3/2: The Big Ten official pre-seeds were released after this article was published. For this weight, in order, they are: Lee (IA), Cronin (NE), Heinselman (OSU), McKee (MN), Foley (MSU), Barnett (WI), Schroder (PU), DeAugustino (NW), Ragusin (MI), Cardani (ILL), Howard (PSU), Moran (IN), Shawver (RU), Spence (MD)
The B1G gets 8 spots in the NCAAs (champ + 7 more allocated) and is very likely to get an at-large bid too. However, there are 11 guys who could claim to be among the 33 best wrestlers in the country, so the consolation bracket will be intense.
Spencer Lee is the prohibitive, overwhelming, no-brainer favorite. However, from 2nd-11th, I could see any of these guys making a run, and almost any stumbling so badly they miss the NCAAs. What follows are half projected seeds/half power rankings.
Tier 1 (Boss):
1, Spencer Lee, Iowa Hawkeyes (Duh)
Tier 2A (Earned their seed):
2. Liam Cronin, Nebraska Cornhuskers (W: Foley, McKee, Cardani)
3. Malik Heinselman, Ohio State Buckeyes (W: Foley, Barnett, Howard, Cardani; L: Schroder)
4. Eric Barnett, Wisconsin Badgers (W: Schroder, McKee; L: Heinselman, Cardani)
5. Mitch McKee, Minnesota Golden Gophers (W: Foley, Schroder, DeAugustino Cardani; L: Cronin, Barnett)
Tier 2B (Rougher draw than 2A, but these three could finish 2-3-4)
6. Rayvon Foley, Michigan State Spartans (W: Schroder; L: Cronin, McKee, Heinselman)
7. Devin Schroder, Purdue Boilermakers (W: Heinselman, Cardani; L: McKee, Barnett, Foley)
8. Justin Cardani, Illinois Fighting Illini (W: Barnett; L: Heinselman, DeAugustino, Schroder, McKee, Cronin)
Tier 3 (No wins over wrestlers above them, but don’t count out)
9. Michael DeAugustino, Northwestern Wildcats (L: McKee)
10. Robert Howard, Penn State Nittany Lions (Did beat Medley)
11. Jack Medley, Michigan Wolverines (Was 4th at last year’s B1Gs)
Tier 4 (Thanks for rounding out the bracket)
12. Brock Hudkins, Indiana Hoosiers
13. Nick Aguilar, Rutgers Scarlet Knights
14. King Sandoval, Maryland Terrapins
However the seeding shakes out, 8/9 will be a dynamite match...with Spencer Lee awaiting the winner. The only consolation (get it?) is that the loser gets a bye in the consolation bracket, so needs one less victory to qualify for nationals.
Honestly, Schroder and Foley were expected to be 2 and 3 preseason and both have shown improved form lately. Foley has won 3 of his last 4 with only loss by a point to Cronin. Schroder has won 3 of his last 4 (including a win over Heinselman), with his only loss to Foley.
But the 2A guys aren’t ranked higher by mistake. Barnett started 0-2 and hasn’t lost since. Cronin’s only loss was to Lee, and McKee’s only losses are to Lee, Cronin, and Barnett.
DeAugustino finished 3rd last year, but has no quality wins this year and has only wrestled 3 times (he’s 3-1, but one victory was by forfeit). He’s the wild card. Four of Cardani’s five tier 2 losses have come by a total of 6 points. He’s due some luck. Except it’s wrestling, so he’s gonna have to earn it through the full 7 minutes (at least). And if Medley’s struggles are weight-related, he could be an interesting variable, too.
Add it all up and any prediction is likely to look dumb. Reserving my right to change my mind, right now, I’ll guess: 1) Lee, 2) Foley, 3) DeAugustino, 4) Cronin, 5) Schroder, 6) Heinselman, 7) McKee, 8) Cardani with Barnett getting an at-large to the NCAAs as well.