The Big Ten Tournament wrapped up Sunday and though Iowa gave it a game effort, they weren't able to catch Penn State or stop the Nittany Lions from claiming a fourth straight Big Ten championship.
FINAL TEAM STANDINGS
1) Penn State 140.5 pts (2 champions)
2) Iowa 135 pts (1 champion)
3) Minnesota 118.5 pts (1 champion)
4) Ohio State 86.5 pts (2 champions)
5) Nebraska 79 pts (2 champions)
6) Illinois 78.5 pts (1 champion)
7) Wisconsin 73 pts (0 champions)
8) Michigan 71.5 pts (0 champions)
9) Northwestern 58 pts (1 champion)
10) Indiana 37 pts (0 champions)
11) Purdue 34.5 pts (0 champions)
12) Michigan State 21.5 pts (0 champions)
As you can see, Iowa finished just 5.5 points behind Penn State. We can quibble about the result of a match here or there or the fact that Penn State got more pigtail matches than Iowa (7 vs 3), but the biggest turning point for Iowa was probably in the finals themselves. Penn State put five wrestlers in the finals and went 2-3 in those matches, pretty much the worst they could possibly do (because David Taylor and Ed Ruth weren't losing unless their opponents were allowed to bring elephant guns onto the mats with them). That opened the door for Iowa, who also put five wrestlers into the finals. Unfortunately, Iowa went 1-4 in the finals. Had Iowa gone 3-2 in the finals, that's an 8-point swing... and the Big Ten Championship trophy would be headed back to Iowa City tonight.
Going into the finals, it was clear that Iowa needed some help. Iowa could only help themselves by beating Penn State in two of the five finals match-ups... and those two match-ups were against Taylor and Ruth, so the odds of Iowa wins were pretty damn low. Iowa needed Penn State's other opponents to trip up the Nittany Lions since Iowa couldn't do it themselves... and they did just that. Jesse Delgado nipped Nico Megaludis 2-1 in OT in a match that was hardly a ringing endorsement of the sport (unless you happen to love ankle-riding). Logan Stieber avenged his only loss this year and beat Penn State's undefeated super-frosh Zain Rutherford convincingly. And another Buckeye, Nick Heflin, slipped past Penn State's Morgan McIntosh with a late takedown in overtime at 197. Iowa got the help they needed from other teams -- they just didn't do enough to help themselves.
Iowa came up short in too many of their own finals matches. Tony Ramos got Iowa off to a good start in the finals, claiming his first-ever Big Ten championship with an ugly-but-effective 2-1 win over Tyler Graff, highlighted by a strong ride for nearly the entire second period. It was a strange, cagey match, unlike Ramos' normal matches and not terribly satisfying, truth be told, but a Big Ten title is a Big Ten title and no one can deny that Ramos' career deserves the recognition granted by a Big Ten Championship.
It all went sideways after Ramos, though. The losses by Nick Moore (to David Taylor) at 165 and Ethen Lofthouse (to Ed Ruth) at 184 were entirely expected; Taylor and Ruth are four-time B1G champions and two of the greatest wrestlers the Big Ten has ever seen. There isn't a ton of shame in losing to them and, to their credit, they didn't really just turtle up for seven minutes straight, either; Moore kept active against Taylor on his feet and Lofthouse did the same versus Ruth. Those efforts mattered naught in the end, but hey.
No, the more disappointing losses were by Derek St. John (to James Green) at 157 and Mike Evans (to Robert Kokesh) at 174. Green and Kokesh are both very good wrestlers, but they're also wrestlers that DSJ and Evans have beaten in the past. They've improved since then, but so too have DSJ and Evans. Unfortunately, they weren't able to solve the particular puzzles posed by these wrestlers today. Green has evolved into a nightmarish matchup for St. John; a quick and sudden wrestler whose shots are so fast and so powerful that St. John is incapable of slowing them down and countering them into his own offense, as he does with nearly every other opponent. Training with former NCAA Champion (and current Olympic gold medalist) Jordan Burroughs, Green's blast double leg takedown has only gotten more unstoppable. I'm not sure how exactly DSJ solves that riddle in the future. Kokesh doesn't have a specialty as unstoppable as Green's blast double and, to his credit, Evans looked closer to being able to beat him if they meet again -- but only if he wrestles as smartly and aggressively for the entire match as he did at the end of this match.
