This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Since the season officially commenced back on Nov. 1 with the wrestle offs, we’ve been on this journey together through a 14-1 regular season record, to 3rd place at the Big Ten’s, and the nine wrestlers we’ve sent into the great beyond to carry our Hawkeye Legacy in the post season.
It’s all been adding up to this inevitable end: The NCAA Wrestling Tournament. This is March Matness.
We officially plunge into the festivities in Pittsburg inside PPG Paints Arena on Thursday with Session I getting underway at 11 AM CT, followed by Session II later on that same evening, at 6 PM CT.
ESPN will once again be covering all matches, all sessions, all mats, but please feel free to join our digital soiree and follow along in our match threads. Obviously, the best wrestling is going to come from our beloved Hawkeyes, but there’s going to be great wrestling throughout.
Gary Kurdelmeier first brought a championship to Iowa in 1975. Since then, no team has won more. The Hawkeyes have sat atop the mountain for the past 44 years with 23 national championships. Though, Penn State has unfortunately and rather quickly taken a chunk out of that as they have amassed eight titles in a very short amount of time, followed by Oklahoma State’s seven.
For 29 straight years our Hawkeyes have punched a wrestler into the finals, most recently capped off with Spencer Lee winning it all, last year, at 125lbs. Since 1990 Iowa has had at least one wrestler reach the finals every single year and 43 of the past 44 years since Kurdelmeier’s 1975 squad.
Iowa has also had one All-American for 47 consecutive seasons dating back to 1972, for a total of 283 podium finishes. These are absurd streaks that I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t read and witness them with my own eyes. We have our back against the wall, but I’m confident we’ll extend both of those.
For further history, please check out Hawkeyesport’s preview.
A few days ago I posted my gut-punch bracket reactions, so I’ll refrain from diving too much into that again. But if you’d like to check out the brackets in all their glorious entirety, please follow this link.
125: #3 Spencer Lee (18-3)
First Round: #30 Bryce West (NIU) 15-14
Second Round: #19 Alex Mackall (ISU) 25-10 // #14 Sean Fausz (NCST) 11-2
Probable Quarterfinal: #6 Sean Russell (MINN) 26-4
Probable Semifinal: #3 Nick Piccininni (OKST) 30-0
With Spencer Lee, I’m confident enough to predict out to the semifinal match with #3 Piccininni, whereas, with several of the other weights, I won’t be. Our true sophomore begins his quest for his second straight NCAA title with a R1 match up with #30 Bryce West. West was bumped up to the 30th seed after Arizona State’s #14 Ryan Milhoff bowed out due to a broken hand.
This changes who Spencer was originally supposed to wrestle in the first and second rounds, and technically gives him a guy that was seeded one placement lower. Spencer should handle West and he majored #19 Alex Mackall (ISU) in their one previous meeting, 13-4, back in the dual. Spencer was looking for a tech against Mackall before he faded late. Personally, I think he’s looking much better since then and this should be another bonus point victory. From there he’ll face #6 Sean Russell and he’s 3-0 lifetime against him with two bonus point wins with the most recent win in the B1G’s.
In the semi’s he’ll pull Piccininni, but Picc has a couple tough matchups against former finalist #18 Zeke Moisey (NEB) in the 2nd round and more than likely, #7 Pat Glory (PRIN) in the quarters.
I guarantee Lee has revenge in his heart and in his mind and he’ll get his shot at Picc. If things go well that puts him on a collision course with #1 Sebastian Rivera (NU) in the finals. I don’t need to go into their history, but it’s been one-sided so far this year. The finals will be a perfect time for Lee to break the knotted 2-2 record and swing it back in his direction and come home a back-to-back champ.
133: #7 Austin DeSanto (18-4)
First Round: #26 Codi Russell (APP) 20-10
Second Round: #10 Roman Bravo-Young (PSU) 21-4 // #23 Mario Guillen (OHIO) 17-3
Probable Quarterfinal: #2 Stevan Micic (MICH) 14-0
DeSanto has a tough road ahead of him. He should get passed #26 Russell (APP) and hopefully it’ll be a bonus point affair, because from there on out he’s going to be in the grind, and it’ll be complete FUBAR. #10 RBY (PSU) was hobbled a bit by injuries in the B1G’s, so it’s no sure-thing that he gets passed his opening round, and honestly, that’s what I’m hoping for. Either way, DeSanto was beating up on RBY 8-1 in the B1G’s before fading in the third, eventually winning 12-8. If they face off, I think Austin gets it done again and sets up a heated rematch with #2 Micic (MICH). They are currently split, 1-1, in their previous two meetings with each getting a win by major. The latest was a Micic win in last year’s NCAA’s… the one where we saw DeSanto lose his cool and gain his rough reputation.
