Christian Pyles, College Analyst
It's been one heckuva year with twists and turns at nearly every weight. It all culminates here: the grand finale of college wrestling.
What makes the DI Championships so compelling, beyond the sheer athleticism and skill of the nation's top wrestlers, is the heart and grit that carries some guys to new feats causing 'upsets' in pursuit of the coveted All American status.
Below Christian break things down in incredibly detail, with context and perspective of each weight class before making his final placing picks.
125: Among the most talked-about weights this year and for good reason. This years 125 pound class is a nice mix of proven winners and young talent. The 7-15 guys about killed me, and differentiating between them became super tough. Here’s how I see it going down:
I really like Jesse in this weight. He has made great strides coming into this year, and I see him as a favorite over the field. While his Big 10 Finals win was impressive, I took more away from his dominance over Megaludis in the semi-final than his destruction of McDonough. The fact is, we have seen Delgado beat Matt before and we know he is a nightmare match up. Up until Big 10’s Jesse was 0-2 against Megaludis. He adapted his gameplan and won. I see him cruising to the finals where he will face an out-matched Megaludis. Jesse’s ability to get to legs, elevate and finish is phenomenal (there’s a lot of Mark Perry-like tendencies in his finishing ability). I see that, and his stingy riding as the difference. Delgado, while not a prolific turner, has a great knack for eating tons of time off the match after getting a takedown.
Nico’s path is no cakewalk. Garnett in the quarters, then a very impressive Waters in the semis. I’ll take Nico’s NCAA track record over those two guys, however. Nico has faced great competition all year, and I think that will serve him well coming into this tournament. I think he will be ready for Garnett’s strength and Water’s stingy defense. Nico has shown in the past he can wrestle with guys who wrestle on their knee like Waters. I like Nico’s mentality and think he makes the finals. I don’t like his matchup with Jesse though. I don’t think he has the offense to match the points Jesse is going to put up. I think his Waters match is a 50/50 proposition, so I went with my gut.
Waters has a tough road(as I alluded to in my darkhorses preview). That being said he is just too good to lay an egg like he did last year. Even though I think he loses to Megaludis, I see him being able to navigate the wrestle backs with little issue and beat McDonough for 3rd place.
It has been a sobering year for Matt McDonough fans. Seeing their champion struggle through the season has been difficult, and I see little reason to expect things to turn around for Matt. Nightmare matchup in the semis, provided he gets by the pesky Garrett. Something has been “off” with McDonough much of this year, and nothing he did at Big 10’s suggested to me he’s going to turn over a new leaf for NCAA’s. Maybe it’s the cut, maybe it’s an injury. Nobody knows for sure, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem that can simply be solved with hard work, which is what has made Matt great.
I think Garnett has shown he is ready to perform on the big stage. He’s got a very well rounded style and can win in a variety of ways. He’s got great upper body, and front headlock stuff on his feet, and he can be a very tough turner on top. If he can avoid giving up points in bunches, he will be tough to beat. I like him to lose to Megaludis in the quarters, but wrestle back to beat Nahshon Garrett in the 5th place match.
Rob Koll took a few years off from his absurd streak of getting a Freshman on the podium. I see him getting that streak going again with Garrett. A very well rounded wrestler, good leg attacks, solid counters and can get out on bottom. I think Nahshon will place without much issue, with the possibility of pulling an upset over McDonough in the quarters.
Now begins my “who the heck knows?” portion of this weight. There are so many guys I could conceivably place, but these are the two I landed on. Sprenkle is a tough, savvy Senior who has been close before and I see him breaking through. He’s had a solid season this year, and I like his aggression on his feet and he’s got some really nice low ankle attacks.
My 2nd ACC guy on the podium. Great first season for a True Freshman. I could just as well see him not placing as placing, but he’s got a favorable draw. Very nice draw to the quarter finals, and I think he’ll have Christian Cullinan in the round of 12. I like him in that spot. Both guys are scrambly, but I think Kraisser has a bit more talent and upside.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Jesse Delgado-Illinois
2. Nico Megaludis-Penn State
3. Alan Waters-Missouri
4. Matt McDonough-Iowa
5. Jarrod Garnett-Virginia Tech
6. Nahshon Garrett-Cornell
7. Trent Sprenkle-North Dakota State
8. Nathan Kraisser-North Carolina
R12: Mark Rappo, Nikko Triggas, Christian Cullinan, Sean Boyle
133: I hope people don’t simply pay attention to the Stieber v. Ramos angle, because there are lots of quality wrestlers in this weight. That being said, I can’t wait for another Ramos v. Stieber final.
To me this is not a terribly difficult decision to make. Though Ramos has unquestionably narrowed the gap, Stieber is without question the superior wrestler in all 3 positions. Last year, I was saying the same thing about Jordan Oliver though coming into his finals match. So it’s not always so simple. It’s an interesting path for Logan to the finals. He will potentially have Cody Brewer in the quarters, who is one of the few guys who has beaten Logan in freestyle domestically, especially in his age group. He will then have Chris Dardanes, one of the only people to beat Logan the last two years. So it’s not a smooth path, but Logan has elevated himself since both of those defeats.
Logan is on track to be an all time great, and I’m not sure if Ramos has what it takes on the biggest stage to stop that. Logan’s strength, grit and vast arsenal separates him from the great exceptional Ramos. While the mat was not a factor in their last match, it cannot be ignored that Logan is among the best top wrestlers in the country.
