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2014 MIDLANDS TOURNAMENT PRE-SEEDS AND PREVIEW [UPDATED]

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Finally, Iowa wrestling is back in action. Too bad the competition is still fairly light.

It's Sammy Brooks Time.
It's Sammy Brooks Time.

It's been a long time since the Iowa wrestling team took the mat; when last we saw the Hawkeyes they were thrashing Michigan State to the tune of a 37-0 beatdown over three weeks ago.  At last, they return to action this week, with the 51st edition of the Midlands Championships in Evanston, Illinois.  The pre-seeds for the 2014 Midlands Tournament have been released (and updated), so it's time to take a look at the field.

EDIT: And now we have the final seeds; updated thoughts below.

WHAT: 51st Midlands Championship
WHEN: Monday, December 29 (Session I: 9 AM, Session II: 7 PM) and Tuesday, December 30 (Session III: 12 PM, Session IV: 7 PM)
WHERE: Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, IL
RADIO: AM 800 KXIC (local), Hawkeye All-Access (non-local; $$$)
TV: BTN will have live coverage of the finals on Tuesday night (7 PM); it also sounds like there will be live, free online streams of the rounds prior to that:

The team race should not be in much doubt.  Iowa cruised to a championship last year, notching 187.5 points -- a full 85 points more than second-place Edinboro (102.5).  It would not be a shock at all to see a similarly lopsided result this year.  If anything, the field seems a little bit weaker; last year's tournament featured Michigan, Maryland, UNI, and a full-strength Illinois team; this year's tournament features none of the first three teams and a diminished Illinois team.

INTERMAT SCHOOL
1 Iowa
5 Edinboro
9 Virginia Tech
10 Northwestern
14 Illinois
17 Wisconsin
19 Old Dominion
23 Penn
24 Indiana

Rankings based on InterMat's tournament rankings.

There's no point sugarcoating it: that's a pretty disappointing field.  No Minnesota, no Penn State, no Ohio State, no Cornell, no Oklahoma State.  No Iowa State, no Pitt, no Nebraska.  Many of those teams are at the Southern Scuffle instead; Midlands has very much become a second-rate tournament in comparison to the Scuffle.  That's sad, considering the long, proud history of Midlands.  Hopefully tournament organizers can get a few more top-tier teams to turn up at next year's event; otherwise, it might be time for Iowa to start considering its options when it comes to early season tournaments.  There's limited value in being the big fish in an increasingly shrinking pond.

Let's take a look at the individual fields at each weight.

125

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 4 Thomas Gilman Iowa
2 6 Joey Dance Virginia Tech
3 9 Josh Martinez Air Force
4 14 Josh Rodriguez No Dakta St
5
Stevan Micic N'western (unatt)
6 Kory Mines Edinboro
7 20 Brandon Jeske Old Dominion
8 Shayne Wireman E Michigan
9 Barlow McGee Missouri (unatt)
10 Jerry Huff Adams State
11 Lucas Malmberg Messiah College
12 Billy Watterson Brown

PREVIOUSLY

Thomas Gilman had his breakthrough performance at Iowa here a year ago, knocking off defending NCAA champion Jesse Delgado in the semifinals and besting ex-Virginia Tech wrestler Jarrod Garnett in the finals to claim a Midlands championship.  Iowa's other 125er last year, Cory Clark, finished in 5th place.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

Not a lot, most likely.  The field at 125 looked a lot more interesting a few days ago -- the initial listing included two-time defending NCAA champion Jesse Delgado and former Minnesota All-American Zach Sanders.  Alas, neither man will be participating at Midlands this year.  That leaves Dance as the only potential elite opponent for Gilman in the field here -- and he enters on a two-match losing streak, falling to Cornell's Nahshon Garrett and Penn State's Jordan Conaway.  The most interesting match for Gilman on his own side of the draw may come from Northwestern true freshman Micic, who was a top-20 recruit a year ago.

EDIT: Micic moves up to a 5-seed, which sets him up for a semifinal match with Gilman.  That could be interesting, but this very much still looks like Gilman's weight to lose.

PREDICTION

Gilman repeats as champion at 125.  This is a fairly shallow weight (especially on Gilman's side of the draw) and there's no reason for Gilman not to add to his hardware collection here.  A potential finals match with Dance would be a very good test for Gilman, but I think Gilman should emerge as the winner there.

