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Center Circle! An Off Mat Empire MAILBAG: Toughest weight in the Big Ten, biggest surprises, and Big Ten individual rankings

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We field, well, our questions this time, but submit your own too!

COLLEGE WRESTLING: MAR 07 Big Ten Wrestling Championships
Just two more days till the weekend
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our wrestling “writers” discuss some of the hot topics of this wrestling season in a round-table format. Submit your own questions for next week!

Q: What is the toughest weight to win this year in the Big Ten?

Kind of…: As I’m guessing “125 if you’re not Spencer Lee” (Iowa Hawkeyes) is not an acceptable answer, I’ll go with 133. Sammy Alvarez (Rutgers Scarlet Knights) looks like the best 4-seed in the B1G, so whoever wins 133 will have to defeat two elite opponents. And there are clear stylistic differences among Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State Nittany Lions), Austin DeSanto (Iowa), and Stevan Micic (Michigan Wolverines) so the winner will have had made some strategic adjustments to get to the top of the podium.

I reserve the right to switch to 141 if Chad Red (Nebraska Cornhuskers) gets on a roll. Nick Lee (PSU) was a co-favorite to win the title last year. Sebastian Rivera (Northwestern Wildcats Rutgers) has already won B1G titles at 125 and 133, beating NCAA champs in the process each time. And Jaydin Eierman is a common answer to the question of “Who’s the best active wrestler not named Gable Steveson not to have won a title yet.” Those four guys all have more than 90 wins in their career. [Do yourself a favor and watch Jaydin Eierman every chance you get.] Nevermind. I talked myself into 141.

HWAHSQB: I had the same thought at 125. Spencer Lee is not a mortal this year, unscored upon and racking up first period pins against guys who might AA. I think 141 is the toughest weight to win. There are four legit national title contenders at that weight. When a two time conference champ is picked 3rd in conference that’s tough. 133 also boasts four title contenders, but what tips the scale for me is 141 has a little more depth. At 133, behind the top four are some freshman that have talent, but aren’t going to really challenge those guys this year. At 141, Drew Mattin and Dylan Duncan are B1G veterans with more than 50 and 70 career wins respectively. On the right day, one of those guys could catch one of the contenders off guard and pull the upset.

Atinat: I agree 141 should be pretty nuts, but 174 has the top 4 wrestlers in the country, plus Penn State freshman Carter Starocci. I think Michael Kemerer is a cut above here, but Logan Massa (Michigan) and Kaleb Romero (Ohio State Buckeyes) are both conference and national title contenders, and Mikey Labriola (Nebraska) and Starocci are both legitimate dark horses. I pretty well guarantee the national title winner will be from the Big Ten, but there’s probably only a 25% chance one guy wins both.

WSR: The 125 answer is great, because Spencer Lee is otherworldly yet again. HWT is another weight that feels like it should be simple, but I’m still going to hold my breath through Steveson-Parris until it’s over. But the most interesting weight for me is now 165. If Marinelli’s recovering from COVID, he may not be 100%. A weakened bull with 6 other guys in the top 20 in the B1G? Sign me up for that, please.

Q: At what weight will the Big Ten have the most all-Americans? Fewest?

Kind of…: Further testament to the dominance of Spencer Lee and Gable Steveson (Minnesota Golden Gophers) is that both 125 and HWT are both quite reasonable answers here. Going by Intermat, the B1G has 8 of the top 13 at 125 and 8 of the top 12 at HWT. But they also have 6 of the top 9 (nice?) at 157, so I’m going to be a conference homer and say 6 at all three weights. As for fewest, I’m saying 165. The days of Isaiah Martinez (Illinois Fighting Illini) and Vicenzo Joseph (PSU) are in the rearview, and only Alex Marinelli seems like a guaranteed All-American at this weight. Joe Lee (PSU) and Danny Braunagel (Ill) appear to be the only other potential All-Americans, and one of them will miss.

HWAHSQB: Fewest is almost certainly 165. Braunagel (injury) and Marinelli (COVID protocols) missing matches in this short season doesn’t help and both the top end and depth of quality just isn’t up to the other weight classes. HWT will have the most. At 125, the B1G has depth, but I feel like the gap between the B1G guys ranked 2-15 and other conference guys in those rankings is much smaller than at HWT. Also, at HWT, I think there are three locks to AA and only one at 125. I wouldn’t be shocked to see 7 B1G AAs at HWT as I think there is only one wrestler, Matt Stencel (Central Michigan) who is better than the crowd of B1G big boys at 8-13 in the rankings.

