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2015 BIG TEN TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

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Let's get ready to rumble.

@B1GWrestling

WHO: a whole lot of other Big Ten wrestlers
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, March 7-8; 9 AM CT (Saturday), 12 PM CT (Sunday)
WHERE: St. John's Arena; Columbus, OH
RADIO: AM 800 KXIC (local), Hawkeye All-Access (non-local; $) or the expanded radio network
TV: BTN (Sunday finals ONLY)
ONLINE: BTN Plus (all other sessions; Sunday finals will be on BTN2Go)

HOW TO WATCH:

Here's the full breakdown of BTN's coverage plans for the tournament, but the basics:

Session I: Saturday, 9 AM (BTN Plus)
Session II: Saturday, 5 PM (BTN Plus)
Session III: Sunday, 12 PM (BTN Plus)
Session IV: Sunday, 2 PM (BTN and BTN2Go)

BTN Plus will cost money ($9.95 or $14.95 per month, depending on the option you choose); it's disappointing that the Big Ten couldn't make free streams of the pre-finals action available as they did for Midlands and the National Duals.

The official website of the 2015 Big Ten Wrestling Tournament is available here.

HOW THE TOURNAMENT IS SCORED:

If you want to know how tournament scoring works, this old post I wrote is still a great resource.

If you're new to the Big Ten Tournament or college wrestling in general, I encourage you to check out BSD's primer here.

BRACKET: Click here (my homebrew bracket) or here (official bracket)

Full disclosure: I was wrong about the bracketing.  Aside from 125 and 149 (where wrestlers were seeded out to 8 and the remaining wrestlers were randomly distributed), every weight is bracketed like a traditional 16-item bracket -- i.e., #5 seed vs #12 seed, #3 seed vs #14 seed, etc.  The #1 and #2 seeds at every weight except 125 and 149 got byes (with the #3 seed at 174 also getting a bye because only 13 wrestlers are entered at that weight).  Maybe it was too hard to do it any other way, but it does have the unfortunate consequence of hurting the teams with the very best wrestlers since those wrestlers now aren't able to wrestle weaker opponents in round one and potentially score bonus points for their teams.

As for which teams were hurt the most, here's a breakdown of the byes:

ILLINOIS: 1 (#1 I Martinez - 157)
INDIANA: none
IOWA: 2 (#3 M Evans - 174; #1 S Brooks - 184
MARYLAND: none
MICHIGAN: 3 (#6 C Youtsey - 125; #2 D Abounader - 184; #2 A Coon - 285)
MICHIGAN STATE: none 
MINNESOTA: 4 (#7 E Lizak - 125; #1 C Dardanes - 133; #2 N Dardanes - 141; #2 D Ness - 157)
NEBRASKA: 1 (#1 R Kokesh - 174)
NORTHWESTERN: none 
OHIO STATE: 3 (#1 L Stieber - 141; #1 B Jordan - 165; #1 K Snyder - 197)
PENN STATE: 4 (#5 J Conaway - 125; #6 Z Beitz - 149;  #2 M Brown - 174; #2 M McIntosh - 197)
PURDUE: none
RUTGERS: 1 (#4 K Theobold - 149)
WISCONSIN: 3 (#2 R Taylor - 133; #2 I Jordan - 165; #1 C Medbery - 285)

As you can see, Iowa actually comes out fairly well -- not being able to get potential bonus points from Evans and Brooks hurts, but other teams are hurt much worse.  Ohio State has three guys on bye, but they're all three big bonus point-scorers; these byes could cost OSU 3-6 points in the team race, which could be pivotal in a tight race.  Penn State and Minnesota are even worse off with each team getting four byes.  Minnesota loses three good bonus point scorers (the Dardanes brothers and Ness) in round one.

Let's take a look at each weight.

125

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: Gilman has a solid draw.  As expected, Tomasello and Delgado are on the opposite side of the bracket, meaning that a) he'll only have to wrestle one of them to win a Big Ten Championship and b) he won't see either one until the finals.  He gets MSU's Mitch Rogaliner in the first round; Gilman defeated him via 18-6 major decision at the dual back in December, so we'll be looking for bonus points again.  He could see Josh Polacek (Maryland) or Luke Welch (Purude) in the quarterfinals; Gilman beat Polacek earlier this year 20-9 and hasn't wrestled Welch.  He's likely to see either Jordan Conaway (Penn State) or Tim Lambert (Nebraska) in the semifinals; he beat Conaway 6-5 earlier this season and hasn't faced Lambert (though he did beat him 2-1 last season).  That could be a tricky match, but if Gilman wrestles well, he should make the finals.

