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Iowa Wrestling: Big Ten Championship Full Preview

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Let’s kick the tires and light the fires!

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 08 Big Ten Wrestling Championships Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We have successfully managed to navigate the cluster-filled Big Ten regular season schedule. We finished up with a perfect record of 5-0 and sit tied atop the standings, sharing a co-championship with 6-0 Penn State.

It’s been a rough few weeks for our beloved Hawkeyes. Not only did a couple starters get sidelined due to covid (Alex Marinelli and Kaleb Young), but head coach Tom Brands joined them in quarantine as well. Shortly after that setback all activities were halted for two weeks which resulted in the cancelation of our final three duals. But by the power of the Wrestling Gods we now find ourselves exactly one day out from the post season and that’s what it’s all about. Guys, we freakin’ made it!

The only other build up I want to note is that we are the reigning Big Ten champs. We are looking for our first run of back-to-back titles since 2009 and 2010, but we face some stiff competition that is looking to destroy our mojo before the NCAA’s. So without further delay, let’s take a look at who we must throttle to stay on top.

  • Please note that the brackets and preview is based entirely off the pre-seeds. A few shakeups are possible, but for the most part, it should remain the same.
  • All allocations include the conference champion.

125LBS

The Favorite: Spencer Lee

Spencer Lee charges into the conference tournament with a perfect 4-0 record, consisting of 4 pins, all within the first period. He is also the front runner for another Hodge Trophy. Simply put, this his domain and everyone else is just visiting. However, Dylan Ragusin will more than likely clash with Lee in the quarters and this could prove to be a future matchup we could see again in April at the Olympic Team Trials. Ragusin brings in a 4-1 record, with his lone loss up a weight against Roman Bravo-Young (PSU). Ragusin had an impressive run at the Senior Nationals back in October of 2020 that saw him throttle former NCAA champ Darian Cruz and former AA, Sean Russell before losing in the finals. I bring this up, because it will undoubtedly be Lee’s toughest test of the short season.

The Contenders: Sitting on the other side of the bracket is a whole host of athletes with the ability to reach the finals for their shot at glory at escaping the first period against Lee. Liam Cronin (NEB) leads the way with the #2 seed along with the upstart #3 Malik Heinselman (tOSU). Another name to keep an eye on is #11 Robbie Howard (PSU) who has an outside shot at making the semis, presumably against Cronin. Howard lost a well contested bout against Heinselman, 5-2, just a few weeks back.

133lbs

The Favorites: #1 Roman Bravo-Young and #2 Austin DeSanto

Rightfully so, RBY has earned the #1 seed and a straight forward path to the finals with no one on the top side of the bracket that should challenge him. However, that can’t be said for Austin DeSanto who will likely run into #3 Sammy Alvarez (RUT) in the semis. Alvarez is ranked #5 overall according to Wrestlestat. He took RBY to sudden victory, losing 4-2 and lost a 9-6 bout against former champ, Seth Gross, both last year. Simply put, Alvarez is the real deal and ADS has to be ready to go.

Should he get by the Rutgers hammer, he’ll get his anticipated rematch with RBY.

The Contenders: #3 Sammy Alvarez

Outside of Alvarez I have a tough time seeing anyone else making a deep run. #4 Lucas Byrd is a trick opponent, but DeSanto handled him 18-6 in the dual, so I doubt RBY struggles much with him.

***Editorial Note***

Thanks to hawkstuckinsepa for the tip, but it is now confirmed that Sammy Alvarez will not be competing in the post season. He will be replaced by Shane Metzler. This makes DeSanto’s path to the finals significantly easier. My guess is that Metzler slides somewhere into #13ish seed and everyone else bumps up. Austin will likely face the winner of Byrd/ Dryden in the semis. He’s bonused both of them this year: Dryden by tech and Byrd by major.
Alvarez’s omission is not covid related, so everything else is purely speculation. But, I’d be willing to speculate it’s probably a weight cut issue. This is a tough break for Rutgers.

