Predicting Outcomes For Top 10 Wrestling Recruits Based On Past Data

Predicting Outcomes For Top 10 Wrestling Recruits Based On Past Data

Your team landed a top-10 recruit, so how excited should you be about their prospects at the NCAA level?

Jul 10, 2020 by Luke Louison
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For fans of Penn State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Cornell, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, and especially Wisconsin, Missouri, and Iowa, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about bringing in a top 10 recruit. But the question remains: How excited?

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For fans of Penn State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Cornell, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, and especially Wisconsin, Missouri, and Iowa, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about bringing in a top 10 recruit. But the question remains: How excited?

That’s what we are here to figure out. What can data about past top-10 recruits tell us about the typical trajectory and range of wrestlers of this caliber coming out of high school?

First of all, here are the top 10 recruits in the Class of 2020 and where they’re headed to school.

RankWrestlerTeam
1Braxton AmosWisconsin
2Keegan O'TooleMissouri
3Patrick KennedyIowa
4Beau BartlettPenn State
5Lachlan McNeilNorth Carolina
6Hunter CatkaVirginia Tech
7Robert HowardPenn State
8Josh SaundersCornell
9Chase SaldateMichigan State
10AJ FerrariOklahoma State

Methodology

Before we get started, a word about the data. We looked at the top 10 recruits from each of Flo’s last five Big Boards: Class of 2015, Class of 2016, Class of 2017, Class of 2018, and Class of 2019. Before that, there was not a single, “pound for pound” ranking available. Certainly, the difference is not profound between the #10 and #11 guy, but a line had to be drawn somewhere. It’s a fairly small sample size, unfortunately, but a very recent one and therefore the most reflective of the current climate. Also, for 2020, we used NCAA tournament seed as a stand-in for an actual result. 

Of the last half decade’s 50 blue-chippers, only 42 have wrestled an official college season, omitting the seven red-/grayshirts from the class of 2019, plus Brock Hardy from 2018. Those 42 have completed 94 total NCAA seasons, of which 32 were by wrestlers in the top three, 23 were by guys ranked #4-#6, and 39 were by top-10 recruits ranked #7 or worse.

One problem with recent data is that few careers are complete. Below, you will find the number of guys with eligibility left from each class, along with the total amount of seasons remaining in that recruiting class*. 

  • 2015 – 4 (4 of 40)
  • 2016 – 7 (10 of 40)
  • 2017 – 10 (22 of 40)
  • 2018 – 10 (29 of 40)
  • 2019 – 10 (37 of 40)
  • 41 Wrestlers & 102 Total Seasons

* – This assumes Nick Reenan, Brady Berge, and Chase Singletary will all get medical redshirts for the 2019-20 season.

When you add the 94 completed seasons to the 102 remaining, that leaves four missing years from the 200 total (50 x 4): Zahid Valencia’s suspension and three years abandoned by the early retirement of Fox Baldwin.

The idea of the study is to look at how often things happened among prior classes, as a way to gauge how likely something is to happen for the current class. For example, if 50% of the wrestlers from the previous five top-10s wrestled in an NCAA final, you would expect each member of this year’s class to have a 50/50 shot of achieving the same feat.

Shirts

Before we address how excited you should be, let us first examine when you should feel that excitement. Most likely, you will not see your blue-chipper until 2021-22. 

Of the last 50 top-10 recruits, 34 took either a red- or grayshirt. Some used that time to transfer (Greg Kerkvliet), some went on a Mormon mission (Brock Hardy), and some made Junior World Teams (Aaron Brooks / David Carr). 

Just 16 of 50 (32%) wrestled as true freshmen.

If we set our standards slightly higher, though, it makes a true freshman season more likely. A top-six recruit has a 40% chance (12/30) of taking the mat this year, and if he is in the top three, it is just about a coin flip (7/15) that he’ll don your team’s singlet in year one.

Year One – Titles

When your top-10 recruit does toe the line for his first season, should you be disappointed if he doesn’t win it all? Only if you want to be disappointed. 

Of the last 42 top-10 recruits to have a “year one,” just six (14%) won an NCAA title in their first season. That group consisted of one redshirt (Vincenzo Joseph, 2017), four true freshmen in Division I (Myles Martin, 2016; Mark Hall, 2017; Spencer Lee, 2018; and Yianni Diakomihalis, 2018), and Isaiah White, who took down a Division II crown as a true freshman for Notre Dame before transferring to Nebraska.

