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 email@example.com
It's Uncle Luke's world, we're all just looking on in awe. We weren't the only ones impressed by Luke Lofthouse's performance last weekend -- the Big Ten thought it was pretty swell, too. So swell, in fact, that they named him Big Ten Wrestler of the Week:
Ranked eighth in the country at 197, Lofthouse defeated fourth-ranked Sonny Yohn of Minnesota, 7-4, to push the Hawkeyes to a 19-12 win over the fifth-ranked Gophers. Trailing Yohn, 3-2, entering the final period, Lofthouse tied the bout on an early escape before notching two takedowns with under a minute left to earn the victory. The win gave Iowa three points and a 16-12 lead heading into the final bout of the match. Lofthouse closed the regular season with a 16-4 record, including a 7-0 mark in Big Ten duals.
Well done, Uncle Luke. Lofthouse's win was big for a number of reasons -- it was his first win over Yohn (a frequent nemesis and someone he may encounter again in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments), another win over a highly-ranked guy (good for Luke's future seeding and his confidence), and, oh yeah, it all but clinched a win in the dual meet. The honor was Iowa's second of the season (and first since McD was honored back on 2/1/11 for his win over jNW's Brandon Precin), which seems odd on the surface, but the Big Ten has really been spreading the love around: Minnesota only has one WOTW honor and Penn State has just two (and uber-frosh David Taylor has none), while Michigan has four.
Meanwhile, in Brent Metcalf news. Even though he's traded in black and gold singlets for red, white, and blue singlets, Brent "Destroyer of Worlds" Metcalf remains our favorite wrestler, so it's always nice to check in on him. Last weekend, he was in Cuba to
defuse a missile crisis bring freedom to the godless Communist heathens wrestle in the Cerro Pelado Invitational. Metcalf took bronze, picking up a pair of wins over Ghandi Marques (Mexico) and Yoan Blanco (Ecuador) before losing to Geandry Garzon (Cuba). That's right, he lost to the Cuban wrestler in Cuba. SHENANIGANS. (Actually, probably not: Garzon is a four-time medalist at the World Championships, so he's not exactly chopped liver.) Metcalf rebounded to Sascha Buechner (Germany) for the bronze. Ryan Morningstar also competed at the Cerro Pelado Invitational; he went 1-1 and did not medal.
Rankings know tomorrow comes today. Final rankings before the tournaments get going.
TEAM: #3 (Intermat - tourney) / #2 (NWCA/USA Today - dual) / #5 (d1collegewrestling - tournament) / #2 (TheOpenMat - ?)
INDIV (Intermat / TheOpenMat / d1collegewrestling / AWN)
125: Matt McDonough (#1 / #2 / #2 / #2)
133: Tony Ramos (#7 / #5 / #7 / #10)
141: Montell Marion (#2 / #3 / #3 / #2)
157: Derek St. John (#7 / #6 / #7 / #8)
165: Aaron Janssen (#14 / #8 / #13 / #16)
174: Ethen Lofthouse (#14 / #13 / #16 / #13)
184: Grant Gambrall (#11 / #10 / #11 / #11)
197: Luke Lofthouse (#6 / #5 / #5 / #7)
HWT: Blake Rasing (#10 / #9 / #9 / #15)
Marion, Lofthouse the Elder, and Rasing make moves up the rankings after their big wins in the Minnesota dual, but that's about the extent of the movement this week. Janssen and Lofthouse the Younger moved down slightly after their losses.
NCAA qualification made fun and easy. The NCAA released the qualification totals for each conference for this year's NCAA Tournament; the good news is that the Big Ten got a whopping 64 automatic berths. So how's the breakdown by weight?
Iowa should have no trouble qualifying wrestlers at 125 and 133. 141 is a little more interesting since there are only six spots, but the division is incredibly top-heavy -- there are five really, really good wrestlers at that weight and then a pretty steep drop-off after that. Marion shouldn't have much difficulty finishing within the top six. Similarly, it should be pretty easy for Iowa to qualify at 157, 184, 197. 174 and HWT should also be fairly easy to qualify at, although those weights are also so even and unpredictable (not at the top for 174, but after that) that it's hard to say what will happen there. Still, even if Lofthouse and Rasing flamed out there, they've almost certainly done well enough this year to qualify as wildcard entries. But the best news is at 149, where the Big Ten has eight qualifying spots, which gives Mark Ballweg a real opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament. So long as he doesn't go 0-2 at the Big Ten Tournament, he should finish no worse than 8th, which would be good enough to send him to the NCAA Tournament. So Iowa has a very real chance of sending all 10 wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament, which would be excellent news.