141lbs

The Favorites: #1 Jaydin Eierman, #2 Nick Lee, #3 Sebastian Rivera

The top three in this weight are also the top three in the country and the overall top three title contenders. This is, without a doubt, a mini NCAA tournament.

Eierman earned the #1 seed by virtue of the best overall win by beating #4 Chad Red, 8-4. While Lee’s and Rivera’s best win both comes over #8 seeded Drew Mattin (Mich). Assuming these seeds hold pat, Eierman has a more favorable route to the finals as he should run into Red in the semis.

Conversely, Lee and Rivera will collide in the semis on the bottom half, which will eliminate 1/3 of the top tier competition. It should also be noted that Lee lost in the finals last year to Luke Pletcher, while Rivera won at 133lbs by defeating RBY.

The Contenders: #4 Chad Red

Red is probably the only other finalist contender that should be mentioned. I can’t see anyone else on the bottom side getting past Lee or Rivera. Red will have his hands full in his rematch against Eierman, but he does have some impressive wins on the his resume that will make this an interesting match.

149lbs

The Favorite: #1 Sammy Sasso

This is Sasso’s bracket until someone else emerges as a legit Big Ten threat. So far, he’s decimated the competition with #10 Peyton Omania and #11 Beau Bartlett being the only two to hold him to a decision. The Omania match is an outlier, but Bartlett is likely not.

The Contenders: #2 Max Murin, #3 Griffin Parriott, #4 Yahya Thomas, #5 Kanen Storr, #7 Ridge Lovett, and #11 Beau Bartlett

Murin has a rough stretch if he’s going to get rematch with Sasso in the finals. He’ll likely run into Ridge Lovett in the quarters, who held DeSanto to a 1-0 decision in last year’s conference tourney. If he gets by him he’ll face the winner of Bartlett/ Parriott. The way Bartlett is wrestling, I’m inclined to pick him at the moment, but he is up a weight, so the size could play a major factor the deeper into the tournament he gets. If Murin expects to reach the finals he must string together the two best matches of his career and earn it.

157lbs

The Favorite: #1 Ryan Deakin

Like Sasso, this is Deakin’s tournament until someone else decides to challenge him. The Northwestern product has jumped levels and is riding a 24 match win streak dating back to 2019. Coincidentally, his last defeat was to Kaleb Young in the medal round of the 2019 NCAA’s. However, since then, he’s been a different guy. Coleman is the likely candidate he’ll face in the semis, but Deakin won their last encounter, 7-2.

The Contenders: #2 Kaleb Young, #3 Brayton Lee, and #4 Kendall Coleman

Due to Rutgers failing to represent this weight, Brayton Lee (MINN) also receives a first round bye. KY and Lee should rematch in the semis for a shot at Deakin. KY has the abilities to punch his way to the finals and even win the whole thing, but he has to regain his 2019 form that saw him upset Deakin twice in the NCAA’s.

165lbs

The Favorite: #1 Alex Marinelli

The Bull is aiming for his 3rd consecutive Big Ten title and anything else would be a let down. There is no one in this bracket, let alone the country, that he cannot beat. Assuming he runs the gauntlet here, he’ll once again earn the #1 overall seed for the NCAA’s.

But before looking too far ahead, he must navigate the top side of the bracket and defeat either #4 Cameron Amine or #5 Andrew Sparks in the semis. It should be noted that Marinelli only has two matches on the season, due to his covid quarantine, so he’ll have to quickly shake off the rust.

The Contenders: #2 Dan Braunagel, #3 Ethan Smith, and #4 Cameron Amine

Danny Braunagel has put together a solid season going 6-0, with good wins over #7 Peyton Robb (NEB) and #3 Ethan Smith (tOSU). We should also keep an eye on #6 Joe Lee (PSU) who has a squishy matchup against the #11 Jonathan Spadafora in the first round.

174lbs

The Favorites: #1 Michael Kemerer, #2 Mikey Labriola, #3 Carter Starocci, and #4 Logan Massa

This weight is incredibly similar to that of 141lbs. The top four guys at this weight also represent four of the top five on the national stage.

