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2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships Previews: 149-165 Pounds

NCAA Wrestling: Big Ten Championship Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

149 Pounds

Kind of...: This will forever be a what-if? for this Wisconsin Badger fan. Austin Gomez’s (Wisconsin) injury drastically increased the likelihood that 1-seed Yianni Diakomihalis will become a four-time champ (and Cornell the first school to boast multiple four-time champs). To be fair, Gomez’s victory over Yianni D. in November came in Gomez’s fourth match, but Yianni’s first, and Gomez landed a big move on Yianni, so no guarantee he could replicate that at nationals. Also, Gomez has had plenty of injuries over the years, and that’s just part of the deal. Still, this was shaping up to approach Marinelli/Joseph levels, and we’re all worse off that a rematch is unlikely to occur.

In the present reality, it’s Diakomihalis’s to lose (and he won’t). 2-seed Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) is a very good wrestler, if quite boring, but he’s not on Yianni’s level. If neither he, nor 3-seed Kyle Parco make the finals, it might be because 6-seed Brock Mauller of Missouri caught fire. Mauller was slated to face Michael Bockhus (Minnesota) in the second round, but with 9-seed Jonathan Millner dropping out, everybody seeded 10th or lower probably moves up a spot. 7-seed Yahya Thomas (Northwestern) and 8-seed Max Murin (Iowa) don’t move themselves, but each get new first round opponents. It shouldn’t matter for either. However, in the second round, Thomas is now likely looking at Blockhus instead of Jaden Abas. Thomas is 3-2 lifetime vs. Blockhus, but Blockhus grabbed a SV win at the B1G tournament. With a move up to #9, Abas becomes Murin’s problem in a pretty exciting 8/9 second round battle. They’ve met once, at the 2021 NCAA’s. Abas won 2-1 on tiebreaker criteria. If Murin wants to make All-American for the first time, winning this one would be helpful.

Beyond that, the other B1G wrestlers cover the range. Shayne Van Ness (Penn State) moves from 13 to 12 and a matchup with Ethen Miller (Maryland), who went from 22 to 21. Van Ness should win that, and with the seeding bump his chance to prove PSU’s dark magic will come against Paniro Johnson—who took Yianni D. to SV earlier this year—rather than Caleb Henson, who beat Sasso in SV earlier in the year. All three of these guys are frosh, so it was going to be unpredictable either way.

By moving from 15 to 14, Gomez goes from opposite Sasso to opposite Parco in terms of a second-round matchup. If Gomez isn’t healthy it doesn’t matter, but if he is, he was 2-0 against Sasso last year, and just seemed bigger and able to bully Sasso a bit. He’s never faced Parco. God I hope he’s healthy. Dammit.

Elsewhere, Graham Rooks (Indiana) moves up to #20, and a winnable matchup with Kellyn March. Win that and a not-that-winnable matchup with Caleb Henson would await. Chance Lamer (Michigan) is likely up to #22, but #11 Doug Zapf will be tough, though he did get tripped up by Dylan Chappell (now the #29) at the EIWAs. Finally, if Anthony White (Rutgers) moves from 32 to 31, he’s out of the pigtail. But he’s not going to beat Sasso.

157 Pounds

Kind of...: Not the strongest weight this year which...of course...benefits Penn State. Austin O’Connor is the 1-seed. He won it all (at 149) in 2021, and took 8th at 157 last year. He’s undefeated and there’s no problem with him being the #1. But it’s wide open.

Fresh off a B1G title, PSU’s Levi Haines grabbed the 2-seed. His B1G title came at Peyton Robb’s (Nebraska) expense, and the former #1 Robb is the 3-seed. Why yes, I would like to see them meet again in the semis! Of the 11 B1G wrestlers at this weight, six are in the Haines/Robb bottom half of the bracket.

Besides those two #14 Cobe Siebrecht (Iowa) and #19 Garrett Model (Wisconsin) will meet in the first round. Model has had a nice senior season, but Siebrecht is better. Siebrecht probably isn’t getting past Robb in the second round, but could make some noise in the consolation rounds. If things go to seed early on, he could be wrestling Chase Saldate (Michigan State) (Saldate won their only matchup) for a spot in the blood round opposite #9 Will Lewan (Michigan) (Siebrecht is 1-0 vs. Lewan). #11 Saldate should beat #22 Derek Holschlag and has a shot against #6 Daniel Cardenas, who rang up a gaudy 17-1 record against limited competition. #18 Derek Gilcher has a tossup against #15 Jacob Wright, with Haines waiting in the second round, so Gilcher will almost certainly start Friday with a consolation match, one way or another.

In the top half, the aforementioned Lewan seems headed for a second round showdown with #8 Ed Scott. Scott has seven losses this year, but six of them are to guys with better seeds than him. Scott beat Lewan earlier this year, too, but it was an injury default. #12 Kendall Coleman (Purdue) will face off with #21 Andrew Clark (Rutgers Scarlet Knights) in the first round. The mercurial, maddening Coleman should win, but it’s hard to see him beating #5 Josh Humphreys in the second round, who will almost certainly make his way past Ohio State’s Paddy Gallagher to open things up. Finally, #13 Trevor Chumbley (Northwestern) starts off with #20 Cael Swensen. Waiting in the second round is likely #4 Jared Franek. In top form, Chumbley might have a shot. If he loses, he could easily end up facing Coleman for a spot in the blood round.

Because I’m stupid, I’m picking Robb to get revenge on Haines and then win a title over O’Connor.

