The brackets have dropped. Now we know who we must destroy and when we must destroy them!
Since Kaleb Young was gifted an at-large berth, we are now sending all 10 wrestlers onto the next level. We’ve lived by team depth all year and that will continue through the NCAA Championships as well. For the most part, everyone has received favorable draws in the opening rounds, though things will get dicey for a few of them beginning in the 2nd. However, a majority won’t reach that underdog status until the quarterfinals, which is a nice change of pace from previous years.
-Spencer Lee should have little to no resistance until reaching the semifinals when he will face off against 2019 runner-up, #4 Jack Mueller. Lee beat him in the finals last year, 5-0.
Though Mueller has had a solid season, he’s also missed time in December and didn’t compete in the Midlands Championships and even missed a few duals at the start of the new year.
Assuming Lee takes care of business here he could be having yet another rematch against #2 Pat Glory (Prin) or #3 Nick Piccininni (OKST) in the finals. Outside of Mueller, there isn’t a wrestler in this field that Lee hasn’t bonused and can’t/ won’t bonus again.
-The B1G’s didn’t go as planned for DeSanto and he wound up with the #6 seed, which to be honest, is probably the best-case scenario. ADS should punch his way into the quarterfinals where he’ll then square off against the upstart #3 Chaz Tucker, who is undefeated at 31-0. Tucker is now a 3x qualifier, but hasn’t had the toughest of roads up until this point. Tucker is tough, no doubt, but this is a match that Austin should win, which will set up for a 4th go-a-round with #2 Seth Gross (Wisc). Fwiw- ADS and Tucker have wrestled twice before, back in 2018, splitting the two matches.
DeSanto has the talent, but he needs to wrestle smart and find new ways to get to his shots, especially against the guys that prevent him from getting to his forearm ties.
Regardless, this 6th seed puts him on the opposite side of #1 Sebastian Rivera (NW) and #3 Roman Bravo-Young (PSU), which I think we can all agree is a good thing.
-Murin checks in with the #7 seed, which thankfully keeps him away from #6 Chad Red (Neb), but puts him in the direct path of #10 Mitch McKee (Minn) in the 2nd round. Including the medical forfeit in the 5th place match at the B1G’s, Murin is now 2-3 against his Minnesota rival. This isn’t the best of draws for Max, especially if he gets through McKee he’ll then face #2 Nick Lee (PSU). I don’t foresee Max making it passed the quarters, which will drop him into the consolation blood round. He’ll need one more win to guarantee AA status, but it all rides on that match with McKee.
Also, it should be of note that Ian Parker (ISU) has stormed through the back half of the season and sits at #4 after winning the Big 12. There’s a very real possibility that he makes the semifinals.
-After winning the B1G’s and upsetting the former #1 Sammy Sasso, Lugo has reclaimed the #1 overall ranking and the top seed. And rightfully so. With Sasso dropping to #3, that now puts the only guy that’s beaten Lugo on the opposite side of the bracket, which is fantastic for Hawk fans.
However, Lugo stands a strong chance of facing #8 Jarret Degen (ISU) in the quarters, which if it’s anything like their dual encounter, is going to be wild ride.
I’m of the belief that Lugo has grown exponentially since then and seems to have gotten over his weakness towards tall and lengthy opponents, but anything can happen during March Matness and he needs to bring his A game and not get caught looking ahead.
#4 Brock Mauller (Mizz) and #5 Boo Lewallen (OKST) are the biggest threats to Lugo on the top side, while we need to keep our eyes on the sneaky Matthew Kolodzik (Prin) who checks in at #6. He came out of Olympic Redshirt midseason and looks to be peaking at the right time.
-Kaleb Young received a rather generous #8 seed after going 0-2 at the B1G’s and failing to auto-qualify. His RPI and coaches ranking kept him afloat and gives him a nice 1st round matchup, and a winnable 2nd round, but from there his good fortune runs out as he’ll battle #1 Ryan Deakin (NW) in the quarters.
The good news is, KY topped The Deak twice in last year’s NCAA’s including the medal round, but the bad news is, The Northwestern product has been rolling all season and brings a perfect 21-0 record into the tourney.
As scary of a matchup this must be for KY, it must be in Deakin’s mind as well that the guy that beat him twice in last year's version he now has to face early in this tournament.
If he somehow manages to get by Deakin he could have a re-match with #5 Quincy Monday (Prin), who beat him 3-2 in the dual, or #4 Jesse Dellavecchia (Rid) in the semis.
