, though, is Cory Clark. I haven't seen him wrestle a match since he lost to Jimmy Gulibon at the Dapper Dan Classic. I don't know what I should expect to see Saturday - a Brandon Precin sized beast? Does Clark sport a mullet? Can he attack and score to both sides? I have no idea what the Brands brothers have done to him in the last 2 years.
Ross: Regrettably, Clark does not sport a mullet. Clark is an aggressive wrestler -- notably moreso than his counterpart at 125 lbs, Thomas Gilman. Clark is second on the team in falls (9) and while that number is inflated by a less-than-awesome competition at early-season tournaments, he also just stuck Wisconsin's Ryan Taylor, a fringe top 10 guy, a few weeks ago. Clark is a load on top and is generally pretty active on his feet. The big question for Clark is whether or not he can handle the weight cut down to 125 for a tournament and what effect that has on his gas tank. He faded badly at some events earlier in the season and gas tank issues were cited as a potential cause for his drop-off at Midlands. But he's looked great since returning to the starting lineup last month.
bscaff: Speaking of weight cuts, have you seen this 1990 dot-matrix printout of Gable's Hawkeyes weigh-ins, body fat%, and target weight with hand scrawled Gable notes, such as "muscle up", and "good if committed"? It's from Todd Tarpley's blog, "Wrestling For Gable", which is 100% dripping with awesome. I wonder what Brands' personal note is on Clark's cut...
Ross: I hadn't seen that, but that's pretty Gable. With Clark, I'm sure Brands is just reiterating that it's only for a few more weeks. After March 22, he'll never have to see 125 again.
Ross: The split between the grizzled old veterans and the young bucks busting onto the scene is really striking at this weight. The top four seeds here are all seniors and the only reason they don't have some hardware between them is because there was a guy named Logan Stieber at this weight the last few years. The bottom four seeds are all sophomores or redshirt freshmen. Do you think any of the young guys (Richards, DiJulius, Gulibon, Bruno) can upend things and make the semifinals (or deeper) here?
bscaff: whewww, semi-finals? Rossario Bruno....nope. But the rest all have a shot. Richards could knock off Quiroga because Quiroga runs either steaming hot or freezing, arctic cold. DiJulius could pull one out over Thorn despite getting horsed all over the mat by him at National Duals because Thorn struggles to score on his feet. And, if Graff is injured, Gulibon has a shot at taking him out. If Graff's healthy...probably not, although I saw Jordan Conaway break Graff last year and score 3 takedowns in the last 30 seconds to beat him. But - I'm not picking any of those upsets.
You mention age, and that most definitely plays a role in the top 4 - I think they're probably also the best 4 at scoring takedowns. Of the "young" pack - Richards, DiJulius, Gulibon, and Bruno - how would you order them at scoring takedowns?
Ross: Does Gulibon even have the tank himself to break Graff? He's looked pretty worn down in several of the dual matches I've seen him in. As far as takedowns... yeesh, that's a tough one. DiJulius and Gulibon haven't impressed me with their offensive firepower this year and, honestly, I haven't really seen Richards wrestle that much. But from what little I have seen, I'd give him the edge. As much as I like Richards, though, I think he got a rough matchup with Quiroga -- Quiroga majored him 19-6 earlier this year. Of the four young guns, I'd give DiJulius and Gulibon (if Graff is limited) the best shots at an upset. Bruno's not beating Ramos. DiJulius had a pretty scrappy match with Thorn at the National Duals a few weeks ago (an 8-5 loss), so it's not insane to think he could turn that result around.
Ross: There are really only two questions at this weight: can Retherford shock the world and beat Stieber again and who gets third place? Wait, I guess there's a third question, too: will anyone voluntarily take down against either one of these guys? And if so, how dumb are they and why are they listening to Frank Molinaro for advice?
bscaff: "I choose DOWN!" Freaking Kyle Dake. I suppose St. John could chime in on that too. And Taylor.
Did I tell you the story of Jim Gibbons during the National Duals broadcast? Gibbons is complimenting "excellence" following a replay of his "why they're great series". David Taylor has "fast break offense". Logan Stieber has his arm bar series; Tony Ramos' constant pressure; Ed Ruth's single leg finish and cradle. Then Gibbons mentions Kyle Dake. Dake's excellence? "Mat returns". How sweet is that? Freaking mat returns.
Zain's been impressive this year. He's met every challenge, including Stieber the first time. He finished +23 in takedowns during Big Ten duals - 25 scored, just 2 allowed (1 to Stieber, and 1 shocker to Jeva's sweet duck under). And even if the tilts and turns are quite there just yet, no one is escaping, either, including bulls like Stieber and Dardanes. All of that said....Stieber's so good. I think it will probably take 2 takedowns for Zain to win, and Logie Bear, in addition to everything else, is so damn hard to take down.
