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165lbs: #2 ALEX MARINELLI (17-1)
The Favorites: #1 Vincenzo Joseph and #2 Alex Marinelli
Alex Marinelli is the returning B1G Champ, but Joseph is 2x NCAA Champ that has never won the B1G tourney. Both these guys continue to trade blows and beat each other up in what has become the best rivalries in wrestling.
Joseph is arguably the favorite, but The Bull is nipping at his heels. VC has the easier path to the finals as he’s already dispatched Isaiah White and more recently majored Ethan Smith. On the other hand, The Bull has to contend with another great rival all of his, Evan Wick, in a potential semifinal showdown.
Marinelli has a tough draw, but it should be one that he manages and pushes himself into the finals with a re-match against Joseph. He has to wrestle aggressive, but smart. A few times this season he’s been a little sloppy on his feet and given up a couple early takedowns. He can’t afford to make those mistakes again.
Other Contenders: Evan Wick and Isaiah White are the other two guys that may cause some trouble. Both are returning AA’s and both are looking to build some momentum going into the next stage. All things considered, Wick probably has the better chance of advancing into the finals, even though Marinelli has now beaten him four times in a row.
This class drops off quickly after the top four.
174lbs: #1 MICHAEL KEMERER (13-0)
The Favorites: #1 Michael Kemerer and #2 Mark Hall
There are four former AA’s in this bracket: Kemerer, Hall, #4 Devin Skatzka, and #5 Mikey Labriola. Mix in the upstart #3 Dylan Lydy and this class tapers off pretty quickly after the 5th seed, as well.
With that said, Kemdawg and Hall are a notch above the rest and are heavy favorites to clash in the finals. Our Hawkeye upended the previously #1 ranked Hall, 11-6, in the dual and has since rattled off 4 straight bonus point wins, including a devastating whoopin’ over Skatzka via pinfall. Like many of the other weights in the B1G, whoever wins between Kem and Hall will hold the #1 seed in two weeks.
Other Contenders: For lack of excitement, I feel like I need to include Skatzka and Labiola. They’re dangerous and should be treated as much, but they aren’t on the talent level of the top two. The biggest question mark is the 3rd seeded Dylan Lydy who sits at 23-1 on the year with his lone loss coming to Kemerer, 8-4. Lydy has really improved this season and could be an interesting test for Hall if they meet up in the semis.
Also, I want to point out that ex-Hawkeye, Joey Gunther, has snagged the 7th seed. Gunther has quietly put together a solid senior season for Illinois, going 15-6. He’ll get dispatched against Hall in the quarters, but he’s in a good position to finish in the top 9 and punch his ticket to the NCAA’s for the 4th time.
184lbs: #3 Abe Assad (19-5)
The Favorites: #1 Aaron Brooks, #2 Cam Caffey, #3 Abe Assad, and #4 Taylor Venz
On face value alone, this appears to be the Aaron Brooks show and everyone else is trying to catch up with the Nittany Lion. While he hasn’t been the offensive juggernaut that everyone thought he’d immediately be be, he’s still 12-1 with his lone loss coming to Taylor Venz. That record alone earns him the top seed. However, trying to pick a clear-cut favorite is nigh-impossible. Brooks lost to Venz who beat Assad who lost to Brooks. Cam Caffey also beat Assad but lost to Zach Braunagel who lost to Assad. Taylor Venz beat Brooks but also lost to both Caffey and Assad, so his biggest win over Brooks keeps him a relevant.
Venz also represents the lone former All-American in this bunch, placing 4th in 2018. This is a bracket compiled of new faces at the top with little to no history between everyone outside of this season.
Very little stands in the way of Brooks and Venz advancing to the semis, while Caffey has to avenge a loss to Embree and Assad has to potentially drop Rocky Jordan for a 2nd time.
Assad as the skill set and talent to ascend to the top, but he’s been dinged up and hasn’t wrestled since the Michigan State dual in early February. Now would be a very imperfect time to come out rusty and sluggish. Since Tom Brands pulled his redshirt, Assad has struggled at times to finish his shots, but the effort is always there. If there’s even the slightest bit of improvement he’s going to be contending for a B1G title on Saturday night.
Other Contenders: Outside of the top 5 only Billy Janzer and Rocky Jorden have the abilities to really shake things up. Janzer owns wins over Caffey and Jordan while Jordan has knocked off Venz. This weight is full of pleasant parity.
197lbs: #3 Jacob Warner (15-3)
The Favorite: #1 Kollin Moore
There’s Kollin Moore, then there’s everyone else. Outside of two close matches with Kordell Norfleet (ASU) and an early season sudden victory win over Jake Woodley (OK), no one has challenged Moore. He’s majored Shakur Rasheed and Christian Brunner (who a couple weeks later climbed to #2 in the Flowrestling rankings).