This is a chance at redemption for Austin. Obviously, I hope he wins, but more than that, I hope he stays composed. If he gets by Micic, who may or may not be injured as well, he’ll set up another likely rematch against #3 Nick Suriano (RU). It goes without saying, that a win over Micic would be huge and would solidify AA honors for Austin, but if he falls in that QF round he may have to go against one of these four wrestlers: #4 Phillip (PITT), #5 Pletcher (OHST), #12 Bridges (WYO), or #13 Gomez (ISU) in his first round of the cons. He has to win that matchup to become an AA and keep his tournament alive.
141: #22 Max Murin (15-8)
First Round: #11 Tristan Moran (WISC) 23-9
Probable Second Round: #6 Michael Carr (ILL) 12-5
Probable Quarterfinal: #3 Nick Lee (PSU) 27-2
Murin has been a bit shaky in his first year in the starting lineup. We saw him climb into the high teens in the rankings, to then stumble and completely fall out shortly before tournament time. Murin has never looked bad and he’s hung tough against the elite, but we’re still waiting for that signature win that catapults him into the AA talk. Luckily for Murin, he gets that chance in the first two rounds against #11 Moran (WISC) in the opening, followed by #6 Carr (ILL) in the second. Moran is talented, but very beatable. Once through there he’ll square off again with Carr, who he beat in the B1G’s, 3-1. Carr looked to be ill or injured in that tourney, so Murin needs to be ready to go if he’s healed up. This is about as favorable first two rounds as a #22 seed could wish for, but Murin has to come out of the gate and be aggressive and find his offense. If he makes it out of those rounds alive, he’ll face #2 Joey McKenna (OHST). I don’t see that match swinging in our favor, and it’ll drop Murin into the cons, just one win away from finding the podium.
149: #10 Pat Lugo (20-7)
First Round: #23 Joshua Maruca (ASU) 16-12
Second Round: #7 Kaden Gfeller (OKST) 28-4 // #26 Ryan Blees (VT) 16-14
Probably Quarterfinal: #2 Micah Jordan (OHST) 25-2
After a rough 1-3 start to the season, Lugo has found his way and gone 19-4, and capped it off with a 3rd place finish at the B1G’s. The bad start to the season tanked Lugo’s ranking early on and he was always fighting to regain position. I think most would agree that he’s probably a top 8 wrestler, but bad early season losses will do that too, and they did, and they came back to haunt him come seeding time.
Lugo faces off with #23 Maruca (ASU), a guy he lost to at the Midland’s last year, 4-1. Assuming he avenges that loss, he’ll then get a rematch with #7 Gfeller (OKST). Lugo beat Gfeller in the Okie State dual, 7-4, so this is a match The Cowboy has circled and Lugo needs to be ready to go. But Lugo is wrestling at the best 2019 version of himself, and once he makes it through round two, he’ll get his first crack at #2 Jordan (OHST).
Similar to DeSanto and Murin, Lugo probably falls in the quarters and drops into the cons, just one win away from the podium. If everyone else wrestles to their seed, he’ll probably face PSU’s #12 Brady Berge. Berge beat Lugo 4-2 in SV2 in the B1G’s. Again, similar to our other Hawks, Lugo will have an opportunity to avenge a loss and keep his season alive.
157: #6 Kaleb Young (20-5)
First Round: #27 Dan Reed (COL) 27-8
Second Round: #11 Ke-Shawn Hayes (OHST) 20-9 // #22 Zac Carson (OHIO) 19-9
Probable Quarterfinal: #3 Ryan Deakin (NW) 29-4
In Kaleb Young’s first full year in the lineup at 157, he has put together quite the respectable season. Though he hasn’t found that signature win against a top 5 seeded opponent, he’s right there with them. Four of his five loses have been to #3 Ryan Deakin (NU), #2 Tyler Berger, and two to #4 Alec Pantaleo (MICH). All have been by close decisions with one going into SV1. I look for Young to burst out of the gate and corral bonus points in R1 against #27 Dan Reed (COL). From there he’ll probably get a shot at a second win over #11 Hayes, who he majored at the B1G’s (OHST). Once he passes that test, he’ll get a chance at his first victory at #3 Deakin in the quarters. Deakin didn’t perform to expectations at the B1G’s and proved to us that he is beatable outside of Berger and obviously #1 Jason Nolf (PSU). If Young can pull off the upset he’ll have a date with Berger in the semis. The winner will go on to face Nolf for 2nd place.