But maybe Dan has a different opinion.
Dan: If either wrestler chooses down, their coach should be docked a team point. In fact both of the projected finalists would be better served if they went all Mitch Clark and took top instead. Neither wrestler has Dake caliber mat returns, but I have faith that they can make do.
Moving on to the match itself, maybe I'm biased, but (barring an upset of course) this is the match of the tournament for me. Zain has never lost and nobody has ever beaten Stieber twice. Did illness, fatigue, a raucous home crowd, and average officials combine to doom Stieber the first time around? Or, did he simply drop a close match to a wrestler who is just as good as him? Because I have little regard for my own personal happiness, I sat down and rewatched the first match again. Stieber dominated the first 90 or so seconds of the match. He took Zain down quickly and looked ready to turn him before a potentially dangerous call halted the action. Then, Zain escaped and in the second period he ended up on top where he suffocated Stieber for two full minutes, leaving him fatigued and rendering his offense ineffective for the rest of the match. I've watched a lot of Logan's matches over the last three years, and I don't know that I have ever seen him look that tired.
I really think that the rematch is going to come down to whoever can score the first takedown. If Stieber does, I wouldn't be surprised to see him build a 4-0 or 5-0 lead in the first period and win something like 7-2. If Zain scores first, he's probably going to ride out the period which means that Stieber would need to climb out of a significant hole against a guy who has been taken down twice all year. If I had to pick between the two scenarios, I'd probably put my money on Stieber. He has championship pedigree, a significant edge in experience, and has demonstrated an ability to score more consistently.
I'm interested to hear what Ross thinks.
Ross: I hope Dake puts "King of the Mat Return!" on his resume. All-time great wrestler, but he definitely wasn't involved in too many all-time great spectacles on the wrestling mat.
For what it's worth, I will be surprised if anyone voluntarily takes down against Stieber or Retherford. Well, Dziewa probably will if he makes it that far... and he'll promptly get ridden out for the entire period. (What, me bitter? No....) But both guys are just so dominant from the top position. With Stieber, there's a better than average chance that he's going to tilt you into at least a major decision (and maybe a fall) when he's on top. Retherford isn't racking up huge points from the top the way Stieber is, but his spiral ride is basically impossible to escape. It's not like your odds of getting a takedown on either guy are great, either, but still.
Speaking of... what's up with 141 turning into heavies minus half the weight? There are not a lot of offensive dynamos at the top end of this weight right now. Stieber is kind of in a class of his own (and even he seems to get most of his points off turns and pins), but Retherford? Dardanes? Dutton? Dziewa? I've watched all those guys wrestle this year and there have been a lot of matches that featured very few shots, a lot of riding, and then one decisive takedown in the third period. Hell, Dziewa managed to beat Dardanes 1-0 this year. 1-0! That ain't thrill-a-minute wrestling, that's for sure.
bscaff: So what do you do about 149? I suppose we could start by eliminating the guys who aren't going to win, in order to reduce the field. So let's scratch Ruschell and Trimble. There we go - the field has been thinned down to ten.
Ross: It's completely bonkers. Sueflohn beat Grajales who beat Dardanes who beat Tsirtsis... who beat Sueflohn and gahhhh /head explode. And that's without factoring in Brody Grothus, who has wins over Tsirtsis and Grajales himself and who gave Dardanes a hell of a fight. I think Paddock is a cut below all those guys and English is a total wildcard here. As someone rooting against another Penn State win, I'm actually sad to see Alton not wrestling here, because he would have been far more likely to flame out here. As fun as Grajales and Grothus are to watch (and, as an aside, THANK YOU to the Big Ten for giving us a rematch between them in the quarters here -- their match earlier this year was one of the five most entertaining matches I saw all season), I don't think they're quite solid enough to go all the way here. That leaves Sueflohn, Dardanes, and Tsirtsis.
I think Sueflohn is a little too solid and a little too fundamentally sound to fall for Grajales' crazy funk (Grajales is 0-2 against him this year, losing 7-6 in one encounter and 9-3 in the rematch) or Grothus' own slightly unusual offense (Sueflohn beat him 5-2 earlier this year). So I'll take him to the make the finals from the top half of the bracket. The bottom looks like it comes down to Dardanes vs. T-shirt. Dardanes beat him 5-3 earlier this year, so I guess I'd make him a slight favorite, but Tsirtsis seems to be wrestling a little bit better right now. I dunno -- that match is a complete coin-flip to me. And, hell, maybe Grajales or Grothus manage to hit a big move on Sueflohn and upend that side of the bracket, too. I'm prepared for almost anything at this weight. What about you?
bscaff: My entire line of thinking here rests upon my assessment of Sueflohn and Tsirtsis as the two most reliable / steady / consistent guys. That they're on opposite halves of the bracket makes things a bit easier for me.