133

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 1 AJ Schopp Edinboro
2 Jarrod Garnett LV Ath Club
3 4 Cory Clark Iowa
4 7 Zane Richards Illinois
5 11 Geoff Alexander Maryland
6 17 Danny Sabatello Purdue
7
Anthony Giraldo Rutgers
8
Robert Deutsch Rider
9 16 Ryan Taylor Wisconsin
10 19 Kevin Norstrem Virginia Tech
11 Caleb Richardson Penn
12 Dom Malone N'western

PREVIOUSLY

Tony Ramos was shockingly pinned by UNI's Joe Colon in the championship match at 133 last year.  Cory Clark finished 5th at 125 last year.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

If Clark can make the finals, we'll probably get a chance to see how he stacks up against the presumptive kingpin at this weight, Edinboro's AJ Schopp.  Schopp split a pair of matches with Tony Ramos a year ago and is a very challenging opponent, especially when he's on top on the mat.  It won't be a cakewalk for Clark to get to a match with Schopp, though -- his quarterfinal opponent could be Wisconsin's Taylor, who split two matches with Clark at 125 a year ago (Clark pinned him in 2:03 at the dual meet, but dropped a 9-5 decision to Taylor in the Big Ten Tournament consolation rounds).  If he gets by Taylor, Garnett likely looms in the semifinals; Clark dropped a 10-8 decision to Garnett in sudden victory at Midlands last year (when both were at 125 lbs).  Clark was in control of that match until seeming to gas out in the third period.  Midlands represents a lot of opportunity for Clark: for revenge against Taylor and Garnett and for a statement against Schopp.

EDIT: Taylor got dumped down the seeding, which kills a potential Clark-Taylor match in the quarters.  That should make things a little easier for Clark, but it's still going to come down to his matches with Garnett and (potentially) Schopp.

PREDICTION

Schopp edges out Clark in the finals.  I think Clark will get a measure of revenge in wins over Taylor and Garnett, but beating Schopp looks like a bridge too far right now.  Given the weak competition Iowa has faced so far this season, just seeing how Clark stacks up against a top guy like Schopp will be extremely valuable.

141

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 2 Mitchell Port Edinboro
2 3 Devin Carter Virginia Tech
3 6 Josh Dziewa Iowa
4 16 Todd Preston Harvard
5 9 Chris Mecate Old Dominion
6 Steven Rodrigues Illinois
7 Shyheim Brown Maryland
8 Mitch Bengsten No Dakota St
9 Alex Kocer So Dakota St
10 Joey McKenna LV Athletic Club
11 Jeff Canfora Penn
12 Chuck Zeisloft Rider

PREVIOUSLY

Dziewa knocked off 2nd-seeded Richard Durso, 6-1, in the quarterfinals last year, but lost to unseeded Steven Rodrigues, 4-3, in the semifinals.  He finished in 3rd place with another 3-1 win over Durso.  Edinboro's Mitchell Port beat Rodrigues in the final to win the 141 title.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

Well, Dziewa won't have a chance to make it a hat trick of wins over Durso -- the Franklin & Marshall man bumped up to 149 lbs for this tournament.  That move did help Dziewa in the seedings, though -- he now gets a chance to avoid top-ranked Mitchell Port until the finals.  That said, a potential semifinal clash with Virginia Tech's Devin Carter looks like a doozy for Dziewa and a big impediment to any match with Port.  Dziewa's potential quarterfinal match could be challenging, too -- 10th seeded Joey McKenna was a top-10 recruit last season, so he could be an awfully dangerous opponent.

EDIT: Dziewa has a tricky quarterfinal match now against Steven Rodrigues; they went 1-1 against each other last year, with both matches being very tight (Dziewa lost 4-3 at Midlands but won 3-2 at the Big Ten Tournament).  Losing that match would not be terribly surprising, although it would be a disappointing sign that Dziewa hasn't really progressed from a year ago.

PREDICTION

I would be pretty happy with another 3rd place finish for Dziewa at this event, honestly.  Port and Carter are the best guys at this weight not named Logan Stieber (since Zain Retherford appears to be redshirting and sitting out this season) and they seem a cut above Dziewa.  Port pinned him in 3:47 when they met last year and Carter has just been a buzzsaw.  But there's no one else at this weight that Dziewa can't beat, so let's go with a 3rd place finish.  For the record, I'll go with Carter over Port in the finals.

