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Hello, Bronze Medal: Iowa Wrestling Takes Third At 2012 Big Ten Wrestling Tournament

* Sometimes it really is about HOW you win. Iowa had seven of their ten wrestlers wrestle to the level of their seed or better (184 and 197 didn't manage that feat for us, and while Mike Kelly did wrestle to his seed at #10... that didn't get us any points) and Minnesota had seven of their ten wrestlers do the same, while Penn State had five wrestlers wrestle below the level of their seed -- yet Penn State ran away with the team title. How'd that happen? BONUS POINTS. By my calculations, Iowa picked up just 6.5 points from bonus points at this event (1 pin, 1 tech fall, and 3 major decisions) while Minnesota garnered 11 points from bonus points here (3 pins, 2 tech falls, and 2 major decisions). Meanwhile, Penn State picked up a staggering 24.5 points from bonus points here (5 falls, 3 tech falls, and 10 (!) major decisions). (They also benefited from an injury default, which was effectively like getting another pin.) The difference in bonus points accounts for the lion's share of the difference in the final team score standings; Penn State had 18 more bonus points than Iowa and finished 23 points ahead of Iowa in the standings, while Penn State had 13.5 more bonus points than Minnesota and finished 15 points ahead of them in the standings.

Penn State wrestlers didn't always win, but when they did win they tended to win in emphatic fashion, by dominating their opponents and racking up bonus points. On a man-to-man basis, there isn't a whole lot of difference between Penn State, Iowa, and Minnesota. Iowa narrowly beat Minnesota in one dual and narrowly lost to them in another, and while Penn State beat Iowa 22-12 in that dual, that result might have been quite different if Derek St. John and Bobby Telford had been able to wrestle for Iowa in that meet. On a man-to-man basis, Iowa and Minnesota are perfectly capable of beating Penn State wrestlers (well, everyone but David Taylor and Ed Ruth, at least). They just can't keep pace with what Penn State wrestlers are doing to the rest of the field. If Iowa wants to win titles (and, um, we do), then it's not enough to merely win matches -- Iowa did a lot of that at this event. They need to start dominating matches and racking up points -- they didn't do nearly enough of that at this event. Until they can do that, they're going to be playing second fiddle to Penn State at events like this.

125: #1 Matt McDonough: 4-0, 1st place finish
133: #2 Tony Ramos: 2-1, 2nd place finish
141: #3 Montell Marion: 2-1, 2nd place finish
149: #10 Mike Kelly: 1-3, 10th place finish
157: #6 Derek St. John: 3-0, 1st place finish
165: #2 Mike Evans: 2-1, 2nd place finish
174: #3 Ethen Lofthouse: 3-1, 3rd place finish
184: #4 Grant Gambrall: 2-2, 5th place finish
197: UN Vinnie Wagner: 0-2, DNP
HWT: #6 Bobby Telford: 2-1 2nd place finish

Penn State -- 149
2) Minnesota -- 134
3) Iowa -- 126
4) Illinois -- 105.5
5) Ohio State -- 91
6) Northwestern -- 75
7) Michigan -- 66
8) Nebraska -- 65
9) Purdue -- 51.5
t-10) Indiana -- 41
t-10) Michigan St -- 41
12) Wisconsin -- 9

* Two holes in the lineup is too many. Given the scholarship restrictions that exist in wrestling, it's nigh-impossible to field a strong lineup from top to bottom; inevitably, a team is going to have a weak spot or two. Ideally, that "weak spot" is just a weight that's merely decent, rather than excellent like your other weights. The other way to compensate for a weak spot is for several other weights to be excellent to make up for the lack of production. Unfortunately, Iowa's weak spots (149, 197) weren't decent in terms of point-scoring (not even close) and the other weights were merely very good, not excellent. Iowa got zero points out of two weights (149, 197), but also had six finalists (125, 133, 141, 157, 165, HWT), a third-place finisher (174) and a fifth-place finisher (184). In contrast, Minnesota got zero points out of one weight (157), but had five finalists (125, 149, 174, 184, HWT), a third-place finisher (197), a fourth-place finisher (141), a fifth-place finisher (165), and a sixth-place finisher (133). But Penn State did not get zero points out of any weights -- at 133, Martellotti went 2-2 and got 7th place and at 141, Pearsall went 3-2 and got 7th place (and also picked up 3 bonus points in his wins). They had just three finalists (149, 165, 174), but also had three third-place finishers (157, 184, HWT) and two fifth-place finishers (125, 197).

