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.
|5||13||Kenny Courts||Ohio State||JR||14-5||7-3||7-2||74%||18|
|8||20||Matt McCutcheon||Penn State||RSFR||20-11||7-4||5-4||65%||19|
|9||23||John Rizqallah||Michigan State||SR||11-10||2-7||2-5||52%||26|
It's time for a changing of the guard at 184. For the last four years, the winner or runner-up at this weight was Penn State's Ed Ruth (2 championships) or Minnesota's Kevin Steinhaus (1 championship, 2 runners-up). Ruth and Steinhaus are both gone (as is frequent top-3 finisher Ethen Lofthouse), which means it's time for some new blood at this weight. Sammy Brooks was one match away from being the clear favorite at this weight... but then he lost his final match of the Big Ten season, to Michigan's Dom Abounader. Brooks still did enough to win the #1 seed (he went 8-0 in his other Big Ten matches, winning several via bonus points) and his combination of explosive offense (from neutral and on the mat) and stout defense is still going to be tough for anyone in the Big Ten to top. In Sammy We Trust.
We have to begin the contender list with Abounader -- he did notch a win over Brooks (and he was one of the few wrestlers all season who was able to stymie Brooks' offense), after all. He's also placed 3rd in this weight at the Big Ten Tournament a year ago. Of course, to get to Brooks, Abounader will probably have to get through Ricky Robertson (Abounader beat him via narrow 2-1 OT decision in the regular season) or TJ Dudley (who handed Abounader a 10-7 decision loss in the regular season). Ricky Robertson posted a glossy record against Big Ten opponents (8-1), but he also benefited from Wisconsin's ridiculous Big Ten schedule that allowed the Badgers to avoid Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Penn State. That wasn't quite as much of a benefit at 184 as it was at other weights (aside from avoiding Brooks), but it was still a nice advantage for Robertson. Robertson has been known to put up a few points in his matches, so a finals showdown with Brooks could be one of the more exciting -- and high-scoring -- matches of the championship round.
THE DARK HORSE
If TJ Dudley was one seed lower, he'd be a great dark horse pick at this weight -- that would put him at the #7 seed and line him up for a match with #2 Abounader. Dudley went 1-1 against Abounader this season, scoring a 10-7 decision win in their most recent match. Unfortunately to get to Abounader now, Dudley will probably have to get through Robertson, who handed him a 9-4 loss earlier this year. Kenny Courts has as much talent and athleticism as anyone at this weight, but unfortunately that ability is paired with a motor that sputters way too often. But maybe the home crowd spurs Courts to his best performances of the season.
I don't think I've ever seen a Big ten wrestler with an 0-14 record like Maryland's Tony Gardner. That is one rough season.
TJ Dudley is much more dangerous than your average #6 seed, even if his quarterfinal matchup with Ricky Robertson isn't ideal. But we talked about him already, so let's go with #8 Matt McCutcheon. With losses in 4 of his final 6 matches of the season, McCutcheon isn't exactly entering the Big Ten Tournament on a good roll, but he's landed some wins over ranked opponents this season and he's talented enough to knock off a higher-ranked guy if they take him lightly.