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Iowa Wrestling takes on the Big Ten Tournament: 125lbs – 157lbs Preview

There’s reason for optimism in the bottom-half of our weights

Lee takes the mat against Indiana’s Elijah Oliver.
Stephen Mally/ The Gazette

Alright Hawkeye fans, this is it. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. This coming Saturday and Sunday, March 9th and 10th, our Iowa Hawkeye wrestling squad heads across the dangerous northern border, into Minneapolis, to take on the entire Big Ten Conference. For the official notes please click here.

It’s been a tumultuous two weeks following the Oklahoma State dual and the laggard and lifeless results that ensued had left us in a state of...despair. Most of the country has left this team for dead, on the curbside, ready to write us off. But we ain’t done yet. As long as there’s still breath in these Hawkeye-lungs, we’re going to fight to the end. But, myself and many an Iowa wrestling fan thought this team needed a spark. Needed help. Needed…a Shakubuku.

Well let’s hope it happened, because the post season is drawing nigh, the Big Ten Tournament looms, and it brought with it the full weight of the qualification consequences.

By consequences I mean, the NCAA tournament allocations. Here’s a look at the automatic bids the B1G is going to receive per weight.

Each one of our wrestlers, at their respective weight of course, needs to place to get a guaranteed berth. Not necessarily winning it all, which would be nice, but placing high enough that we don’t have to rely on a wildcard berth, and that is the main thing.

“The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.”

-Papa T-Rez

The main thing is getting in to the NCAA’s and the only road to do that is via the B1G tournament. It goes without saying that this is the second-toughest tournament, next to the NCAA’s. Nine of the ten weights have a B1G wrestler ranked #1 nationally. The only weight where a B1G guy doesn’t occupy the top spot is 141lbs, but there are currently six B1G wrestlers in the top ten.

Without further delay, let’s dive into what we have to do and how we’re going to get it done.

***The numbers are no longer their rankings, but their Big Ten pre-seeds. Also, at the time of writing this, the B1G has yet to release any official brackets. I’m basing my projections off previous formats***

125lbs: #2 SPENCER LEE (16-2)

The Competition: 9 Allocations

Head-2-Head Record:

Because of the Midland’s finals loss to #1 Rivera (21-1), Lee enters into the fray with the #2 seed. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Rivera and Lee will both get a first round bye and Lee will face the winner of #7 Moisey and #10 Oliver. A win there will push him into the semis, more than likely against the #3 seed, Sean Russell, who he’s beaten twice now in his career. If all goes according to plan, which it will, Lee will get a chance at revenge against Rivera. Assuming both reach the endgame, this is probably the most anticipated final of the eight conference tournaments. Is Lee healthy? Is he ready to go? He’s coming off a devastating loss to Nick Piccininni (Okie St.), so we’re hoping he’s on a war path and ready to tear the Big Ten apart. But, Rivera stands in his way.

Looking at the bigger picture, and I regrettably have to phrase it like this, but if Lee manages the upset he’s looking at a #2 or #3 seed for the NCAA. Nick Piccininni will more than likely win the Big 12, so if Lee is victorious here, Picc will jump Rivera and claim the #1 overall seed. The wild card is Ronnie Bresser (Oregon St), but personally I don’t think he has the quality wins to lift him over Rivera or Lee, even if they take another loss. So win or lose, Lee is looking at a #2 or #3, which is the same side of the bracket, so there isn’t a huge difference. A #2 looks much, much better.

133lbs: #2 AUSTIN DeSANTO (16-2)

The Competition: 8 Allocations

Head-2-Head Record:

Austin has been one of the biggest, and IMO, most delightful surprises of the season. We all knew had the ability to climb the rankings, but we weren’t sure how high. He comes into this tournament with the #2 seed after having a perfect B1G season campaign beating: Konrath, Thornton, Lantz, Valdiviez, Duncan, Lizak, and most notably, Suriano. DeSanto will get a first round bye, then immediately face off with the winner of Thorton/ Valdiviez. ADS handled Valdiviez, 18-8 back in late January, but Thornton proved to be a bit of an early season challenge as he only beat him, 5-2. If Austin pushes through the quarters, he’ll face off once more against Nick Suriano (20-3). I won’t dive too heavily into the other side of the bracket, because #1 Stevan Micic (13-0) will inevitably be waiting Roman Bravo-Young (17-2) for his semi-final match. Fireworks are going to fly Sunday afternoon and I have no idea how this plays out.

If Austin pulls this off he’s looking at a #2 seed going into the NCAA’s, assuming Daton Fix does his job in the Big 12 tourney. If he stumbles, or anyone of these guys do, all bets are off and the committee is going to have their hands full figuring out this mess. Either way, this is going to be a helluva a ride!