NCAA IMPACT: The ceiling for Thomas Gilman's seed at the NCAA Tournament is probably #3, assuming Alan Waters and Joey Dance win their conference tournaments (the MAC and ACC, respectively).  Gilman lost to Dance at Midlands and Waters at National Duals.  Winning the Big Ten Tournament could lock up the #3 seed for Gilman, though, which would keep him on the opposite side of the bracket from Waters and that seems advantageous.  A loss in the Big Ten Tournament finals would likely slot Gilman somewhere in the #4-6 seed range.  A #4 or #5 seed would likely bring a semifinal showdown with Waters.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #1 Gilman defeats #3 Tomasello via decision

133

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: Clark also got a pretty solid draw, with two of the wrestlers who beat him earlier this year on the other side of the draw (PSU's Jimmy Gulibon and Illinois' Zane Richards), as well as red-hot Ryan Taylor (Wisconsin).  Of course, he still has to deal with two other wrestlers who beat him earlier this year (OSU's Jonni DiJulius and Minnesota's Chris Dardanes), so it will still be tricky.  Clark gets Geoff Alexander (Maryland) in the first round; he beat him 7-5 earlier this year.  A win there should set up a quarterfinal rematch with DiJulius, who beat Clark 7-5 earlier in the season.  And a win there would set up a probable semifinal rematch with Dardanes, who beat Clark 5-3 earlier in the season.  I like Clark's odds of turning around the DiJulius result a lot more than I like his odds of turning around the Dardanes result.

NCAA IMPACT: Clark's NCAA seed is likely to depend heavily on how high he finishes on the podium this weekend.  If Dardanes or Taylor win this weight, there's a good chance they'll get the #1 seed at the NCAAs.  If someone else wins this weight, Edinboro's AJ Schopp will probably get that #1 seed instead.  Assuming he wins the EWL tournament, Schopp seems like a lock to get a top-3 (maybe top-2) seed here.  Another top-4 seed will likely go to the Big XII winner, assuming it's either Earl Hall (ISU) or Cody Brewer (Oklahoma).  I'd say the ceiling for Clark's seed is #2 (if he wins the tournament and beats Dardanes and Taylor).  More likely he's looking at a seed in the same range (5-7) as his Big Ten Tournament seed.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #2 Taylor defeats #1 Dardanes via decision

141

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: Well, Dziewa is on the opposite side of the bracket from Stieber -- that's good.  And he isn't looking at a quarterfinal matchup with Nick Dardanes -- that's also good.  It's still going to be a tough road for Dziewa, though.  He faces MSU's Javier Gasca III in the first round; they haven't faced each other this season.  If he wins that match, he'll likely see Anthony Abidin (Nebraska) in the quarterfinals.  A win there and he'd get a rematch with Dardanes in the semifinals.

NCAA IMPACT: Nationally, Dziewa is the third-highest ranked wrestler (#7) in the Big Ten (per InterMat), behind only Logan Stieber (#1) and Nick Dardanes (#4).  Yet he's only the #6 seed at the Big Ten Tournament; such is the wonder of the Big Ten Tournament.  If Dziewa wrestles closer to his ranking than his seed and finishes 3rd or 4th here, he's probably looking at a seed at the NCAA Tournament in line with his ranking (6-9 or so).  If he has a miserable Big Ten Tournament, though, I'd expect that seed to plummet and he'll be looking at something in the teens.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #1 Stieber defeats #2 Dardanes via decision

149

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: The good news for Brandon Sorensen is that getting the #1 seed puts his two toughest opponents (Northwestern's Jason Tsirtsis and Ohio State's Hunter Stieber) on the opposite side of the bracket.  The bad news is that this bracket still has a few potential landmines for Sorensen to navigate to get to a finals matchup with (likely) either T-shirt or Stieber.  Sorensen drew Jake Short in the first round, which is one of the worst matchups he could have received -- Short has had freestyle success against Sorensen in the past and Sorensen could only grind out a 4-0 win over Short at the dual earlier this year.  Short is anything but a first round lay-up for Sorensen.  He could see Michigan's Alec Pantaleo in the semifinals; Sorensen had an ugly 2-1 win over him earlier in the year.  I thought Sorensen could be one of Iowa's better sources of bonus points at this event, but with this bracket, the focus just needs to be on making the finals.

