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Previewing B1G Wrestling Championships - 174 lbs.

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Michael Kemerer is the favorite over a very talented field

NCAA Wrestling: Penn State at Iowa
Who’s the man? You the man!
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

3/2: The Big Ten official pre-seeds were released after this article was published. For this weight, in order, they are: Kemerer (IA), Labriola (NE), Starocci (PSU), Massa (MI), Washington (IU), Romero (OSU), Turley (RU), Krattiger (WI), Allar (MN), Hughes (MSU), Shannon (ILL), Soehnlen (PU), Fisher (NW), Spadafora (MD)

This is probably the most top-heavy weight in the Big Ten, and maybe the deepest, too. Ten wrestlers are ranked in the coaches’ poll top 33, with five in the top six and another coming in at ninth. By pre-allocations, the Big Ten will only have eight auto-bids, but expect a few at-large bids as well. Michael Kemerer leads the bunch, joined by the undefeated Mikey Labriola, the veterans Massa and Romero, and the star freshmen Starocci and Washington. Fortunately it was fairly straightforward to seed, but I promise you, there won’t be a lot of chalk.

Contenders (five of the top six in the country):

1. Michael Kemerer, Iowa Hawkeyes: The top-ranked six-year senior and two-time All-American has been close, but no cigar, many times in his career. He finished second in the Big Ten last year, losing his first match of the season in the final against Mark Hall, a rematch from Kemerer’s dual win. He’s 4-0 this year, with a pin, two majors, and a decision victory over #6 Kaleb Romero.

2. Mikey Labriola, Nebraska Cornhuskers: Second in the country, Labriola also has an argument for the top spot, being 8-0 on the season and having beaten Kemerer’s backup when the latter didn’t go in the dual match. The two met for the first time last year, and Kemerer won that, their only matchup. Labriola is a junior with 4 major decisions, a pin, and decisions over #9 Donnell Washington, #28 Jared Krattiger, and the Hawkeye backup Patrick Kennedy. He placed sixth, good for All-American honors, his freshman year.

3. Carter Starocci, Penn State Nittany Lions: Redshirt freshman Carter Starocci is #3 in the country with a 5-1 record. After an undefeated redshirt year, he lost his debut to Indiana’s #9 Donnell Washington. Since then, he’s defeated #28 Jared Krattiger, #5 Logan Massa, and #6 Kaleb Romero. However, his top ten wins each game in tiebreaks, and he failed to record a takedown in either match. He’ll be hard pressed to repeat his victories, but the whole country is watching this Penn State freshman phenom (one of many).

4. Logan Massa, Michigan Wolverines: The senior bumped up from 165 pounds last year, and was thought to be the second-best 174-pounder in the country before this season. He’s ranked fifth now, after losing to Starocci, but he has a pin over #9 Washington, and four major decisions on the year. That loss bumped him off of the two line though, and the top two seeds are the only ones who won’t face a top-ten wrestler in the quarterfinals (if all is chalk).

5. Kaleb Romero, Ohio State Buckeyes: Romero is a junior with a 5-2 record and the #6 ranking in the country. He lost 3-1 to Kemerer and 2-1 in tiebreaks to Starocci, but has three major decisions in his other five matches, including a 13-3 over #29 Drew Hughes. He sat behind Te’Shan Campbell at 165 pounds his freshman year, and placed fourth in the Big Ten last year, losing twice to Dylan Lydy. He missed Massa at the dual due to an injury incurred during the bout with Kemerer, but he may see him in the quarterfinals.

Upset-minded:

6. Donnell Washington, Indiana Hoosiers: Indiana’s star freshman in 6-2 on the year, earning him the #9 ranking and likely the six seed in the Big Ten championships. He has two pins and a major decision in addition to his upset over Starocci that put him on the map. He lost by fall to Massa and by 13-7 decision to Labriola. Washington is very unlikely to get through this tough field this year (he’ll get the 10, 3, 2 and 1 seeds if he wins out), but he’s definitely going to be someone to look out for in the years to come.