It’s quite cliché to use the phrase “man on a mission” but that has been the true embodiment of who Ramos has been all year. Just looks to dominate every opponent he faces and has pretty much done so save a few close matches (Graff, Morrison) and his defeat at the hands of Stieber. Tony has made great strides on the mat, both top and bottom. He got out with no trouble against Stieber last time, which shows the time he has devoted simply to beating Logan. I feel he got too tentative and maybe respected Logan too much in their last match. Should they meet again, I see him opening it up and maybe looking to push the pace a bit more. He will need more attempts than he had at Big 10’s to beat Logan, and I’m sure he will realize that.
Graff seems to finally be adjusted to 133, and I think he comes in as the 3rd place finisher at worst. He has lost some of the aggression I remember about him from years past, but he’s still a prolific neutral wrestler. He’s shown he can wrestle with Ramos. They are 1-1 against each other in NCAA competition. Tony did not look great against Graff last time, and was frankly very cautious and quite respectful of Graffs front headlock and needed a counter off of Graffs shot to win. Graff can crash the finals here, believe it. As it stands, I see Ramos jumping levels and wrestling better this week. Graff will have Schopp I believe in the consolation semis, which will be an exciting one, but I see him winning there, and again over Dardanes for 3rd place.
Coming into this season I thought Dardanes would be right in the conversation with Ramos and maybe even Stieber. He’s very much the same guy he was last year. Brawler, beats on your head, awesome double and single, and serviceable on the mat. I see him beating Schopp in the quarters. He lost to AJ in the All Star, but I think he was a few tactical errors away from winning there and I see it being reversed. Dardanes beats Morrison to get to the 3rd/4th place match.
AJ has done a nice job building off his solid Freshman season. As I mentioned I see him losing to Dardanes, then beating Sentes and Brewer in the consolations. I think he edges Jon Morrison out for 5th place. AJ makes his money off of his counters and some great top work (he’s more than just tilts, by the way).
The move to 133 pays off for Jon Morrison as he finishes the year finally on the podium. He’s had a few hiccups along the way, but seems to be solid and poised for his first All American finish. He’s the same guy he’s always been, quick and strong with a mean double leg. He’s got a great training situation and he’s due to break through. I like him to make it to the quarters, lose to Ramos, then beat Jordan Conaway and Nathan McCormick. I see him losing to Dardanes and Schopp to earn 6th place.
McCormick has had a nice season for himself and I like his chances to place this year. He’s improved from relying a lot on counters to developing some really nice leg attacks. I see him beating Shelton Mack in the round of 12, then losing to Morrison and beating Cody Brewer to place 7th.
Cody is a guy I’ve been really excited about watching for awhile now. I thought he’d be good coming into this year and while he hasn’t really notched a signature win apart from Wolfensperger, he also has done a nice job not having the Freshman slip up match either. He’s a long and energetic wrestler who can score in a variety of ways. Likes to shoot a single leg or a double and can be pretty creative in his finishes. He also has some upper body stuff that is pretty impressive. I see Cody learning from this year and entering the upper echelon next year.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Logan Stieber-Ohio State
2. Tony Ramos-Iowa
3. Tyler Graff-Wisconsin
4. Chris Dardanes-Minnesota
5. AJ Schopp-Edinboro
6. Jon Morrison-Oklahoma State
7. Nathan McCormick-Missouri
8. Cody Brewer-Oklahoma
Round of 12: Scott Sentes, George DiCamillo, Jordan Conaway, Shelton Mack
141: Should be a really tough weight with a nice mix of talent and quite a few darkhorses. 6-12 is a really even mix of tough guys. Lots of potential combinations of finishes with that last half.
Honestly this was a really tough choice to pick the finals winner. I just think technically Hunter is a cut above Maple. The equalizer that Maple has is his speed and strength. Hunter has a great gas tank that he’s been able to utilize more this year as he’s worked for more bonus points. He’s among the most impressive finishers when he gets to his single leg. Also has some sweet slide bys from the tie ups. This is a pure gut pick.
Maple has been awesome all year, relatively untested most of the season. I do question his gas tank to a degree, but otherwise he is a very complete wrestler. Will get your wrist on top and not give it back. Has amazing re-shots(as many Sam Henson disciples do) from neutral. I’m not terribly confident in picking Maple to get 2nd, but I just went with my gut here. Kendric winning would not surprise me one iota.
Michael Mangrum’s got a tough road to get to the finals, but I like him to finish third. He will probably have Ugi in the quarters, which will give him an opportunity to avenge a loss he was handed at Reno. Mangrum is among the best overall strength/speed combos in this weight and I think that serves him well in this tournament. I see Mangrum losing to Maple in the semis, then beating Henderson and Port for 3rd place. He could be a tough match up for Maple in the semis since he can potentially match Maple athletically.
Mitchell Port has slowly worked his way up the rankings, and has earned a really nice seed for himself. I see him beating Henderson again in the quarters to hit the semis. After losing to Hunter I see him beating Ballweg(again) to wrestle and lose to Mangrum and ultimately place 4th. Port is not flashy, but a very solid wrestler in all 3 positions.
I like Henderson to hold his seed here. He’s got some big time moves and awesome cradles (ask Hunter Stieber). Should he be able to get by Port in the quarters it’d set up a pretty interesting rematch between those two in the semis. I don’t see him getting that far and I like him to beat Lazor and Dardanes in the wrestle backs, then lose to Mangrum and beat Ballweg for 5th place.