NCAA IMPACT: Like Gilman, the ceiling for a seed for Sorensen at the NCAA Tournament is probably a #3 seed, assuming that David Habat and Drake Houdashelt win their conference tournaments (the EWL and MAC, respectively).  Habat beat Sorensen at Midlands and Houdashelt beat Sorensen at National Duals and both men have sterling resumes, to boot, which should get them the #1 and #2 seeds at the NCAA Tournament -- if Sorensen wins the Big Ten Tournament.  If Jason Tsirtsis avenges his earlier loss to Sorensen, he'll claim one of the top two seeds -- he already has a win over Habat from earlier this season.  If Sorensen loses to Tsirtsis in the Big Ten Tournament final, he's probably looking at a #4 seed at the NCAA Tournament.  I'm not sure whether a #3 or #4 seed is more desirable for Sorensen -- or if there's much practical difference between them.  The foursome of Sorensen, Houdashelt, Habat, and Tsirtsis all seem very tightly bunched and pretty evenly matched. The winner at this weight will likely be whichever guy gets on the best roll in St. Louis in two weeks.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #2 Tsirtsis defeats #1 Sorensen via decision

157

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: Mike Kelly gets a chance to start off his Big Ten Tournament with a dash of revenge -- his round one opponent is Maryland's Lou Mascala, who beat him 5-4 a month ago.  If Kelly can avenge that loss, he'll get another crack at Dylan Ness in the quarterfinals.  Kelly took Ness to the limit and almost had him, but he came up short in an 11-9 loss.  An upset there and a run at the Big Ten finals would be the dream for Kelly, but my realistic goal for him is just to grab one of the Big Ten's 8 automatic qualifier slots for the NCAA Tournament.  If Kelly loses to Ness, he's looking at needing to beat either Luke Frey (PSU) or Anthony Perrotti (Rutgers) to lock up one of those automatic qualifier spots.  Good news: Kelly beat both guys earlier this season (4-0 over Perrotti and 7-4 over Frey).

NCAA IMPACT: It's hard to imagine that there will be too many NCAA seeding implications on the line for Mike Kelly at the Big Ten Tournament; the most important thing for him is just qualifying for the tournament.  He can do that by finishing in the top-8 at the Big Ten Tournament and claiming one of the league's automatic qualifying spots, or he can (probably? hopefully?) get an at-large selection if he finishes outside the top-8 at the Big Ten Tournament.  The NCAA began seeding out to 16 wrestlers at each weight a year ago; given that Kelly has been ranked in the mid-to-low teens for much of the year, there's at least a chance that he could grab one of those last few seeds.  But that probably depends on him finishing in the top-8 at the Big Ten Tournament... and that will likely depend on him upsetting a good wrestler or two.  Do that and he can probably grab a low seed at the NCAA Tournament.  Otherwise he's looking at being drawn into the unseeded pool and randomly assigned to face one of the ranked wrestlers in the first round at 157 lbs.

In terms of the top of the bracket, the winner of this weight at the Big Ten Tournament should also grab the top seed at the NCAA Tournament.  The Big Ten has had a stranglehold on the top rankings at this weight all year, and if either one of Martinez, Ness, or Green wins it all in Columbus, there's a very good chance of them getting the top seed at the NCAA Tournament.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #1 Martinez defeats #2 Ness via decision

165

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: Nick Moore's topsy turvy season landed him a #7 seed at the Big Ten season and a first round match with #10 Pat Robinson. Moore and Robinson haven't wrestled this season, but Moore owns two bonus point wins over him in the past (16-1 technical fall in 2013-14 and a 12-4 major decision in 2012-13). A win there sets up Moore for a quarterfinal clash with #2 Isaac Jordan; they've never faced one another before.  Jordan was at 157 a year ago and gave Derek St. John fits, though.  Moore will need to wrestle a very smart, focused match if he wants to pull off the upset.  He'll also probably need to bring his offense to the party; I'm not sure one takedown will win that match.  If Moore loses to Jordan, he'll need to beat either Austin Wilson (Nebraska) or Nick Wanzek (Minnesota) to finish in the top-8 and lock up an automatic qualifying spot; he hasn't faced either guy yet this season.