7. Jackson Turley, Rutgers Scarlet Knights: This gets a bit difficult to seed, as Turley is technically 2-0 in dual matches but lost an extra match to Michigan backup Max Maylor. Still, his two are a 6-2 decision of Emil Soehnlen and a 17-2 tech fall over #26 Jake Allar. He is also the seventh-highest ranked Big Ten wrestler at #22, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here. A true sophomore, he could always shake up the quarterfinals with an upset, but even failing that, he should be able to earn an auto bid in the consolation bracket.

8. Jared Krattiger, Wisconsin Badgers: Krattiger is 3-3 on the season, losing to Romero, Labriola, and Starocci, but defeating Allar, Soehnlen, and Shannon. All matches have been by decision, with his largest loss coming by six points and his largest win coming by four. He’s #28 in the country as a sophomore, having placed ninth as the ten-seed last year.

Fighting for a bid:

9. Jake Allar, Minnesota Gophers: Allar is a junior, first-year starter with a 5-4 record and the #26 record. He has a major decision win over Drew Hughes, and victories over Shannon and Fisher, but losses to Turley and Krattiger, in addition to Labriola and Kemerer. He’d be on the outside looking in according to his seed, but a strong tournament performance would be likely to earn him an at-large bid anyways. He’s fairly likely to start his tournament off with a rematch, whether it be of his 5-3 loss to Krattiger or his 17-2 loss to Turley.

10. Drew Hughes, Michigan State Spartans: This is another spot where my seeds could be wrong, as Hughes could be flipped with Shannon below. Hughes is a senior with a 2-4 record and the #29 ranking. His wins both come over starters (Spadafora and Soehnlen), and three of his losses come to top ten guys (Massa, Romero, and Washington). However, he was majored by Jake Allar. Like Allar, he could also do enough to earn an at-large bid if he couldn’t qualify by placement.

11. DJ Shannon, Illinois Fighting Illini: Shannon is a redshirt freshman with a 1-4 record. He has losses to Krattiger and Allar, in addition to Kemerer and Romero, and a win over Emil Soehnlen. All but the Kemerer loss (where he was majored) came by decision, but they were all four points or greater. Conversely, his victory over Soehnlen came only by a point, 2-1. He has a lot of potential as a freshman, but will need to win some rematches to qualify or earn an at-large bid.

12. Emil Soehnlen, Purdue Boilermakers: Soehnlen is a third-year freshman after being injured last year, and he’s also up from 165 pounds. He’s 2-7, with wins over Troy Fisher and an Ohio State backup. He only lost one match by bonus points, being pinned by Michael Kemerer, but Washington is the only other top ten guy he’s wrestled. With a lot of close decisions during the regular season, it’s not impossible he flips enough results to finish in the top eight.

Happy to be here:

13. Troy Fisher, Northwestern Wildcats: Fisher is a freshman with a 1-7 record, defeating only Spadafora in a 5-4 decision. Though many of his matches have been close one, only surrendering bonus points to Labriola and Washington, he’s also lost to two backups. His best performance is probably a 1-4 loss to Carter Starocci. He also has a one-point loss to Allar and a two-point loss to Soehnlen.

14. Phillip Spadafora, Maryland Terrapins: Spadafora is a junior with an 0-7 record, only winning an extra match against a Michigan backup on the year. Five of his seven losses have come with bonus points, though all five were against top ten guys (Kemerer being the only one he’s missed). He lost to Hughes by two and Fisher by one.

Kemerer is the favorite here, and I think that’s justified. Still, he’s got a small sample size on the year, and he’s going to have to go through a couple of tough guys. Potential quarterfinal matchups could include a Starocci-Washington rematch and the Massa-Romero match we were denied during the season. Obviously every semifinal would be insane. This could also be one of the best consolation brackets, as almost everyone will be fighting for one of eight bids, or at least to impress the committee enough to earn an at-large.

If my seeds are close, my prediction would be Kemerer over Labriola for first, Massa over Starocci for third, Romero over Washington for fifth, and Turley over, let’s say Shannon, for seventh. If Allar and Krattiger fail to qualify by placement, they will earn at-large bids.

Poll

Your 174-pound B1G Champion is...

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Michael Kemerer
    (77 votes)
  • 10%
    Mikey Labriola
    (17 votes)
  • 33%
    Carter Starocci
    (53 votes)
  • 2%
    Logan Massa
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Kaleb Romero
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else
    (1 vote)
156 votes total Vote Now