This one could potentially backfire. It’s a tough draw for Ballweg here. He’ll have Cobb in round 2, then Maple. Then Mark gets a rematch with the up and down Nevinger in the round of 12. I like him to avenge his loss, then beat Ugi. He likes to keep matches close, and I think Ballweg is comfortable in those tight matches. I like Coach Brands and his ability to get guys clicking late in the year. Ballweg then loses to both Port and Henderson to place 6th and cap off his career at Iowa.
Dardanes has looked tough lately like he might be ready to turn the corner. He lost to Ballweg at Big 10’s, which was a little surprising considering the beat down he put on him just 2 weeks before. It’s unclear which Dardanes we will see, and his draw is not amazing. He faces Durso in round 2, then Stieber(whom he has beaten, though not this year). I see him beating Neibert in the round of 12 in a match of contrasting styles. I think his fundamentals will beat Neiberts funk. I see him losing to Henderson(Dardanes struggles with tough top guys) then beating Ugi for 7th.
Ugi has been one of the most out-of-nowhere guys this season(might have something to do with him being from Mongolia, but anyways). One of the most interesting facets of his game is his great counters, and the fact that he is really pretty tough on the mat considering his folkstyle matchup. I think he’s a real talent and he could really out-perform this prediction. I think he might be the victim of some scouting at this point and coaches might be ready for what he’s bringing at this point. Also, he likes close matches, which can always come back and bite you.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Hunter Stieber-Ohio State
2. Kendric Maple-Oklahoma
3. Michael Mangrum-Oregon State
4. Mitchell Port-Edinboro
5. Evan Henderson-North Carolina
6. Mark Ballweg-Iowa
7. Nick Dardanes-Minnesota
8. Ugi Khishignyam-Citadel
Round of 12: Joey Lazor, Zach Neibert, Mike Nevinger, Richard Durso
149: Lots of good wrestlers. A few excellent wrestlers will be on the outside looking in.
I am very curious how Jordan Oliver will be viewed from a historical perspective. In my mind, he is one of the all time great talents. The variety of things he can do are nearly unparalleled. I believe he is among the most dynamic talents I’ve seen in some time. Yet, when it’s all said and done, he’ll probably “only” have 2 titles. History can have a way of marginalizing guys into simply how many titles they won instead of looking a little deeper.
Regarding Oliver I hope people appreciate him this last tournament, because he is absolutely special. He will be completely untested until the finals. I see him blowing through Brascetta, Santos then he will have a tough match up with Chamberlain. Chamberlain is very fundamentally sound, so I don’t se JO scoring at will like he has during some other matches. That being said I think he wins comfortably and rides into the sunset a 2 time champ. As a side note, I think he’s the future of 66kg for the United States.
As I said before Chamberlain is just a very solid meat and potatoes wrestler. Good positioning, solid leg attacks, and doesn’t beat himself. I think he presents a tough matchup for Ness who is wide open and dangerous. He will have to beat his old nemesis Sakaguchi in the quarters, but he’s historically dominated that match. Ness beating him would not shock me, but I see it as a tough match up for Dylan.
Dylan's the real wild card of this weight. He gave JO a tough go at National Duals, but I’m not sure if he makes it to him. Dylan’s got some great attributes, and some puzzling habits.
He is not afraid to give you a few points knowing that if he goes for his crazy “gator bacon” stuff enough times, he’ll eventually score. I don’t view Ness as a guy who really comes into matches with an actual “plan” he just lets it fly. It’s fun to watch, but I’m not sure that translates against a guy like Chamberlain.
Vinson drops a spot from his placement last year. He’s shown he’s more than just “the guy who one time beat Kyle Dake.” He’s got a tough style and is great on top. I see him falling to Ness in the quarter then beating Sueflohn, Sakaguchi and Santos to get to the consolation finals. I see him losing to Ness again and getting 4th. If anyone remembers last year, we know Donnie can navigate the wrestle backs.
It’s awesome to see Columbia get a guy on the podium, and hopefully it happens for Santos. Built off his round of 12 finish last year and looks like a potential semi-finalist to me. I see him beating Von Ohlen to make the semis. JO will beat him, where I see Santos losing to Vinson, then beating Brascetta to get 5th place.
I’m excited for these VT guys. They’ve got a tough team, and I hope they put together a tough tournament and maybe they could get a top 10 finish. I think Brascetta can be a big part of that. His road is tough. He’ll have Sueflohn in round two, then Oliver. I see him losing to Oliver,then beating Alton in the round of 12, which will certainly be a tough match up. Nicks got a varied arsenal which should help him, he’s got good counters, but isn’t counter reliant. He has his own leg attacks that can help him score on the tough guys in this weight. I think he beats Alton, then beats Von Ohlen. Then he loses to Ness and Santos for a 6th place finish.
Sakaguchi has a wild card element to him as well. He showed last year he knows how to peak for this tournament. He’s got a nice high crotch and can wrestle with great pace for 7 minutes. He’s got an old nemesis Chamberlain early, which will probably stop him from making another run to the semis. I see him beating Grajales in the blood round and winding up 7th.