165 Pounds

Kind of...: This should be the most fun weight, hands down. Look at who’s in the draw:

  • #1 David Carr (Iowa State): 2021 champion at 157
  • #2 Keegan O’Toole (Missouri): 2022 champion at 165
  • #9 Shane Griffith (Stanford): 2021 champion and 2022 runner-up at 165
  • #5 Quincy Monday (Princeton): 2022 runner-up at 157

And we haven’t mentioned any B1G wrestlers yet!

What’s more, next year could be more of the same. Of the top 16 seeds, only Monday is a senior, and he has the Covid year still if he wants it. How amazing is that! Now next year IS an Olympic year, so there will be some Olympic redshirts. The decision-making calculus there is worth its own article, but let’s save that for later.

For now, let’s go in reverse order of seeding, and really break down the B1G possibilities:

#29 Caleb Fish (MSU): Julian Ramirez earned the #4 seed, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the fourth best wrestler in the bracket. Fish has a better chance of pulling the upset than you think, but it’s still not all that high. It’s unlikely Fish will still be around Friday night.

#28 Andrew Sparks (Minnesota): #5 Monday lost to Ramirez twice this year, including a tough 6-5 title bout at the EIWAs. Maybe Ramirez is just better, but my Dean Hamiti-influenced view says no. I don’t think Sparks has much chance here, or in making a consolation run.

#25 Bubba Wilson (Nebraska): Pac-12 Champ Matthew Olguin is a pretty tough draw as the 8-seed, but it’s a stacked weight, what are you going to do. Then, if Wilson wins his first wrestleback, he’s probably looking at either #7 or #10 on Friday morning. Sorry Bubba.

#19 Danny Braunagel (Illinois): Braunagel is typically game, and he could beat #14 Peyton Hall. But that would put him against Dean Hamiti (see below) in round 2. Braunagel is 0-3 vs. Hamiti, being outscored 36-1 overall. Maybe losing to Hall would be better? Win or lose vs. Hall, there’s a good chance he finds a B1G opponent (Facundo, Fish, Kennedy, or Amine) sometime Friday in the wrestlebacks. Enjoy him as long as he’s around.

#18 Maxx Mayfield (Michigan): Less exciting than Braunagel but with a deserved (2-1 vs. Braunagel this year) higher seed. Mayfield will face #15 Justin McCoy and then, with a win, defending champ O’Toole. Uh oh. Mayfield could have a winnable match Friday morning to get into the blood round, but unless something really weird happens, it’s hard to see him getting out of the blood round.

#13 Alex Facundo (PSU): He and Van Ness were the jewels in PSU’s 2021 recruiting class. Four losses (Carr, Kharchla, Kennedy, and Wilson) this year. All close, only Wilson a real surprise. With a couple of weeks to marinate in Cael’s sorcery, I’m calling for him beat #4 Ramirez in the second round before losing to Monday in the quarters. Should that happen, he’d need one consolation win to be an All-American (maybe Kharchla, maybe Michael Caliendo III). He’ll get it, because Penn State.

#11 Cameron Amine (Michigan): After being upset by Patrick Kennedy (see below) at the B1G tournament, the two-time All-America slipped to #11 and...a likely rematch with Kennedy in the second round, and...Dean Hamiti waiting in the quarters!!! Delicious!!! Amine wrestles close matches. He’s 2-0 vs. Hamiti, so obviously a threat to make the semis. But if he loses to Kennedy, it could be Griffith or Olguin in the blood round. Kennedy/Amine could feature two of the five best wrestlers in the country at this weight (if Griffith is off his game rather than Olguin on his), and would come in the second round. Damn.

#10 Carson Kharchla (OSU): Kharchla’s health is a question mark, but if he’s rounding into form, he’s a player at this weight. Hamiti took his apart, 14-2, at the B1G tournament, but he beat Facundo there, avenging an earlier loss. His second round opponent is likely to be #7 Michael Caliendo III, of North Dakota State. Kharchla has faced better competition overall, but Caliendo has beaten Griffith this year. I’m taking Kharchla, but it’s a tossup with a healthy Kharchla. Much like Kennedy/Amine, the loser is in real trouble in terms of All-American aspirations. That said, whoever wins probably isn’t getting by O’Toole, so maybe neither finds the podium. Hard to say. What a tough weight.

#6 Patrick Kennedy (Iowa): See Amine above. At his best, Kennedy is a really nice combination of mauler/brawler and tactical. The three losses this year are to Carr and Hamiti (x2), so he has an argument to be the #4 seed. That said, the wins over Amine and Facundo were each by a point, so his margin of error isn’t real big. I have no good reason to take either him or Amine in their second round matchup. Given Hamitit’s success against Kennedy, and that fact that Hamiti’s ranginess really seems to work against Kennedy, I’ll be hoping Kennedy beats Amine.

#3 Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin): I’m a Wisconsin fan, but @atinat and @HWAHSQB join me—as do all right-thinking wrestling fans—is concluding that Hamiti is one of the more fun wrestlers to watch. Long limbed, hard to make uncomfortable on the mat, ready to give up a leg. Maybe not quite as funky as Jaydin Eierman, but that’s a high bar. Hamiti should roll through Evan Barczak and shouldn’t have too much trouble with the Hall/Braunagel winner, setting up a quarter with Kennedy or Amine. Rose-colored glasses or no, I’m calling for Hamiti to win that too, and advance to the semis.

However, no matter how much I love Hamiti, and it’s an unhealthy amount, I’m still realistic enough to realize that toppling Keegan O’Toole, the defending champ, is a tall order. I see Hamiti falling just short of a championship appearance (maybe next year, if O’Toole and Carr take Olympic redshirts?).

In terms of overall, while toppling O’Toole is a tall order, David Carr has already done it twice in the last four weeks, most recently with a fall in extra time, which was awesome. I’m calling for Carr to do it again, and win a second title. If those two meet in the final, it might be the best title bout this year.