165: #1 Alex Marinelli (23-0)
First Round: #33 Joseph Smith (OKST) 18-6
Second Round: #16 Thomas Bullard (NCST) 20-8 // #17 Jonathan Viruet (BRWN) 31-8
Probable Quarterfinal: #8 Mekhi Lewis (VT) 23-2
Probable Semi: #4 Evan Wick (WISC) 28-4 // #5 Chance Marsteller (LH) 22-2
Everyone in the entire wrestling community has been saying it all week, but this is the worst draw a #1 seeded wrestler has ever faced. The Bull will square off with #33 Joe Smith (OKST), who was previously ranked as high as #7 at 174lbs before cutting down a weight in a lineup shakeup a few weeks ago.
Of course, Smith hasn’t wrestled much at his new weight. In his first action at 165, he entered into the Big 12 tourney, taking fifth and earning a #33 seed in the pigtail match. This will be the inaugural meeting between the two. Should the Bull emerge victorious he’ll probably have a Midland’s rematch against #17 Viruet, who he beat, 8-6, in SV1. Viruet is big and strong and was able to neutralize much of Marinelli’s offense, but The Bull has kicked it up a notch since then.
Like all Hawks, the quarters is where it gets interesting against #8 Lewis (VT). Though they’ve never met in folk stye, Lewis beat Marinelli twice in freestyle during the summer at the Junior World Team trials.
Assuming The Bull bulls his way through, he’ll inescapably face #4 Wick (WISC) for the fourth time this year. The Bull is 3-0 against Wick with each win being by 1 or 2 point decisions. The matches literally couldn’t be closer. If he pushes through, he’ll assuredly face #2 Vincenzo Joseph in the finals.
As I said, this is the toughest run a #1 seed has ever faced. Bonus points will be scarce and more than likely, unlikely. Should the Bull do the incredible and finish this year 28-0 with an NCAA title he should walk away with the Outstanding Wrestler Award and be firmly cemented in the Hodge Trophy discussion as well.
174: Who cares? Burn it down! :(
Title Favorite: #1 Mark Hall (PSU) 26-0
Contenders: #2 Daniel Lewis (MIZZ) 24-1 // #3 Zahid Valencia (ASU) 26-2
Darkhorse Threat: #4 Myles Amine (MICH) 17-3
So far this year, this has #1 been Mark Hall’s (PSU) weight and then everyone else. At the beginning of the year I would have said the returning champ, Zahid Valencia (ASU), was going to repeat, but he’s suffered a loss to #2 Daniel Lewis and Hall, which has put that into question. In last year’s NCAA finals he thoroughly put it to Hall, 8-2, but failed to even score a point in their lone meeting this year, then got stuck by Lewis a couple of months later.
Valencia and Lewis are on a collision course for the semis in the bottom half of the bracket, while #4 Myles Amine will look for his first career win against Hall in the semis on the top half. Amine is 0-4 against him with each loss being by one-point. This is going to be a fun weight to watch, especially from the semi’s on. For team purposes, we should probably be cheering for Zahid or dare I say, Hall to knock off Amine and keep Michigan from stealing more team points. Either way, yuck.
184: #12 Cash Wilcke (21-6)
First Round: #21 Nick Gravina (RUT) 6-3
Probable Second Round: #5 Maxwell Dean (COR) 21-5
Probable Quarterfinal: #4 Emery Parker (ILL) 17-3
Cash has an extreme uphill battle and pulled a rough match up in round one against #21 Nick Gravina (RUT) who defaulted out of their heads-up 5th place bout in the B1G’s. Gravina may be dealing with some sort of ailment which could play to our favor, but it’s certainly no gimme.
From there he’ll probably face #5 Max Dean (COR), the younger brother of former champ, Gabe Dean. Max is a returning AA and a very solid #5 seed and a legit threat to AA again, possibly high on the podium too.
If we’re fortunate enough to move on, Cash gets another crack at #4 Emery Parker (ILL), a guy he’s never beaten, but closed the gap on. He’s currently 0-2 against Parker, with the first match going Parker’s way 4-1, and the second, 3-2.
Wilcke is quick enough and strong enough to stay with the elite wrestlers of this class, but outside of the 5-2 win over #9 Taylor Venz (previously as high as #3) he’s never punched through. His offense usually stalls out and he waits until late in the 3rd before re-finding his aggression and attacking. Cash cannot do this, he must start strong in period one of R1, if he wants to keep his season alive.
Tom Brands wants him to be hungry like the wolf and he needs to be, right now. He needs to be, “lean and mean and not like a fat cat on the back of a couch.” Cash has the ability to find the podium, but probably has to get it done in the cons. We all think we know what Cash Money is and we’re hoping he proves us all wrong.