NCAA IMPACT: Moore is in a somewhat similar boat to Kelly: he needs to do well enough at the Big Ten Tournament (win a few matches, get an automatic qualifier spot for the NCAA Tournament) to get one of the 16 seeds at 165 for the NCAA Tournament.  Getting a seed is important because (at least on paper) it gives you a slightly easier first round matchup.  Every win will probably end up mattering for Iowa in the team title race this year, so every little bit helps.  The good news is that Moore is in much better shape than Kelly to get a seed at the NCAA Tournament -- he's been a fringe top-10 guy at 165 all season.  "Fringe top-10" is solidly within seeded wrestler territory and it would probably take a truly disastrous Big Ten Tournament (say, 0-2) for Moore to tumble completely out of that territory.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #1 Bo Jordan defeats his cousin #2 Isaac Jordan via decision

174

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: With Northwestern not entering a wrestler at this weight, Evans got a bye in the first round.  He'll likely need to beat Mark Martin (OSU) in the quarterfinals to get another crack at #2 Matt Brown (PSU) in the semifinals.  Evans beat Martin 5-2 in a scrappy match earlier this season.  He lost to Brown 2-0 at the dual a month ago and trails Brown, 4-3, in their overall series.  Evans did beat Brown in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals a year ago, though; in fact, The 'Stache has a 3-0 career record in Big Ten Tournament semifinals.  (Alas, he also has an 0-3 record in Big Ten Tournament finals.)  Hopefully he can run that record to 4-0 this year.

NCAA IMPACT: Kokesh, Brown, Evans, and Storley are 1-2-3-4 in the seeds at this weight in the Big Ten Tournament.  They're 1-2-3-4 in every single ranking of note (except the RPI rankings).  There's a very good chance that whatever order that foursome finds themselves in at the end of the Big Ten Tournament will also be the order of the seeds they receive at the NCAA Tournament; a non-Big Ten wrestler could break into those top-4 seeds at the NCAA Tournament... but I wouldn't bank on it.  The Big Ten's "Gang of Four" seems well ahead of the pack.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #1 Robert Kokesh defeats #3 Mike Evans via decision

184

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: Like Evans at 174, Brooks got a bye in the first round, which automatically puts him in the quarterfinals.  He'll see either John Rizqallah (MSU) or Matt McCutcheon (PSU) in his first match; Brooks beat Rizqallah via 11-3 major decision in December and beat McCutcheon via 7-1 decision last month.  In the semis, Brooks is likely to see #4 Brett Pfarr (Minnesota) or #5 Kenny Courts (Ohio State); Brooks beat Pfarr 13-6 but just squeaked by Courts (3-2) when they wrestled earlier this season.  #2 Domenic Abounader (3-2 winner over Brooks a few weeks ago) could loom for Brooks in the finals.  It's not the easiest bracket for Brooks, but he certainly has the talent to win it all.  In fact, of any Iowa wrestler here, I'd give him the best odds of bringing home a Big Ten championship on Sunday.

NCAA IMPACT: The Big Ten has top-ranked wrestlers at 4 of 10 weights (133, 141, 157, 174) and they're knocking on the door of that #1 ranking at several other weights (125, 149, 197, 285).  The one weight where they're not knocking on the door?  That would be 184.  The Big Ten has had a stranglehold on this weight in recent years, crowning a national champion in six of the last eight seasons.  But the likes of Jake Herbert and Ed Ruth are gone; in their place is a crop of new and mostly untested fresh faces at 184.  As it stands, though, those fresh faces have some ground to make up on the rest of the nation at 184 -- the highest ranked Big Ten wrestler at 184 is Sammy Brooks, who's ranked... #8 (InterMat).  It's basically inconceivable that the Big Ten could not place a single All-American at a weight, but on paper that could happen here.

