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NCAA Wrestling Championships preview: 149-165 Pounds

Looking at the Big Ten guys who look to find their way to the podium this week

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship Photo by Scott Rovak/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

149 Pounds

B1G Qualifiers: 3. Austin Gomez (WIS); 4. Sammy Sasso (OSU); 8. Max Murin (IOWA); 10. Ridge Lovett (NEB); 12. Mike Van Brill (RUT); 13. Beau Bartlett (PSU); 19. Yahya Thomas (NW); 31. Michael Blockhus (MINN)

Kind of...: This is Yianni Diakomihalis’s bracket as he seeks to stay on course to become a 4-time champ. Spencer Lee’s injury sucks, but if both he and Yianni D. are going for four-time champ status next year, that will be cool. Yianni has had close calls before (SV wins in both ‘18 and ‘19—yeah, those years are right...he took an Olympic year in ‘20, and the Ivy League didn’t compete last year—and a couple of close regulation wins over Eierman and Dean Heil, too), but he seems to be the clear class of the weight this year.

If Yianni is challenged, it will probably come from a B1G opponent (or 2-seed Tariq Wilson of NC State). Iowa’s Max Murin would meet Yianni D. in the quarters. Murin has gone out in the blood round twice and desperately wants to make All-American this year. Unfortunately, with that draw, he’ll have to do the work in the consolation rounds again. And this assumes he gets by Kaden Gfeller (Okie State) in the second round, who he does already have a 5-2 win over earlier this year. Ohio State’s Sammy Sassso—a finalist last year—would be waiting in the semis. Sasso is not the most exciting wrestler, but his only losses the last two years are to Yianni, 3-seed Gomez, and last year’s title match. He likely goes out in the semis this year. In the process, he would defeat 13-seed Beau Bartlett of Penn State in the second round. In terms of the team race, Iowa really needs Murin to ourscore Bartlett by a few points here. Bartlett’s progression through the wrestlebacks is worth keeping an eye on. Sasso might also have to go through Rutgers’s Mike Van Brill, the 12-seed in the quarters. Van Brill has had himself a fine year, but his draw is rough. He’d have to upset 5-seed Kyle Parco (ASU) just to make the quarters. If both Bartlett and Van Brill lose in the second round, they’d be on a collision course to meet in the wrestlebacks with a spot in the blood round on the line.

IF things go to seed in the 14 vs. 19 bout, that means 19-seed Yahya Thomas, of Northwestern, would be waiting for Bartlett Friday morning, with the winner needing another morning victory to get to the Friday evening blood round. Thomas had an amazing run to finish 3rd nationally last year, and certainly could get by Josh Finesilver (of the Duke Finesilvers) in the first round. If he does, then Wisconsin’s Austin Gomez is almost certain to be waiting. Gomez has been a great story bouncing back after two injury-plagued years. He upset Sasso for the B1G title and earned a 3-seed for his efforts. He’s aggressive and damn fun to watch. In the regular season finale, he let it fly against Yianni, and lost 12-6. Not sure a rematch would go any different, but he’s looked really good and should get to the semis, at least, though App. State’s Jonathan Millner would provide a stern test in the quarters.

It’s hard to call Ridge Lovett’s season disappointing. The Nebraska grappler went 20-3, losing only to Diakomihalis and Gomez (2x). But Gomez essentially beat out Lovett as “the guy who displaces Sammy Sasso for B1G supremacy” and 10-seed is definitely lower than expected for Lovett. He has All-American potential—and is talented enough to beat Tariq Wilson and make the semifinals—but 7-seed Joshua Heil of Campbell is no pushover. That will be a dynamite second-round matchup. Finally, Minnesota’s Michael Blockhus drew the 31-seed and probably won’t last real long. Starting off with 2-seed Tariq Wilson isn’t great, and he’ll need to beat the 15/18 loser, and then almost certainly the 16/17 loser just to be one of the last 16 wrestlers remaining. Blockhus is game, but it’s probably not going to happen.

157 Pounds

B1G Qualifiers: 2. Ryan Deakin (NW); 8. Will Lewan (MICH); 9. Kaleb Young (IOWA); 10. Peyton Robb (NEB); 16. Brady Berge (PSU); 19. Kendall Coleman (PUR); 21. Chase Saldate (MSU); 27 Garrett Model (WIS)

Kind of...: Iowa State’s David Carr is the defending champ, went undefeated this year, and is the 1-ssed. So, yeah, he’s the clear favorite. If not him, maybe this is Ryan Deakin’s year? That said, Arizona State’s Jacori Teemer (3-seed) took 4th last year, and went undefeated this year (though against lesser competition). Besides Deakin, from a B1G point of view, this weight is fascinating in terms of the team race.

First, let’s be polite, but quick. 27-seed Garrett Model of Wisconsin got an at-large bid. He’s had a nice season, but he’s not beating North Dakota State’s Jared Franek. He probably won’t last long in the wrestlebacks, either. Nor, likely, will Michigan State’s Saldate, the 21-seed, though if he upsets 12-seed Jacob Wright of Wyoming, he could see Model Friday morning (Saldate is NOT beating Princeton’s Quincy Monday in the second round). Purdue’s Kendall Coleman seems like he should be higher than the 19-seed, but he has had health concerns and 2022 has been pretty disappointing thus far. He might beat 14-seed Jake Keating of Virginia—though I’m not predicting that—but he’s not getting past 3-seed Teemer.

Nebraska’s 10-seed Peyton Robb has a fine shot at getting to the quarters, as the second round matchup with 7-seed Josh Humphreys (Lehigh) is basically a tossup. However, he’s 0-2 against Deakin so far this year, and that’s who he’d face in the quarters. He has a fine shot at All-American honors, though, depending on what happens on the backside of the bracket. For his part, Deakin is national title or bust. He has a good chance of making the finals (though, again, Teemer will be a test), but Carr has looked great this year.