197: #5 Jacob Warner (17-4)
First Round: #28 Drew Phipps (BUCK) 24-10
Probable Second Round: #12 Rocco Caywood (ARMY) 25-6
Probable Quarterfinal: #4 Patrick Brucki (PRIN) 29-1
Warner has one of our lone chances at snagging bonus points in the opening round against #28 Drew Phipps (BUCK). Entering into R2, he’ll get a chance to avenge a Midlands loss to #12 Rocco Caywood (ARMY). Interestingly enough, Phipps has beaten Caywood twice, so here’s to hoping that the loss to Caywood was an anomaly and history doesn’t repeat itself.
Once into the QF’s, Warner will assuredly draw #4 Patrick Brucki (PRIN), a guy he lost to in 2018’s Midlands, 4-2. Warner has been wrestling well as of late, I may even go as far to say, he’s peaking. Warner has elite defense, but he’s also lackadaisical at times on his feet. He needs to be in solid position and find his offense. Throw in the heavy hands and overpowering collar ties and there’s reason to believe he can launch himself into the semi’s with #1 Bo Nickal. If this happens, he’ll solidify himself a medal match and come back to Iowa City as an All-American in his redshirt freshman season.
285: #29 Sam Stoll (9-5)
First Round: #4 Jordan Wood (LEH) 21-3
Second Round: #13 Matt Voss (GMU) 30-6 // #20 Zach Elam (MIZZ) 22-9
Probable Quarterfinal: #5 Mason Parris (MICH) 29-7 1
Stoll started off as the preseason #1. Then he wrestled sparingly, slowly dropping in the rankings due to the lack of competition. He was still #3 or higher in most polls before falling in jaw dropping fashion to #17 David Jensen (NEB). From there he completely fell apart and off the map. He’s 1-4 in his five matches, including a pants-poopingly bad run through the B1G’s that saw him flatline and unable to find the conference podium.
But the NCAA’s offered up a defibrillator and gifted Stoll with an at-large berth in the NCAA’s. He has a pulse again, he’s still alive, despite starring into the black abyss. Stoll now finds himself with the #29 seed and #4 Jordan Wood (LEH) in the opening round. No one wants to face a #4 seed in R1, but I promise you that Wood doesn’t want to face Big Sam in his opening round either.
Make no mistake about it, this isn’t the Stoll we were looking for. He’s a shell of his former self. He’s banged up, shot up, busted up, and his lower half has completely gone bye-bye. BUT, he’s still good enough on his feet and his Greco skills a world level, that he’s a threat to anybody and everybody in the neutral position.
Stoll is playing with house money, so in my unprofessional opinion, he needs to go for broke. Go big or go extinct, especially against Wood. If he survives R1 he’ll probably face #13 Matt Voss (GMU). Voss is solid, but he’s far from elite and this is a good opportunity for Stoll to keep the ball rolling. Stoll is 24-6 against common opponents, whereas, Voss is 11-21 with very few big wins to his resume.
Should Stoll advance, he could draw the redshirt freshman, #5 Mason Parris (MICH). Parris has had a great season, but we saw him falter a bit in the B1G’s. Perhaps his nerves got to him. Perhaps they will again. The winner of that QF match up will take on #1 Derek White (OKST).
Stoll will have to put together one hell of a run to find the podium this year. The odds are stacked against him as he’s looking up at the biggest mountain of his career, but he has to scale it to even sniff the podium and his 2nd straight All-American honors.
He was last year’s Gorriarian Trophy winner. An award that goes out to the wrestler with the most pins in the least amount of time. Stoll had three pins, can he do it again? Like I said, he’ll need to go big to even have a shot at being a hero.
I’m cautiously optimistic.
Based off of seeding projections and advancement points alone, no bonus points, we are currently sitting in 5th place.
1: Penn State 125.5
2: Oklahoma State 84
3: Ohio State 82.5
4: Michigan 66
5: Iowa 63.5
6: Missouri: 49
7: Minnesota 42.5
Last year, we led the entire field with 16 bonus points, more than PSU and OHST. Can we do it this year? Well, we have to find some bonus points in there, despite our crummy early draws, if we want to be in the fight for 2nd, let alone 3rd.
Every year we seem to struggle in at least one round, this year I suspect that will be the quarterfinals. It’s entirely possible we advance seven or eight into the quarters, but we need to be prepared for a collapse. It’s also entirely possible, only two of those guys advance into the SF’s, here’s looking at you Spencer Lee and Alex Marinelli.
With that said, we MUST get to work on the backside of the bracket and string together some wins if we want to stay in the hunt. Two months back I said we were a solid 2nd place team, but Spencer Lee is still struggling to find his groove and with the complete and utter destruction of Stoll, our overall team points have taken a massive hit.
Penn State is going to run away with this tournament, but that 2nd place trophy is still within reach. OKST and OHST are far from perfect and a number of our guys have been trending up. Now we need to peak and that starts Thursday at 11AM.