Iowa City kicked off the 2015-16 college wrestling season with one of the most memorable wrestling events in recent history, the Grapple on the Gridiron outdoor dual meet in Kinnick Stadium that drew over 40,000 fans to watch Iowa edge out Oklahoma State in a thrilling dual. Now the wrestling world turns its attention back to Iowa City for this weekend's hotly anticipated Big Ten Tournament. The Big Ten Tournament is one of the most competitive and thrilling events of the wrestling season, an event featuring so many quality wrestlers that at times it's an even stiffer challenge than the NCAA Tournament. If you're attending this year's tournament -- or just planning to watch it on TV or online -- here's the information you need to know.
WHEN: March 5-6, 2016
Saturday, March 5
Session I (10 AM CT): first round matches + quarterfinals
Session II (6 PM CT): semifinals + two rounds of consolation matches
Sunday, March 6
Session III (12 PM CT): one round of consolation matches + 7th place matches
Finals (3 PM CT): championship finals + 3rd and 5th place matches
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Here's the seating chart:
HOW DO I BUY TICKETS? WHERE DO I PARK?
You should go to this page for more information.
HOW DO I WATCH IT ON TV OR ONLINE?
The finals on Sunday (3 PM CT) will be broadcast live on BTN. The remaining sessions will be streamed online on BTN Plus ($).
HOW IS THE TOURNAMENT SCORED?
Scoring for a wrestling tournament is a funny, complicated animal. You get points for winning matches (advancement points), for achieving a top-8 finish in your weight (placement points, with higher finishes being rewarded with higher point totals), and for dominating your opponent in an individual match-up (bonus points). Each team has one wrestler at each of the ten weight classes (in lbs: 125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, 197, 285); that wrestler can earn points for his team; those points are added up for each team and the team with the highest point total is awarded the team championship.
You can find out a lot more about tournament point scoring by reading my guide from a few years ago.
WHO IS IOWA SENDING?
125: Thomas Gilman (JR, 21-0)
133: Cory Clark (JR, 19-1)
141: Brody Grothus (SR, 4-5)
149: Brandon Sorensen (SO, 23-0)
157: Edwin Cooper, Jr. (SR, 14-7)
165: Patrick Rhoads (SR, 9-9)
174: Alex Meyer (JR, 20-2)
184: Sammy Brooks (JR, 20-3)
197: Nathan Burak (SR, 20-1)
285: Sam Stoll (RS FR, 20-3)
You can find out more about each guy and their opponents by reading my analysis of the pre-seeds at each weight from earlier this week.
IS IOWA GOING TO WIN?
Well, hopefully! But realistically Penn State is the clear favorite to win this event. They have four wrestlers seeded #1 (Zain Retherford at 149, Jason Nolf at 157, Bo Nickal at 174, Morgan McIntosh at 197), all of whom will be heavily favored to make the finals at their respective weights. They have several other wrestlers pegged to finish highly as well. In order for Iowa (or Ohio State, the other realistic challenger) to upset them, the 'eyes will need to wrestle extremely well and exceed their projected finishing placements and have at least a few PSU wrestlers underachieve. That's possible, but it remains to be seen how likely it is.
WHICH IOWA WRESTLERS HAVE THE BEST CHANCES OF WINNING INDIVIDUAL TITLES?
No Iowa wrestler is seeded #1, so technically none of them are favored to win their given weight classes. Four Iowa wrestlers are seeded #2 (Gilman, Clark, Sorensen, and Meyer) and another three are seeded #3 (Brooks, Burak, Stoll). Both Gilman and Sorensen were in the finals at their weights (125 and 149, respectively) last year, so they at least have experience on the big stage. (Clark was the NCAA runner-up at 133 last year, so he also has some notable big match experience.) If I was to rank the Iowa wrestlers in order of likeliness (most to least likely) to win a championship, I'd go:
125 Gilman -- seems neck-and-neck with the top guys here
133: Clark -- has wins over most of his main threats at this weight
149: Sorensen -- would be the favorite at this weight in a Retherford-free world
184: Brooks -- inconsistent, but has wins over every top challenger at this weight
197: Burak -- having a very good season, but he's never so much as gotten a takedown on McIntosh before
174: Meyer -- capable of contending for a title at a semi-weak weight, but poor current form
285: Stoll -- not likely to beat top two at this weight, but results this year give me more confidence in him than...
165: Rhoads -- not likely based on form and strength of opponents, but still more likely than...
141: Grothus -- expectations for Grothus are low, but this is a somewhat weak weight, so IF he gets hot...
157: Cooper -- pretty much zero chance he beats both Martinez and Nolf at this weight
WHICH WEIGHTS ARE GOING TO BE THE MOST EXCITING?