Atinat: I haven’t seen Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State wrestle, but Jordan Wood of Lehigh will very likely AA at heavyweight. Still, that’s only two non-Big Ten guys, and probably max three unless Carter Isley at UNI can get over the hump. 125 is way too chaotic for me to choose. Yes the ceiling is high, but odds are the guy who gets to lose to Spencer in the finals isn’t from the Big Ten. I think it’s fairly likely the two, three, and six seeds are all non Big-Ten guys, guaranteeing at least one of them an AA spot in the winners bracket. Maybe in a year with some interconference wrestling the Big Ten guys could pull away. Least is probably 165, but I think the floor is two for 184. It’d be tough to have guys ranked eight to eleven right now all miss, but it’s possible. The Big Ten is very young here.

WSR: In terms of most, I’ll agree with HWT. 6 feels like the most likely, and it only takes a little bit of weirdness for there to somehow be more. It’s a good time to be a fat kid in the B1G. Even you guys, Tate Orndorff and Trent Hillger. Least? Let’s say 184. There’s a non-zero chance that the B1G could end up with just 1 depending on how things break and if/when Myles Amine returns. I’m assuming he does come back at some point this season, but will he be ready to go and just immediately shake off the mat rust?

Q: What team is the biggest surprise compared to your preseason expectations?

Kind of…: If we’re talking bad surprise, I have to go with my Wisconsin Badgers (sigh). Evan Wick took an Olympic year, Trent Hillger is sliding down the HWT ranks, and UW is possibly looking at a season with no All-Americans. [Fortunately volleyball is a spring sport this year and UW is #1, women’s hockey is #1, men’s hockey is closer to living up to expectations than any time in the last few years, and men’s BB is good enough to still annoy most of you.]

For good surprises, what the hell, I’ll go with Illinois. Nobody really cares about dual meet record, but wins over the Ohio State Buckeyes and Purdue Boilermakers were more than was expected before the season started. While Illinois has no national title contenders, they should qualify at least seven for the NCAAs, and they have four guys who are right around that 7-10 ranking (according to Intermat). I also was impressed by RS frosh Lucas Byrd at 133. He had no chance against DeSanto, but he didn’t back down, and could make a sneaky run in the bottom half of that bracket. [There’s still time for the Michigan State Spartans to be the answer here, but Rayvon Foley needs to recapture his 2019 form for that to be the case.]

HWAHSQB: I don’t know if you can call it surprise when the #1 team is dominant, but I honestly did not expect Iowa to be THIS good. The gap between Iowa and Michigan and PSU has grown. Lee has progressed to another level and really the whole team outside of Kemerer and Marinelli are looking better than last year and I’m not worried about those two guys long term. Ten AAs is looking more and more realistic.

Penn State not fielding a full team of ten guys again for multiple duals is also surprising. I know Cael doesn’t care about duals, but you’d think they could find some little dudes somewhere to put on their navy blue singlet.

Atinat: I agree with Kind of…, Wisconsin looks rough and Illinois is surprisingly good. It’s too early to judge Penn State as a team, but they look about how they should for their youth, and that’s inconsistent. Next week will be a lot of fun. But I’m kinda floored by how bad Ohio State looks. I’m writing this before the weekend, so maybe they’ll look really tough against Iowa and mop Purdue, but I doubt it. Only Sammy Sasso, 149-pound Big Ten finalist, and Kaleb Romero, third-ranked at 174 pounds, have lived up to expectations so far, and neither has really been challenged. Malik Heinselman is a surprising 5-0 with wins over Rayvon Foley and Justin Cardani, and a major over Eric Barnett. Heavyweight transfer Tate Orndorff has been simply disappointing, losing to Illinois’s Luke Luffman and getting pinned by Wisconsin’s Trent Hillger. Orndorff was hoping to compete with just about everyone but Gable Steveson, but he’s currently the eighth-ranked wrestler in the Big Ten, and is really dug into a seeding hole, as the two above him are Luffman and Hillger. He’ll have wrestled Cassioppi by the time this goes out, gets Mason Parris next week against Michigan, and will wrestle whoever Penn State decides on to end the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lost all three of those.

