While you, the easily distracted and free-spirited masses, watched your flashy, big-budget college basketball, those of us who like to watch real sports were occupied with the Big Ten Wrestling Championships.
The Penn State Nittany Lions have truly been the Alabama Football of NCAA wrestling, winning the last two national titles without winning the Big Ten. Sunday, however, they won their first conference title since 2016. If they are truly Alabama Football, this might not bode well for them in two weeks when the NCAA Championships take place, but for 2019 they are the champions of the greatest wrestling conference in America.
Four Nittany Lions won individual conference titles, including heavyweight Anthony Cassar who handed Minnesota’s Gable Steveson his first collegiate loss by a one-point margin in the championship match. Time will tell if the Minnesota fanbase will allow Steveson to at least stand back up before somehow putting even more of their hopes, dreams, and expectations on his back.
Not among the PSU conference champions was Vincenzo Joseph; despite winning the national championship at 165 each of his first two years, here in year 3 he still has never won a conference title. Iowa’s Alex Marinelli is now 2-0 against Joseph and with an undefeated record he’s a lock to get the top overall seed at NCAA’s.
This tournament determined which 78 wrestlers from the Big Ten would automatically qualify for the NCAA championships. 44 at-large bids will be distributed nationally; they will be announced tomorrow.
1: Penn State Nittany Lions: 157.5
Four Champions: Jason Nolf (157), Mark Hall (174), Bo Nickal (197), Anthony Cassar (285)
9 NCAA Qualifiers: Roman Bravo-Young (5th place, 133), Nick Lee (3rd place, 141), Brady Berge (6th place, 149), Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph (2nd place, 165), Hall, Shakur Rasheed (2nd place, 184), Nickal, Cassar
Nolf, Hall and Nickal are all undefeated on the season and will almost certainly be the top seeds at their weights. Cassar’s 25-1 record may earn him consideration for the top seed; three one-loss wrestlers with 25 or more wins are vying for it.
Lee stormed back to win third after losing a 5-4 decision to eventual champ Joey McKenna in the semifinals. Rasheed took a medical forfeit in the championship round, opting to save his problematic knee for the NCAA championships, where he’ll likely be the #2 seed with his 19-0 record. Berge clinched a spot in the NCAA’s with a sudden victory win over Iowa’s Pat Lugo in the semifinals; after medically forfeiting the 5th place match, he grabbed the sixth and final Big Ten slot for the 149 weight class.
2: Ohio State Buckeyes (122.5)
Two Champions: Joey McKenna (141), Myles Martin (184)
9 NCAA Qualifiers: Malik Heinselman (9th place, 125), Luke Pletcher (2nd place, 133), McKenna, Micah Jordan (2nd place, 149), Ke-Shawn Hayes (7th place, 157), Te’Shan Campbell (6th place, 165), Ethan Smith (6th place, 174), Martin, Kollin Moore (2nd place, 197)
What Ohio State has done over the past decade has been remarkable and also very overshadowed by Penn State. McKenna started out by pinning Northwestern’s Alec McKenna in 36 seconds. The two are not related. Martin is likely the top overall seed at 184.
Nobody has filled the void left by heavyweight Kyle Snyder; Chase Singletary went 1-2 and was the only Buckeye not to secure an NCAA bid. Moore drops to 0-2 against Bo Nickal this year; those are his only two defeats. Jordan has a similar relationship with Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers. Pletcher’s run to the finals was aided by a medical forfeit by top seed Stevan Micic.
3: Iowa Hawkeyes (107.5)
One Champion: Alex Marinelli (165)
8 NCAA Qualifiers: Spencer Lee (2nd place, 125), Austin DeSanto (4th place, 133), Max Murin (7th place, 141), Pat Lugo (3rd place, 149), Kaleb Young (4th place, 157), Marinelli, Cash Wilcke (5th place, 184), Jacob Warner (3rd place, 197)
The biggest headline besides Marinelli here is Spencer Lee losing a championship match to Sebastian Rivera once again in a repeat of the Midlands final. Not an exact repeat, mind you; this was a 6-4 sudden victory loss, but still a championship loss to Rivera, against whom he went 2-0 last year. He’s 0-2 this year; perhaps he’ll get one more shot.