I said in my darkhorse article I was never big on Von Ohlen’s style. This is compounded with his apparent health questions. Even still, I see the senior able to get to an All American finish. I think Santos knocks him into the losers bracket, where he beats Lopouchanski, then loses out to get 8th place. Don’t feel terribly confident about this pick, though.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Jordan Oliver-Oklahoma State
2. Jason Chamberlain-Boise State
3. Dylan Ness-Minnesota
4. Donnie Vinson-Binghamton
5. Steve Stantos-Columbia
6. Nick Brascetta-Virginia Tech
7. Scott Sakaguchi-Oregon State
8. Cole Von Ohlen-Air Force
Round of 12: Ivan Lopouchanski, Andrew Alton, Eric Grajales, Jake Sueflohn
157: Fun weight. Lots of guys with the potential to take this weight. It’s also a deep weight so some good guys(again) will be on the outside looking in.
The Story: DSJ has been the number 1 guy much of this year. Had a pretty inexplicable loss to Kyle Bradley, then fell to James Green in a tight one. I like him to win it all. His draw is favorable to the finals (much better than the 1 seed Welch’s, in my opinion). He isn’t the kind of guy who wins many blow outs, but he’s solid in each position and darn tough to score on unless you can blow straight through him and get both legs (see James Green). He can ride tough, and score in a variety of ways. I think he gets Alton in the finals, who he is yet to lose to in 4 matches. St. John gives the Hawkeyes a champion.
So I had Alton as one of my darkhorses and I’m putting my money where my mouth is here. Alton’s draw is not “easy” but it is very workable. He has a great track record against both Welch and Green, so I see him getting by those guys and hitting the final.
Welch goes out with another high All American finish. Probably won’t be what he wanted, but I think he falls short in the quarters and battles back all the way for 3rd. He’s improved on a lot of his skills: scrambling, neutral offense and top. He’s a tough matchup, and if I’m wrong and he finds himself in the finals, this guy won’t be surprised.
Speaking of guys who wouldn’t surprise me if they hit the finals, James Green. Probably the most dangerous neutral wrestler in this weight. Can and will take anyone down. The question for Green is can he maintain for 7 minutes, and can he get off of the bottom. He will have a tough bout against Fleming, then Alton in the semis. He could very well make the finals here and against DSJ it’d be a 50/50 proposition in my mind.
Joey Napoli looks to be rounding back into top form. He was out for awhile with injury, but came back strong at EIWA’s. Joey announced himself when he beat Alton in the dual at State College. He’s a very well rounded wrestler. He has good physical strength, brutal riding, and serviceable leg attacks. I see him hitting the semi’s and losing to DSJ then Welch in the wrestle backs and beating Jesse Dong for 5th.
It’s about time for Jesse Dong to get on the podium. Been a top 10-ish guy for a few years, between injuries and downright underperformance, Jesse finds himself without an All American finish. Wrestles tough on his feet with great scrambles, good speed to get to his high crotch, but really is best on top with his leg riding. He looks like a tick. It’ll look like he’s about to get reversed much of the time, but he is very difficult to remove from that position. I see him losing to DSJ in the quarters and beating a familiar foe, Jedd Moore in the round of 12, then beating fellow Westerville North graduate Josh Demas and winding up 6th.
The Snapper ends his career on the podium. The hard nosed bruiser with his controversial top game will be missed next year. Some questions if he’s clicking on all cylinders had me bury him a little further back in the pecking order. James is definitely a guy who could out-do this prediction. His draw is not great for a 5 seed considering he has Green in the quarters then either Welch or Alton in the match after the round of 12.
Josh Demas was in my darkhorse predictions for a reason. His path is tough, and honestly I’m a bit out on a limb here. Especially considering on my bracket I have him losing his first match, but wrestling all the way back to the round of 12 where I think he beats Alex Dieringer. Dieringer has had a great Freshman season, but as I mentioned in my darkhorse article, he has not faced the greatest level of competition(despite Oklahoma State’s pretty tough schedule). Demas will be on fire coming through the backside and I think he matches up well with Dieringer. Might be wrong here, but I’m going with the ol' gut.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Derek St. John-Iowa
2. Dylan Alton-Penn State
3. Jason Welch-Northwestern
4. James Green-Nebraska
5. Joey Napoli-Lehigh
6. Jesse Dong-Virginia Tech
7. James Fleming-Clarion
8. Josh Demas-Ohio States
Round of 12: RJ Pena, Danny Zilverberg, Jedd Moore, Alex Dieringer
165: The grand finale! Just an awesome moment for the sport. Dake and Taylor are phenomenal ambassadors for our sport. Be thankful you get to watch these guys wrestle one last time.
The Story: I came out at the beginning of the year and had Taylor ahead of Dake. While so far Taylor is 0-2 against Dake(collegiately) I don’t feel like I was a universe off about DT over Dake. That being said, I learned my lesson after the All Star match, and haven’t picked against Dake since. That being said, if you picked Taylor, I couldn’t hate on it. The fact remains he’s the most prolific scorer in the NCAA. Except against Kyle Dake. Both will cruise to the finals. Dake will have an interesting match against Caldwell, but it won’t be much more that. Caldwell is great, but Dake is a legend. You’ll see the difference Friday Night. In this match, I see Taylor opening it up a little more. The problem is, “opening it up” has some potential pitfalls when you are talking about Kyle Dake. Dakes tremendous positioning, balance, physical strength make “throwing caution to the wind” a potentially devastating choice. Dake doesn’t let Taylor pull on his head (which is a lot of DT’s offense) and move his feet. He holds his position and keeps his hand off his head. While my own personal allegiances may not necessarily align with the Dake, he has been a tremendous ambassador for the sport. When he wins, I’ll be standing in my living room applauding.
