The signature event of the Big Ten wrestling season takes place this weekend -- the Big Ten Championships, held in Iowa City on Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6. To figure out what's going to happen -- and where the excitement figures to be this weekend -- I hit up several other Big Ten bloggers to get their predictions. Thanks very much to Cari (BSD 1) and bscaff (BSD 2) from Black Shoe Diaries, rvc73 (OTB) from On the Banks, Dan (LGHL) from Land-Grant Holy Land, and WhiteSpeedReceiver (TDG) from The Daily Gopher (TDG) for their predictions and insights.
1) Pick the winner at each weight
|WT||BHGP||BSD 1||BSD 2||OTB||LGHL||TDG|
|125||#2 T Gilman||#1 N Tomasello||#1 N Tomasello||#1 N Tomasello||#1 N Tomasello||T Gilman|
|133||#2 C Clark||#2 C Clark||#1 Z Richards||#1 Z Richards||#2 C Clark||#1 Z Richards|
|141||#3 A Ashnault||#2 T Thorn||#3 A Ashnault||#1 M Jordan||#1 M Jordan||#2 T Thorn|
|149||#1 Z Retherford||#1 Z Retherford||#1 Z Retherford||#1 Z Retherford||#1 Z Retherford||#1 Z Retherford|
|157||#2 I Martinez||#2 I Martinez||#1 J Nolf||#2 I Martinez||#2 I Martinez||#1 J Nolf|
|165||#1 I Jordan||#1 I Jordan||#1 I Jordan||#2 B Jordan||#1 I Jordan||#2 B Jordan|
|174||#1 B Nickal||#1 B Nickal||#1 B Nickal||#1 B Nickal||#1 B Nickal||#1 B Nickal|
|184||#1 D Abounader||#4 T Dudley||#1 D Abounader||#1 D Abounader||#3 S Brooks||#1 D Abounader|
|197||#1 M McIntosh||#1 M McIntosh||#1 M McIntosh||B Pfarr||#1 M McIntosh||M McIntosh|
|285||#2 K Snyder||#2 K Snyder||#1 A Coon||#1 A Coon||#2 K Snyder||#1 A Coon|
The range of choices here are really interesting. There's unanimity at a few weights, like 149 (where we're all aboard the Zain Train -- even me, sadly) and 174 (where Nickal has been the best of a somewhat underwhelming lot). There's broad consensus at a few others, like 125 (where most folks are backing the defending champ, Tomasello -- which is understandable), or 165 (where 2/3 of us are backing Cousin Ike in the Battle of the Jordans), or 197 (where everyone but OTB is backing McIntosh to win). There's even a majority at 157, where 2/3 of us are backing Martinez... even though he lost to Nolf the first time out this year. And then there are weights like 133 (evenly split between Clark and Richards) and 285 (another split between Snyder and Coon) where there is no clear favorite, and the wildest weight of all, 141 (where there's a three way tie for the favorite). That lack of predictability could lead to some really fun action this weekend.
2) Predict the top 3 in the team title race
|BHGP||BSD 1||BSD 2||OTB||LGHL||TDG|
|1||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State||Penn State|
|3||Ohio State||Ohio State||Ohio State||Iowa||Ohio State||Illinois|
Everyone's all aboard the Penn State express in the team title race, which is hardly surprising. They're the clear favorite. Iowa's going to need all the home mat mojo they can muster and hope that PSU has a few stumbles if they're going to pull the upset.
3) Tell me about 1-2 dark horse challengers that you think could surprise people this weekend:
BHGP: Rutgers' Nicholas Gravina, the #5 seed at 184, could be the guy to emerge from a weight that lacks a clear favorite. He has a win over Nebraska's TJ Dudley (the #4 seed at 184 and Gravina's likely quarterfinal opponent) already this year and he's been excellent at keeping matches tight, which could give him an opportunity to upset #1 Dom Abounader (Michigan) in the semifinals. Abounader isn't exactly a point-scoring machine himself. That would put Gravina in the finals and the top two guys on the other side of the bracket -- Iowa's Sammy Brooks and PSU's Matt McCutcheon -- may both be limited by injuries. Gravina could find himself with a great shot to claim Rutgers' first Big Ten wrestling title at a weight.
