Today is the first day of March and, for college wrestling, that means it's time for the biggest and best month of the year, the month when legacies are made and the quality of a season is defined. The Big Ten Tournament gets underway a week from tomorrow in Minneapolis (March 9-10), while the NCAA Tournament is just under three weeks out now (March 21-23 in Pittsburgh, PA).
The NCAA released the automatic qualifier totals for each conference at each weight earlier today, which you can see below:
Essentially what those numbers mean is how many finishers at a given weight at a conference tournament earn an automatic qualifying spot to the NCAA Tournament. For instance, the Big Ten has nine automatic qualifying spots at 125 lbs, which means that the Top-9 finishers at that weight will all earn automatic qualifying spots in the NCAA Tournament field at 125 lbs. As ever, the Big Ten has the most automatic qualifying spots by a huge margin.
But let's turn our attention to the Big Ten Tournament and look at what the seeds for that even might look like with the regular season now wrapped up. As always, a huge thank you to blog buddy bscaff, for his assistance in tracking records throughout the entire season and helping organize this information.
|3||Rayvon Foley||Michigan State||SO||29-3||9-1||8-1|
|10||Malik Heinselman||Ohio State||FR||21-7||12-5||2-3|
|12||Devin Schnupp||Penn State||SO||6-14||1-8||1-8|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 9
Spencer Lee has the best Big Ten dual meet record among 125ers, but the seeding committee certainly isn't going to overlook his loss to Rivera in the Midlands finals two months ago (nor should they). That makes Rivera and Lee a pretty clear-cut 1-2 here. Rayvon Foley is a surprise name at the #3 seed, but a) he's had a good year, b) he had a favorable schedule (he didn't wrestle Lee or Russell), and c) 125 is not a great weight class in the Big Ten this year (although it does have nine qualifiers; perhaps 125 isn't all that deep anywhere this year). He's probably best known to us as the guy Spencer pinned in 0:46 in his first official appearance in an Iowa singlet. Everything here points to a rematch between Spencer Lee and Sebastian Rivera in the finals; a Big Ten championship (and possible #1 seed at the NCAA Tournament) rides on the outcome.
|5||Roman Bravo-Young||Penn State||FR||17-2||4-1||4-1|
|6||Luke Pletcher||Ohio State||JR||20-4||8-2||6-2|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 8
133 is such a loaded weight class in the Big Ten that Luke Pletcher, last year's Big Ten runner-up, may be no better than a #6 seed this year. The newly loaded status of this weight has a lot do with some fresh faces this year -- Suriano and Lizak moved up to 133 from 125, while DeSanto was a transfer from Drexel and Bravo-Young is a true freshman. DeSanto handled all comers in Big Ten competition, which should earn him the #2 seed here. There are a lot of question marks at this weight, though; Micic beat Suriano and Pletcher, but didn't wrestle DeSanto, Lizak, or Bravo-Young. DeSanto beat Suriano and Lizak, but didn't wrestle Micic, Bravo-Young, or Pletcher. Suriano didn't face Lizak, Bravo-Young, or Pletcher. And so on. There should be a lot of intrigue at this weight from the quarterfinals on.
DeSanto is a cinch to get an at-large bid if he somehow failed to finish in the Top-8 at the Big Ten Tournament, but finishing outside the Top-8 seems like a very unlikely outcome for him at this event.
|2||Nick Lee||Penn State||SO||24-1||8-1||8-1|
|3||Joey McKenna||Ohio State||SR||16-2||7-1||6-1|
|7||Max Murin||Iowa||RS FR||12-6||5-3||4-3|
|10||Kyle Luigs||Indiana||RS FR||15-14||3-8||2-5|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 9
Carr has been perfect in Big Ten competition this year, but he didn't wrestle either McKenna or Lee. It's possible he could be dinged for that, but 7-0 in Big Ten duals is hard to overlook. If he's not #1, I'd say he'll be #2 (with Lee #1) and McKenna #3. The real Big Ten championship match at this weight looks to be McKenna-Lee, whether that happens in the semifinals or the actual final (if they end up on separate sides of the bracket).