Iowa had an almost flawless semifinal performance (6-2 and five seconds away from being 7-1), but that wasn't close to enough to contend for a title and one of the key reasons why was because we had two weights that contributed nothing to the team score. Minnesota had just one black hole on their team, while Penn State's two "holes" managed to contribute points to the overall team effort. In tournaments, it's often not enough for your wrestlers to wrestle to their seeds -- you need to spring some upsets and get guys to wrestle above their seeds. Iowa did manage that at two weights (157, HWT), but going forward they really need to get something out of all of their weights to be able to contend with Penn State and Minnesota, especially if they're going to have trouble closing the bonus point gap.

*Take your chalk and shove it. While the Big Ten is unquestionably the deepest wrestling conference in the land, an honor it's held for several years (if not decades), that depth hasn't always translated to an unpredictable conference tournament. In fact, it's been a conference where chalk has won out far more often than not; wrestlers seeded third or lower may be good enough to beat almost anyone in other conferences, but that still doesn't mean they're good enough to knock off the top dogs in the Big Ten. The big dogs still had their say at this year's tournament -- there were four 1v2 matchups in the finals and overall #1 seeds won 8 titles -- but there was still a little bit more chaos than normal this year: 197 saw a 2v5 matchup in the finals and there were two 1v6 pairings (157, HWT), thanks to some impressive upsets by Iowa wrestlers.

Of course, several of those upsets only served to prove that this year's Big Ten was a three-horse race, with Penn State, Minnesota, and Iowa well ahead of the field. Those three programs accounted for 67% of the top-3 finishers at this event (20/30) and were slightly more dominant in terms of just the finals, accounting for 70% (14/20) of the participants there.

* Say, you seem familiar. From an Iowa perspective, there were a lot of repeat matches in this year's tournament. At 125, McDonough faced Zach Sanders (MIN) and Jesse Delgado (ILL) for the third time this year. At 133, Tony Ramos faced B.J. Futrell for the fourth time, while Montell Marion saw Daryl Thomas for the third time at 141. Mike Evans and Ethen Lofthouse both had rubber matches with Minnesota opponents -- Cody Yohn and Logan Storley, respectively -- at 165 and 174, and those were just the matchups where an Iowa wrestler had faced his opponent at least three times. There were several other matchups that were rematches as well. Part of that's the nature of the beast, of course: Minnesota and Illinois are two of the best teams in the country this year and Iowa saw them in dual meets, at National Duals, and (in the case of Illinois) at Midlands. In general, the more often you see an opponent, the harder it is to rack up points against him, so the rematch trend didn't help Iowa in that regard. The bigger problem for Iowa was not the rematches themselves, but the fact that they found themselves wrestling those guys rather than opponents from some of the Big Ten's weaker teams (Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin). They could have used a few more matches with wrestlers from those programs to pad their point totals.

125: #1 Matt McDonough (4-0) 1st place finish; Big Ten Champion
McD did what he was supposed to do: win a second-straight Big Ten title. The thing keeping him from getting a full A grade -- and preventing him from being on the same tier as Taylor and Ruth -- is the lack of bonus points. Relative to other wrestlers at each weight, are Delgado and Sanders tougher opponents than the guys Taylor and Ruth faced? Perhaps. But McDonough is Iowa's best wrestler and they need as many bonus points as possible out of him. The fact that he won is very good -- a Big Ten title is never something to take lightly -- but right now Iowa needs more than very good from him -- they need greatness.
Pigtail round: W, FALL (1:59) UN Shawn Nagel (NEB)
Quarterfinals: W, MAJ DEC (11-3) #8 Brenan Lyon (MSU)
Semifinals: W, DEC (4-3) #4 Jesse Delgado (ILL)
Finals: W, DEC (6-1) #2 Zach Sanders (MIN)

133: #2 Tony Ramos (2-1) 2nd place finish; Big Ten Runner-Up
Good news! Tony Ramos can get a takedown on Logan Stieber. Bad news! Tony Ramos still can't get an escape against Stieber. Ramos opened the final in fine fashion, striking immediately and getting a quick takedown, but everything went downhill after that. He didn't come close to getting another takedown on Stieber and he fell prey to a slick slide-by from Stieber that ended up leading to the decisive three points in the match (the 2-point takedown and eventual 1-point riding time bonus). Ramos figures to see Stieber again at the NCAA Tournament and in the years ahead, so he's going to have to figure out some way to beat him. This match did represent progress from the previous match, at least. Ramos did well otherwise, rolling through Kiley and beating Futrell (again).
Pigtail round: n/a
Quarterfinals: W, MAJ DEC (12-2) #7 Ridge Kiley (NEB)
Semifinals: W, DEC (6-1) #3 B.J. Futrell (ILL)
Finals: L, DEC (5-2) #1 Logan Stieber (OSU)