149

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 1 Jason Tsirtsis N'western
2 3 David Habat Edinboro
3 Rick Durso F&M (unatt)
4 Brody Grothus Iowa
5 11 CJ Cobb Penn
6 10 Brandon Sorensen Iowa
7 12 Alexander Richardson Old Dominion
8
BJ Clagon Rider
9 Laike Gardner Lehigh (unatt)
10 16 Sal Mastriani Virginia Tech
11
Ryan Lubeck Wisconsin
12 Kyle Langenderfer Illinois

PREVIOUSLY

Brandon Sorensen had a breakthrough performance at the 2013 Midlands Tournament, finishing 3rd after winning six matches in the consolation bracket.  He knocked off teammate Brody Grothus, 4-2, in the 3rd place match.  Grothus finished in 4th place, but had a breakthrough performance in his own right, recording wins over Habat (#3 seed) and Tsirtsis (#1 seed).  Iowa's seeded wrestler at 149 last year, Mike Kelly (#7), did not place.  Lehigh's Mitch Minotti (#6 seed) shockingly won the title at 149 last year, knocking off Michigan's Eric Grajales (#5 seed).

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

Oh, not much -- just who the likely starter is at this weight for the forseeable future.  Grothus and Sorensen have been basically a coin flip decision at 149 this year, so whoever records the stronger performance at Midlands is likely to get the start over the next few weeks as Iowa gets into the meat of their dual meet schedule.  So that's kind of important.  Grothus likely has an easier bracket than Sorensen; he could see Habat (who he beat at Midlands last year, though he also lost to Habat, 13-5, in the Iowa-Edinboro dual last season) in the semis, while Sorensen will likely need to beat Tsirtsis (the defending NCAA champion) in the semis just to make it to the finals.

EDIT: Well, Grothus no longer has an easier bracket -- he's now likely to face Tsirtsis instead of Habat in the semis.  Grothus did beat T-shirt at Midlands last year, but T-shirt was reportedly suffering from an illness at that time; Grothus will have a tough time duplicating that feat again here.  Sorensen, on the other hand, should face Habat or Durso in the semis before a potential finals showdown with T-shirt.  That's a solid draw for Sorensen.

PREDICTION

A repeat of last season: Sorensen beating Grothus in the 3rd-place match, which gives Sorensen the edge in the race for the starting job.  I just don't think either man will beat Tsirtsis or Habat in the semis.  Speaking of... Tsirtsis improves upon last year's 5th place finish with a championship this year, defeating Habat in the finals.

With the re-jiggered draw, I think Sorensen pulls a minor upset and gets into the final, where he loses to T-shirt.  I think Grothus finishes 3rd or 4th.

157

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 9 Isaiah Martinez Illinois
2 14 Cody Pack So Dakota St
3 18 Justin Staudenmeyer Brown
4
Chad Welsh Rider
5 Mike Kelly Iowa
6 Reece Lefever Wabash
7 Doug Welch Purdue
8 Maaziah Bethea Penn
9 Brandon Zeerip Eastern Michigan
10 Spencer Hill CSU Bakersfield
11 Edwin Cooper Iowa
12 Jake Danishek Indiana

PREVIOUSLY

Derek St. John won the 2013 Midlands championship with a 9-3 decision win over Indiana's Taylor Walsh.  Mike Kelly DNP at 149 last year.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

Like 149, we'll probably figure out who the starter is for Iowa going forward at 157.  What we won't figure out is how Iowa's options at 157 stack up nationally because this is by far the weakest weight class at Midlands.  It's possible that there's not a single future All-American (at least in 2015) at this tournament.  The highest ranked wrestler is #9 Isaiah Martinez... and after him, the highest-ranked guy is #14 Cody Pack.  There is no one at this weight who looks very imposing.  If neither Kelly nor Cooper are able to make some noise at this weight at Midlands, it's time to be worried about Iowa's point-scoring potential at this weight.

EDIT: No real changes of note, although this weight got even easier with the departure of Colombia's Markus Schiedel, ranked #16.  Cooper got bumped down to the 11-seed.  This remains a weight where Iowa needs to make some noise.

PREDICTION

I think both Kelly and Cooper will finish in the top-5 at this weight.  I'll go with a 3rd-place finish for Kelly and a 5th-place finish for Cooper.  As for the championship... let's go with Martinez over... let's say Welch.  Martinez was a top-5 recruit in 2013, so he may indeed be much better than his #9 ranking.  It's a bit of a shame that both Iowa wrestlers are on the same side of the bracket as him, although it could also be useful to see how competitive they are against a potential top guy.