Their respective Flo ranks were #3 (Cenzo), #5 (Myles), #1 (Hall), #2 (Spencer), #3 (Yianni), and #10 (Zay).

Top-10 recruits who do wrestle in their true freshman season have a 31% chance of winning a title (5/16), across all NCAA divisions.

Year One – The Rest

Of course, there are only so many spots on the top riser to go around, and there is no shame in just making the podium.

Of the 42 top-10 recruits referenced above, 25 (60%) stood on the podium in their first season (or were seeded that way in 2020). Eight (19%) fell one to two matches shy. Two (5%) went winless at the NCAA tourney, though one of the two never wrestled (Nick Suriano). Seven (17%) missed the NCAA tournament entirely, in their first eligible season. 

It’s worth noting that in two of those seven non-qualified seasons, the recruit was blocked from even making the lineup (Mason Manville and Gavin Hoffman), and four (!) of the seven instances were in 2020 alone (Jordan Decatur, JoJo Aragona, Joey Silva, and Gavin Hoffman).


TOP 10TOP 6TOP 3
RESULT%#%#%#
1st14.3%618.5%530.8%4
2nd4.8%27.4%27.7%1
3rd16.7%722.2%623.1%3
4th4.8%27.4%20.0%0
5th / 6th9.5%47.4%27.7%1
7th / 8th9.5%40.0%00.0%0
R129.5%47.4%215.4%2
R169.5%47.4%27.7%1
(0-2)4.8%27.4%27.7%1
DNQ16.7%714.8%40.0%0

You can see that there’s not much variance between top-10, top-six, and top-three recruits when it comes to making the podium in year one. While 60% of top-10 guys made the podium in their first season, 63% of the top six AAed (all finished in the top six), and 69% of the top three found a nice spot on the steps.

The bigger difference, though, as you move up the pedigree scale, is placements on the three highest risers. Of the 13 top-three recruits who have wrestled a season the last half decade, eight (62%) finished in either first, second, or third place in year one (Cenzo, Hall, Spencer, Yianni, Daton, Zahid, Gable, and Aaron Brooks). Meanwhile, only 48% of top-six recruits and 36% of top-10 recruits finished their first season in the top three nationally.

In other words, the consolation quarters, semis, and finals are where lesser top-10 recruits falter, while the top three excel in those matches, if they wrestle in the consolation bracket at all.

Career

While year one is the first season you will see, it’s not the only one. By examining all 94 seasons the five most recent top-10 classes have wrestled, we get a fuller picture of what to expect from the current class.

RESULT%
1st18.1%
2nd12.8%
3rd9.6%
4th8.5%
5th9.6%
6th4.3%
7th5.3%
8th2.1%
R129.6%
R168.5%
R242.1%
(0-2)2.1%
DNQ7.4%

Win a title – Just under one-in-five, for any one season.

Make the finals – Three-in-ten

Top four – Coin flip

All-American – Seven-in-ten

Miss the tourney – One-in-thirteen

Now, if you are a Badger, Tiger, or Hawkeye fan, you have extra reason to be excited, as the difference between the top three and the rest of the top 10 is significant. 

RESULTRecruits #1 - #3Recruits #4 - #6Recruits #7 - #10
1st43.8%4.3%5.1%
Finals65.6%17.4%10.3%
Top 475.0%47.8%28.2%
AA84.4%56.5%66.7%
Non-Place15.6%26.1%25.6%
DNQ0.0%17.4%7.7%

For Braxton Amos, Keegan O’Toole, and Patrick Kennedy, you should expect them to make the finals two-thirds of the time, make the podium 85% of their seasons, and never miss the tournament. 

If those expectations get you excited, we will point out that Shayne Van Ness, #2 in the Class of 2021, is uncommitted, as are all three of the top three from the Class of 2022 (Nic Bouzakis, Ryan Crookham, and Jesse Mendez). Cael Valencia joins Van Ness to make up the uncommitted portion of the top 10 of the Class of 2021, while nine of the top 10 of the ’22 class have yet to make a decision.


Luke Louison is an avid Wisconsin Badgers fan and a cheese curd connoisseur. You can find him on Twitter.