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The regular season is in the books, now it’s time to move onto bigger, better, and more challenging endeavors. Our #1 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes have their eyes set on the Big Ten Tournament on March 7th and 8th, which is by far and away the toughest conference tournament in the country and for good reason.
The B1G has 79 allocations, meaning X-number of wrestlers per class will get an auto bid to the NCAA tournament if they finish high enough. The next closest conference is the Big 12 with 54.
I’m not strutting these numbers to gush over the B1G and say that we’re the best (though we are), but to say how difficult this tournament will actually be.
All ten of our wrestlers are seeded #3 or higher and we are expected to run away with the team title. Bad news is, the expectations of winning. We haven’t captured an outright B1G tourney championship in exactly one decade. We shared a team title back in 2015 with Ohio State, but the disastrous collapse a few weeks later diminishes that accomplishment. So, to say that the pressure is high is an understatement. The good news is, if we wrestle to our seeds, and even in a few cases below our seeds, we will come out on top by a comfortable margin.
***My preview is based off the pre-seeds that dropped a few days ago. Please be aware that brackets could change between the time of this post and the start of the tournament. I will also be using the official Coach’s Rankings from here on out***
125lbs: #1 SPENCER LEE (14-0)
The Favorite: #1 Spencer Lee
It’s Spencer Lee then everybody else. Lee is coming off a big-time major decision over #4 Nick Piccininni (OKST), 12-3, and appears to be peaking at the right time. Actually, he's been peaking all season. He enters into the fray with a record of 14-0 (7-0), with 13 of them by bonus points. He owns season wins over fellow B1Gers Devin Schroder, Jack Medley, Liam Cronin (twice), and Alex Thomsen.
Simply put, there’s nobody in this bracket that he can’t throttle for more bonus points.
Medley is the only guy to keep Lee to a regular decision and if the bracket holds, they could collide in the semi-finals. Lee is on a mission and I can’t see Medley keeping the points low the 2nd time around. Lee very well could tech-fall his way through the field.
Other Contenders: Schroder is undoubtedly the best of the rest, but that doesn’t make him a lock for the finals. He could potentially have a tough matchup against the recently injured Patrick McKee in the semis, who recently missed out on facing Lee during the Minnesota/ Iowa dual.
Another name to keep an eye on is the #7 seed, Liam Cronin. The Cron was sitting at a puny 6-11 before upsetting Schroder in late January. Since then he’s gone 8-0 with wins over Barnett and Thomsen. If he continues to roll, he could put the bottom half of the bracket on its head if he can upset Schroder for a 2nd time.
133lbs: #3 AUSTIN DESANTO (14-2)
The Favorites: #1 Seth Gross, #2 RBY, #3 Austin DeSanto, and #5 Sebastian Rivera
This is by far and away the toughest bracket in the B1G’s and will be in the NCAA’s as well. Eight B1G wrestlers appear inside the coach’s top 31, with six of them inside the top ten.
Gross, RBY, DeSanto, and Rivera all could come out on top.
By now we all know what we’re getting from the first three, but Rivera is still very much a question mark. He’s only wrestled twice since the Midlands because of an injury. Due to his lack of activity he drops to the #5 seed, which is fortunate for DeSanto and puts him on the opposite side of the field.
Austin has looked sharp since returning from the injury he sustained against RBY and with the extra two weeks off we’re hoping he’s at the top of his game, because he has to be. Immediately off the bat he snags a re-match with Jordan Decatur. ADS ended up teching Decatur in the dual, but that was after giving up a couple early takedowns. Austin can’t afford to start off lethargic and let the Buckeye stay in the match. From there he could face Ridge Lovett, who held DeSanto to a 7-4 decision the last time they met.
Unfortunately, this is going to be a battle from the very beginning for our Hawkeye, but should he come out victorious it’s going to give him an epic amount of momentum heading into the NCAA’s. There’s little doubt in my mind that whoever wins from these four is going to earn the #1 seed in two weeks.
Other Contenders: Keep an eye on Travis Piotrowski coming out of the 4-spot. The Illinois grappler is 23-2 on the year and knows how to wrestle in tightly contested matches. He’s going to be a tough out for a potentially rusty Rivera in the quarters and a guy that Gross can’t afford to be lazy against in the semis.