And then I look at PSU. I have no idea what PSU might get out of English. He finished 3rd at the Southern Scuffle 2 years ago, beating Mizzou's Houdashelt along the way, with his only loss a decision to Jordan Oliver. I've also seen him get pinned by Pitt's Mikey Racciato at the BJC this year. I'm ecstatic for the guy, though. He's a 6th year senior who was plagued by injuries all 6 years; he kept fighting the entire way through, and has finally persevered. He finally gets his shot, at the very end. That English earned a Chem E degree with a ridiculous GPA is pure bonus. I'm rooting hard for the guy, because most reasonable people would have quit years ago.
Ross: How you know the Big Ten is completely batshit crazy this year? The defending NCAA champions at 157 and 285 are, respectively, the #4 and #5 seeds at their weights... and no one is batting an eye at those seeds. As messy as 149 is to try and predict, I think 157 is even worse. The 1-4 seeds can all easily win this weight and outside of Nelson at 285, I can't think of a 5-seed at any weight that's scarier than Dylan Alton, if he's near his best. From the quarterfinals on, this weight is going to be insane, heart-stopping stuff, right?
bscaff: Going into this year we knew the class was loaded, because it featured DSJ, Green, and Alton - three All-Americans who've battled each other for the last two season. Then Ness bumped up here from 149. Indiana's Walsh pinned his way thru Division III. And three frosh (Jordan, Brunson, and Murphy) didn't blink at having to wrestle a Big Ten schedule. That's eight. That's nuts.
The quarters should be lights out. Jordan pulled out the two OT victories against Green and DSJ to get the 1-seed. He gets the 8-seed, Murphy, who lost 7-5 in OT to Green, and 3-1 to DSJ, and 3-1 in OT to Alton. I don't know that there's a ton separating those two. DSJ - Alton part...what will this make it now, 5? 6, maybe? All of which have been close affairs, more or less. Ness vs. Walsh - someone's getting decked. The least suspenseful is probably Green vs Brunson, given Green's 10-3 win over the frosh earlier in the season, and Brunson's hiccups down the stretch.
Here's what I don't get - the Hawkeye I've probably hated the most over the recent years has been DSJ. Yet I picked him over Green in the final, and I bet you think I'm dumb for doing so.
Ross: You're dumb, but I love you anyway. Seriously, I hope you're right. I want you to be right. Hell, Iowa's hopes of wresting the team title away from Penn State (and Minnesota) probably rest heavily on you being right. But Green... he's just a tough matchup for DSJ. St. John won their first two clashes, largely by outworking Green and waiting for him to gas out. Green won their last two matches, mainly by getting early scores and then stalling his way to victory (and, in the second match, getting some easy scores on DSJ when desperation set in). I think the key to beating Green is outworking him and wearing him down -- his gas tank is better this year, but still not exactly elite -- but I'm not sure how exactly you do that.
Isaac Jordan beat him 3-1 in SV this year without a ton of offense, but I've also wondered if turning the match into a sprint with a ton of offense might be another effective way to tire him out. Then again, let's be real here -- this is DSJ we're talking about and "sprint" and "ton of offense" just do not apply. He's going to take the exact same gameplan that Jordan used; god willing, it works for him too. But I'm not exactly super-confident in that being the case. Of course, even that hypothetical match depends on DSJ getting past Alton (a scary dude who's lost to DSJ on sudden victory takedowns in almost every match they've had) and (likely) Jordan, a guy who just beat him a few weeks ago. No guarantees there.
I like the variety of styles at 157. You've got Green, who's looking more and more like a poor man's Jordan Burroughs with that nasty double leg of his. You've got DSJ, all kinds of defense, sprawling, and counter-shots. (I think Alton, Jordan, Brunson, and Murphy are all kind of wrestling variations on this style, too.) You've got Walsh, who spends so much time putting guys on their backs we should probably call him The Chiropractor. And then there's Ness, who's brought his crazy-ass funk and really livened things up. Who do you think is the toughest matchup? And which guy do you enjoy watching the most?
bscaff: Ness is a tough matchup, because how do you prepare for him? Who else throws himself onto his own back in order to hit an elevator on you while you're working a high crotch? Most guys expect that they'll be able to muscle him around, which actually sorta works to Ness' advantage. You come plowing into him, like Alton did in the dual, and all of the sudden you're airborne. Twice. I've got to think, though, that the more you see him, the better off you'll be. But you might get decked the first two or three times.
Most enjoyable? When James Green stomps on the gas, that is about as fun as it gets for me. But as you mentioned, that can be a short show.
Again, head on over to BSD for part two.