From an Iowa standpoint, Murin has his work cut out for him. It's tough to get a read on his seed -- among guys in that 7-10 range, he lost to Luigs, beat Lipari, and didn't wrestle Red. He has better winning percentages overall and against Big Ten opponents than any of them, though, so I gave him the edge over the others. Either way, Murin went 0-2 against guys seeded ahead of him this year and 2-1 against guys seeded below him. The Big Ten has nine qualifiers at this weight, so his margin of error is pretty great to earn an automatic qualifier; he's also likely a pretty decent bet to earn an at-large bid if he somehow finishes 10th or worse. More than anything, we just need to see progress and positive momentum out of Murin -- give us a reason to think he can make some noise in March this year. He's had a lot of narrow losses, but narrow losses in tournaments don't earn any points -- they just end your tournament early.
|2||Micah Jordan||Ohio State||SR||20-1||10-1||8-0|
|5||Brady Berge||Penn State||RS FR||15-2||4-1||3-1|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 6
Given the ups and downs Lugo has experienced this season, it's perhaps surprising to see him as a possible #3 seed here, but many of his losses have come against non-conference opposition and he's done well against Big Ten foes (only losing to Ashnault and Ohio State's redshirting Sammy Sasso). The Big Ten also isn't that deep this year, frankly. Ashnault and Jordan are very good, but after that? Lugo has been steadily improving and Berge has a lot of potential, but the pickings get slim. A #3 seed would keep Lugo on the opposite side of the bracket from Ashnault until the finals, but would set up a possible semifinal with Micah Jordan, which could be a nightmarish match-up, given Jordan's length advantage. Still, Lugo has been one of Iowa's best wrestlers over the last month or so; let's see what he can do in this setting.
|1||Jason Nolf||Penn State||SR||23-0||10-0||9-0|
|7||Ke-Shawn Hayes||Ohio State||JR||18-7||6-6||4-4|
|9||John Van Brill||Rutgers||SR||17-11||3-7||3-5|
|12||Jacob Tucker||Michigan State||SO||21-13||4-8||2-7|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 9
13 out of 14 guys at this weight is essentially fighting for 2nd place; it would be one of the biggest shocks of the season if someone other than Jason Nolf won this weight here. Berger and Deakin are no-brainers for the #2 and #3 seeds. Pantaleo and Young each have a case for the #4 seed; Young has a better overall record, but Pantaleo has a few more wins over Big Ten opponents. His dual meet losses are better than Young's as well; Pantaleo lost to Nolf and Deakin, while Young lost to Berger and Barone. That said, there isn't much difference between the #4 and #5 seeds and the winner of their showdown is still staring at a possible semifinal with Nolf.
There's no concern about Young qualifying for the NCAA Tournament (he should have no problem finishing in the Top-9 here and, regardless, he's a lock to get an at-large bid if needed), but like Murin, he could really use a strong performance here to boost his confidence and momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament. He's gone just 4-2 since Midlands, with no notable wins except his late win over Bleise.
|1||Vincenzo Joseph||Penn State||JR||21-0||7-0||7-0|
|7||Te'shan Campbell||Ohio State||SR||17-4||2-3||2-2|
|10||Phillip Spadafora||Maryland||RS FR||12-16||3-7||2-6|
|11||Tyler Morland||Northwestern||RS FR||5-6||3-5||3-5|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 9
You could make an argument for Marinelli to be the #1 seed over Joseph; they're both undefeated, but Marinelli has more Big Ten wins (and B1G dual meet wins) and also beat Wick twice, while Joseph didn't face Wick at all this year. That said, I don't expect Joseph, undefeated this year and the two-time defending NCAA champ at 165 to be anything other than the #1 seed here. Which puts Marinelli at #2 and likely Wick at #3, setting up the possibility of Marinelli-Wick III this year in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. The opening round at this weight should be a snooze, but everything from the quarterfinals on could be straight fire. For Marinelli our goal for him is simple: be wrestling in the Big Ten final on Sunday and, hopefully, end that match with his hand raised as a Big Ten champion.
|1||Mark Hall||Penn State||JR||23-0||9-0||9-0|
|3||Mikey Labriola||Nebraska||RS FR||22-4||9-3||7-2|
|6||Ethan Smith||Ohio State||RS FR||15-8||7-4||4-4|
|8||Drew Hughes||Michigan State||JR||23-11||6-4||5-4|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 8
This weight looks like Hall's to lose, although Amine has a history of wrestling Hall close -- he lost 6-5 and 4-3 last year and 3-2 earlier this year. Could he finally pull off an upset in the Big Ten finals? Maybe!