That said, a barnstorming performance at the Big Ten Tournament could send the Big Ten champion scooting up the seed lines, especially since wrestlers ranked ahead of Big Ten wrestlers in the rankings at this weight will be beating up on each other (the Pac 12's top two 184ers, #5 Blake Stauffer of Arizona State and #6 Taylor Meeks of Oregon State, did just that over the weekend in the finals of the Pac-12 Tournament and three of the seven wrestlers ranked ahead of Brooks -- #1 Gabe Dean of Cornell, #3 Nathaniel Brown of Lehigh, and ##7 Lorenzo Thomas of Penn -- all hail from the EIWA.  My hunch is that Brooks will be a top-8 seed at the NCAA Tournament if he wins the Big Ten Tournament.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #1 Brooks defeats #3 Robertson via decision

197

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: This was as good a draw as we could have hoped for with Burak.  Scott Schiller (Minnesota) and Morgan McIntosh (PSU) handed Burak two of his regular season losses this year, but they're on the opposite side of the bracket from Burak.  Max Huntley (Michigan) and Alex Polizzi (jNW) are also on the other side of the bracket; Burak beat them earlier this year, but it wasn't easy (4-0 in SV and 4-3, respectively).  Instead, Burak will face Maryland's Rob Fitzgerald in the first round; he pinned him at Midlands earlier this season.  He should see Nebraska's Aaron Studebaker in the quarterfinals; they didn't face each other this season.  Assuming he has the horsepower to get to the semifinals, he'll likely see an opponent he's already beaten this year in Kyle Snyder (OSU).  Granted, that was a very weird win -- Burak won 2-1 in a match where he got to start from bottom twice because Snyder took injury -- so I wouldn't bet on history repeating itself at the Big Ten Tournament, but you never know.

NCAA IMPACT: Assuming neither #1 J'Den Cox (Missouri) nor #2 Kyven Gadson (Iowa State) get upset at their respective conference tournaments (and neither guy should -- there are no other top-20 197ers in the Big XII to face Gadson and Cox's only other top-20 opponent in the MAC is #16 Phil Wellington), they're good bets to get the top two seeds at the NCAA Tournament.  The Big Ten could take seeds 3-6, though, with the order there being determined by the placement of guys at the Big Ten Tournament.  Duke's Conner Hartmann might be able to crack into that pack of seeds, but if Burak finishes in the top-4 at the Big Ten Tournament, I'd be surprised to see him seeded any lower than #7 (maybe #8) at the NCAA Tournament.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #1 Snyder defeats #2 McIntosh via decision

285

(full preview)

IOWA OUTLOOK: Like Burak, Telford also got about as good a draw as we could have hoped to see.  Mike McMullan (jNW) and Adam Coon (Michigan), who handed Telford his only losses of the season, are on the opposite side of the bracket.  He gets undersized Indiana heavyweight Garret Goldman (son of former Iowa wrestler Duane Goldman) in the first round; that should be a comfortable win and might even be bonus points for Iowa if Telford is able to put him on his back.  Telford could see Jimmy Lawson (PSU) in the quarterfinals; he's 2-0 lifetime versus Lawson, with a 3-0 win earlier this year and a 3-2 win last season.  The semifinals could bring #1 Connor Medbery (Wisconsin); he would be a very tough opponent, but Telford also has a 2-1 career record against Medbery (he beat him 3-1 at Midlands this year and 5-2 at the 2013 Big Ten Tournament, but lost to him 3-1 at a dual last year).  If he can get by Medbery again, Telford should see either McMullan or Coon in the finals -- and hopefully McMullan.  Telford has a losing record against both guys (3-4 versus McMullan and 1-3 versus Coon), but he's actually been able to land a takedown on McMullan unlike Coon.

NCAA IMPACT: Barring upset, defending NCAA champion and current #1 Nick Gwiazdowski (NC State) will be the #1 seed at the NCAA Tournament.  Big Ten wrestlers should fill several of the seeds immediately below him, though - Big Ten wrestlers have six of the top 10 spots in InterMat's rankings and three of the top five.  I'd expect the winner and runner-up of the Big Ten Tournament to be seeded #2 and #3 and the 3rd and 4th place finishers should also get very high seeds at the NCAA Tournament.  The best case scenario for Telford is probably Gwiaz #1, Telford #2, McMullan #3, Medbery #4 and Coon #5.  That scenario is not that far-fetched, either.

PREDICTED FINALS (AND WINNER): #4 Telford defeats #3 McMullan via decision

* * *

As for the team title race... it should be close.  Iowa and Ohio State are the favorites, but Minnesota has some big-time firepower and if they're all firing, the Gophers will be a threat as well.  Penn State has some potent weapons themselves, but they don't appear to have the depth this year to mount a serious challenge for the title.  That said, a few upsets early on Saturday could go a long way to changing that notion.

And finally, just for the hell of it, here's my ranking of the Iowa wrestlers from most likely to win a Big Ten championship to least likely to do so.

184
125
285
149
174
133
197
165
157
141