Iowa got beaten by Rutgers when DeSanto failed to talk enough shit to defeat Nick Suriano in the semifinals, nor could he muster up enough ‘tude to defeat Ethan Lizak for third place. Sam Stoll placed fifth nationally at heavyweight last year, but after being knocked out of the championship bracket by Steveson, he lost his first match of the wrestleback to Purdue’s Jacob Aven, pushing Aven’s record to 11-19. Still, Iowa qualified eight wrestlers for the NCAA’s; it’s possible that Stoll gets an at-large bid tomorrow.
4: Minnesota Golden Gophers (101.5)
8 NCAA Qualifiers: Sean Russell (3rd place, 125), Ethan Lizak (3rd place, 133), Mitch McKee (4th place, 141), Thomas Thorn (5th place, 149), Steve Bleise (6th place, 157), Carson Brolsma (9th place, 165), Devin Skatzka (3rd place, 174), Gable Steveson (2nd place, 285)
Minnesota was the highest-scoring team without an individual champion, and only Steveson advanced to the championship round. Still, the Gophers could very well have passed Iowa for third if any combination of the following happens: Steveson wins the heavyweight title, Russell either beats Iowa’s Spencer Lee or at least scores enough to lose by decision, Thorn beat’s Iowa’s Pat Lugo in the 3rd place semifinal, Bleise beats Iowa’s Chase Young in the 3rd place semifinal, Brolsma defeats former Hawkeye Joey Gunther in the first round, Krone beats Iowa’s Cash Wilcke in the first round, if Krone loses then he at least beats Wisconsin’s Mason Reinhardt in the wrestleback. Two or three of those things would have done it.
Brolsma did have a strange path to the 9th and final qualifying spot; after losing to Gunther in the first round, he had a bye and then dropped another match in the wrestleback. He had a bye in the 9th place bracket, then won one match to advance to the ninth place match against none other than Joey Gunther, which he won 3-1.
5: Nebraska Cornhuskers (96.5)
7 NCAA Qualifiers: Chad Red (2nd place, 141), Tyler Berger (2nd place, 157), Isaiah White (5th place, 165), Mikey Labriola (4th place, 174), Tyler Venz (4th place, 184), Eric Schultz (4th place, 197), David Jensen (6th place, 285)
This is an impressive showing from our cornhusking division, with Chad Red repping the Big Red in the championship round along with Tyler Berger. In his run to the finals, Red upset two wrestlers he was 0-1 against on the season in Mike Carr of Illinois and Kanen Storr of Michigan. Jensen also pulled a major upset of Michigan’s Mason Parris in the 3rd place bracket, clinching an automatic bid by doing so. A solid weekend for Nebraska, who will send seven automatic qualifiers to the NCAAs.
6: Michigan Wolverines (76.5)
7 NCAA Qualifiers: Drew Mattin (7th place, 125), Stevan Micic (6th place, 133), Kanen Storr (5th place, 141), Alec Pantaleo (3rd place, 157), Logan Massa (3rd place, 165), Myles Amine (2nd place, 174), Mason Parris (7th place, 285)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Michigan fades down the stretch and ultimately disappoints.
Micic took a medical forfeit once he’d clinched a spot in the NCAA’s, while Storr ran into a buzzsaw. Malik Amine finished eighth at 149, but the B1G had only 6 spots there. At 184, Jelani Embree lost in the first round to a Michigan State Spartan and would eventually go 0-3. 3rd seed Parris was upset by Conan Jennings in the second round. The Wolverines will still have seven wrestlers in the NCAA tournament, but this tournament result has to be disappointing.
7: Wisconsin Badgers (76.0)
6 NCAA Qualifiers: Tristan Moran (6th place, 141), Cole Martin (4th place, 149), Evan Wick (4th place, 165), Ryan Christensen (8th place, 174), Mason Reinhardt (8th place, 184), Trent Hilger (4th place, 285)
These were pretty much all chalk. Wick took Marinelli to the wire, dropping the match 2-1, but ultimately couldn’t get it done. He lost a second 2-1 decision to Logan Massa for third place. A very Wisconsinlike performance out of Wisconsin: solidly there but inconspicuously so.
T8: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (53.5)
Two Champions: Nick Suriano (133), Anthony Ashnault (149)
5 NCAA Qualifiers: Suriano, Pete Lipari (9th place, 141), Ashnault, John Van Bril (8th place, 157), Nick Gravina (6th place, 184)
The opposite of Wisconsin, Rutgers was very top-heavy, finishing 8th despite boasting two conference champs. Suriano beat Austin DeSanto and Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher on his way to the title, though top-ranked Stevan Micic withdrew in the semifinals; last year’s national runner-up at 125 is 24-3 this year. Ashnault’s defeat of top-ranked Micah Jordan to bring his record to 27-0 should earn him the top overall seed at 149 in the NCAAs. By virtue of being Big Ten champions, these two are strong national title contenders.
