After what feels like an eternity, tournament wresting has arrived. For the Iowa Wrestling team though, returning to the site of this year’s conference tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska only two weeks after triumphing over the hometown Huskers in the last dual meet of the season must feel a bit like deja vu. Here’s hoping there’s some deja vu in store for Iowa to repeat as conference champions also. The path to get there is much less certain than last year however. Let’s look into it.
If this tournament goes entirely to chalk and everyone places where they are seeded without any bonus points scored, final team scores look like this:
- Iowa, 126.5
- Penn State, 125
- Michigan, 110.5
- Nebraska, 89
- Ohio State, 82
- Wisconsin, 60
- Northwestern, 53.5
- Michigan State, 49
- Minnesota, 42
- Rutgers, 41
- Purdue, 40
- Illinois, 27
- Indiana, 9.5
- Maryland, 5
A difference of only 1.5 points between Iowa and Penn State would be a barn burner, possibly coming down to the last couple finals matchups Sunday night. That Iowa is even projected mathematically to finish in the top spot is quite shocking given that PSU has four #1 seeds to Iowa’s zero. There is additional reason for measured optimism in that PSU regularly exceeds tournament seeds. You can’t exceed first place. Iowa meanwhile has multiple wrestlers who are conference and NCAA tourney finalists and champions who are seeded fairly but uncharacteristically low. Look no further than Big10 champ and NCAA finalist Michael Kemerer at #4.
Before diving further into the preview, here are a few helpful notes for new or casual fans and reminders for the rest. Scoring in dual meets (one school/team vs one other school/team) varies significantly from tournament scoring. In duals, each team sends out one guy in each of ten weight classes. The winner at each weight class earns 3 points for a decision victory, 4 for a major decision, 5 for a technical fall, and 6 for a pin/forfeit. The points from all ten weights are added up for each team and the one with more is the dual meet winner.
Conference and NCAA wrestling tournaments also track team points but those points are earned differently. These tournaments are also double elimination. Wrestlers who lose one match are still able to score points for their team and work to improve their final placement. Here is a quick rundown of how points are scored for the team, in other words, how tournaments are won:
1st place: 16 points
2nd place: 12 points
3rd place: 10 points
4th place: 9 points
5th place: 7 points
6th place: 6 points
7th place: 4 points
8th place: 3 points
Advancement Points scored for winning matches to “stay alive” in the tournament:
Championship Bracket - 1 point (Regular Decision)
Consolation Bracket - .5 points (Regular Decision)
“Bonus Points” which can be earned in addition to advancement points:
Major Decision - 1 point
Technical Fall - 1.5 points
Fall, Default, Forfeit, & Disqualification - 2 points
Here is an older, but still accurate guide to tournament scoring. The only change I noticed from when that guide was written til now is that tech falls are worth 1.5 bonus points with or without back points.
What should be immediately apparent from reviewing this point scoring system is that there is huge point scoring potential for dominant wrestlers. In an extreme hypothetical, two wrestlers on one team placing first and mowing through a tournament with five pins in five matches would score 16 placement points, 5 advancement points, and 10 bonus points for a total of 31 each, so 62 team points. An entire team of solid but not elite wrestlers who earn no bonus points and all finish 7th (good enough for top half in the Big Ten) would score 40 placement points and average something like 3 advancement points for a total of 70. In other words, ten reasonably talented wrestlers would only just edge two great ones. Play out this hypothetical in a dual meet scenario where one team has two elite guys with no supporting cast vs another team that is solid at ten weights. Even assuming the elite wrestlers both win by pin and the “pretty good” wrestlers on the other team all win by regular decisions, you end up with a not particularly close 24-12 dual meet win for the more complete team.
I have just made the case for why Iowa absolutely has to have great performances from a few guys this weekend and also how Penn State has won all its recent tournament titles despite having a ho-hum dual meet record vs Iowa over the same period of time. Iowa rolls through dual season year after year because of the incredible depth and quality across all weights but seems to struggle in tournaments, relative to dual action, due to a lack of transcendent individuals. Let’s have a look at the seeds and first opponents of Iowa’s lineup and speculate on who could be those transcendent performers.
Here is a link to the complete tournament brackets.
