The Big Ten Tournament is just around the corner (Saturday, to be precise) and this year we're doing the preview a little bit differently. I enlisted the aid of our friends bscaff (from Black Shoe Diaries) and Dan Vest (from Land-Grant Holy Land) and we worked together to preview all ten weights. You can find their entries in the 2015 Big Ten Wrestling Tournament group.
|6||12||Josh Demas||Ohio State||SR||9-5||4-4||2-4||64%||4|
|9||NR||Luke Frey||Penn State||JR||12-5||3-2||0-2||71%||NR|
|14||NR||Travis Curley||Michigan State||SO||3-10||0-5||0-3||23%||NR|
This is tricky. The defending champion at this weight is James Green, but he's lost three times already this season (including two each of the two guys seeded ahead of him) and scuffled a bit to several close wins. Dylan Ness is a former Big Ten champion too (albeit at 149, not 157), as well as a two-time conference runner-up. And yet the most impressive 157er this year has probably been redshirt freshman Isaiah Martinez. He's 27-0 (24-0 versus D-I opponents), and all but six of those wins have come with bonus points. He also hasn't wrestled Ness yet this year and his win over Green came via narrow 2-0 decision. Go find a three-sided coin -- that's probably the easiest way to pick a winner at this weight.
We already discussed them a bit above, but if we give Martinez status as the nominal favorite since (he is the #1 seed, after all), then Green and Ness are certainly his most viable contenders. Ness' only loss of the season came two weekends ago at the National Duals, against Cornell's dangerous Brian Realbuto, but he's still extremely dangerous. The biggest source of Ness' danger is his ability to nail guys to the nail in a flash -- he's one of the nation's most prolific pinners. Put it this way: Ness has more pins (13) than decisions (8) among his wins. Give him an inch and he'll get your shoulders on the mat. Green is the reigning 157 lb champion in the Big Ten, but he hasn't looked quite right at times this year -- he lost back-to-back matches (to Martinez and Purdue's Doug Welch) and then had four straight decision wins. Then again, maybe we're making much ado about very little -- since that mini-slump, he's won four straight matches with bonus points, including three technical falls. He might be getting his mojo back at the perfect time of the season. And he's still got that lethal blast double capable of putting anyone on their ass. Again: there isn't much separation among the top-three guys in the Big Ten at this weight.
THE DARK HORSE
Penn State's Dylan Alton has the talent to compete with anyone at this weight. Unfortunately, his health has betrayed him time and time again over his career and it's cruelly done so one last time during his senior season -- it looks like he won't be able to wrestle at the Big Ten Tournament (which would also rule him out of the NCAA Tournament). Without Alton in the field, it's harder to find a legitimate dark horse at this weight. Murphy is a dangerous wrestler with rock-solid defense and strong leg attacks; it would be easy to see him as a future champion at this weight in a Martinez-less world. Demas is a guy with some great attacks -- his ankle pick can be downright filthy -- but his effort level seems to vary wildly and his results have been correspondingly inconsistent. Still, it's not completely out of the question that he could put everything together for one weekend in front of his hometown fans.
This is one of the few weights where an Iowa wrestler doesn't factor into the picture as a favorite, a serious contender, or even a dark horse. That's a bit of a new phenomenon for Iowa at 157 -- we just enjoyed four straight years of top-notch wrestling from Derek St. John. Mike Kelly may not have the slickest offense and he may get a little flat-footed at times, but he's an excellent grinder and a guy who will keep battling 'til the final whistle. That bodes well for his chances of grabbing one of the Big Ten's eight automatic qualifier spots for the NCAA Tournament here.
The Big Ten is so preposterously deep at this weight that Anthony Perrotti, a returning All-American at this weight, is only the #8 seed at this weight. He's a cut below the top guys at this weight, but he's still very dangerous and if he taps into the end-of-season form that he did a year ago, he could definitely score an upset or two and ruin someone's weekend.