Kemerer controversially earned the #1 seed in large part due to his previous performances and his #1 overall ranking he’s held all season, despite Labriola having the better record of 8-0 compared to Kemdawg’s 4-0. Though Kemerer does have the better win over #6 Kaleb Romero.

Kem also has a favorable path to the semis where he’ll run into the enigmatic, #4 Logan Massa (MICH). Massa has been tearing it up on the freestyle circuit and has talent and abilities to win this bracket at the NCAA’s, but he’s been a mystery over the past two season in folk. He was ripping through this season, bonusing everyone, before he attempted a half-assed Granby roll, got caught, and gave up near fall points in tie-breakers against #3 Carter Starocci (PSU), losing 7-1.

Labriola has a rosey road to the semis where he’ll face the winner of Starocci/ Romero. Starocci also won his previous match up against Romero in tie-breaks, 2-1, a few weeks ago. If Carter is able to run the bottom side, which he is capable of, he’s going to quickly prove to everyone that he’s a legit title contender.

The Contenders: #5 Donell Washington and #6 Kaleb Romero

Washington is the only one on the season to defeat Starocci, winning 10-9. He’s as explosive as anyone in the field, but his motor may be the x-factor. Romero on the other hand is right there with the top, but has yet to secure that career defining win. He’s lost to Kemerer and Starocci, both by 1 point decisions, but he has the ability to keep it close late.

184lbs

The Favorite: #1 Aaron Brooks

Brooks is the king of 184 and that’s that. He’s the returning Big Ten champ and brings with him a 21-1 record after two season in the starting lineup. He’s beaten the top dogs in this bracket and he’s beaten them soundly. He’ll face the winner of the #9 Nelson Brands/ #8 Zach Braunagel match in the quarters, followed by #4 Owen Webster in the semis. Neither of these three should slow the Brooks train down.

The Contenders: #2 Chris Weiler, #3 Layne Malczewski, and #6 Taylor Venz

Anyone else on the topside is an after-thought, so my attention falls to these three. But truth be told, it’s open season at 184 and literally anyone on the bottom can make the finals.

Venz is a former All-American and my pick to face Brooks in the finals, but he’s very streaky. Venz has lost to Brands and Weiler, but has a win over Braunagel. Braunagel has also lost to Weiler, Webster, and Lyon, but but beat Brands. Malczewski has beaten Webster but lost to Lyon, while Weiler has beaten Lyon and Venz, but lost to Jordan who has also beaten Lyon. This weight is a complete mess.

As for Nelson Brands, he’ll have to make up some serious ground in the consolations, but it all begins with a rematch against Braunagel. If he can’t get past the opening round he’ll miss the NCAA’s, so it all begins with avenging that Braunagel loss. Assuming he falls to Brooks he’ll likely face #10 Rocky Jordan in the cons, if he gets by him he has a favorable route to the cons semis, which will punch his ticket to the NCAA’s.

There’s only 8 allocations and he’s currently on the outside looking in. Brands must find that drive and relentless attack rate if he wants to be with this team in two weeks.

197lbs

The Favorites: #1 Eric Schultz and #2 Myles Amine

Schutlz and Amine are the favorites to clash in the finals, however Schutlz will face the winner of Davison/ Caffey in the semis, both of which he’s beaten by a narrow one point decision this year. He’s going to have a hell of a battle on his hands for a shot at a Big Ten title.

Amine is a 3x All-American (3rd, 3rd, and the 4th) who is bumping up from 174. Of his 20 career losses, 13 are to All-American Bo Jordan, and former champs, Mark Hall and Zahid Valencia. Nearly all are by two points or less. This guy is a goer and for all intents and purposes, probably should be considered the #1 seed. He’ll likely face #7 Michael Beard in the quarters (and Beards demise benefits Iowa) then should square off with Warner in the semis.

The Contenders: #3 Jacob Warner, #4 Cam Caffey, and #5 Lucas Davison

I already mentioned Caffey and Davison, but it wouldn’t surprise me if either of those two finally upset Schutlz and punched their way to the finals.

