Alrighty Hawkeye fans, I’m finally confident enough to say, “WE MADE IT!!!”
By the time you read this, we’ll be two days out from the biggest event in the history of the world.
Well, at least our wrestling world.
We’ve successfully navigated the Covid minefields to run up a perfect record of 5-0, a share of the Big Ten Regular season title and an outright crown for the Big Ten Tournament. Now, we turn our attention and focus to capturing our 24th NCAA Team Title.
About. Damn. Time.
Like previous years, this tournament will air on ESPN as well. Below is the broadcast schedule. Remember it. Memorize it. Live it. It’s going to be a remarkable three days.
We’ve got 10 weights to cover, so let’s stop fiddly farting around and dive into this thing.
125lbs: #1 Spencer Lee (7-0)
- First Round: #32 Patrick McCormick (UVA) 8-5 // Kysen Terukina (ISU) 8-5
- Second Round: #16 Codi Russell (APP) 15-1 // #17 Killian Cardinale (WVU) 12-4
- Probable Quarterfinal: #9 Devin Schroder (PUR) 9-4
- Probable Semis: #4 Drew Hildebrandt (CMU) 10-0 // #5 Brody Teske (UNI) 12-1
All year the wrestling “experts” have been claiming this field to be weak because there is no returning All-Americans. Well, the canceled 2020 post season is mostly to blame for that, yeah? I personally believe this to be a very competitive field and I can easily see five or six different guys clashing with Lee in the finals: #2 Sam Latona (VT), #3 Brandon Courtney (ASU), #6 Jakob Camacho (NCST), #7 Taylor Lamont (UVU), #9 Dylan Ragusin (MICH), and #11 Malik Heinselman (tOSU) are all in the running on the bottom half of the bracket.
Regardless of whoever is fortunate enough to make the finals, they’re going to run into our human wrecking ball and they’re going to get demoed. The biggest question that surrounds this weight is: can Lee tech or pin his way through?
Spencer is on a tear this season, but he did face some gamers in the Big Ten tourney (at least for one period) in Dylan Ragusin and Devin Schroder. Lee will likely clash with Schroder again in the quarterfinals, but the only way we’ll see a rematch with Ragusin is if he breaks through and upends a couple heavy hitters on the bottom, which he certainly could.
Lee has a straight forward path to the semis where he could face off against #4 Drew Hildebrandt (CMU) or former Iowa high school star #5 Brody Teske (UNI). From a personal standpoint I’d love to see Teske make the semis and secure a spot on the podium. From there, I hope he gets teched.
However we decide to dice it, Lee gives us a huge point boost at the lowest weight. His total output is equivalent to 3 or 4 mid-level All-Americans, which is going to make it all the more difficult for everyone else to keep pace with the Hawks.
133lbs: #4 Austin DeSanto (7-1)
- First Round: #29 Paul Bianchi (LR) 10-4
- Second Round: #13 Zach Redding (ISU) 10-6
- Quarterfinals: #5 Micky Phillippi (PITT) 8-1
- Semifinals: #1 Daton Fix (OSU) 9-0
DeSanto was passed over for the #3 seed, which would’ve given him a relatively clear path to the semis and a lock for All-American. Unfortunately, with his loss in the Big Ten finals, he dropped to #4, which puts him in the direct path of #5 Micky Phillipp in the quarterfinals. To make matters worse, DeSanto then has to square off with #1 Daton Fix in the semis for the shot at the finals. I’m sure we can twist this and claim that Phillippi has the same view, but regardless, it’s a rough draw for both.
The biggest factor surrounding DeSanto right now is the health of his hand, which seemed to be troubling him in the Big Ten tourney. I do not know the extent of the injury, so I won’t speculate, but it definitely slowed him down. The lack of bonus points early on proved that.
He did bounce back and presented himself nicely in a competitive match against #2 Roman Bravo-Young (PSU) in the finals, but his offense was non-existent to say the least.
If DeSanto has healed up and can actually grip something, I like his chances to reach the semifinals with Fix. If not, then he’s going to be in close matches and Phillippi is going to represent a very real threat to send ADS to the backside early. Regardless, DeSanto should navigate his way to the podium. In fact, he must, because we need his points.
141lbs: #1 Jaydin Eierman (8-0)
- First Round: #32 Cayden Rooks (IND) 5-9 // #33 Vinny Vespa (HOF) 4-5
- Second Round: #16 Cole Matthews (PITT) 6-5 // #17 McKenzie Bell (RID) 7-3
- Quarterfinals: #8 Chad Red (NEB) 11-3
- Semifinals: #4 Tariq Wilson (NCST) 9-0 // #5 Dom Demas (OU) 12-1
Jaydin is coming off his first Big Ten title and third overall conference title (2x Mac) and is as hot as anyone on the team. With how slick and confident Eierman is wrestling, he very well could pin his way into the quarterfinals where he’ll likely draw #8 Chad Red for the third time this season. He’s 2-0 against him and while he hasn’t bonused Red yet, he’s won by comfortable decision in each match, 8-4 in the first dual of the year and a 7-1 in the B10 tourney.