165

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 4 Taylor Walsh Indiana
2 7 Nick Moore Iowa
3 8 Pierce Harger Northwestern
4 12 Jackson Morse Illinois
5
Nestur Taffur F&M - unatt
6 14 Tristan Warner Old Dominion
7 16 Adam Fierro CSU Bakersfield
8
Jon Schleifer Princeton
9
Pat Robinson Purdue
10 Connor McMahon SIU-Edwardsville
11 Conor Brennan Rider
12 Jimmie Schuessler Grand View

PREVIOUSLY

Nick Moore dropped a 4-2 decision to North Dakota State's Steven Monk in the championship match at this weight at Midlands last year.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

There was a big clear-out at the top of this weight last year, with David Taylor (Penn State), Tyler Caldwell (Oklahoma State), and Monk all finally graduating.  But that void has been quickly filled this year by a trio of guys moving up from 157: Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State), Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin), and Taylor Walsh (Indiana).  Two of those three guys are at Midlands this year.  This is one of the deeper weights at Midlands this year, with seven ranked opponents, including four potential All-Americans.  Plus Taffur, who's a solid guy at this weight, too. To claim a title at this weight, Moore might have to beat Taffur, Walsh, and Jordan -- that looks like a tall order.  But we should definitely get a better sense of whether Moore can beat some of the top guys at this weight.

EDIT: No Isaac Jordan here, which takes out a top guy.  That does improve Moore's odds of bringing him a title, though -- he likely just has to knock off Harger (a guy Moore went 2-0 against last year) and then Walsh in the finals.  Walsh is a dangerous opponent, but he relies quite a bit on big moves and throws; if Moore stays solid and basic, he should have a good chance to beat him.

PREDICTION

I see another runner-up finish for Moore, this time falling short against Jordan in the finals. Moore finally claims some gold, knocking off Walsh in the finals for a Midlands championship.

174

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 2 Mike Evans Iowa
2 9 Zac Brunson Illinois
3 14 Kurtis Julson No Dakota St
4
Brock Gutches Southern Oregon
5 19 Nate Jackson Indiana
6 John Sebastian N'western (unatt)
7 Frank Cousins Wisconsin
8
Chad Welch Purdue
9 Shane Hughes Columbia
10 Alex Meyer Iowa
11 Jake Residori SIU-Edwardsville
12 Ryan Wolfe Rider

PREVIOUSLY

Mike Evans claimed the 174 lb title at the 2013 Midlands Tournament after a dominant performance that included three pins (including one in the finals) and a pair of major decision wins.  Alex Meyer finished 7th at 174.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

It's fair to say that we'll learn more about Iowa's back-up options at this weight (potential starters for Iowa in 2015-16) than we will its starter.  Mike Evans is a known commodity and the only thing that really matters this season is how he performs against the other members of the Big Ten's Gang of Four (Logan Storley, Matt Brown, and Robert Kokesh) and maybe Pitt's Matt Wilps.  The most dangerous wrestler other than Evans in the Midlands field looks like Epperly, who scored an upset win over Brown a few weeks ago.  Evans beat Epperly via 10-1 major decision at Midlands last year, but it probably won't be that lopsided if they meet this year.

EDIT: And Epperly is not competing here.  Bummer.  Bryce Hammond, a fringe top-10 guy at this weight, is also out, which means this weight looks even less interesting.  The only real intrigue might be whether Meyer can make it an all-Iowa final.  Northwestern's Sebastian could be an interesting sleeper, too -- he was a top-15 recruit last year.

PREDICTION

Evans claims a second-straight Midlands title with a win over Epperly in the finals.  Meyer notches at least one upset on his way to a 3rd or 4th place finish.  Paddock sneaks his way to a 7th or 8th place finish.

184

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 2 Lorenzo Thomas Penn
2 4 Jack Dechow Old Dominion
3 8 Sammy Brooks Iowa
4 10 Hayden Zillmer No Dakota St
5 18 Ricky Robertson Wisconsin
6 13 Ophir Bernstein Brown
7
Austin Gabel Virginia Tech
8 14 Vic Avery Edinboro
9 20 Nikko Reyes Illinois
10 Clint Morrison Rider
11 Brett Harner Princeton
12 Zach Hernandez Colombia

PREVIOUSLY

Ethen Lofthouse lost a narrow 3-1 decision to Maryland's Jimmy Sheptock (last year's eventual NCAA runner-up) in sudden victory in the finals last year to claim a 2nd-place finish.  Sammy Brooks finished 6th after taking a medical forfeit in the 5th-place match.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

Outside of maybe Dziewa at 141, I don't think any Hawkeye has more to gain at Midlands from a national rankings/future seedings perspective than Brooks.  Sammy could face two guys ranked in the top-5 at Midlands, Penn's Lorenzo Thomas and Old Dominion's Jack Dechow.  That's a challenge, yes... but it's also a tremendous opportunity -- and a great chance for Brooks to measure himself against some of the top guys at this weight.  184 is a weight very much in flux since Ed Ruth's departure and a few big wins here could really establish Brooks as a force to be reckoned with at this weight.  He absolutely has the ability to be that force -- now he can get the results to prove it.