To quote Lee Corso: “Not so fast my friend!” DT will absolutely have something to say about Dake’s ability to make history Saturday night. While he’s an underdog, it is only by the slimmest of margins. I believe these 2 are the closest 1 and 2 guys in the country regardless of weight. So we are talking about 2 legends. I don’t like to make picks based on things like “he’s in Taylors head” or “Dake is best when the lights are brightest” I like to go with measurable things. That’s part of the reason I initially had DT over Dake.
However, with Dake and Taylor I don’t know how else to describe why I think Dake wins. Both matches couldn’t have been closer, but Dake “finds ways to win.” Where can you say Dake has a clear edge based on the two matches? Neither have scored a takedown, so neutral is a wash. DT had the riding time edge in both matches, yet Dake had the timely escape/reversal. DT also had a reversal though. So it’s tough. It will be close, and it’s crazy to think that Taylor may end his career with only two titles, but that’s his reality right now. Maybe Larry Owings gives him a call this week?
I like Caldwell to get third here. He will be challenged in quite a few matches, but I see him beating Monk, losing to Dake, then beating Graham(again) and Yates to place third. Caldwell has shown he can turn it on when it matters historically, and his pedigree is undeniable. That said he’s a very obvious notch below Dake and Taylor.
To say Bubby Graham has jumped levels between last year and this is an understatement. He’s shown he can hang with the best there is(even made Dake work for the win earlier this season). I like him to make the semi’s where DT sends him to face Steven Monk, who I think he beats. He’ll then lose(again) to Tyler Caldwell and wind up 4th.
The 4th Virginia Tech Hokie on the podium. I remember watching VT wrestle offs when Pete was at 149 and thinking “how does this dude make weight!?” Well he’s gone up a few weights, and as we see more and more (Oliver, Kyle Dake) there is something to be said for getting bigger stronger and eating right. Yates is really an impressive guy. He’s got some elite tools. He has some great low shots and high crotches and can get in deep on legs despite a long frame. On top he is just mean. He’s got a variety of turns and ways he can beat you. That kind of versatility will serve him will in Des Moines. I think he loses to Graham in the quarters(Graham beat him soundly earlier this year. I think he beats Moreno in the round of 12 then Polz, then loses to Caldwell in the consolation Semis. Then I like him to beat Steven Monk(in the battle of top terrors) for 5th place.
The impact of Roger Kish taking over North Dakota State has been a very exciting development. Sprenkle and Monk’s development has been very fun to watch. Monk is a very unorthodox wrestler. He loves cradles and will lock it up from anywhere. I think he drops his match to Caldwell, then beats Moore and Sulzer in the wrestle backs. I see him dropping matches to Graham, then Yates to place 5th.
Another Mark Perry protégé finds himself on the podium. He got over the hump last year, and while I think there’s no question he’s an improved wrestler, 165 is just loaded this year. So though he’s improved, his placement won’t necessarily dictate that reality. He’ll face DT in the quarters, then beat Massa, but lose to Yates. I think he beats Sulzer to place 7th.
I think there’s a decent drop off between 7 and 8 here. I think the first 7 throughout the year have shown to be better than the rest. Sulzer has had a really solid season, but I don’t see him able to do much better than 8th. Regardless, an awesome result for the Sophomore. Steve Garland and UVA run a great program, and I’ll be glad to see them get another guy on the podium.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Kyle Dake-Cornell
2. David Taylor-Penn State
3. Tyler Caldwell-Oklahoma State
4. Peter Yates-Virginia Tech
5. Bubby Graham-Oklahoma
6. Steven Monk-North Dakota State
7. Conrad Polz-Illinois
8. Nick Sulzer-UVA
Round of 12: Nick Moore, Cody Yohn, Taylor Massa, Mike Moreno
174: Awesome weight here. All the clichés have been said about this one. “Anybody could win any given day.” Or “If you wrestle this weight 5 times you could get 5 different champs.” I think there’s a more defined pecking order than most, but will concede this is a deep, talent rich weight.
The Story: I mentioned in my darkhorse/letdown article that giving the 6 seed to Storley was pretty illogical. He’s faced the gauntlet this year wrestling Minnesota’s brutal schedule. He’s got wins over the 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 seeds. Insane. I’m banking on the fact that Storley was not healthy at Big 10s, but will be healthy enough to win it all in Des Moines. If it’s a more long-term issue and he’s not 100%, well I will be wrong, and probably very wrong. His path is rough: Evans, Brown, then I think Perry in the finals. I think he has what it takes. Another well rounded and versatile wrestler. He has transformed from the “pick your spots” style, to a more openly aggressive wrestler. This is a change I noticed throughout the year.
Chris Perry is a super tough guy to pick against honestly. He’s got a pretty tough draw, but he’s battle tested and knows how to win the tight ones. I think he tends to let things be a little too close at times, and ultimately that could cost him. His draw is pretty tough(I find I’m saying this a lot about 1 seeds, which I guess speaks to the insane depth in NCAA wrestling). Heflin(speaking of guys who keep it close) and Kokesh in the semis. I think he’s got the match management acumen that get’s him into the finals. If he wants to beat Storley, he needs to get to his legs. If he does that he very well could win. I was torn on this one, but went with my gut.