We're talkin' Big Ten Tournament contenders. The regular season Big Ten title is nice, but they don't hang banners in Carver for winning those. On the other hand, winning a title at the Big Ten Tournament is the sort of accomplishment that gets people to pay attention. And for the wrestlers themselves, an individual Big Ten title is an incredible achievement and easily one of the best in the sport. Consider this: Brent Metcalf has as many national titles (2) as he does Big Ten titles. Matt McDonough has more national titles (1) than he does Big Ten titles (0). Winning a Big Ten title is anything but easy. The tournament is shorter than the NCAA Tournament, but it's an absolute meat-grinder, with elite competition around almost every corner. Toss in the fact that opponents have a great deal of familiarity with one another and it only gets trickier. J.T. Bugos of the Daily Iowan took a look at which Iowa wrestlers might be contenders this year:
But McDonough, Marion, Ramos, Lofthouse, and St. John are wrestling at an elite level right now that makes it seem likely they will be in the finals of the Big Ten championships and maybe bring individual titles back to Iowa City.
Beyond those five, the Hawkeyes are capable of deep runs from Aaron Janssen, Ethen Lofthouse, Grant Gambrall, and Blake Rasing (Mark Ballweg remains a wild-card because of his weight class bump).
I'm planning to do more detailed breakdowns next week when the Big Ten releases pre-seeds and/or brackets, but for now Bugos' assessment seems pretty dead-on. Looking at each weight quickly:
125: It would be a shock if this didn't wind up being McD-Precin III. Minnesota's Zach Sanders is good, but not good enough to get by either McDonough or Precin.
133: This is the first of a few tricky weights. Ramos is the only guy who went 8-0 in conference competition, but he also didn't face two of the top guys in Big Ten matches (Wisconsin's Tyler Graff and Illinois' BJ Futrell). On the other hand, he's wrestling as well as anyone in the Big Ten at this weight right now, so finalist seems like an eminently reasonable prediction.
141: Marion has the talent to make the finals (and win there), but this is a brutally tough division -- probably the toughest in the Big Ten. Marion, Michigan's Kellen Russell, Minnesota's Mike Thorn, and Illinois' Jimmy Kennedy are all Top 5 guys, nationally -- and Penn State's Andrew Alton isn't too far behind them.
149: Iowa will not have a finalist here, short of the most miraculous run we've seen in quite a while.
157: DSJ has pretty well established himself as the 2nd-best guy in the Big Ten at this weight, so finalist seems like a reasonable prediction. Can he win? Maybe if David Taylor comes down with the flu.
165: This is a difficult weight to figure out. Janssen was close to knocking off Ohio State's Colt Sponseller and did OK against Minnesota's Cody Yohn aside from one disastrous miscue, so he's not too far behind the top guys in the division. (Although if Wisconsin's Andrew Howe comes back and is healthy, the division is his to lose.) I'm not sure he's been consistent enough for finalist to be a reasonable prediction.
174: Ethen Lofthouse has been way too inconsistent this year to count on him to be a finalist, frankly.
184: Ditto Grant Gambrall, although this isn't a terribly scary division in the Big Ten. Gambrall's likely headed to a rematch with Minnesota's Kevin Steinhaus in the semifinals; get past him and he too would be a finalist.
197: Who wants to bet against Uncle Luke right now? Not me. He's beaten three of the top five guys in the Big Ten over the past few weeks; why can't he carry that momentum all the way to the finals?
HWT: Blake is another guy with a ton of positive momentum (and confidence) right now. He certainly could make the finals right now.
So, really, that leaves Iowa with five good shots at finalists, four maybes (if they have great weekends and/or catch some lucky breaks), and one no way in hell. That's not bad, especially for a rebuilding year. Last year's incredibly loaded Iowa team had six finalists (although a few guys -- Marion, Morningstar -- disappointed a bit). And, again, I'll take a closer look at this when the Big Ten releases the pre-seeds/brackets for each weight next week.