I'm not sure he can win it all at 174 (especially if he has to beat #1 Bo Nickal in the finals), but I do think #7 Nick Wanzek (Minnesota) can make it to the finals, which would be pretty good for a #7 seed. He should get #2 Alex Meyer (Iowa) in the quarterfinals and Meyer's form lately has been, shall we say, not impressive. He has a propensity for wrestling a lot of close matches, and that could come back to bite him if he's not able to get that one crucial takedown or ride Wanzek long enough to earn a riding time point. Meyer did beat Wanzek by a 10-1 major decision earlier this year, so it could be a tall order for Wanzek to win here but he's wrestling better lately and Meyer... is not. If he does get by Meyer, Wanzek should see #3 Zac Brunson (Illinois), who he just beat via 13-10 decision a few weeks ago. If he can do that again, he'll be in the finals.
BSD 1: Since I picked #4 T.J. Dudley (Nebraska) to win 184, I think it's him. I get that's the anti-homer pick, and though #2 Matt McCutcheon (Penn State) beat him earlier in the season, I think he gets his revenge in the finals of the Big Ten. I see him overtaking #1 Domenic Abounader (whom I just don't think is that impressive this year) and I don't know why, I just have a feeling he has a great tournament.
BSD 2: At 184, I'll take the (4) Dudley vs (5) Gravina winner from the 184lb bracket. The winner of that quarterfinal gets Michigan's Abounader, who has looked strong all season. But Abounader's not exactly a neutral-offense machine. One mistake, and Dudley/Gravina could be in the final, facing someone from the other half of the bracket, where the top two seeds (2-McCutcheon and 3-Brooks) are both battling injuries.
And at 141, 8-seed Jimmy Gulibon's (Penn State) horse is so dark that it's almost a black hole. He's on a 4-match losing streak and hasn't scored a takedown since January. That's not good. But he also started this season with a win over a returning All-American, and was ranked in the top 5 nationally for the first month of the season. "Good" Jimmy could win this weight. Of course, "bad" Jimmy could go 0-2 and miss NCAAs. And that, friends, is a dark, dark horse.
OTB: Rutgers' Richie Lewis, #3 at 157, is a two time JUCO All-American. I know it's JUCO, but he's the real deal. he's a #3 seed, so not that dark, but still a newbie to he B1G. Side note: Heavyweight Kyle Snyder - only 3 NCAA bouts due to Olympic training. He's the #2 seed, but an interesting story.
LGHL: Nebraska has a very solid lineup top to bottom. No real championship contenders, but not really any weak spots either. If a few guys wrestle above their seed, the Huskers could conceivably crack that top 3.
I'm also interested to see what true freshman #4 Myles Martin (Ohio State) can do at 174. Another wrestler who wasn't even supposed to be in the lineup, Martin has racked up a 24-5 record, with almost 60% of his wins coming by bonus points. He's faced #1 Bo Nickal (Penn State) twice and they have been incredibly close and exciting matches. If he can get hot, a semifinal win against the #1-seed isn't out of the question.
TDG: Wanzek - see below, and Snyder because I have no idea what they're doing giving him the #2 preseed. That's...slightly unfair to guys that have been trying to earn their seed all season, like Stoll. Honestly, I think it's going to be tough in a lot of weights for lower-seeded guys to break through. Hell, I think Mega getting to the finals at 125 would be a shock in spite of it not really being surprising.
4) Tell me about the 1-2 guys on your own team that you're most interested in seeing compete this weekend.
BSD 1: I'm really excited to see how Nick Nevills does (#8 at 285). He was the one I was super excited about pre-season, before his (then thought to be season-ending) injury; we haven't had a very highly touted heavyweight, and been competitive in that class throughout our recent success. So even though he's just been thrust back into competition so late in the season, I'm looking forward to seeing how he can compete with what is, as per usual, a very deep weight for the conference, when a takedown here or there could win it all.
BSD 2: If anxiety counts as interest, then it's Gulibon at 141 to see if he snaps out of his funk; McCutcheon at 184 to see how his knee and back hold up; and Nevills at big boys, to see if he can grab one of the auto-bids. From a pure excitement standpoint, though, I'm really looking forward to Nolf and Retherford having finals match-ups against Martinez and Sorensen. Four studs, and what should be two epic battles.