141lbs: #7 MAX MURIN (12-6)

The Competition: 9 Allocations

Head-2-Head Record:

#1 Mike Carr (11-2) has wrestled sparingly so far this year, with nearly half of his matches coming at the Cliff Keen invitational back in late November. He was down and out for all of December, but since coming back on January 11, he has wrecked his B1G competition and gone 7-0, knocking off the likes of Red, McKee, Moran, Storr, and Max Murin. On the flip side of the bracket sits #2 Nick Lee (24-1) who has throttled most of his opponents this year, including a recent win against #3 McKenna. Then of course, there’s McKenna, a returning 2x All-American, who placed 3rd last year.

This is an absolutely stacked weight class and Murin is going to have a tough go. He’ll face #10 Limmex first up, assuming he wins, he’ll then immediate go against Lee. If he somehow manages to get by Lee, he will face McKenna. In all honesty, I can’t see him upsetting Lee so he’ll drop into the consolations, where he will continue to have his work cut out for him. Outside of his ugly loss to #11 Luigs, Murin has beaten the guys in the bottom half of this bracket and he will need to again to get at least get ninth and an auto-bid to his first NCAA appearance. But with his struggles, this is no guarantee. Max has been right there with the elite of this group at times, but has yet to break through. I’m hesitant to say it, but if he can’t find an upset here, he probably won’t in the NCAA’s against these guys either. He needs to get it done here and at least make the semis. If he does, he’ll place no worse than fifth, if he falls in the quarters against Lee, all bets are off and he’ll have to win several matches on the backside. I don’t expect a high finish, but he should at least get ninth and another tourney in late March.

149lbs: #3 PAT LUGO (15-6)

The Competition: 6 Allocations

Head-2-Head Record:

#1 Ashnault has run his regular season to a perfect 23-0 record. Along the way he’s beaten everyone the Big Ten has thrown at him: #2 Jordan, #4 Thorn, #5 Martin, and #3 Lugo in SV1, 3-1. A few weeks after his win against Lugo he proceeded to destroy the former overall #1 Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) by major decision, 10-2. Ashnault is peaking at the absolute worst time for the rest of the country and is without a doubt, the favorite to win this particular tournament.

Sitting on the opposite of Ash is Jordan and Lugo. Jordan is 22-1 on the year and has a 13-match win streak following his loss to Ashnault back at the Cliff Keen Invitational. Jordan is a two-time AA and about as tough as they come. Lugo is sitting at 15-6, with a 7-match win streak on the line and similar to the two guys ahead of him, he seems to be peaking (at the best time for us).

As you can see, there’s only 8 wrestlers to receive pre-seeds, I’m inclined to believe that the other six schools have yet to determine who they are sending into battle at this weight class. That bodes well for the top guys, especially Lugo. He’s been wrestling great as of late and I’m excited to see what he can do against Jordan in the semi-finals. They’ve met once before back in the 2017 Cliff Keen when he was wrestling for Edinboro. Jordan won that match 7-3. If Lugo wrestles to his seed and claims 3rd, he’s looking at a 7 or 8 seed for the NCAA’s, if he upsets Jordan he can push himself up even higher. Either way, Lugo is sitting fine and dandy for his 3rd NCAA appearance.

157lbs: KALEB YOUNG (16-3)

The Competition: 9 Allocations

Head-2-Head Record:

#1 Jason Nolf is also the top wrestler in the entire country, regardless of weight. Other than an injury default to John Van Brill last year, he hasn’t lost in three years. In fact, you have to go back to his freshman season to find his only real losses of his career and both are to the former Illinois great, Isiah Martinez. Nolf is a 2x NCAA Champ for a reason and assuming he doesn’t suffer another injury this year, he’ll run through this field with relative ease.

Okay, now that those painful words are out of the way, I’ll continue. The remaining 13 wrestlers in this field are decidedly, undecided. Anyone can beat anyone. Though, Berger and Deakin stand a bit taller than the rest. Berger is a 2x AA and has a 22-2 record on the season. He lost a 10-4 decision to Nolf in January, which probably feels like an accomplishment, after getting teched or majored by him on three different occasions in the past. He’s supposedly self-exiled himself from social media in an attempt to re-focus. There must be some merit to it because he’s knocked off Van Brill, Barone, Bleise, Hayes, and Young since then. He also upset Deakin, 6-3, and knocked off last year’s returning 157lbs finalist, Hayden Hidlay (NCST), 5-2.

Deakin and Berger are both on the same side, so unfortunately, that makes things nearly impossible for Young to reach the finals. If my projections are correct, he’ll pull Jake Tucker (21-13) in the opening round and #4 Alec Pantaleo in the quarters. Pantaleo is tough and is 14-6 on the year with some quality wins to boot. Young is exceeding our pre-season expectations, but he’s been sporadically lethargic at times, so he needs to come out aggressive and and find his offensive early. If he wrestles the way we want him to, he’ll get a shot at Jason Nolf in the semis. Without question, that will not go our way, but it will at least get Young into a medal match and a guaranteed trip to his first NCAA’s.


Can Spencer Lee get revenge and upset #1 Sebastian Rivera?

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Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Big Ten Wrestling Tournament Preview!