As for the consolation round, it had its moments. Bobby Telford completed his battle back from a quarterfinal loss yesterday with a win in the third-place match today. He knocked off Northwestern's Mike McMullan in his first conso match and Michigan State's Mike McClure in his second conso match. If only he could have gotten past Tony Nelson in that quarterfinal match... alas. Still, props to Bobby for fighting back to the best possible finish after that disappointing early loss.
Cory Clark finished 4th, but had a far less impressive showing today than he did yesterday; he eked out a 3-1 win over Ohio State's Nick Roberts in the first conso match, using a takedown in sudden victory to secure the win, before dropping a 9-5 contest to Wisconsin's Ryan Taylor, a wrestler he had pinned just a few weeks earlier. Taylor took Clark down almost at will in the early part of the match. I don't know if it was the disappointment of losing to Delgado in the semifinals yesterday or what, but hopefully Clark is fired up and ready to kick butt in the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks.
Nathan Burak dropped a narrow 4-3 decision to Northwestern's Alex Polizzi in his first consolation match, then squeaked out a 2-1 decision over Braden Atwood (his second close win over him at this event) in the fifth-place match. It would be nice to see a little more separation between Burak and his opponents, but 5th is a solid finish for him. Josh Dziewa also finished 5th, becoming Iowa's ninth and final automatic qualifier (although technically it was locked up last night, when he won the match that put him in the consolation semifinals and ensured that the worst he could finish here was 6th place). (Brody Grothus failed to earn an automatic qualifying spot at 149, but should received a wildcard entry into the NCAA Tournament.) Dziewa dropped a 5-2 decision to Chris Dardanes, then rebounded to beat Illinois' Steven Rodrigues, 2-1, in the fifth-place match. Like Burak, he finished right on-seed.
If there was an overriding concern from Sunday's performances, it was the same one that's reared its ugly head after too many dual meets this year: a lack of offense. Across 13 matches Sunday, Iowa recorded 6-7 takedowns. To their credit, Iowa did manage to win several matches without notching a takedown -- Burak beat Atwood with a reversal, Telford beat McClure with two escapes and a riding time point, and Ramos also used an escape and a riding time point to beat Graff -- but it's sure not the way you want to win and it certainly makes it harder to win. You win matches by scoring points and the best way to score points is with your own offense and scoring takedowns.
CONSOLATION ROUND MATCHES
125: #3 Cory Clark DEC (3-1 SV) #8 Nick Roberts (OSU)
141: #3 Chris Dardanes (MIN) DEC (5-2) #5 Josh Dziewa
197: #7 Alex Polizzi (NW) DEC (4-3) #5 Nathan Burak
285: #4 Bobby Telford DEC (3-1) #3 Mike McMullan (NW)
125: #4 Ryan Taylor (WIS) DEC (9-5) #3 Cory Clark (3rd place match)
141: #5 Josh Dziewa DEC (3-2) #7 Steven Rodrigues (ILL) (5th place match)
197: #5 Nathan Burak DEC (2-1) #4 Braden Atwood (PUR) (5th place match)
285: #4 Bobby Telford DEC (3-2) #6 Mike McClure (MSU) (3rd place match)
133: #1 Tony Ramos DEC (2-1) #2 Tyler Graff (WIS)
157: #2 James Green (NEB) DEC (7-4) #4 Derek St. John
165: #1 David Taylor (PSU) MAJ DEC (14-5) #2 Nick Moore
174: #1 Robert Kokesh (NEB) DEC (6-4) #3 Mike Evans
184: #1 Ed Ruth (PSU) MAJ DEC (10-2) #3 Ethen Lofthouse