I like Evans to hold his seed here and place 3rd. He’s shown he can hang with the best guys, but whether he can get that extra point and turn close matches into wins is something that remains to be seen at this point. I think he and Brown are a 50/50 shot at this point. If he get’s fourth I wouldn’t be surprised, but much lower than that I think he would have to really underachieve. Evans has made some serious improvements from last year in his neutral offense, the fact is he still spends too much time in ties and not enough time getting off legitimate attempts. On top he rides too aggressively at times and that has cost him a few times as he’s been reversed by Brown, Storley, Heflin. We know Evans made his money on top in high school, but to this point, he hasn’t made the improvements necessary to give the elite guys trouble. He seems to be a bit stubborn in accepting this fact, and I believe it has cost him. While much of this seems like a criticism of Mike, I think he’s great, and his attitude is good for the sport. He is absolutely a potential finalist and someone who could win it all, but I’m not calling it.
We had to wait just a bit for Brown to notch his “signature win” this season. Since he broke through against Blanton, he’s done a great job and has shown he can wrestle with the best. Likes to beat on your head, and fire off his single. Showcased his neutral defense and horsepower when he pancaked Evans to his back for the deciding match points. I think he makes the semis, but loses to Storley, beats Heflin and loses to Brown for 4th place.
Kokesh has really benefited from the move up to 174. Even though he beat Brown earlier this year, I think there’s a decent gap between he and the top 4. He’s an aggressive wrestler, who has shown he can put up some big points. I see him beating Asper, losing to Perry, then losing to Evans(again) and earning 5th over Heflin.
Coming into this year I thought Heflin was a real threat to the title. The fact is, he is enormous, and I think the cut(and believe he’s admitted as much) is really hard on him. He’ll have the Friday morning match, against Perry, who I think beats him. Then he’ll beat Munster and Asper before losing to Brown and Kokesh for a solid 6th place. He likes to keep it close, which can be good to pull off an upset here or there, but is not a sustainable gameplan against 174’s elite.
I expected Jordan to be more “in the mix” with the 174 elite coming into this year. He hasn’t really been that, with his best win probably coming over Asper. But he’s a seasoned brawler who has shown he can peak at NCAA’s. He’ll be tested early in round 2 by Yates, then against Brown. I think Brown beats him again, and Blanton beats Mat Miller in the round of 12. Unfortunately, he will then face Evans who has been very successful against him, so I see him quickly dropping to the 7th/8th match against Asper.
THE ASPERATOR! (Thanks Rob Ficker). It may seem like I was picking on Josh a bit in my darkhorse/letdown article(in a nutshell, he’s wrestled 1 guy seeded in the 1-8 and lost to them). The fact is I think a lot of Asper, and his skills. I love his intensity and high paced style, and I love the ACC in general. The fact is, he has not faced even a fraction of the competition 1-7 has. I think that ultimately comes back to bite him. From a talent perspective he is not far off from many of these guys. I think the move up to 174 was very smart for him, and think he caps off a fine career with another trip on the podium.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Logan Storley-Minnesota
2. Chris Perry-Oklahoma State
3. Mike Evans-Iowa
4. Matt Brown-Penn State
5. Robert Kokesh-Nebraska
6. Nick Heflin-Ohio State
7. Jordan Blanton-Illinois
8. Josh Asper-Maryland
Round of 12: Dan Yates, Lee Munster, Mat Miller, Todd Porter
184: While there is a ton of talent here, including two 'other' NCAA finalists (Bosak and Hamlin), can anyone stop Ruth? A more mysterious question might be: What color will his hair be?
The Story: I said at the beginning of the year I felt Ed was the biggest lock to win a title coming into this year, and I’ll stand by that statement. Had a close(score wise) match with Kevin Steinhaus, but was never close to being scored on. His attributes are well known, his style is unprecedented, and at times baffling. He can look disinterested as he completely dismantles you. His misdirection work is probably the best I’ve seen in the NCAA this year. He’s a great and efficient finisher, he’s yet to be ridden for any real amount of time and he’s among the most dangerous top wrestlers out there. You know it’s coming, you’ve seen it so many times, but unless you’re among the elite at this weight, you’re getting cross face cradled. I like him to win, but Ben Bennett poses a pretty intriguing threat.
Bennett is among the most under the radar (potentially) 4 time All Americans I’ve seen. Just goes about his business and wins matches. He’s a real physical specimen. His physical strength is what could make his match with Ruth potentially very intriguing. Not to mention he will probably be the best top wrestler Ruth has faced this season (no disrespect to Steve Bosak). I’m not sure if he’s the number 2 guy at this weight or not. Hamlin’s health questions (and the fact that Bennett has already beaten Hamlin) lead me to think he’s going to make the finals.
Hamlin is one of the few guys to make Ruth sweat this year. He gave him a real run late(after getting manhandled in the 1st period) closing the gap to 11-9. He seemingly has been bitten by the injury bug. Had the hand issue earlier, and now seems to have a hip problem. Hopefully he’s able to give the best representation of himself at NCAA’s this year. If he does that, he could make the finals.
Bosak comes in as the returning champ at this weight, but still is only a 4 seed. He’s very much the same guys he’s always been the last 3 years or so. He got hot at NCAA’s last year and was able to come away a champion. I don’t expect that to happen again. I think he makes the semi’s with little issue(he owns Steinhaus) and falls again to Ed. He’ll beat Ethen in the consolations and lose to Hamlin and leave with 4th.