BHGP: I'm most nervous about seeing the two Sammys, Brooks at 184 and Stoll at 285, who seemed to suffer injuries in Iowa's last outing (the dispiriting dual meet loss to NC State) -- I want to see what condition they're in because that's going to tell us whether Iowa has any chance at all of winning a Big Ten or NCAA title, or if we need to switch our attention to just rooting for individual winners this year. But I'm really most interested in seeing how Thomas Gilman and Brandon Sorensen fare at their weights. They've been two of Iowa's best wrestlers all year and they're Iowa's last two undefeated wrestlers -- but they haven't faced the most daunting schedules so far, either. Gilman has stomped lesser opponents, but will he be able to get over the hump against guys like Megaludis and Tomasello, who are as good as him? Can Sorensen match the intensity of Retherford? Both guys should face some big-time challenges this weekend and I want to see how they handle things.
LGHL: The obvious answer is Kyle Snyder, the NCAA runner-up and World Champion who wasn't even supposed to compete this season, but finds himself a two-seed despite having only a handful of matches under his belt this season. Up to this point, Snyder has shown little to no interest in top wrestling, instead focusing on landing takedown after takedown, something that I'm pretty sure isn't allowed at the heavyweight division. Will he be able to keep it up against stiffer competition?
I'm also interested (though not necessarily excited) to see what Johnni DiJulius (#7 at 133) can do. He's been the same guy for pretty much his entire career. He's been really good and always on the cusp of that elite level, but he seems to sputter toward the end of the season. He has All-American talent if he ever puts it all together, but he hasn't done that yet. This week marks the start of his last chance to reach his potential. Will he be able to answer the bell?
OTB: 141: Anthony Ashnault is a returning All American and has been steady and solid; he's been the "gold standard" in the recent recruiting classes. 165: Anthony Perrotti was an All American in 2014 and has been on a mission this season. His pin of Purdue's Chase was a stunner. These two guys - of course any guys - getting AA status would be big. Returning All Americans identifies you...and the program.
TDG: Who am I excited about for Minnesota? Thorn and Pfarr are the only guys that a reasonable person would say have a good shot at making the finals at their weight (and at least Thorn doesn't have McIntosh waiting for him there). Kroells should be able to do enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and then Wanzek is the wild card in regards to nobody knowing what he'll do. Is it the guy that went out and beat Brunson? Is it the guy that got worked by Meyer? I'll be keeping an eye on him out of morbid curiosity. This will not be a weekend to remember for Gopher fans barring a few miracles.
5) What weight class will be the best/most exciting to watch this weekend?
BSD 1: I think 165 should be really interesting to watch. Though I picked Ike (who's, of course, undefeated) I wouldn't be surprised to see Bo, Illinois' Rodrigues, Perrotti of Rutgers or even Purdue's Welch have a shot at the title.
All of this becomes moot at MSG, though, when they have to face Alex Dieringer (two-time defending NCAA champion from Oklahoma State), who will go through the entire field like a buzz saw. But that's still a few weeks away.
BSD 2: It isn't going to be 125 lbs. The top 3 will wrestle a pair of big matches, and we'll be fortunate to see 2 takedowns in 14 minutes of action. I think the "best" will be 149 lbs, which features 5 of the national top 6 - a bunch of traditional high crotch grinders who are good in all positions (plus Jake Sueflohn). And the most exciting will be 141, where we'll see a ton of wild/crazy bouts, and at least a few upsets.
TDG: I think 157, even if it probably does go chalk, because Nolf-Mart is worth watching.
OTB: 149 is monstrous. Northwestern's Jake Tsirtsis is the returning Big Ten champion - and he's the fourth seed. Five of the top six wrestlers in the country are at this weight. Penn State's Zane Retherford (No. 1) and Iowa's Brandon Sorensen (No. 2) lead the way - and they're both just sophomores. Very tough, very exciting.
BHGP: I'm really most excited about 141 and 184 because I really have no idea how those weights are going to shake out -- there are legitimately 3-4 guys at each weight (at least) who could be on top of the podium come Sunday afternoon. There are some exciting wrestlers at those weights, too, so I think we'll see some fun matches as well.
LGHL: 133 is pretty wide open, that should be a fun weight to watch...especially if the aforementioned DiJulius can pull an upset or two. 125 might have two of the best matches of the weekend with a Nico Megaludis v. Thomas Gilman semifinal and the winner facing Tomasello in the final.
The weight class might not be the most exciting, but 157 features the potential for the most intriguing individual match of the weekend with Jason Nolf versus Isiah Martinez. Nolf shocked the world defeating Martinez earlier in the season. It was literally the only time Martinez has ever looked bad in his entire career. Was it a fluke or is Nolf really just that much better? I can't wait to find out.
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Thanks again to everyone who contributed!