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NCAA Wrestling Championships Previews—The Big Boys!

Two young B1G phenoms try to claim their first, but likely not last, titles at 184 and HWT. And two B1G veterans might be on a collision course at 197.

The Baddest Man in the Big Ten (Note: WSR is NOT holding me hostage—blinks twice)
Brad Rempel

One more day! Take one last look at the heavyweights before they tear up NCAAs. There’s also a slight broadcast change that I didn’t mention yesterday. Though I haven’t seen the NCAA confirm it anywhere, WatchESPN has individual mat coverage for each session listed on their schedule, all on ESPN3 (not ESPN+)! This is amazing news for fans of schools with wrestlers at most or all weights, who wouldn’t be able to see some of their guys wrestle.

Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to take a look at our pick ‘em challenge!

184 (Kind of…)

Ten qualifiers for the Big Ten. Throughout the season everybody other than Brooks engaged in a game of musical chairs that didn’t really sort itself out even at the B1G championships. There are guys with longer track records than others, but almost everybody has had some highs and lows during this abbreviated season.

B1G wrestlers

Aaron Brooks, Penn State Nittany Lions (1); John Poznanski, Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6); Taylor Venz, Nebraska Cornhuskers (8); Nelson Brands, Iowa Hawkeyes (12); Chris Weiler, Wisconsin Badgers (13); Layne Malczewski, Michigan State Spartans (15); Max Lyon, Purdue Boilermakers (16); Owen Webster, Minnesota Golden Gophers (17); Zach Braunagel, Illinois Fighting Illini (19); Rocky Jordan, Ohio State Buckeyes (24)

Fully half the B1G contingent is in Brooks’s quarter of the bracket with Lyon and Webster squaring off in the first round for the right to meet Brooks. Jordan is the underdog in round 1 and then would likely run into Venz anyway. Brands and Weiler each have winnable first round matchups and then huge tests in round 2. By seed Poznanski should make the quarters, but 11-seed Dakota Geer presents a tricky round of 16 opponent. Braunagel and Malczewski are both basically facing 1st round tossups—at least seed-wise—and top 3 wrestlers in the 2nd round if they win.

Non-B1G contenders

(2) Trent Hidlay, North Carolina State Wolfpack: ACC Champ via SV victory over Bolen (see below)

(3) Lou Deprez, Binghamton Bearcats: EIWA Champ, 90+ career wins and only good losses, but some EIWA skepticism permitted

(4) Parker Keckeisen, Northern Iowa Panthers: Big 12 Champ; going to be a force, but major % isn’t real high yet. NOT favored to make semifinals.

(5) Hunter Bolen, Virginia Tech Hokies: ACC runner-up, but 3-1 career vs. Hidlay. Might be biggest challenger to Brooks; would be dynamite semifinal.

(7) Brit Wilson, Northern Illinois Huskies: MAC champion, lone loss was in dual meet to Keckeisen

What might reasonably happen

Brooks will likely have to beat Bolen and Hidlay to win his first title and I think he will. Those three are the clear favorites. As for the rest of the B1G wrestlers, Venz seems to be rounding into form and will have a good run, grabbing a spot on the podium. Poznanski is a great story with a bright future, but I think Geer gets him in the second round. There is going to be a bloodbath for the B1G in the round of 16 (I’m predicting 2-6), which will lead to quite a few B1G vs. B1G matchups in the Friday morning consolations. Look for Weiler and Brands to match up and for the winner (probably Brands...gawd) to knock off Brit Wilson and be the 3rd All-American from the B1G [And if Poznanski can beat Geer in the round of 16, then 4 All-Americans is possible.] My call: 1) Brooks, 2) Hidlay, 3) Bolen, 4) Venz, 5) DePrez, 6) Geer, 7) Keckeisen, 8) Brands

197 (Kind of…)

This is the most wide-open bracket of the championships with a close pecking order among the top 5 B1G contenders, 3 Big 12 threats, and three less tested champs for other conferences (Pac-12, ACC, MAC). Collectively, the B1G wrestlers didn’t get many breaks in the draw.

B1G wrestlers

Myles Amine, Michigan Wolverines (1); Eric Schultz, Nebraska Cornhuskers (2); Jacob Warner, Iowa Hawkeyes (5); Cam Caffey, Michigan State Spartans (10); Lucas Davison, Northwestern Wildcats (12); Michael Beard, Penn State Nittany Lions (15); Thomas Penola, Purdue Boilermakers (19); Billy Janzer, Rutgers Scarlet Knights (33)

Janzer is in the pigtail and would face Amine if he wins. Warner and Davison are favored to meet up in the second round with the winner on a collision course with frosh phenom Ferrari (alliteration!) in the quarters and Amine likely waiting in the semis (if he handles a tricky Big 12 opponent—either Adamas or Buchanan—in the quarters). Penola has a tough first rounder in 14-seed Greg Bulsak (Clarion). With a win he’d face the 3-seed (see below). Beard should win his first round match and then find Schultz waiting in round two.

Non-B1G contenders

(3) Kordell Norfleet, Arizona State Sun Devils: Pac-12 Champ, and largely untested. He pinned Buchanan (see below) in what was Buchanan’s second top 10 matchup of the day and is undefeated on the season.