EDIT: Some seed re-jiggering puts Bernstein at #8, which makes him a quarterfinal opponent for Brooks.  Bernstein beat Brooks via 10-8 decision in the Midlands consolation rounds last year.  Avery and Zillmer could be an interesting challenge for Brown on the other side of the bracket.

PREDICTION

Brooks beats Thomas in the finals to claim his first Midlands championship.  I believe in Brooks.

197

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 6 Nathan Burak Iowa (unatt)
2 8 Alex Polizzi N'western
3 10 Abram Ayala Princeton
4
Pat Downey Iowa Central
5 13 Nathan Rotert So Dakota St
6 14 Timmy McCall Wisconsin
7 Joe Rau Minnesota Storm
8 20 Jared Haught Virginia Tech
9 Lucas Sheridan Indiana
10 Jeff Koepke Illinois
11 Don McNeil Rider
12 James Fox Harvard

PREVIOUSLY

Burak finished 3rd at Midlands last year.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

We should know more about whether we can count on Nathan Burak at this weight this season -- and, accordingly, whether Iowa is a legit national title contender.  Those national title aspirations hinge on Burak a) wrestling this year and b) earning All-America honors.  If he isn't able to wrestle this season, it's very unclear if Iowa has the requisite firepower to vie for a title.  Burak hasn't wrestled since the season-opening Luther Open as he deals with some nagging injuries.  It sounds like he is healthy and will wrestle at Midlands, but we'll have to wait and see.  If he does go (and he's fit), he should do well because this is one of the weaker fields at Midlands.  Two of the top contenders are Braden Atwood and Alex Polizzi, two guys Burak is very familiar with.  He went 2-1 against both Atwood and Polizzi last year, but none of those six matches were decided by more than two points, so I wouldn't say he has any sort of commanding advantage against them.

EDIT: No Atwood.  Iowa Central's Pat Downey rockets up to the #4 seed, which is a bit surprising.  Downey did beat Iowa back-up Kris Klapprodt via an 11-6 decision at the Iowa City Duals last month.  I still think this comes downs to Burak and Polizzi.

PREDICTION

This really hinges on Burak's health.  If Burak is fit, he looks like the best wrestler in the field and I like his odds to claim a title here.  If he's not healthy, though, all bets are off because this weight looks like a crapshoot otherwise.  The vibe seems to be that he is healthy, so I'm going to pick him over Polizzi in sudden victory the finals.

285

PRE-SEED INTERMAT NAME SCHOOL
1 1 Mike McMullan N'western
2 3 Bobby Telford Iowa
3 5 Connor Medbery Wisconsin
4 7 Ty Walz Virginia Tech
5 13 Evan Knutson No Dakota St
6 17 Tyler Deuel Binghamton
7 18 Jacob Henderson Old Dominion
8 JJ Everard So Dakta St
9 Nick Gadjik Harvard - unatt
10 Garrett Ryan Colombia
11 Dawson Peck Maryland
12 Chris Lopez Illinis

PREVIOUSLY

Telford lost a tight 3-2 decision to Michigan's Adam Coon in the finals at Midlands last year.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN ABOUT IOWA

It's an early chance to see if Telford can grab some wins (and improve his national ranking/future seeding potential) against top Big Ten (and national) heavyweights like McMullan and Medbery.  But this is unlikely to be the last time Telford faces either guy (especially McMullan; this could be the first of three clashes with McMullan before the NCAA Tournament), so the results here may not mean all that much.  Still, outside of (the thankfully departed) Tony Nelson, McMullan has been probably Telford's most consistent Big Ten nemesis, so any chance to get a win over him is appreciated.

EDIT: No changes of note from the pre-seeds.  Iowa true freshman Sam Stoll is listed as the #13 seed.

PREDICTION

This feels like it comes down to either McMullan or Telford.  Both are undefeated and both have a number of bonus point wins so far this season.  Neither has faced the toughest competition this year.  Walz, who already owns an upset win over Coon this year, is a potential spoiler in the semis for McMullan, but I'd still bet on a McMullan-Telford final.  That's a toss-up encounter.  Since I've taken Iowa wrestlers in a number of matches already today, I'll go with McMullan in a squeaker here.  (But I hope Bobby proves me wrong.)

Again, from a team perspective, this should be Iowa in a rout.  The intrigue in this weight is centered around a few weights, either for starting lineup purposes (149, 157) or statement purposes (133, 141, 165, 184).  Regardless, we'll know a bit more about the 2014-15 Hawkeye wrestling team a few days from now.