IOWA’S FIRST ROUND/QUARTERFINAL MATCHUPS
125 – #6 Drake Ayala (IA) vs. #11 Tristan Lujan (MSU)
133 – #2 Austin DeSanto (IA) vs. #7 Chris Cannon (NU)/#10 Dominick Serrano (NEB)
141 – #2 Jaydin Eierman (IA) vs. #7 Dylan D’Emilio (OSU)/#10 Frankie Tel Sharar (NU)
149 – #4 Max Murin (IA) vs. #13 Payton Omania (MSU)
157 – #2 Kaleb Young (IA) vs. #7 Garrett Model (WIS)/#10 Brady Berge (PSU)
165 – #2 Alex Marinelli (IA) vs. #7 Hayden Lohrey (PU)/#10 Creighton Edsell (PSU)
174 – #4 Michael Kemerer (IA) vs. #13 Connor O’Neill (RU)
184 – #5 Abe Assad (IA) vs. #12 Zach Braunagel (ILL)
197 – #4 Jacob Warner (IA) vs. #13 Nick WIllham (IND)
285 – #2 Tony Cassioppi (IA) vs. #7 Trent Hilger (WIS)/#10 Jacob Bullock (IND)
Iowa is favored in all ten opening matches and needs to skate through to the second round without hiccups, picking up bonus points along the way. Likely weights for bonus are 133, 174, and 285 given past head to head matchup results and the high scoring style Iowa’s wrestlers at those weights possess. The largest potential for issues are at 149 where Murin faces Omania, a Greco style wrestler who has repeatedly shown terrifyingly exciting headlock throws, and at 157 where Young is likely to meet Penn State’s retired but not retired, 165 pounder as of last month but actually now 157 pounder Brady Berge. Berge beat Young in their last match a year ago but Young has looked much improved lately and who knows what we’ll get from Berge. An Iowa win over Penn State wrestlers at 157 and 165 (assuming PSU’s guys each win their opening round) is important for the team race and would also make it very difficult for either of PSU’s guys to automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament.
NCAA qualification talk prompts a brief explanation. The NCAA allocates a certain number of spots per weight per conference into the national tournament based on the perceived quality of depth at each weight. Wrestlers earn one of these allocated spots based on where they place in the conference tournament. While 43 at-large bids are also available, relying on the NCAA for such a bid is not a happy place to be. The Big Ten was allocated the following number of auto qualifiers per weight:
The NCAA clearly believes the Big10 is stacked at 184 and 197, and not so much at 141-165. Comparing Iowa’s seeds with the number of auto qualifying spots, it’s clear that wrestling even close to their seeds will earn Iowa’s entire lineup entry to the national tournament, no small feat! Returning to the previous thread of our discussion, Iowa dispatching PSU’s wrestlers at 157 and 165 in the opening round not only aids Iowa’s efforts to win a conference title but damages PSU’s ability to even enter competitors at those weights at NCAA’s. More anticipated (re)matches are likely in store for Iowa and PSU at 133, 141, 174, 197, and 285 but those won’t take place until Sunday’s action.
And we shouldn’t forget about Michigan’s tournament chances either. If Iowa and PSU both have a flame out or two and otherwise bludgeon one another to death, Michigan is waiting with a very veteran lineup to take advantage. As an example, the greatest single match of the tournament is likely to be the 184 final between PSU’s undefeated Brooks and Michigan’s Olympic Bronze medalist Myles Amine. Brooks won in the dual meet earlier this year in the most action packed 3-1 match of the season. The defense and scrambling of both guys is off the charts.
Nebraska lingering in the fourth spot is unlikely to bring enough depth to be a serious contender but it’s not out of the question that they could have three finalists on Sunday night and a home crowd could boost their effort also.
Saturday will have a few main storylines. Can Iowa win and advance? As the saying goes, you can’t win a tournament on the opening day but you can sure lose it. When will the first big upset of the tournament occur and which school will suffer and gain most from it? How does true freshman Ayala look in the biggest tournament of his young career? Do Murin and Young continue wrestling at the high level they’ve worked up to this year? And do Kemerer and Assad bounce back from frustrating losses in the dual meet finale last month?
Regretfully, I won’t be able to provide detailed live commentary for the tournament as I’ll be in attendance but will offer as much insight as time and internet connectivity allow from Lincoln. Go Hawks!
Session I - 10AM God’s Time (Central) // Saturday March 5th, 2022
Session II - 5:30PM God’s Time (Central) // Saturday March 5th, 2022
Location: Pinnacle Bank Arena // Lincoln, Nebraska