141lbs: #3 MAX MURIN (12-1)
The Favorites: #1 Nick Lee and #2 Luke Pletcher.
Lee and Pletcher are the top tier of this class and have been wrecking everyone in the B1G this season, most of them by bonus points. When these two faced off in the dual a few weeks back, Lee took that match, 8-4, and with it the #1 ranking and seed.
Lee shouldn’t have too much trouble navigating the top half of the bracket and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bonus his way into the finals. #4 Chad Red is the only one with any chance of stopping him, but he’s been too inconsistent this year, so my hopes aren’t high.
Pletcher has a tougher go in the bottom of the bracket, assuming things play out he’ll go against either Murin or Mitch McKee in the semis. Sadly, I don’t see either of these guys knocking off Pletcher, so prepare yourselves for a Penn State vs Ohio State final at 141.
Other Contenders: Max Murin has made a strong case to be considered the best of what’s left, which is damn good considering who the top two are at this class. Mad Max received a favorable draw for this tournament, which puts him on the opposite side of Chad Red, who’s always had his number. Thankfully, Murin has a favorable go in the opening round before he has a re-match against returning All-American Mitch McKee, who he recently beat in the dual.
If Murin can take care of business, he has a clear path to the semis and Pletcher. From there it’s going to get rough, so if things go as expected it’s imperative that Murin gets work done on the backside of the bracket. We need Murin wrestling his absolute best, which is what he’s been doing his last two matches.
149lbs: #2 PAT LUGO (18-1)
The Favorites: #1 Sammy Sasso and #2 Pat Lugo
Sasso and Lugo have been the most consistent throughout the year and rightfully should be the top seeds. Both receive a 1st round bye, but Sasso will immediately run into Jarod Verkleeren who took Sasso into sudden victory a couple weeks back and lost. The Nittany Lion isn’t elite, but he knows how to keep things close and though it’s highly unlikely, he could be primed to pull off an upset.
There’s no one on Lugo’s side of the bracket that he can’t beat, but he’ll likely have a tough re-match against Brayton Lee in the semifinals. Like Sasso, Lugo routinely keeps matches tight, which is always a cause for concern, but he also has a knack for finding ways to win, which is what post season play is all about. Whoever wins this between Lugo and Sasso will receive the #1 seed for the NCAA’s.
Other Contenders: Outside of Brayton Lee, keep an eye on Verkleeren. This is always the type of sneaky seed that PSU makes a deep run with. If Verk somehow gets by Sasso, there’s only Kanen Storr left to keep him from the finals. Storr has also put together a solid season winning 10 of his last 11 matches, with his lone loss via a 2-0 decision to Lugo.
157lbs: #2 KALEB YOUNG (15-3)
The Favorite: This belongs to Ryan Deakin.
The Deak is 18-0 on the year and #1 in the coach’s poll. He’s the odds-on favorite to walk away with this weight and proceed with the #1 seed heading into the NCAA’s, but that doesn’t mean he’s unstoppable. He’s had four close matches this year that have been decided by 4-points or less. In his most recent outing, he narrowly beat #19 Justin Ruffin (SIUE), 3-2, which ended his streak of 5 consecutive wins by bonus points.
Deakin owns wins this year over Lewan and Barone, which are his two biggest competitors on his side of the bracket.
Other Contenders: Kaleb Young is stuttering into the post season after getting beat up by Wyatt Sheets (OKST) in the final dual of the year, 9-4. We thought he was rounding into form, but he was sloppy against Sheets, which indicates a step in the wrong direction. He also hasn’t scored any bonus points since The Midlands, almost three months ago, which is alarming. Perhaps it’s clumsy to say that a guy that is 15-3 on the year is struggling, but Young hasn’t looked quite right all season. Though it was this time last year that he found a new gear and turned it on in March.
On the optimistic side, Young is 10-0 in conference matches and even beat Deakin twice in last year’s NCAA’s. This is a big if, but IF Young can find his offense or at least get focused, he can push his way through this field unscathed, but it’s going to take his best wrestling of his career… which we haven’t seen yet.
We should also keep an eye on Kendall Coleman, who has knocked off everyone in the B1G conference not named Deakin or Young. KY could run into Coleman in the semis. They’ve met twice this year already and KY came out on top both times. In fact, KY’s last bonus point win was against Coleman.
Stay tuned for the 165 – 285lbs preview coming soon.