As for Iowa, this is a tricky weight. The Big Ten has 8 NCAA qualifiers here, and based on past precedent, the Big Ten will only seed eight wrestlers here. The other six wrestlers will be unseeded and could face any of the eight seeded wrestlers in the first round. Ultimately this is a weight where Iowa's representative (likely Mitch Bowman) is going to need to do work in the consolation bracket. Bowman will likely need to finish in the Top-8 and claim one of the Big Ten's automatic qualifying spots, because I don't think he'll have a strong case to get an at-large bid at this weight, given his 8-5 record. Iowa should have little trouble getting wrestlers into the NCAA Tournament field at 9 of 10 weights; this is the one weight where there are some real question marks.
|1||Myles Martin||Ohio State||SR||17-0||10-0||9-0|
|3||Shakur Rasheed||Penn State||SR||17-0||3-0||3-0|
|6||Jaleni Embree||Michigan||RS FR||13-4||5-1||4-1|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 8
Martin is the no-brainer #1 seed at this weight, but there are some questions about the seeds after that. The biggest question is what to do with Penn State's Rasheed, who's undefeated on the season, but also missed most of the Big Ten season due to injury. He's back now, though, and I can't see the seeding committee dropping an undefeated wrestler too low in the seeds. I think Wilcke has a pretty decent case to be the #2 seed ahead of him, given his 8-1 record in Big Ten duals and 10-1 record overall against Big Ten opponents. If that happens, I don't see Rasheed falling below a #3 seed and, as ever, there's not much difference between a #2 and #3 seed. Wilcke, Venz, and Parker are in an awkward round robin of sorts: Wilcke beat Venz, who beat Parker, who beat Wilcke. Venz and Parker's other Big Ten loss was to Martin (who Wilcke didn't wrestle). Despite his loss to Parker, I think Wilcke's better B1G record and win over Venz keeps him seeded over both of them, while Venz's win over Parker keeps him seeded over Parker.
If Wilcke is the #2 seed, I would be ecstatic to see him wrestling Martin in the Big Ten final on Sunday. That would be a very good tournament for Wilcke.
|1||Bo Nickal||Penn State||SR||22-0||9-0||9-0|
|2||Kollin Moore||Ohio State||JR||16-1||10-1||8-1|
|3||Jacob Warner||Iowa||RS FR||14-3||10-0||8-0|
|7||Brad Wilton||Michigan State||RS FR||18-12||5-4||5-3|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 5
In terms of NCAA qualifiers, no weight in the Big Ten is weaker than 197, where the league grabbed just five automatic qualifying spots. Competition should be fierce for those spots, although it's also true that the top guys in the Big Ten at this weight are clearly ahead of the rest of the pack. And at the forefront of those top guys is, of course, Bo Nickal, a massive favorite to win a Big Ten title at his third different weight. Moore is his most likely challenger in the Big Ten final, although the Warner-Moore semifinal (if it happens) should be very intriguing. Warner has the better Big Ten record than Moore, but Moore's only loss in the Big Ten (and overall) was to Nickal, while Warner didn't face Nickal.
Much like Wilcke, if Warner is wrestling in the Big Ten final on Sunday it will be a very successful tournament for him. He'll be a heavy underdog in that match (likely against Nickal), but getting to the final is still a very worthy (and seemingly attainable) goal.
|2||Anthony Cassar||Penn State||SR||21-1||10-0||9-0|
|4||Trent Hillger||Wisconsin||RS FR||19-4||7-4||6-3|
|6||Chase Singletary||Ohio State||RS FR||18-5||7-3||4-3|
NCAA QUALIFIERS: 7
Is this going to be the official coronation of Gable Steveson's reign over the heavyweight division or will someone emerge to delay that? I'd bet on the former, but there is some firepower in the Big Ten that could make Steveson work for it. Foremost among those options is Penn State's Cassar, who has looked ferocious after his move up from 197. A Cassar-Steveson final could be one of the most exciting -- and highest-scoring -- heavyweight finals in some time.
As for our man Stoll, well, let's just see what he can do with his knee and if he's learned any new tricks. He's going to have win with grit, guile, and straight-up toughness given his physical limitations. The blueprint on how to beat Stoll is out there so he's going to have to come up with some way to turn the tables on opponents if he wants to have a successful run here.
The official Big Ten pre-seeds should be released early next week.