Other Contenders: #2 Eric Schultz, #3 Jacob Warner, #4 Christian Brunner, and #5 Lucas Davison.
Schultz and our very own Jacob Warner are the likely candidates to collide in the semifinals for a crack at Moore. Though Warner is ranked higher in the coaches’ poll at #3 and Schultz is #5, the Cornhusker snagged a higher seed thanks to his 3-1 win over Warner during the dual.
Warner beat Schultz twice back in 2019 and seems to be upping his game as of late. He’s flashing a decisiveness and quickness we haven’t seen before, so if he’s able to bring that to the table for consecutive matches, he can avenge that loss and forge onward into the finals.
But before that he has to take care of business against the 6th seeded Shakur Rasheed. The oft-injured All-American hasn’t been having the stellar season PSU expected, but he has the ability to catch fire at any time and that makes him a scary guy on Warner’s side. Jacob dropped him, 4-2, in the dual. Though that doesn’t guarantee a win, it should give our guy confidence and he’s the best version of himself when he’s wrestling with a truck-load of swagger.
Conversely, this has a gigantic impact on the team race. Warner needs this win not only for himself, but to send one of PSU’s main players into the consolation rounds early. The Kitties desperately need Rasheed to show up and wrestle above his seed, but if he falls here he could have a heck of a time finishing 6th and even qualifying for the NCAA’s, which if he doesn’t, it would be a huge swing for Iowa.
While Moore has a clear advantage over the rest of the field and he’s put together a truly incredible career, he’s not above a slip up here or there. Keep an eye on Lucas Davison in the 5-hole. He gave Moore all he could handle in their previous match and could be a fly in the ointment if he gets by Brunner in the quarters.
285lbs: #3 Tony Cassioppi (16-2)
The Favorites: #1 Mason Parris and #2 Gable Steveson
It was evident that these two would corral the top two seeds, but there’s been quite the discussion on who would get #1. Both are undefeated, Steveson is 12-0 and Parris is 26-0, but the former missed half of the season and didn’t make his debut until late December.
Likewise, their best wins are both against our Hawkeye, #3 Tony Cassioppi. Gable topped him 7-5, while Parris pinned him, and that’s likely why he received the top billing.
Until someone steps up and drops either one, they’re going to stay at the top for the NCAA’s as well. They’re simply a level above everyone else at this time.
Other Contenders: #3 Tony Cassioppi and #4 Trent Hillger
In order for Big Cass to reach the semis and a rematch against Steveson he needs to do what he’s done all season: continue to win. Cass shouldn’t have an issue dispatching Parker Robinson, which will set him up against Gary Traub. Gas Tank Gary has is a solid wrestler, but Cass has already beaten him soundly and should do it again.
I’m positive Cass is chomping at the bit to get another crack at both the top seeds, but he must up his game if he expects a different result. Against Parris, he was in multiple times with his snatch-single, but failed to convert and even got bulldozed, which resulted in the pin. Against Steveson he never sniffed anything close to an offensive move and that has to change.
On the top side, the #4 seeded Trent Hillger has the best shot of knocking off Mason Parris. He lost 3-1 to Parris a little over a month ago, which shows that he can slow the big dog down, but he’s going to have to find another gear to pull off the upset.
FWIW- Parris and Steveson could flipflop seeds after this post is released. Either way, everything still applies.
Based only on projected placement and advancement points and excluding potential bonus point wins, this quickly becomes a two-horse race.
1. Iowa – 155.5
2. Penn State – 113
3. Ohio State – 93
4. Minnesota – 73.5
5. Nebraska – 67
6. Wisconsin – 55.5
If we come in, get to work, and wrestle like we have been all season, we will come away with a conference tournament team title. But we can’t afford to give up ground, especially in the early going. If anyone were to fall in the opening round or quarterfinasls, we’d have a helluva time getting back into position and recovering the lost points. It goes without saying, but the deeper into the tournament we go, the more points we get. Stumbling early could have dire consequences in the later portions of the team race.
Hypothetically, if Assad were to fall to 7th place, Warner finshes 5th while Rasheed makes the finals and Verkleeren somehow manages 3rd, we’re looking at a 28+ point swing that would sudden bring the score to: Iowa 144.5, PSU 131.
These types of scenarios happen.
For better or worse, we realistically only have four matches with Penn State at 133, 165, 174, and 197. We’re currently underdogs at 133 and 165, so if we’re able to come away with wins there we will be looking at an even larger point gap, which would be a huge relief.
What we do here is going to set an example for what’s to come. So let’s go in, win the damn thing, and get ready for the NCAA’s.
The action starts Saturday, March 7, on BTN+.