Okay, team race: Berge, Lewan and Young are all in the same quarter of the bracket. Berge would have to face Carr in the second round. Young and Lewan are likely to meet in the second round with the winner to face Carr in the quarters. So...who’s going to do work in the consolation rounds? If Berge wins his first round match, then loses to Carr, he’d likely face the Young/Lewan loser in the round of 16 Friday morning (each would have to win their first consolation bout). Berge is 3-0 against Young all-time, and 1-1 vs. Lewan. But Young beat Lewan in their only matchup (way back in 2020). If Berge loses his first match, he’s probably looking at the Robb/Humphreys loser at this point. Either way, it will be a test of PSU magic to get many points at this weight.

The Young/Lewan winner probably falls to Carr in the quarters and heads to the blood round to likely face either the Coleman/Keating winner—who would’ve lost to Teemer—or...2021 149 lb. champ Austin O’Connor (the 11-seed)? Ouch. 157 could end up not mattering too much to the team race, but if any of Berge, Lewan, or Young make All-American, those could be really important points. Young’s already a two-time All-American, but Lewan has had the better season so far.

165 Pounds

B1G Qualifiers: 3. Alex Marinelli (IOWA); 4. Dean Hamiti (WIS); 6. Cameron Amine (MICH); 7. Carson Kharchla (OSU); 27. Clayton Wilson (NEB); 28. Cael Carlson (MINN); 31. Caleb Fish (MSU); 32. David Ferrante (NW)

Holy shit is this going to be fun. Entering the B1G tournament, it seemed like there was a pecking order to the top four B1G wrestlers, but then that got totally upended. Nationally, a former Badger is the 1-seed, a second-year freshman (who took 3rd last year) is the 2-seed, and the defending champ is the 5-seed. This is the most wide-open weight, and it’s going to be a blast.

With apologies to Wilson, Carlson, Fish, and Ferrante, their opening round opponents are Michigan’s Amine (6-seed), Shane Griffith (5-seed), Keegan O’Toole (2-seed), and Evan Wick (1-seed), respectively. If any of these guys are wrestling Friday morning, it will be a surprise. If any of them are wrestling Friday evening, I will post a mea culpa in the comments. So, let’s move on to the big four:

Marinelli: four-time B1G champ; zero-time NCAA finalist. He’s a two-time All-American (6th in 2018 and 7th in 2019), though both were disappointing, and he had to MFF out last year after falling to eventual champ Griffith in the quarters. His draw is good. He shouldn’t have any trouble with Evan Barczak in the first round or the Justin McCoy/Josh Ogunsanya winner in the second. Amine likely awaits in the quarters. Marinelli beat Amine 2-1 for the B1G title and would be favored. But he’s fallen in the quarters the last two NCAA appearances. Whoever wins would likely face the O’Toole/Kharchla winner in the semis, so we’ll move on to Amine and Kharchla. Iowa won the team title last year despite Marinelli not placing. That won’t happen this year. Iowa needs a semifinal run, at least, out of him.

Amine: The B1G runner-up impressed with an upset win over B1G 1-seed Kharchla before losing the final to Marinelli. Amine took 7th last year, but wasn’t having a great 2022 before his B1G tournament run. He had lost to Nebraska’s Wilson—oh, look at that, they’re matched up again in the first round!—and to Penn State’s Brady Berge prior to Berge dropping down to 157. So...which Amine is showing up to Detroit? He could lose to Wilson again, but let’s say he gets his revenge. 11-seed Izzy Olejnik (N. Illinois) wrestles weaker competition, but is not a pushover, so Amine could go out in the second round too. Marinelli would await in the quarters and, maybe, Kharchla, who Amine upset at the B1G tournament, in the semis, though it’s probably O’Toole. A run to the finals would be stunning, but Amine could make the semis. Or he could lose in the first round. He’s clearly the highest-variance wrestler among the B1G four. Michigan needs him if they want to win the NCAA title.

Kharchla: Kharchla’s losses are to the 4-, 5-, and 6- seeds, and he beat 3-seed Marinelli, so he’s the real deal. He has a December 4-3 decision over 10-seed Jake Wentzel (Pitt), his likely second-round opponent. Win that, and Mizzou’s O’Toole will pose a major test in the quarters. Entering the B1G tournament, O’Toole/Kharchla looked like a semifinal, but losses to Amine and Hamiti moved it up a round. It’s not easy to beat Alex Marinelli, so Kharchla can beat anybody. But O’Toole is a stud, too, and I see him knocking off Kharchla in the quarters.

Hamiti: Wisconsin’s true frosh laid waste to everybody this year...except for Alex Marinelli. A second round matchup with Cornell’s Julian Ramirez (13-seed) looks tricky on paper, but Hamiti pinned him less than a month ago. Make the quarters, and defending champion Shane Griffith (Stanford) awaits. Hamiti is really, really good, and Griffith lost to Ramirez back in November. However, since then, Griffith’s three losses all are to 1-seed Wick, who clearly made the most of his Olympic training, and you have to like Griffith’s experience at this point. IF Hamiti can get by Griffith, it would be 1-seed Evan Wick—a former Badger—who would almost certainly be his semifinal opponent. Wick has a 3rd and 4th place finish and has won 128 matches in his career. As explosive as Hamiti is, that would be a tough hill to climb.

So, as exciting and wide-open as it looks among these four B1G talents, the smart money is still probably on none of them reaching the finals, unless Marinelli gets by O’Toole. All four are legit All-American candidates, though, which means the consolation side is well worth watching.