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Southern Scuffle Preview: 125-141

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The Southern Scuffle is set to kick off at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Sunday, Jan. 1, and Monday, Jan. 2. Here's a look at the 125- to 141-pound weight classes heading into the nation's toughest in-season tournament.

125 Competitors

#3 Dylan Peters, Northern Iowa
#5 Darian Cruz, Lehigh
#7 Barlow McGhee, Missouri
#9 Ethan Lizak, Minnesota
#10 Sean Russell, Edinboro
#11 Jack Mueller, Virginia
#13 Nick Piccininni, Oklahoma State
#14 Nathan Kraisser, Campbell
#18 Vito Pasone, Appalachian St
Steven Polakowski, Minnesota
Taylor LaMont, Utah Valley
Rudy Yates, Northern Iowa
Trey Andrews, Northern Colorado
Aaron Assad, Missouri

This is perhaps the most wide-open weight of the Southern Scuffle. Dylan Peters, though he's ranked third, hasn't looked like the Dylan Peters from NCAAs last year. Whether he's still recovering from an injury or something else entirely, this group will feature a number or difficult tests for the Panther All-American.

With nine ranked competitors, there are a number of directions this weight could go. Darian Cruz has been solid all year long. His ankle picks and top game make him a threat to anyone in the mix. Barlow McGhee hasn't regained his stride that had him as a top six guy a year ago. He lost early to Nathan Kraisser, then missed a substantial chunk of time.

Two freshmen have caught my eye for this tournament. Virginia true freshman Jack Mueller has been sensational so far. What cannot be ignored is that the Texas native has not yet faced near the level of rigor that this tournament will present. We'll find out quickly how Mueller stacks up. That said, we've seen him compete with some of the best in freestyle, including a win over Darian Cruz when Mueller was just finishing his junior year of high school.

The other freshman is Oklahoma State's Nick Piccininni. The Cowboy is coming off a tough loss to Noah Baughman. What is very evident is that Piccininni can get to the legs against just about anyone. The question he will continue to have to answer is finishes. It gave him fits against Baughman, and against this group, there are plenty of wrestlers who could challenge him in this position.

I've been buying up all available Ethan Lizak stock coming into this year. Despite being suspended for the first half of the year, Lizak has had substantial mat time. Another great scrambler with a punishing top game, the Pennsylvania native is in the mix to win the tournament.

I'd love to get a sneak peak at those seeds. I feel like I'm starting my predictions on the wrong foot, as I'd like to have a more confident a grasp in the pecking order.

Cruz is the safest and most consistent performer of the bunch, so I'm going with him to navigate this bracket. He can win a few different ways, which is something I'll often refer to as "paths to victory." He can do it from neutral attacks, counter defense and top wrestling. This bracket could get turned completely on its head. If McGhee is on all cylinders, he'd probably be my pick, but his consistency issues and spotty offense have him down at six. That's how close I believe this field is in Chattanooga. The more I write, the more fired up I am for this weight!

Sleepers:
Taylor Lamont and Rudy Yates are two redshirts with a high pedigree. I'm curious to see Yates down at 125. Lamont has been solid in early competition for Utah Valley.

Missouri's Aaron Assad would start for many DI teams. If McGhee isn't on point and Assad shines, it's possible the competition for 125 starts to really heat up for Missouri. That dynamic makes Assad a nightmare draw for many of the competitors entered at the weight.

CP's Predictions:
1. Darian Cruz, Lehigh
2. Dylan Peters, UNI
3. Jack Mueller, UVA
4. Ethan Lizak, Minnesota
5. Nick Piccininni, OK State 
6. Barlow McGhee, Missouri

133 Contenders

#6 Kaid Brock, Oklahoma State
#10 Scott Parker, Lehigh
#12 Connor Schram, Stanford
#13 Kevin Devoy, Drexel
#15 Mark Grey, Cornell
Mitchell McKee, Minnesota
Mickey Phillippi, Virginia
Nathan Boston, Campbell
Josh Alber, Northern Iowa

Kaid Brock returns to the scene of the crime. A year ago the sensational true freshman saw his season come to an end during his semifinal match against Nahshon Garrett. Now he returns as the likely No. 1 seed at the Southern Scuffle. I'm not sure how anyone can have watched Brock this year and not think he's a runaway favorite to win this bracket. Brock has shown development on his feet from a year ago. He's hitting leg attacks more consistently, which complements his ridiculous pass-bys and upper-body attacks. Thus far, he's faced a few ranked opponents and had little issue. He hasn't faced any of the upper-echelon title contenders, and that will be true after this tournament as well. Still, I think Brock comes through unscathed with more than a couple "How'd he do that?" takedowns.