T8: Northwestern Wildcats (53.5)
One Champion: Sebastian Rivera (125)
4 NCAA Qualifiers: Rivera, Ryan Deakin (5th place, 157), Tyler Morland (8th place, 165), Conan Jennings (5th place, 285)
Rivera picked up his only loss of the season wrestling Stevan Micic at 133, and as such I’d expect him to get one of the top 3 seeds in the national tournament. Ryan Deakin was expected to contend for the 157 crown only to be upset by Minnesota’s Steve Bleise and then Alec Pantaleo in the 3rd place semifinals. Jennings made up for this with a surprising 9-7 victory over Mason Parris on his way to fifth.
Alec McKenna was one of two Wildcats to lose in the 3rd place bracket, then lose to the same wrestler in the 9th place bracket. Braxton Cody at 174 did the same, dropping to 0-10 on the season after two consecutive defeats by Illinois’ Carver James. At 197, Zack Chakonis wrestled Maryland’s Niko Capello in the 3rd place bracket, putting his 5-17 record on the line against Capello’s 3-19 mark. This match amuses me.
10: Purdue Boilermakers (42.0)
6 NCAA Qualifiers: Devin Schroder (8th place, 125), Ben Thornton (7th place, 133), Griffin Parriott (9th place, 157), Dylan Lydy (5th place, 174), Max Lyon (7th place, 184), Christian Brunner (5th place, 197)
Holy balls, how did Purdue qualify 6 dudes for the NCAAs? They just barely missed out on a seventh when Jacob Aven lost the 7th place match to Mason Parris. A decent showing, considering it’s Purdue.
11: Illinois Fighting Illini (39.5)
4 NCAA Qualifiers: Travis Piotrowski (5th place, 125), Dylan Duncan (8th place, 133), Michael Carr (8th place, 141), Emery Parker (3rd place, 184)
Yikes. What was once a very competitive program has had its backslide masked by Jesse Delgado and Isaiah Martinez winning national titles. With them gone, here we are.
Parker did well to get back to 3rd place, avenging a loss to Tyler Venz, but lost to Myles Martin again. The redshirt senior somehow didn’t wrestle Martin at all last year; he knocked Martin out of the 2017 NCAA championship bracket, lost to him earlier this year in a dual meet and of course lost in the semifinals of this tournament. Parker represents by far Illinois’ best shot at a national title, but he’ll have to find something for Martin.
Carr really backed his way into the NCAA championships, being handed the top seed in the B1G bracket but going 0-2 to finish 8th. Piotrowski secured his second NCAA tourney bid, but two Fighting Illini (Eric Barone, Joey Gunther) lost 9th place matches against wrestlers they’d knocked out of the championship bracket, and both did so in weight classes with nine bids to the NCAAs; in essence, they lost their spot in the national championships to a wrestler they’d beaten earlier in the tournament.
Jim Heffernan’s got work to do.
12: Indiana Hoosiers (31.0)
2 NCAA Qualifiers: Elijah Oliver (4th place, 125), Bryce Martin (7th place, 165)
Exactly half of Indiana’s points were scored by Oliver, who defeated Michigan’s Drew Mattin and was one of several beneficiaries of RayVon Foley’s withdrawal. Several wrestlers did small damage in their 9th place brackets for the Hoosiers.
13: Michigan State Spartans (29.5)
2 NCAA Qualifiers: RayVon Foley (6th place, 125), Drew Hughes (7th place, 174)
Foley took his stellar season to the semifinals, but withdrew after losing to Sebastian Rivera. Drew Hughes went 2-2 in actual matches and won a forfeit to finish 7th, while at 197, Brad Wilton also finished seventh but didn’t qualify because only 5 spots were available.
14: Maryland Terrapins (13.0)
One NCAA Qualifier: Youssif Hemida (3rd place, 285)
Youssif Hemida is going to graduate this year and then it’s unclear what Maryland will do. As usual, he scored all of their points, winning all his matches in the 3rd place bracket after being eliminated from the championship bracket by Mason Parris.
You know what it means for Hemida to have scored all their points, right?
He was the only Terrapin to win a match.
The remaining 44 at-large bid recipients will be announced tomorrow; brackets will be released Thursday. The NCAA championships will start next Thursday, March 21st.