2023 NCAA Championships Watch Party

2023 NCAA Wrestling Championship Preview & Predictions - 197 Pounds

2023 NCAA Wrestling Championship Preview & Predictions - 197 Pounds

A full preview, with predictions, for the 197-pound weight class at the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships.

Mar 12, 2023 by Kyle Klingman
2023 NCAA Wrestling Championship Preview & Predictions - 197 Pounds

Similar to last year, the 197-pound bracket has no clear favorite and no wrestler’s seed will likely mean much. Returning champion Gabe Dean enters as the nine-seed following a 20-3 season where he lost, 6-3, in the Big Ten finals to Nebraska’s Silas Allred. This weight is a tangled plate of spaghetti that should be the most chaotic bracket of the tournament. 

Mar 16-18, 2023, 3:00 PM UTC

Jump to each of the individual weight class previews below along with links to our rankings and the NCAA brackets:

Brackets | Rankings | Mega-Preview | Weight Class Previews: 125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165 174, 184, 285

2022 Place Winners

1. Max Dean (Penn State)
2. Jacob Warner (Iowa)
3. Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming)
4. Rocky Elam (Missouri)
5. Yonger Bastida (Iowa State)
6. Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State)
7. Eric Schultz (Nebraska)
8. Greg Bulsak (Rutgers)

The Favorite

#1 — Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh)

Bonaccorsi, a 2021 national finalist, earned the top seed following a 16-0 season. He reached the Round of 12 in 2022 and missed the podium, but his consistent season makes him the favorite entering the tournament. 

His wins over #5 Michael Beard (Lehigh), #6 Isaac Trumble (North Carolina State), #11 Jaxon Smith (Maryland), #12 Zac Braunagel (Illinois), and #13 Yonger Bastida (Iowa State) prove he can go with anyone. And he is the only undefeated wrestler in the bracket. 

The Pittsburgh star does not have an enviable quad, though. He will likely face either Braxton Amos (Wisconsin) or Owen Pentz (North Dakota State) in the second round, and both are tough outs. If everything goes to chalk, he’ll have Allred or Dean in the quarterfinals. That’s a tough three-match set to start a title run. 

Bonaccorsi is the favorite solely because of his perfect season, but take this prediction at your own peril. The entire bracket could fall apart early.

Nino Bonaccorsi 3-peats At ACC Championships

Hear from Nino Bonaccorsi after winning his ACC title.


#2 — Bernie Truax (Cal Poly)
#3 — Rocky Elam (Missouri)
#4 — Ethan Laird (Rider)
#5 — Michael Beard (Lehigh)
#6 — Isaac Trumble (North Carolina State)
#7 — Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State)
#8 — Silas Allred (Nebraska)
#9 — Max Dean (Penn State)
#10 — Jacob Cardenas (Cornell)
#11 — Jaxon Smith (Maryland)
#12 — Zac Braunagel (Illinois)
#13 — Yonger Bastida (Iowa State)
#14 — Jacob Warner (Iowa)
#15 — Luke Surber (Oklahoma State)

It seems ridiculous to list 14 contenders when there are 33 wrestlers in a bracket, but this weight warrants it. Dean defeated Warner in last year’s NCAA tournament finals and they are seeded #9 and #14, respectively.

Dean has reached the championship finals twice, so he has more than earned contender status. He has a 6-0 win over Bonaccorsi but that was back in 2019 when they were at 184 pounds. 

Warner (15-6) has a knack for coming through in the clutch at nationals, placing seventh, fourth, and second each of the past three contested seasons. This is the third time Warner has entered the NCAA Championships with six losses, so don’t be surprised if he reaches the podium for a fourth time. Iowa needs his points, too. The time is now for the Hawkeye star. 

Everyone else on the list has a reason to believe he can reach the finals following results from the season. Here’s a look at how the top 10 seeds have faired against the field. 

No. 2 Bernie Truax (13-1) has wins over #11 Smith and #5 Beard but was pinned by #6 Trumble.

No. 3 Rocky Elam (10-1) has wins over #15 Surber, #13 Bastida, and #7 Sloan but lost to #15 Surber.

No. 4 Ethan Laird (25-1) has a win over #9 Dean but lost by fall to #16 Pentz. 