Lehigh's Scott Parker put the country on notice with his dominant win over Penn State's Jered Cortez on Dec. 4. Parker was someone I'd often regarded as a physical and positional wrestler, but he showed his leg attacks as well in that match.

Connor Schram is back up at 133 and will have an opportunity to solidify himself as an All-American contender at this weight as well. His top game and scrambling keep him in matches, but he'll need to hone some neutral offense if he wants to go over the top.

Sleepers:
Mitch McKee, Josh Alber, Nathan Boston, and Micky Phillippi. Of this group, McKee has proven he's in the mix with some of the tougher 133s. At some point this year, maybe it will be late in the season, he'll start to put it all together and win matches. He is a pinner at heart but still makes big mistakes and maybe leaves his legs a tad too open. Over time, it will all come together. Maybe we start seeing signs of that here at the Scuffle? Boston will be back in the mix but for a different team this time as he is now competing at Campbell for coach Cary Kolat.

CP's Predictions:
1. Kaid Brock, OK State
2. Scott Parker, Lehigh
3. Mitch McKee, Minnesota
4. Connor Schram, Stanford
5. Josh Alber, UNI
6. Mark Grey, Cornell


141 Contenders

#1 Dean Heil, Oklahoma State
#2 Joey McKenna, Stanford
#4 Randy Cruz, Lehigh
#7 Matt Manley, Missouri
#8 Joey Ward, North Carolina
#9 George DiCamillo, Virginia
#9 (at 133) Jaydin Eierman, Missouri
#12 Thomas Thorn, Minnesota
Boo Lewallen, Oklahoma State
Tristan Moran, Oklahoma State
Will Koll, Cornell
Jared Prince, Navy
Nic Gil, Navy
AC Headlee, North Carolina
Mike Pongracz, Chattanooga
Zach Synon, Missouri
Ryan Pomrinca, Lehigh

I went on the record this fall and picked Joey McKenna to win NCAAs -- no turning back now. Dean Heil and Joey McKenna are two of the most consistent performers in NCAA wrestling. Match-to-match, week-to-week, you know what you're getting with each guy. McKenna is oh-fer against Heil but has gotten to legs in each match and was simply unable to finish. Heil's scrambling is perhaps some of the best in the nation.

The key for McKenna will be getting to his double leg. His swing single is lethal against 99.9 percent of the opponents he'll face. I just don't have confidence in anyone finishing that attack on Heil. It's been two OT bouts between these guys. We are probably headed for another.

Heil vs. McKenna, part 2:

It's pretty clear those two are separated from the field, yet someone like Joey Ward (who has beaten Heil several times) cannot be discounted. Ward took a loss to Army's Logan Everett this year but has been solid otherwise.

Two Missouri Tigers are major wildcards at 141 for entirely different reasons. For Matt Manley, he's been off the mat for some time. How will he look against a field this tough? Recall Manley was the No. 5 seed at NCAAs a year ago. On the other hand, you have Jaydin Eierman. The flashy freshman is having some difficulty making 133, so he is headed up to 141 pounds. What does that mean for Missouri moving forward? I'm not sure. However the Scuffle shakes out will likely have a huge impact on the Tigers' lineup going forward.

Like Ethan Lizak, Tommy Thorn will make his return to the Gophers varsity lineup after serving a first-semester suspension. Thorn has very solid offense but struggles against the better scramblers. I'm curious to see how much he's developed from his freshman year.

Randy Cruz will be contending as well. He has been great this year, only falling to Matt Kolodzik, while notching a win over Kevin Jack. Cruz has a strong single leg, but his top work and countering ability are where he makes his money. It's a double-edged sword. He can play things too close and drop a match to someone he's better than (see his wrestle-off against Ryan Pomrinca). Conversely, his stuff has worked on some of 141's best.

This Oklahoma State duo of Boo Lewallen and Tristan Moran will be throwing a massive monkey wrench into the works as well. Lewallen sent shockwaves when he won the Reno TOC over Bryce Meredith. Moran looked game as well, taking out a ranked Javier Gasca.

This weight is absurdly deep. I'd actually be surprised if one or more of our top 10 guys didn't finished outside the top six. There's way too much talent.

Sleepers:
Jared Prince, Nic Gil and Mike Pongracz could make waves here. Prince didn't have the start to the season he probably expected. That said, he's got that pinning mentality and big moves that make any opposing coach sweat until his athlete's hand is raised.

CP's Predictions:
1. Joey McKenna, Stanford
2. Dean Heil, OK State
3. Randy Cruz, Lehigh
4. Joey Ward, UNC
5. Jaydin Eierman, Missouri
6. George DiCamillo, UVA


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