141: #3 Montell Marion (2-1) 2nd place finish; Big Ten Runner-Up
Marion's tournament started brightly, with an impressive domination of Thomas (a wrestler who had held him to a fairly pedestrian decision just two weeks ago), and he was able to avenge his earlier loss to Stieber, but Kellen Russell again proved to be a obstacle too formidable to overcome. There's no shame in losing to Russell, who became only the 11th four-time Big Ten champion and who is a heavy favorite to repeat as NCAA champion this year, but if Marion's ultimate goal is to be a champion, then he's going to have to figure out some way to beat Russell. I have no idea what that way is, of course.
Pigtail round: N/A
Quarterfinals: W, MAJ DEC (12-2) #6 Daryl Thomas (ILL)
Semifinals: W, DEC (3-1 SV) #2 Hunter Stieber (OSU)
Finals: L, DEC (7-2) #1 Kellen Russell (MICH)

149: #10 Mike Kelly (1-3) 10th place finish
And so ends Mike Kelly's season and another miserably unproductive year for the 149 weight class at Iowa. I think we all knew Brent Metcalf's shoes would be hard to fill, but I don't think any of us ever imagined it would be so hard to find even a competent replacement. Kelly's effort is always strong, but his lack of offense is painful and he still seems to be too in love with trying to land a big throw rather than go for an easier takedown; that's what ended up costing him in the Friedley match. If Kelly is going to man this weight again next year, he badly needs to develop some actual effective offense. What he has now isn't cutting it.
Pigtail round: L, DEC (4-2) #7 Eric Terrazas (ILL)
Consolations: L, DEC (14-7) #8 Kaleb Friedley (jNW)
Consolations: W, DEC (2-1) #11 Skylar Galloway (NEB)
Consolations: L, DEC (3-1) #9 Dan Osterman (MSU)

157: #6 Derek St. John (3-0) 1st place finish; Big Ten Champion
What a pleasant surprise. Seeing Iowa go 2-4 in the finals yesterday was painful (especially as Penn State was running away with the overall title), but seeing St. John grit out a win over Northwestern's Jason Welch was a very welcome respite from the misery. If anything, St. John's performance at this event only verified a belief we had long suspected: he's the top of the class at this weight in the Big Ten and it's not that close. He beat the 1, 2, and 3 seeds at this weight and he did it despite not being 100% and without the benefit of as much match sharpness as his opponents. His ability to mount comebacks was hugely impressive -- he gave up an opening 4-point move in his match with Green and a first-period takedown in his match with Welch and battled back for wins in both matches. He also displayed some impressive scrambling ability in all three matches and, in general, looked better and better with every match he got. It's hard to believe that this was the same guy who listed to a win over a lousy Wisconsin wrestler a month ago and the level of improvement he's made in a month has me very excited for what he might be able to do at the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks. Clearly, I was quite wrong to say that St. John should just pack it on this season -- and I'm happy to admit that.
Pigtail round: N/A
Quarterfinals: W, DEC (6-4 SV) #3 James Green (NEB)
Semifinals: W, DEC (3-1 SV) #2 Dylan Alton (PSU)
Finals: W, DEC (4-3) #1 Jason Welch (jNW)

165: #2 Mike Evans (2-1) 2nd place finish; Big Ten Runner-Up
In most regards, this tournament was a very successful performance for Evans. He had a stunningly dominant tech fall win over Kokesh, one where his riding ability was on full, fearsome display, and he held his own against Taylor better than most opponents for much of their finals match (although he was also never all that close to scoring on Taylor, unfortunately). But he also had a puzzlingly close match with Yohn and, in general, looked like exactly what he's been all year: a very gifted, but somewhat inconsistent, young wrestler. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives, and a 2nd-place finish at the Big Ten Tournament is a good spot for him to build from as a freshman.
Pigtail round: N/A
Quarterfinals: W, DEC (5-4) #7 Cody Yohn (MIN)
Semifinals: W, TECH FALL (17-2, 6:47) #3 Robert Kokesh (NEB)
Finals: L, MAJ DEC (11-2) #1 David Taylor (PSU)

174: #3 Ethen Lofthouse (3-1) 3rd place finish
Ethen finished third as the #3 seed, so in that regard he did just fine. Of course, he was also five seconds away from being in the finals. That loss to Storley was, improbably, even more painful than his first loss to Storley; he had controlled that match and rode him extremely well for so long, and then to give up a reversal in the final seconds? Awful. If he had just let him go and conceded the escape, he would have won. The other thing Lofthouse needs to do is find a way to widen the distance between himself and his opponents; he's certainly improved since a year ago and, in general, he's pretty solid with his offense from neutral, his ability to ride opponents (although not so much when it comes to turning them), and in his ability to defend from neutral. The next step for him is cutting loose more and extend some of those easy decision wins into major decisions.
Pigtail round: N/A
Quarterfinals: W, DEC (4-1) #6 Curran Jacobs (MSU)
Semifinals: L, DEC (6-2 SV) #2 Logan Storley (MIN)
Consolations: W, DEC (9-6) #8 Jordan Blanton (ILL)
3rd-place match: W, DEC (7-2) #9 Lee Munster (jNW)

