Yesterday the NCAA released the automatic qualifier allocations for the Big Ten (and every other conference*) in the country, and as usual the Big Ten got a lot of spots. And I do mean a lot of spots. The NCAA also explained how the allocations are determined:
Each qualifying tournament was awarded spots per weight class based on current year data. Each wrestler was measured on the following: Division I winning percentage at the weight class, rating percentage index (RPI) and coaches ranking.
For each wrestler that reached the threshold in at least two of the three categories, his qualifying tournament was awarded a qualifying spot in that weight class. Each qualifying tournament, with automatic qualifying status, was awarded a minimum of one wrestler per weight class, which will go to the tournament champion, even if they did not have any wrestlers reach at least two of the three thresholds. NCAA tournament spots for each qualifying event will be awarded at the tournament based solely on place-finish.
* Every conference except the Big 12, that is, which gets no automatic qualifiers. There should be very little net change to the number of Big 12 wrestlers at the NCAA Tournament, though, because the Big 12's lack of automatic qualifiers this year is offset by the increased number of at-large bids the NCAA will be handing out.
But all we really care about is the allocations, so let's cut to the chase:
The Big Ten gets a whopping 86 total spots automatically allocated for its wrestlers, up from 74 each of the past three seasons. (Thanks, Rutgers and Maryland?) Spread across 10 weights, that's an average of 8.6 wrestlers per weight. The weight class with the best Big Ten representation will be 133, which has a whopping 12 (!) automatic qualifier spots; just two Big Ten teams won't have a wrestler represented at 133 at the NCAA Tournament. It's also not that crazy -- 11 of Intermat's top 20 at 133 hail from the Big Ten. The Big Ten is also well represented at the upper weights, too, with 10 wrestlers apiece at 174 and 184 and 9 wrestlers apiece at 197 and 285. The weight with the least Big Ten representation is 125, with just 5 automatic qualifier spots.
What does this mean for Iowa? Well, it means that Iowa should have little trouble qualifying almost all of its wrestlers via automatic qualifier spots. Gilman, Clark, Sorensen, Evans, Brooks, Burak, and Telford should all comfortably finish within the automatic qualifier spots allotted at their respective weights. Even Dziewa, frustrating as he can be to watch, should be safe -- it would take quite a miserable tournament for him to finish outside the top-8. No, the two biggest question marks for Iowa in terms of automatic qualification are 157 (Mike Kelly) and 165 (Nick Moore). Moore's situation shouldn't be that perilous -- the Big Ten has 8 automatic qualifier spots at 165 and that isn't one of the Big Ten's deeper weights -- but we've seen him scuffle with lesser opponents a little too often to be sure that him nabbing an automatic qualifier spot is a slam dunk.
Kelly, meanwhile, may need to pull out some of his best performances of the season if he wants to snare one of the Big Ten's 8 automatic qualifier spots at 157. In our projected pre-seeds, bscaff and I tabbed Kelly for a #10 seed; he would need to wrestle above that in order to get one of the automatic bids. The Big Ten is lousy with good wrestlers at 157 -- 7 of Intermat's current top 11 are B1G wrestlers. Put it this way: the #7 and #8 seeds at 157 in the Big Ten Tournament could be Rutgers' Anthony Perrotti (a returning All-American) and Ohio State's Josh Demas (a fringe top-10 guy, nationally). Kelly will have his work cut out for him at that weight.
The good news for Iowa is that Kelly (and Moore and Dziewa) should be in good shape to land one of the at-large bids at their respective weights if they fail to earn an automatic qualifying spot. Still, it would make things a whole lot less stressful if they could all go get automatic qualifying spots. It would also be nice to take a little positive momentum (and perhaps an improved seed) into the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, the NCAA also released their new Coaches' Panel rankings and RPI rankings as well. The Coaches' Panel rankings are just what they sound like -- a panel of wrestling coaches votes on the top wrestlers at each weight; unsurprisingly, these tend to be pretty similar to the rankings produced by independent organizations like Intermat and Flowrestling. The RPI rankings are different -- like RPI in basketball, baseball, and various other sports, they're a statistically-driven measure. RPI essentially measures strength of schedule and is figured by multiplying a wrestler's winning percentage (against D-I opponents only) by the aggregate winning percentage of his D-I opponents by the aggregate winning percentage of his D-I opponents' opponents. A wrestler must have 17 matches against D-I opponents in order to be included in the RPI rankings.
** Mike Evans is not in the RPI rankings because he apparently hasn't wrestled enough matches against D-I opponents to qualify yet.
You know who the RPI rankings absolutely love right now? Your Iowa Hawkeyes, that's who. Iowa has a whopping five wrestlers atop their individual weights, some that make sense (Sorensen, Telford) and some that make much less sense (Clark, Brooks). RPI loves Iowa because the Hawkeyes have had an extremely tough schedule this season. The only teams in the top-10 that they haven't faced this season are (depending on your rankings) Virginia Tech, Nebraska, and Lehigh. And at an individual level, Iowa wrestlers have seen many of the top guys at almost all of their respective weight classes (174 and 184 have probably seen the fewest top guys at those weights, owing to a few quirks of the schedule). That's a recipe for good RPI rankings, especially if you win most of those matches (which Iowa wrestlers have done). On the other hand, RPI can definitely produce some very strange results, like placing Blaise Butler #1 at 174 or Mike Kelly #5 at 157. From a predictive standpoint, I'd say that the rankings voted on by humans are much more useful. Iowa's gaudy RPI rankings are fun to look at, but I certainly wouldn't treat them as gospel by any means.
The next important rankings for Iowa should be released on Monday, when we see the pre-seeds for the Big Ten Tournament and get a better idea of what the path to a Big Ten championship will be like for each Iowa wrestler.