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There's one final opportunity for the best wrestlers in the country to make an impression in the race for the Hodge trophy: the NCAA championships.
Although this has been a two horse race all season, we're going to include several other undefeated wrestlers in this article, but the bulk of it will be spent debating the merits of Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal.
Here is the criteria for the Hodge Trophy.
- A wrestlers record
- Number of pins
- Dominance on the mat
- Past credentials
- Quality of competition
A special thanks to Gardner Wheeler of 3D wrestler stats and Brian Jones aka LemonPie for giving us a big head start in compiling some important stats to look at when making your Hodge pick.
1) Bo Nickal, Penn State: 197
Full disclosure, I don't have a Hodge vote, but to me it's been Bo Nickal leading the way all season. I've mentioned this before, but to me raw number of pins is not as good as pin percentage, which Nickal leads the country in at 60 percent (15 in 25 matches).
He's fourth overall in number of pins nationwide, and his 15 falls came in a time of 31:53. That's a much quicker rate than Jason Nolf, who has 14 pins in 48:05, which brings me to my next stat that favors the Texan. I'm a big fan of finishing matches quickly, which Nickal does 50 seconds faster on average than Nolf (slide 3 in this instagram post).
In terms of finishing matches off, Nickal has 12 first period pins, a second period pin, and five pins or techs in the third period. That means nearly half of his matches are over before the second period starts, and 72% of them don't go the full seven minutes. We'll get into Nolf's numbers for that below.
Only two wrestlers in the country have dominance scores over five, which totals the outcome of each match as though it were a dual. Nickal is at 5.24 while Nolf is at 5.15, meaning they average better than a tech every time out. I'll also introduce a few more advanced stats here to make my case for Nickal.
LemonPie took the basic concept of points per 36 minutes used in basketball and applied it to wrestling, where matches can end before the full seven minutes. In terms of point differential per match, Nickal comes in at 16.86 and Nolf's margin is 15.5 (pins are scored a certain way). Another stat he uses that's interesting is "takedown efficiency score," which basically looks at whether or not the guy escapes and if the wrestler who finishes the takedown also gets a turn right after. Nickal's score is 2.56, which maps with how often he turns guys, and Nolf's is 2.17, which makes sense since Nolf is a little more likely to play catch and release.
2) Jason Nolf, Penn State: 157
We're going to continue to nerd out on the stats here. Career accomplishments are a thing, and Nolf has four career losses: once during his redshirt year to James Green, the injury default loss to John Van Brill that is generally thrown out, and the two to Isaiah Martinez his freshman year. Nickal has lost to Myles Martin twice and Nate Jackson officially, plus redshirt losses to Matt Brown and Andy McCulley, so the losses favor Nolf.
As for career stats, Nolf has more career team points at NCAAs, more career pins, and a better all-time bonus rate than Nickal. He also leads Nickal on a few per minute stats: 6.88 takedowns per seven minutes and 2.06 nearfall points per minute of riding time. Nickal comes in at 6.37 takedowns per seven minutes and 1.88 nearfall points per minutes of riding time. Thanks again to LemonPie for those stats!
Getting back to the match ending, we're throwing out Nolf's injury default win over Eric Barone in the dual. Otherwise, he's got eight first period techs or pins, four second period pins, and five pins or techs in the third period. That means eight of his matches went the distance, and 68% were ended early.
Ok, one more stat. Bo Nickal has been taken down just once this year, and Jason Nolf has been taken down five times. In total, per 3D wrestler stats, Nickal has been on his feet 96 separate times this year and ended up with 90 takedowns. That means, aside from the takedown given up, only five times did a period end in which Nickal was still on his feet.
Ultimately, the numbers favor Nickal. But several people will vote for Nolf because of the way he wins, and the perception that he is advancing the sport technically due to his incorporation of other martial arts like Jiu Jitsu. Just as long as they don't give it to both of them.
3) Myles Martin, Ohio State: 184
It was rather difficult picking a #3 for this list, so we went with the guy with the fourth highest bonus rate of anyone still undefeated. He's only got three bonus wins of the 10 matches he's had against ranked guys, and only has three pins total.
4) Mark Hall, Penn State: 174
We're filing this one under "quality of competition" because, of Hall's 26 matches, 14 of them were against ranked opponents. That helps justify his 53.8 bonus rate, with only three bonus wins against those 14 ranked guys, though he does have six falls on the year.
5) Yianni Diakomihalis, Cornell: 141
As has been the case all year, Yianni not wrestling in CKLV hurts his Hodge case. Once he came back though, he's looked excellent, with only Nolf and Nickal having higher bonus rates (74%) among undefeated wrestlers. Both he and Marinelli have a 4.57 dominance score, but the Bull does have nine pins to Yianni's seven. The bottom three don't have national titles, so they're hurt in the career category.
6) Anthony Ashnault, Rutgers: 149
The senior is seeking to become Rutgers first national champ, which is enough of a storyline for me to think he can creep in with the Hodge finalists. He does have eight pins, which puts him right behind Marinelli among the guys not named Nickal or Nolf.
7) Alex Marinelli, Iowa: 165
I'd certainly be ok with putting Marinelli higher now that he has a win over a two-time defending champ. And we've already brought up he's only behind Nolf and Nickal in terms of pins by undefeated guys. But he has zero bonus wins in his seven matches against ranked guys, and has two overtime matches. More than anything though, just like Ashnault, his lack of prior national titles is why I'm skeptical he can be a finalist if everyone above him wins out.
8) Nick Piccininni, Oklahoma State: 125
He's third in the nation with 11 techs against D1 competition, plus has pinned the defending NCAA champ. But his pin rate as a whole is very low, he's the only guy on this list who didn't place last season (Ashnault doesn't count since he redshirted), and doesn't even have stats as good as Sebastian Rivera, who may be punished for his loss to Stevan Micic, even though they didn't really punish Seth Gross for bumping up to wrestle Bryce Meredith last year.