WSR: I’d say that the good surprise is how wisconsin looks as a team, and the bad surprise is that Iowa is just as dominant as they were last year. If not moreso. DON’T MAKE US CANCEL THE TOURNAMENT AGAIN.

The discussion above was made before the weekend of wrestling, so some stats are rankings are off. Here (if I can embed it correctly) is how Intermatwrestle.com has the country lined up this week:

Intermat Rankings, 2/9/21

125 Wrestler School Previous
125 Wrestler School Previous
1 Spencer Lee Iowa 1
7 Michael DeAugustino Northwestern 6
8 Dylan Ragusin Michigan 7
9 Liam Cronin Nebraska 9
10 Patrick McKee Minnesota 11
11 Devin Schroder Purdue 12
12 Malik Heinselman Ohio State 10
13 Rayvon Foley Michigan State 13
16 Justin Cardani Illinois 16
17 Brock Hudkins Indiana 17
133 Wrestler School Previous
2 Stevan Micic Michigan 2
3 Roman Bravo-Young Penn State 3
5 Austin DeSanto Iowa 5
6 Sammy Alvarez Rutgers 6
13 Chris Cannon Northwestern 15
15 Lucas Byrd Illinois 17
141 Wrestler School Previous
1 Jaydin Eierman Iowa 1
2 Nick Lee Penn State 2
4 Sebastian Rivera Rutgers 4
8 Chad Red Nebraska 9
15 Dylan Duncan Illinois 15
20 Drew Mattin Michigan 20
149 Wrestler School Previous
2 Sammy Sasso Ohio State 2
6 Kanen Storr Michigan 6
8 Max Murin Iowa 8
9 Michael Carr Illinois 9
14 Yahya Thomas Northwestern 18
15 Griffin Parriott Purdue 16
18 Graham Rooks Indiana 19
19 Jarod Verkleeren Penn State 20
157 Wrestler School Previous
1 Ryan Deakin Northwestern 1
5 Kaleb Young Iowa 5
6 Brayton Lee Minnesota 6
7 Kendall Coleman Purdue 7
8 Will Lewan Michigan 8
9 Brady Berge Penn State 9
165 Wrestler School Previous
2 Alex Marinelli Iowa 2
6 Joe Lee Penn State 6
8 Danny Braunagel Illinois 8
16 Cameron Amine Michigan 16
17 Andrew Sparks Minnesota 17
18 Peyton Robb Nebraska 18
19 Ethan Smith Ohio State 19
174 Wrestler School Previous
1 Michael Kemerer Iowa 1
2 Logan Massa Michigan 2
3 Mikey Labriola Nebraska 4
4 Kaleb Romero Ohio State 3
8 Carter Starocci Penn State 8
16 Donnell Washington Indiana 17
184 Wrestler School Previous
1 Myles Amine Michigan 1
3 Aaron Brooks Penn State 3
8 Layne Malczewski Michigan State 16
11 Chris Weiler Wisconsin 10
12 Owen Webster Minnesota 17
13 Zach Braunagel Illinois 8
14 Nelson Brands Iowa 9
15 Taylor Venz Nebraska 11
17 John Poznanski Rutgers 18
19 Rocky Jordan Ohio State NR
20 Max Lyon Purdue 20
197 Wrestler School Previous
1 Eric Schultz Nebraska 2
2 Jacob Warner Iowa 3
6 Cameron Caffey Michigan State 5
11 Lucas Davison Northwestern 10
14 Michael Beard Penn State 13
17 Thomas Penola Purdue 18
285 Wrestler School Previous
1 Gable Steveson Minnesota 1
2 Mason Parris Michigan 2
3 Tony Cassioppi Iowa 3
7 Seth Nevills Penn State 8
10 Luke Luffman Illinois 9
11 Christian Lance Nebraska 10
12 Trent Hillger Wisconsin 11
13 Tate Orndorff Ohio State 12
Dual School Record Previous
1 Iowa 5-0 1
2 Michigan 3-0 2
3 Penn State 3-0 3
8 Nebraska 6-1 8
10 Minnesota 5-2 14
11 Illinois 5-2 9
12 Ohio State 5-2 10
Intermat Rankings, 2/9/21 Intermatwrestle.com