No. 5 Michael Beard (19-3) has wins over #15 Surber, #10 Cardenas, #9 Dean, and #6 Trumble but lost to #1 Bonaccorsi, #2 Truax, and #10 Cardenas. 

No. 6 Isaac Trumble (19-4) has wins over #12 Braunagel, #8 Allred, and #2 Truax but lost to #21 Andy Smith (Virginia Tech), #5 Beard, and twice to #1 Bonaccorsi. 

No. 7 Tanner Sloan (23-2) has wins over #8 Allred, and #15 Surber but lost to #21 Smith and #3 Elam.

No. 8 Silas Allred (26-5) has wins over #12 Braunagel and #9 Dean but losses to #14 Warner, #7 Sloan, and twice to #6 Trumble. 

No. 9 Max Dean (20-3) has wins over #14 Warner and #13 Bastida but losses to #8 Allred, #5 Beard, and #4 Laird.

No. 10 Jacob Cardenas (16-3) has a win over #5 Beard but losses to #17 Braxton Amos and Beard.

Also notice that there is strong conference representation at the top. No. 8 Silas Allred is the highest-seeded wrestler from the Big Ten, which is further proof that this is the deepest and most chaotic weight of the 10. 

Truax is a storyline to follow as he continues to pack on the pounds during his college career. He started his career at 149 pounds as a true freshman then moved up to 165 where he qualified for the 2020 COVID-nationals that were canceled. 

His recent placing looks like this: fourth at 174 in 2021 and fourth at 184 in 2022. He’s at 197 this season as a junior and has a chance to reach the finals. Truax will likely have to get through Surber in the second round, then Sloan or Cadenas in the quarters. No path is straight or easy at this weight. 


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Former Penn State teammates Michael Beard and Max Dean faced off earlier this season

Sleepers & Landmines

#17 — Braxton Amos (Wisconsin)
#21 — Andy Smith (Virginia Tech)
#22 — Michial Foy (Minnesota)
#26 — Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State)

It’s not fair to pick four, but listing every wrestler left in the weight is absurd. Amos is a 2021 U20 World freestyle champion and Greco bronze medalist who could make this a breakthrough tournament. His losses are typically close, and he has a couple of nice wins this season. He’ll likely face Bonaccori if he wins his opening match over Pentz.

Andy Smith has seven losses on the season but his hit list makes him a dangerous matchup. He has wins over #6 Trumble and #10 Cardenas — even though Trumble won his revenge match over Smith at the ACC Championships. 

Foy is down to his super senior season but hasn’t reached the podium yet. He has wins over Amos, Warner, and Surber but his 15-11 record doesn’t make him a solid pick to place. The Golden Gopher could be a bracket-buster since he keeps matches close and has an array of throws in his arsenal. 

And you have to include Gavin Hoffman, a sixth-place finisher at last year's NCAA Championship who is 16-7 on the season. That's not an enviable first-round matchup for South Dakota State's Tanner Sloan. 


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Gavin Hoffman upset Nino Bonaccorsi at last year's NCAA Championships


Bonaccorsi is listed as the favorite but this is still Dean’s weight class to win. He’s the reigning champion and you have to beat the man if you want to be the man. Dean has three losses this season but the NCAA Championships are a different animal. 

Elam has wrestled a limited schedule but his quad is favorable to reach the finals. Running into Caffey or Warner in the second round will be a test; however, he’s capable of defeating both and it will be the first time he’s faced either in college. 

Truax has placed fourth in the past two seasons so we’ll see if he can continue the trend by falling to Bonaccorsi for third. Iowa needs Warner, so it will be important for him to stay alive if he loses at some point during the tournament. 

Full All-American predictions with Round of 12 finishers:
1. Max Dean, Penn State
2. Rocky Elam, Missouri
3. Nino Bonaccorsi, Pitt
4. Bernie Truax, Cal Poly
5. Jacob Warner, Iowa
6. Michael Beard, Lehigh
7. Isaac Trumble, NC State
8. Ethan Laird, Rider

Round of 12 finishers - Silas Allred (Nebraska), Yonger Bastida (Iowa State), Jacob Cardenas (Cornell), Luke Surber (Oklahoma State)

Check out our 197-pound rankings here.