But we can’t sleep on the 2x AA because he shows up when the lights are the brightest and he’s made a career of busting brackets in March.
Should Jaydin claim his third win against Red he’ll likely face #4 Tariq Wilson or #5 Dom Demas. They’re both former All-Americans and both are legit title contenders and should be treated as such.
The bottom half is just as loaded with #2 Nick Lee (PSU), #3 Sebastian Rivera (NW), #6 Allan Hart (MIZZ), and #7 Ian Parker (ISU) all jockeying for a shot at the finals.
With Eierman’s funky style, opportunistic defense, and perhaps the best top game this side of Spencer Lee, he’s the favorite the win this weight, but not by much. There’s very little separation between him, Nick Lee, and Rivera with all the other names closely behind.
Eierman needs to bring his A-game and string together the best 5 matches of his career if he wants to bring home his first NCAA Championship. But perhaps the biggest motivating factor is a title here will auto qualify him for the Olympic Team Trials in early April. This could be his last chance to get his name into that mix.
149lbs: #12 Max Murin 4-3
- First Round: #21 Graham Rooks (IND) 4-5
- Second Round: #5 Ridge Lovett (NEB) 8-1
- Quarterfinals: #4 Boo Lewallen (OKST) 16-1
- Semifinals: #1 Sammy Sasso (tOSU) 12-0
At this point in the season, Max Murin is his own worst enemy. By going 0-2 in the conference tourney and failing to auto-qualify, he tumbled from a potential #5 seed all the way to #12. With this slip up he now will have a re-match with #5 Ridge Lovett in the 2nd round, which is less than ideal. I do think Murin can advance, but he needs to exorcise those demons and avoid the big move.
Max has now been taken to his back three matches in a row and he cannot afford a slip up to Lovett again.
Max can make his life easier by winning the second round match against Lovett, but should he fall, he’ll still have a favorable run to the blood round. There’s a million scenarios we can run here, but I’m operating under the influence that he loses to Lovett, which will line him up with a cushy match on the backside. From there he likely faces #13 Mitch Moore (OU) and should he keep rolling he’ll have either #7 Jonathan Millner (APP) or a rematch with #10 Mike Van Brill (RUT).
These are certainly tough matches, but they’re also winnable matches. Max his hit a rough patch, but he still has the opportunity for a memorable run and a shot at the podium. If he gets back to the basics of good positioning, solid defense mixed with a few good attacks, he has every chance to extend his run. We need the early season version of Max Murin to reanimate and come back to life. We need him to find points and more importantly, lock up a place as an All-American.
157lbs: #5 Kaleb Young (5-1)
- First Round: #28 Caleb Licking (NEB) 5-6
- Second Round: #12 Brady Berge (PSU) 8-2
- Quarterfinals: #4 Jesse Dellavecchia (RID) 7-0
- Semifinals: Ryan Deakin (NW) 6-0
Kaleb Young has quietly put together a nice season going 5-1 with his lone loss coming to #1 Ryan Deakin (NW) in the B10 finals, 6-0.
In the opening round he’ll face #28 Caleb Licking (NEB) who he majored, 17-5, to open the year. Immediately following that he’ll square off with #12 Brady Berge (PSU) in our first heads-up clash with Penn State. Even though this is only the 2nd round, this is a HUGE match between the two front-runners. Berge is a undervalued and often overlooked guy in the Nittany Lion linuep. While he isn’t going to blow up the scoreboard, he’s a guy that likes to grind and is always in the match late.
PSU needs Berge to make a deep run if they want to keep pace with the Hawkeyes, but we need KY to send him to an early exit and drop him to the backside of the bracket to make life as difficult as possible for our rivals. This will be an absolute dog fight, but KY is slightly favored here.
Should he win the round he’ll next likely face #4 Jesse Dellavecchia who is fresh off a MAC championship and is sitting at 7-0 entering the tournament. Dellavecchia is riding a 25 match win streak dating back to last season with his last loss coming to #2 Hayden Hidley (NCST).
This will be a knock down drag out fight and should he win that he’ll be awarded another go with Deakin and solidify himself as an All-American.
But even if he loses to Dellavecchia he’s still set up nicely in the blood round where he’ll face either #7 Jarrett Jacques (MIZZ) or #10 Justin Thoams (OU), assuming the higher seeds win out.
Similar to Max Murin, KY has the chance to make a deep run, but he needs to be peaking at the right time. The best possible version of KY can run with anyone in this field, but he needs to come out looking to score and not waiting for sudden victory.
Up next is the 165lbs – 285lbs and Team Outlook.