Warner on the other hand, will have to wrestle the best match of his career if he wants to contend for his first Big Ten title. Amine is as dangerous as anyone, but he’s wrestled tight matches so far this season, winning all three by decision. Warner has the talent to win, but his mind must be in the right place for the physical gifts to start clicking.

285lbs

The Favorites: #1 Gable Steveson, #2 Mason Parris, and #7 Gerg Kerkvliet

Steveson (MINN) is the overwhelming favorite to win his 2nd Big Ten title and has by far and away the easiest path to the finals. There’s no one in the top that will hold him to a decision and we’ll have to tip our hat to anyone that stays off their back. Gable should roll into the finals with back-to-back pins/ techs.

Luckily for the Gopher, his biggest competition will destroy themselves in the bottom half of the bracket. On paper Mason Parris (MICH) is expected to win out, but he’s facing the blue-chip recruit and one of the best heavyweights in the world in #7 Greg Kervliet in the quarters (PSU). About a month ago Cael Sanderson released a statement saying Kerkvliet was having knee surgery and would be shut down for the rest of the season, then minutes before their remaining dual he was thrust into the starting lineup in what appears to be the greatest medical comeback since Kyle Schwarber pushed the Cubs through the 2016 playoffs. At least that’s what Sanderson is hoping this will become.

Regardless, it’s an immediate game changer and one that could give the Nittany Lions a huge points boost in the post season. We’re going to find out quickly what Kerk is made of. Is he ready to take on the #2 heavyweight, not only in college, but on the freestyle scene? With only two matches does he have enough mat time to make a deep run? How stable is that knee? We’ll find out soon.

The Contenders: #3 Tony Cassioppi and #6 Trent Hillger

If Steveson, Parris, and Kerk are considered the top in the universe, then Big Cass is a planet all by himself with everyone else orbiting him. He’s 3-0 against Hillger, who he’ll face in the quarters. However, from there, he’ll face the winner of the Parris/ Kerk bout and will be the underdog there as well. If Cass wants to jump levels and join the top ranks, then he must find a way to win in the semis.

TEAM RACE

Here is the top five according to wrestlestat

1. Iowa 162.5

2. Penn State 75.5

3. Michigan 66.5

4. Nebraska 65

5. Ohio State 40.5

Our Hawks are set up to make another run at the title and are currently the heavy favorites, but the problem with having nine top 3 seeded wrestlers is, there’s very little room for vertical improvement. Simply put, the only direction we can go is down, which will inadvertently boost someone else, namely Penn State.

Even if several of our guys stumble we will likely hold on as long as it isn’t a collapse of epic proportions.

Conversely, Penn State doesn’t just have to over-perform, but completely demolish their pre-seeds and succeed on a level we have never seen before to close the gap. Let’s be honest, if there ever was anyone that could pull this off, it would unfortunately be a Sanderson team… barf.

However, they’re going to have to get MASSIVE boosts from #11 Robbie Howard, #5 Brady Berge, #6 Joe Lee, and #7 Michael Beard to do it. As in, these guys will have to finish top three to give them a chance. Regrettably for them, the weights where they need to make up the most ground, we’re on the opposite side of the bracket. Outside of 184lbs, they have little chance to drop us into the consolations early.

The final factor that favors us is bonus points. Spencer Lee will likely bonus his way through the field. DeSanto, Eierman, Marinelli, Kemerer, Warner, and Cassioppi all have bonus potential in the quarters and a few in the semis. Penn State on the other hand has several difficult first round matches that will limit their ability for extra points, which could be disastrous for them.

Nebraska and Michigan also have the ability to contend for 2nd place, but they need to dig deep and find some upsets of their own. If Michigan wants to contend for 2nd they need Cameron Amine to upend Marinelli at 165lbs and Massa to top Kemerer at 174lbs.

We also have some potentially tough quarter/ semifinal matchups against Nebraska that could shift the balance of power: Red vs Eierman at 141lbs and Lovett vs Murin at 149lbs.

Guys and gals, get ready for the Big Ten Championships. WE MADE IT!

Furthermore, all mats will be covered on BTN and BTN plus!!! Action starts Saturday morning, so get ready.

@BigTenNetwork