Steinhaus reminds me of a 184 pound Zach Sanders. Great hustle, fun to watch, but has some guys he simply doesn’t match up with well and it prevents him from winning NCAA titles(A la McDonough for Sanders). Steinhaus really doesn’t have many weaknesses apart from people being able to get to his legs a bit too often. He has an uncanny knack for taking matches late from guys, so if it’s close late, do not bet against him. I’ve seen him do it countless times in his career and don’t be surprised if he does it again in a big spot.
Ethen’s truly had a roller coaster year. Up a weight, big slump, wrestle off with Gambrall, but timing is everything in this sport. He really looked tough all Big 10’s, and dominated Ihnen. I think this is the highest he could potentially place. Even though he’ll have Steinhaus in rd 2,I think he has Bailey from Navy, then Sheptock in the round of 12. He beat Sheptock last year in this exact spot, and think he does again. I see him beating Loder as well before dropping back to back matches to Bosak and Steinhaus.
Ryan Loder is someone who’s been on the cusp for awhile and I think he’ll break through finally. Not a terribly favorable draw, but I see him beating Larson in rd 2, then falling to Hamlin. In the Round of 12 he’s got Josh Ihnen, a returning All American. Watching Ihnen, I think he’s not quite clicking on all cylinders, and that’s not great timing. I see him losing to Loder who can score in a variety of ways from leg attacks, ducks to tough riding on top. The Schwab mob gets a guy on the podium.
Watching Chris Chionuma has been fun this year. He’s among the most talented guys from neutral. He has very quick shots, using both doubles and low ankle stuff. He does have some shot defense issues, and can be ridden. Chionuma is another wildcard for this weight. I believe in his talent and he could out-do an 8th place finish.
CP's All American Picks:
Ed Ruth-Penn State
Chris Chionuma-Oklahoma State
Round of 12: Max Thomusseit, Mike Larson, Jimmy Sheptock, Josh Ihnen
197: In the early stages of the year, there appeared to be much more parity behind Kilgore. Quentin has re-emerged as the top threat to him, though remember that Hernandez has just one loss: a narrow one to Kilgore.
The Story: The Killer has been on a rampage all year. Lot’s of mat time already having wrestled 39 matches. Lots of bonus points and very dominant. He is the runaway Hodge winner on most years, but this is just an absurdly loaded year for talent(lucky us). I like Kilgore to widen the gap from his 1 point win at Vegas over Hernandez. I think he faces Quentin Wright in the finals. I give Quentin more of a chance than most, but ultimately see Kilgore as the champion. Dustin is very offensively minded, and he tends to give up his legs a bit, but he is always looking to score and doesn’t mind if you sneak a takedown as he fully intends on getting quite a few of his own.
Quentin Wright has been one of my favorites since watching his progression as a scrappy true Freshman 174 pounder. He’s made great strides and in my mind is the only person with a chance to beat Kilgore. I think Dustin gives up his legs a bit much. If he can get to the legs and finish, he’ll make it very interesting. I think earning the early score and maybe making Kilgore come from behind(something he hasn’t had to do much this year) is the recipe for a win. Both are solid mat wrestlers, and while Kilgore is a brutal rider, I think Quentin gets away. Wright will have to be ready for his single leg. Ultimately his Kilgore’s tremendous physical strength earns Dustin the win, but I foresee a tight one.
The Pittsburgh Panther improves one spot off of his placement last year. A very solid wrestler in all positions, I think from 3-5 there’s a room for some wiggling, and am pretty excited to possibly see the Hernandez/Wilps match. This is an under-rated weight that has a lot of talent. Wilps has solid leg attacks, good defense and good tilts on top. I like him to hold his seed and wrestle 3rd.
Hernandez will have his hands full this whole tournament. I think he gets by Meeks, but falls to Kilgore again. I like him to beat Gadson tight and lose to Wilps in the 3/4th place match. He’s had a really under the radar season with a lot of bonus points. I think he’ll have his hands full with Gadson personally to just get to the 3rd/4th place match, but I’m going with experience in this one.
I’ve got to say, I’ve become a real Kyven Gadson fan this season. The kid has battled injuries, and endured personal hardships that would make lesser men hang em up (and nobody would blame him). I respect the heck out of anyone who can endure all he has and keep working for athletic goals. To his wrestling: Gadson is a big time upside guy. He’s got a varied arsenal along with great physical strength. His gas tank is an absolute question, so it will be interesting to see how he does in his first NCAA tournament. He’s a potential semi-finalist in my mind, though I think Wilps pace and positioning win out ultimately. I see him beating Burak(again) and earning 5th place.
Micah Burak is another meat and potatoes solid wrestler. Never too high, never too low. He is much of the same guy he’s always been,a nd I see him beating Meredith to hit the quarters, then losing to Kilgore, but beating Rosholt and Campolattano in the wrestle backs. After losing to Wilps and Gadson he wins up 6th.
Coming into this tournament before looking at the brackets, I thought Schiller could have a top 5 type of finish. His draw isn’t great, having Schiedel(who I think he beats) then Wright. I like him to beat Haynes(who pinned Schiller earlier) who is always up and down, in the round of 12. I could see him beating Gadson, but I’m not sure it’s as likely. So I have him dropping that match to Gadson, then beating Campolattano for 7th place.