If he can’t beat Deakin there’s the very real possibility that he’ll have to face either #6 Kendall Coleman (Pur) or #11 Wyatt Sheets (OKST) in the blood round on the backside. He’s beaten Coleman twice this year, but got smoked by Sheets, 9-4, in the dual.
—This #8 seeding is probably the best we could’ve hoped for—
-For the 2nd straight year Alex Marinelli snags the #1 seed, but this time around, he has a better draw on his side of the bracket – at least until he hits the quarterfinals and #8 Evan Wick (Wisc). Of course he’d have to wrestle Wick. Again.
Wick was ranked #3 or #4 for a majority of the season before medically forfeiting out of the B1G’s. At this point, his health is very much in question, but assuming he’s 100% it’s going to be another bitter battle between these two.
From there, he’ll get a re-match with #4 Travis Wittlake (OKST), who The Bull beat, 3-2, in the dual. Wittlake showed little to no offense and Marinelli seemed to be timid with his own attacks in their previous match, but Marinelli will be favored to punch his ticket to the finals.
We could get yet another re-match with #2 Vincenzo Joseph (PSU). There isn’t a true fan out there that doesn’t want this to go down.
-Even after Kemerer’s loss in the B1G finals he still gets the #2 seed and has a clear-cut path to the semi’s. Kem could run into #7 Devin Skatzka (Minn) in the quarters, who he’s already bonused twice this year (pin/ major decision) and set up a highly anticipated match with #3 Jordan Kutler (Leh). Kutler is a 2x AA and his only loss on the year is to #1 Mark Hall (PSU).
This is a great draw for Kem and it should lock him into All-American status, but assuming he gets by Kutler he’ll undoubtedly get another shot at Hall in the finals.
-#11 Assad falls until similar territory as Max Murin. He has a nice opening round draw, but that’s where it ends. Assad should take care of business to start things off, but he’ll quickly run into the B1G runner-up, #6 Cam Caffey (MSU). Assad is 0-2 against him on the year and he hasn’t even sniffed a takedown. Assad knows what he needs to do and is going to keep this thing close, but he has to win this match to get another crack at #3 Aaron Brooks (PSU).
This is going to be a brutal stretch of Assad and if he loses in the 2nd round, he’s going to have to go on a hell of a backside run to find the podium.
This is an awful draw for Assad, but I don’t see how he could’ve been any higher. He needed to take care of business in the B1G’s against Caffey or #7 Taylor Venz (Neb), but didn’t and now it’s come back to hurt him.
-#5 Jacob Warner has a cushy first round matchup against #28 Landon Pelham (CMU), but form there he’ll get a rubber match against Skakur Rasheed (PSU) who tumbled down the rankings after his injury default to Warner in the B1G’s to #21.
This is a precarious matchup in the 2nd round, especially if Shak is healthy-ish. Shak has a lackluster record of 8-6, but he’s far better than his #21 seed. If Warner gets by him he’ll bump into #4 Ben Darmstadt (Cor) in the quarters. Darmstadt is as talented as anybody in this field and is a former All-American, but he’s also not above a head scratching loss… then again, neither is Warner.
From there he’ll run into #1 Kollin Moore. This is about as tough of a draw as any Hawk has in this tournament and Warner has to wrestle his absolute best.
-Tony Cassioppi earned a #3 seed and there’s nobody in his path that he can’t beat to get to the semifinals and guarantee an All-American finish. Big Cass is going to get #30 Andrew Gunning (UNC) and his sub .500 record in the opening round. We should be looking at bonus points right here. Then will face either #14 Carter Isley (UNI) or #11 Gannon Gremmel (ISU) in the 2nd round and #6 Trent Hillger (Wisc) in the quarters. He’s beaten all these guys.
If he can navigate the field he'll get another crack at #2 Mason Parris (Mich) for a shot at the finals.
There isn’t a match in the opening round that the Hawks can’t bonus and that could give us some serious momentum moving forward.
We have four guys projected to make the finals and all four of them have a good chance to get there: Spencer Lee, Pat Lugo, Alex Marinelli, and Michael Kemerer.
In addition to those four we have another three with a solid path to the semis: Austin DeSanto, Jacob Warner, and Tony Cassioppi.
That could give us eight All-Americans and will put us in the driver’s seat going into Friday night.
Murin and Assad have a harsh road ahead, but they have the abilities to get it done. I guarantee their potential opponents are seeing their names and also asking, "Good Lord. What did I do to deserve this?"
What do you think? Any shocking seeds or snubs? Predictions? Thoughts? Let me know!
Action starts Thursday, March 19 at 11:00AM CT!