Now that we have our sweet, sweet brackets for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, it's time to take a closer look at the weight classes. We're doing a deep dive into each division, rolling out previews one at a time, so you can pour over and digest everything before the first whistle in St. Louis on March 16.
After breaking down 125 and 133, we start our climb out of the lower weights now with 141.
Last year, Mean Dean Heil emerged from a crowded field of contenders, a feat he'll attempt to repeat in 2017.
To do so, Heil will have to face down a bracket overstuffed with familiar faces. Last season saw just one All-American graduate, Old Dominion's Chris Mecate. Not only is almost everyone back from last year, but several new contenders have also burst onto the scene, making 141 easily one of the NCAA's deepest weight classes.
To give you an idea of just how tough things are at 141, two returning All-Americans are seeded outside the top eight. Last year's eighth-place finisher, Randy Cruz of Lehigh, managed only an 11 seed, while returning finalist, Wyoming's Bryce Meredith, could do no better than a 10 seed.
Like all the other No. 1 seeds, Heil enters the tournament undefeated. He also enters the NCAAs the same way he started the season, with the No. 1 ranking. Heil's ranking after the tournament will be determined by how he handles a nigh-interminable list of legit title contenders.
We'll take a look at those contenders next, followed by dark horses, and a full set of predictions and analysis (2017 NCAA tournament seeds in parentheses).
Title Contenders(1) Dean Heil, Oklahoma State
(2) Kevin Jack, North Carolina State
(3) Joey McKenna, Stanford
(4) Matthew Kolodzik, Princeton
(5) Anthony Ashnault, Rutgers
(6) George DiCamillo, Virginia
(7) Joey Ward, North Carolina
(10) Bryce Meredith, Wyoming
I don't even know where to start with this awesome constellation of superstars. I probably could have added a few more names to be honest. The top seven have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Bryce Meredith has been a small step below, but as a returning finalist I believe he warrants inclusion.
Ward has wins over Joey McKenna and Meredith this year but also two losses to his ACC nemesis, George DiCamillo. Meanwhile, DiCam has two losses to Jack and a 3-1 loss to Heil.
McKenna has but the one loss this season, to Joey Ward, but owns a win over Matthew Kolodzik. Kolodzik also lost to Kevin Jack but has wins over Anthony Ashnault and No. 11 Randy Cruz.
Finally, Ashnault has two close losses to Jack and one to Kolodzik but has beaten up the Big Ten all year long and cruised to his second straight conference title last week.
Dark Horses(16) Jared Prince, Navy
(US) James Gulibon, Penn State
(US) Ryan Diehl, Maryland
Midshipman Jared Prince is better than his No. 16 seed would have you believe, coming in at 11th in the Flo Top 20 rankings. He's got serious strength for a freshman and an incredible gas tank. Heil was done no favors by drawing a 1-2 punch of Prince and Clarion's Brock Zacherl in the first two rounds.
No one knows what kind of performance you're going to get in a tournament from the enigma that is Jimmy Gulibon. The blue-chip senior's best season so far was two years ago, down at 133 pounds, when he finished fifth at the 2015 NCAAs. Gulibon has has still shown enough flashes of brilliance since then to be a credible threat to anyone else in the bracket.
Maryland's Ryan Diehl, another highly rated recruit, spent that last few years under the radar, but the Liberty University transfer is poised to make a big splash at the NCAAs. The Terps sophomore had a coming out party at the Big Ten Championships, beating a trio of top 20-ranked tournament qualifiers on his way to a fifth-place finish and automatic NCAA invitation.
Upset SpecialSenior Logan Everett of Army West Point will have his hands full in a first-round matchup with Missouri super frosh Jaydin Eierman. However, Everett's veteran savvy and experience could be the difference-maker, especially if Everett can keep it close, push the pace, and make conditioning a factor late in the match.
- Kevin Jack, North Carolina State
- Dean Heil, Oklahoma State
- Joey McKenna, Stanford
- George DiCamillo, Virginia
- Matthew Kolodzik, Princeton
- Anthony Ashnault, Rutgers
- Joey Ward, North Carolina
- Randy Cruz, Lehigh
The reasoning behind this upset is Jack's nearly perfect record this year. The NC State junior's lone loss came during the first weekend of the season, a tiebreaker loss to Cruz back on November 13. Jack's been tearing up the competition ever since, with wins over the No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7 seeds. He also won the ACC, a conference that sports a trio of top eight 141-pounders.
But the crown won't come easy, as Heil is one extremely tough out, as evidenced by his unblemished 27-0 record this year. Jack, however, has an impossibly tall build for the division and has been giving opponents fits all year with his stingy defense and supernatural lank. As such, I think the Connecticut native claims the 141 title for the Nutmeg State.
Watch Jack frustrate Ashnault at this season's Journeymen Tussle with his impregnable defense:
And here Dean Heil comes perilously close to giving up a no-control pin TWICE to Jimmy Gulibon earlier this year:
Though I'm predicting him battling back for third, I actually have McKenna losing in the quarterfinals to DiCamillo. The Wahoos senior is a three-time bloodround loser, and I think he is due for a monster run through the first three sessions.
Seeing a familiar foe in Kolodzik in the quarterfinals, Ashnault will win for the second time in four tries. That will make back-to-back semifinal appearances for Ashnault, who will enjoy the limelight until Heil sends him to the consolation semis. Jack will do likewise to a dangerous DiCamillo.
Down in the consi bracket, we will see the reverse of the topside. McKenna will beat DiCamillo for third and Kolodzik will beat Ashnault for fifth. This is my way of chickening out and picking split matches for those duos when it very well could turn out the other way around.
For the final two podium spots, I think Ward avoids going anywhere near the bottom position against Cruz and earns a seventh place finish and the third All-American honor for the ACC. Tobacco Road erupts in celebration at the news.
There Will Be BloodroundLike 133, this weight will see the vanquished careers of many accomplished wrestlers strewn across the bracket.
Meredith will run out of Cinderella power and fall to Kolodzik in the round of 12. Nebraska's Colt McCrystal will be stopped by the crafty Cruz. Gulibon will come up just shy of an All-American laurel, unable to upset the Tar Heel's Ward.
Finally, Prince will have no answer for the granite-like defense of McKenna and will also fail to place, although I would not bet on anyone stopping him in the future.
Think you can make better picks? There's a very good chance you can! Here's the 141 bracket. Let me know what you think, and enjoy the championship, wrestling fans!