Speaking of upside, not many guys have as much as Andrew Campolattano. His draw is pretty brutal. I see him dropping his first match and clawing his way back to an 8th place finish beating Palik and Meeks (again) along the way. He’s been a bit of an enigma at times, and his development was not quite what I had expected coming into this year. He’s got a long road, but I see him placing 8th.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Dustin Kilgore-Kent State
2. Quentin Wright-Penn State
3. Matt Wilps-Pittsburgh
4. Alfonso Hernandez-Wyoming
5. Kyven Gadson-Iowa State
6. Micah Burak-Penn
7. Scott Schiller-Minnesota
8. Andrew Campolattano-Ohio State
Round of 12: Taylor Meeks, Blake Rosholt, Brent Haynes, Jake Meredith
285: This is an awesome weight, and not just because of the “big 3.” There’s a ton of talent, and while heavies are not always the most aesthetically pleasing to watch, I think there are a few heavies out there who make for very entertaining matches and exciting match ups.
The Story: I’m having a hard time picking against Nelson in this spot. His draw is pretty tough, Trice, Gelogaev, then Bradley. I think he’s got too much hustle for Trice, I think he’s in Gelogaevs head, and I think he will have a better gameplan for Bradley this time around.
I wish Nelson would implement some of the leg attacks we saw him use so much as a wide open Freshman. He’s got such a tremendous physique: tall, strong, and thick he is nearly impossible to take down (has he been taken down this year?). He’s got a ridiculous ride he puts on guys. While he’s not a prolific turner, he is great at keeping guys down and using his leverage. He adjusted well after a loss to Gelogaev last year and I think he makes adjustments and doesn’t wrestle Dom’s match this year.
Maybe I’m an idiot for picking against Dom, but I think Nelson get’s him. Dom is someone I admire for sticking with Mizzou when he could have started for nearly any other program save Missouri. I am a guy who admires that kind of loyalty. He’ll be tested every step of the way, facing Thomusseit in the quarters, McMullan in the semis (who he beat pretty soundly at the All Star) then Nelson in the finals. I think it’s like 55/45 Nelson over Bradley. I’ll be excited to see how this one shakes out.
Z is probably my favorite heavyweight of all time. Coming into this year, I would have bet you money that he was going to win this weight if he stayed healthy. Well he’s stayed healthy, but his performances against Nelson have not reinforced my original thinking. So I’m going off that statement and having him place 3rd. No doubt in my mind he’s good enough to win this tournament. He’s more than just throws (though that’s what people think of when they think about Z). He’s got great leg attacks that he can finish pretty creatively for a heavyweight. He got away from Nelson with little trouble last year, but it’s been a different story this year. I think he falls to Nelson in the semis then beats Hanke and Telford for 3rd.
Yeah, Telford at 3rd. I think he’s looked awesome the last few weeks. He’s been right there with Dom and Nelson lately. He’s getting to legs a lot more regularly which was my chief criticism of Bobby coming into this year. I like him to lose to Z in the quarters,t hen beat McClure(again), McMullan(whom he’s struggled with historically, I recognize) and then fall to Z to place 4th. 4th is probably the highest he can go, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him wind up in the 5-7 range.
Mike McMullan is another one of the fun heavyweights to watch. He’s not afraid to mix it up and take chances, which I appreciate. I like him to beat Hanke in the quarters(that will be an exciting match between two pretty nimble big guys) and fall to Dom in the semis. McMullan v. Telford is probably a toss up, but I think Bobby’s at a slightly higher level right now. I think McMullan beats Hanke again for 5th place.
I’ve loved watching Chad Hanke, and his progression after moving up from 197 has been awesome to watch. He’s a bona fide 96 kg guy for the United States, and I think he’ll do well on the next level. He’s got a beautiful single leg that he picked Gelogaev apart with last year. He’s a bit undersized, so big guys can give him some issues. I have him falling to McMullan in the quarters, but I don’t feel especially confident in that pick. Then I think he beats Medberry, Thomusseit in the wrestle backs before falling to Gelogaev and McMullan for 6th.
I said in my dark horse picks that Trice is a real wildcard coming from the 10 seed. Has a tough draw but I see him beating Chalfant and losing to Telford(someone he’s beaten) and winding up 7th over Zac Thomusseit. This is a very even weight after the top 3. I think the order can go a variety of ways and seeing Trice wrestle up to 4th place wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Thomusseit wraps up my predictions with an 8th place finish. He’s been very good all year. No hiccups what-so-ever. He’s not the biggest heavy, but he’s got good leg attacks and the ability to score a lot of different ways. He too could finish higher.
CP's All American Picks:
1. Tony Nelson-Minnesota
2. Dom Bradley-Missouri
3. Alan Gelogaev-Oklahoma State
4. Bobby Telford-Iowa
5. Mike McMullan-Northwestern
6. Chad Hanke-Oregon State
7. Jarrod Trice-CMU
8. Zac Thomusseit-Pittsburgh
Round of 12: Connor Medberry, Jeremy Johnson, Adam Chalfant, Mike McClure
Team Championship Race: Plugged my predictions into the rubric and this is what came out. I think PSU is going to be too tough to catch. Though they’re numerically only favored by 6.5 points according to my predictions, their bonus points, and the fact that they’ll probably score in all 10 weights will be too much. Now, if PSU underachieves in a few spots and Minnesota or Iowa have good tournaments they can make things very interesting. It’s strange to see that Penn State is favored to “only” win 1 weight. That being said, Megaludis, Taylor and Wright all have what it takes to wind up on top. I was surprised to see Illinois only at 10.
CP's Team Race Picks:
1. Penn State
4. Oklahoma State
5. Ohio State
7. Virginia Tech
9. Oregon State