141 and 184 are two of the hardest weights to predict at this year's tournament, with each weight going 3-4 deep in terms of legitimate title contenders. Both weights also feature some guys with a propensity to wrestle exciting matches and take chances, so both weights could feature exciting wrestling AND unpredictable results. From an excitement standpoint, it's hard to beat that.
Any Penn State-Iowa match-up is going to have the arena buzzing, too. Both teams went through the Big Ten season undefeated but didn't face off, due to the vagaries of the Big Ten schedule. Their head-to-head matches at this tournament will give us a little glimpse at how the teams match up with one another. Both teams are also among the top contenders for the team title as well, which adds another level of importance and drama to the matches. In particular, potential semifinal match-ups between Thomas Gilman and Nico Megaludis (125), Cory Clark and Jordan Conaway (133), and Sammy Brooks and Matt McCutcheon (184) could be critical to the team race for both teams. (Ditto potential title matches between Iowa and Penn State at 149 and 197.)
Finally, a Jason Nolf-Isaiah Martinez match in the Big Ten finals at 157 on Sunday will be must-see viewing if (when) it happens. They engaged in a thrilling, action-packed match earlier this year, which Nolf won when he surprisingly pinned Martinez (who had been undefeated in his college career up to that point). This rematch could have some serious fireworks.
CAN ANY WRESTLERS MAKE HISTORY THIS WEEKEND?
Not really. Last year Ohio State's Logan Stieber became a four-time Big Ten champion, joining a pretty exclusive club. There were 14 four-time Big Ten champions prior to Stieber joining them last year. There have been six former Iowa wrestlers who were four-time Big Ten champions: Mark Ironside (1995-98), Duane Goldman (1983-86), Barry Davis (1981-85), Ed Banach (1980-83), Mike DeAnna (1977-81), and Joe Scarpello (1947-50). No Big Ten wrestler this year has a chance to join the four-timers club. Six Big Ten wrestlers do have a chance to repeat after winning championships last year.
125: Nathan Tomasello (SO, Ohio State)
149: Jason Tsirtsis (JR, Northwestern)
157: Isaiah Martinez (SO, Illinois)
165: Isaac Jordan (JR, Wisconsin)
184: Domenic Abounader (JR, Michigan)
197: Morgan McIntosh (SR, Penn State)
Tsirtsis is the most significant one there -- he's already a two-time B1G champion and going for his third this year. Another title win would put him three-quarters of the way to joining the four-timers club (yay math). He's a decided underdog this year, though, given the emergence of some very good wrestlers in that weight class (Penn State's Zain Retherford and Iowa's Brandon Sorensen).
Tomasello and Martinez (I-Mar) both won titles as freshmen last year so winning this year would allow them to keep alive the hope of becoming four-time Big Ten champions. Both will face stiff challenges, though -- Tomasello is in one of the tightest and most competitive weight classes this year (Penn State's Nico Megaludis and Iowa's Thomas Gilman will be major threats) and Martinez will need to get by Penn State's Jason Nolf, who pinned him earlier this season.
WHERE SHOULD I EAT OR DRINK BETWEEN SESSIONS?
A-ha, now we're getting to the really important stuff!
If you're looking for pizza, Wig and Pen is just down the hill from Carver-Hawkeye Arena and is a local institution. The Vine is another local institution (with some mighty delicious chicken wings) just down the road a bit on the Coralville strip. If you're looking for a drink, both Backpocket Brewery and 30Hop are not too far away and offer locally-brewed beers. If you're in the mood for a sandwich, Stella (near CHA and Kinnick Stadium) and Quinton's (in Coralville) are fine choices. And if you're craving Mexican, La Regia and Pancheros are both sure to satisfy.
If you want to venture across the river and go into downtown Iowa City, the Airliner, Sam's Pizza, and Pagliai's Pizza are more local institutions renowned for their pizza. (It's a college town -- we like pizza, OK?) If you're looking for a sports bar, The Sports Column (and the Airliner) will have ample TVs and decent food and beverage options. Mickey's, Shorts, and Clinton St. Social Club offer better food and drink options (but probably not as much in the way of TVs). If you're in the mood for barbecue, Mosley's and Pop's Old 'n New are good options. If you're looking for something other than burgers, pizza, and wings, Thai Flavors might just hit the spot. There are also Quinton's and Pancheros (see above) in downtown if you're looking for a good sandwich or burrito. And if you want good food in a unique environment, hit up the Pullman Bar & Diner.
Finally, if you're looking for breakfast before the action gets underway on Saturday and Sunday, you can't go wrong at either Hamburg Inn No. 2 or Bluebird Diner, both located a little beyond downtown. Try a pie-shake at Hamburg -- your taste buds will thank you.
If anyone else has any other suggestions for places to hit up in the Iowa City-Coralville area, feel free to list 'em in the comments.