(4) A. J. Ferrari, Oklahoma State Cowboys: Big 12 Champ, freshman sensation with only one loss on year (to Adams)

(6) Nino Bonaccorsi, Pittsburgh Panthers: ACC Champ with head-scratching loss to a (very talented) true freshman from N.C. State in his dual meet debut. Up from 184 last year. Hard to forecast

(7) Rocky Elam, Missouri Tigers: MAC Champ, 11-0 as RSFR, but with no victories of note. Also hard to forecast

(8) Stephen Buchanan, Wyoming Cowboys: Big 12 Runner-up, losses to Norfleet and Ferrari (and Injury Default vs. Elam); 3-0 vs Adams

(9) Noah Adams, West Virginia Mountaineers: 0-3 vs Buchanan this year, but handed Ferrari his only loss

What might reasonably happen

Anything. Amine seemed to announce himself as favorite with B1G title, but he had to go to sudden victory vs. both Beard and Warner. Still, I think he finally grabs a title to go with his three previous top 4 finishes at 174. Janzer won’t last long. Penola has a gas tank, but there are too many good wrestlers for him to make All-American. Look for Davison to fall to Warner in the second round and find his way to the blood round against the Elam/Caffey winner. The Elam/Caffey loser will be waiting for Beard—who has a big time future, but a tough draw this year—after he wins his first consolation match following a loss to Schultz in the second round. I *think* Caffey will defeat Elam and then lose to Shultz in the quarters—but Caffey can be a slow starter—meaning Caffey will end Davison’s season in the blood round while grabbing All-American honors for himself. I also think Warner pumps the brakes on the Ferrari hype train and makes the semis, [This means a Ferrari/Beard showdown in the blood round is possible!], but I think he’ll continue to be close, but no cigar against the B1G elite, falling to Amine in the semis, winning his first consolation and then falling to Schultz for 3rd. And, yes, this means I think Norfleet knocks off Schultz in the semis. Overall: 1) Amine, 2) Norfleet, 3) Schultz, 4) Warner, 5) Buchanan, 6) Adams (yes they’ll meet twice), 7) Ferrari, 8) Caffey.

285 : (Atinat)

No surprises here, this is Gable Steveson’s weight to lose. He’s joined by seven other wrestlers from the Big Ten, including two-seed Mason Parris and five-seed Tony Cassioppi. Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet, Nebraska’s Christian Lance, and Illinois’s Luke Luffman will also have their sights set on top eight finishes and All-American honors. Oh, and Trent Hillger, too, I guess.

Big Ten Wrestlers:

Gable Steveson, Minnesota Golden Gophers (1); Mason Parris, Michigan Wolverines (2); Tony Cassioppi, Iowa Hawkeyes (5); Greg Kerkvliet, Penn State Nittany Lions (9); Christian Lance, Nebraska Cornhuskers (12); Trent Hillger, Wisconsin Badgers (14); Luke Luffman, Illinois Fighting Illini (16); Tate Orndorff, Ohio State Buckeyes (21)

The Big Ten likely has the top three guys in the country in Steveson, Parris, and Cassioppi, and that order does not appear to be interchangeable. Only Cassioppi can really fall, but frankly his seed is a joke, and I think he’s heads above the three and four seeds. Kerkvliet has a high ceiling too, apparently, and he’ll look to climb above the six, seven, and eight seeds into an All-American finish. Any of the other Big Ten guys could also go on a run, especially Lance, who looked good at Big Tens, and Luffman, who was dropped quite a bit for his tournament performance after an otherwise good season.

Not Big Ten Wrestlers:

The three seed is Central Michigan’s Matt Stencel, a redshirt senior and the undefeated MAC champion. He has wins over the seven, eleven, and thirteen seeds already this year. While I don’t think he’s better than Cassioppi, I understand how he got his seed. Likewise, four-seed Cohlton Schultz of Arizona State has one of the best wins in the field, giving the sixth seed Gannon Gremmel his only loss this season. Schultz is also undefeated, and won the Pac-12. As mentioned, Gannon Gremmel is the six, and he is the Big 12 champion out of Iowa State. The seven-seed is Ethan Laird, Rider’s MAC runner-up to Matt Stencel. Jordan Wood, of Lehigh, is the eight-seed, losing his only match of the year to Laird before winning the EIWAs.


Luffman starts with Air Force’s Wyatt Hendrickson, and should he win, he’ll lose to Gable in round two. Kerkvliet gets The Citadel’s Michael McAleavey, who is 15-1, and would likely be tested by Wood in the second round. Cassioppi gets Hofstra’s Zachary Knighton-Ward, and then either Tate Orndorff or Christian Lance, who he’s a combined 3-0 against. Hillger gets Josh Heindselman of Oklahoma, then Matt Stencel, and Mason Parris gets Binghampton’s Joe Doyle, and then either Carter Isley of UNI or Hunter Catka of Virginia Tech.

I have Orndorff losing his first, Luffman, Lance, and Hillger losing in the second, and Kerkvliet falling to Steveson in the quarterfinals. Cassioppi gets through the quarters only to fall to Steveson in the semifinals and finish third, ultimately, and Parris makes the finals over Matt Stencel. Steveson prevails, proving yet again that this isn’t a rivalry, and leads the group of five Big Ten wrestlers to make All-Americans. Besides the 1-2-3 Big Ten finish repeating, Kerkvliet gets seventh, and Christian Lance gets eighth.


What happens Saturday night?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    B1G rolls to three titles, Amine wins 197
    (18 votes)
  • 14%
    B1G rolls to three titles, Schultz wins 197
    (9 votes)
  • 37%
    Gable and Brooks win
    (23 votes)
  • 11%
    Gable + 197, but Brooks upset
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    Other (I am a silly person who hasn’t watched Gable Steveson wrestle)
    (4 votes)
61 votes total Vote Now