184: #4 Grant Gambrall (2-2) 5th place finish
Maybe the cut to 184 hasn't been a total cure-all for Gambrall after all. He opened up brightly with a decisive 8-1 win over Magrum and lost (another) close one to Steinhaus (no shame in that, although it would be nice to turn things around there at some point), but losing to Dallago, a guy Gambrall had dominated just two weeks ago? And not just to lose to him, but to lose because of silly, careless mistakes. Ugh. Gambrall has the skill to beat anyone at this weight, but until he sharpens his mental game, he's also eminently capable of dropping matches to virtually anyone at this weight. As a redshirt junior and two-year starter, consistency shouldn't really be such a bugaboo for him anymore.
Pigtail round: N/A
Quarterfinals: W, DEC (8-1) #5 C.J. Magrum (OSU)
Semifinals: L, DEC (3-2) #1 Kevin Steinhaus (MIN)
Consolations: L, DEC (5-3) #7 Tony Dallago (ILL)
Consolations: W, DEC (8-2) #8 Ian Hinton (MSU)

197: UN Vinnie Wagner (0-2) DNP
Just like Kelly at 149, Vinnie Wagner's season is now over. It's a shame because he had a great story (the fifth-year senior and med student giving his all for the team) and because his effort was never anything less than top-notch, but it's also not surprising. He didn't have the talent of the top guys (here or at 184) and he was also at a size disadvantage at 197. He came achingly close to beating top-ranked Sonny Yohn, but in the end couldn't quite get it done. Ditto his consolation round match with Nakashima. As proud as I am of Vinnie, though, watching chaos rip through the bracket at 197 made it even more bittersweet that Iowa had such of a lack of options at this weight. Iowa got zero points at this weight, the weakest in the Big Ten. A champion here wouldn't necessarily have swung the tournament in Iowa's favor... but it would have made things very interesting. If only Uncle Luke (or Cayle Byers) had been around...
Pigtail round: L, DEC (4-2) #1 Sonny Yohn (MIN)
Consolations: L, DEC (6-4) #7 James Nakashima (NEB)

HWT: #6 Bobby Telford (2-1) 2nd place finish; Big Ten Runner-Up
Well, well, well... did Gary Barta finally sign off on Tom and Terry Brands' request for a time machine? Did Bobby Telford find a magic formula that restored his earlier ability? Did the real Bobby Telford escape from captivity and replace the sorry imposter who had been masquerading in his place for the last two months? I'm not sure, but the Telford we saw on Saturday was considerably better than the one we'd seen over the last few weeks. After a dull, unimpressive win over Walker, Telford opened up a solid lead over Apland (then frittered part of it away by giving up a silly late takedown) on his way to a win there, before notching an even more impressive win over Wade in the semifinals. To be sure, both wins were a bit more opportunistic than dominant -- Apland practically walked right into the decisive takedown attempt and almost all of Telford's points against Wade came on reversals rather than his own offense -- but they were still a damn sight better than what we'd seen out of him lately.

Unfortunately, recent Bobby made an unwelcome return for the finals match against Nelson, which was a dead ringer for the match they staged at National Duals a few weeks ago. Neither man came close to scoring a takedown, so the difference was Nelson's ability to get an escape on Telford -- and Telford's inability to do the same. Telford either needs to figure out a way to escape from Nelson or he needs to keep the match standing and hope the can figure out a way to get a takedown. Still, the glimpses of "good Telford" on Saturday were enough to rekindle my faith in Telford -- and make me think that he still might be able to be an All-America this year.

(Edit: Subsequent discussion about Telford's match with Nelson has made me reconsider my opinion a little -- he clearly had a different gameplan in mind this time: ride Nelson hard and earn a riding time point, which would negate the need to take bottom in the third period and try to get an escape point. It just wasn't remotely successful. Still, it was extremely frustrating to watch Telford in the third period. I think the coaches would have been better off having him stay in neutral and try to somehow get a takedown.)
Pigtail round: W, DEC (2-0) #11 Pat Walker (ILL)
Quarterfinals: W, DEC (6-4) #3 Ben Apland (MICH)
Semifinals: W, DEC (5-0) #2 Cameron Wade (PSU)
Finals: L, DEC (2-0) #1 Tony Nelson (MIN)