Spencer Lee Named Finalist For Hodge Trophy

By RossWB on March 21, 2020 at 2:17 pm
© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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The 2019-20 wrestling season is over, but there's still the matter of distributing end-of-year individual hardware to celebrate the season that was. The biggest and most importance piece of individual hardware is the Dan Hodge Trophy, wrestling's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. The Hodge Trophy is named for former Oklahoma great Dan Hodge, who went 46-0 in Norman and won three straight NCAA titles from 1955-57. 

This year's award features a whopping eight finalists, including a pair of wrestlers at both 125 and 197 (which would normally never happen since the NCAA Tournament would force undefeated wrestlers at the same weight to face one another, but alas...). Those eight finalists include Iowa's Spencer Lee, as well as Princeton's Pat Glory, Cornell's Chaz Tucker, Northwestern's Ryan Deakin, Stanford's Shane Griffith, Ohio State's Kollin Moore, West Virginia's Noah Adams, and Minnesota's Gable Steveson. It's not a strict requirement that a wrestler be undefeated to win the Hodge... but an undefeated wrestler is almost always going to beat a wrestler with a loss on his record. 

Per WIN Magazine, the main criteria for the award are "a wrestler’s record, number of pins, dominance and quality of competition. Past credentials, sportsmanship/citizenship and heart are used as secondary criteria in years where two finalists stats are nearly equal." Here's a breakdown of the contenders: 

125 Spencer Lee JR Iowa 17-0 4 9 3 1 94%
125 Pat Glory SO Princeton 23-0 4 9 4 6 74%
133 Chaz Tucker SR Cornell 30-0 2 0 1 27 10%
157 Ryan Deakin JR Northwestern 21-0 5 0 8 8 62%
165 Shane Griffith FR Stanford 27-0 9 0 8 10 63%
197 Kollin Moore SR Ohio State 27-0 4 6 10 7 74%
197 Noah Adams SO West Virginia 30-0 5 2 6 17 43%
285 Gable Steveson SO Minnesota 15-0 4 1 6 4 73%

NOTE: I excluded all wins via forfeit, medical forfeit, or injury default from the stats above. 

You don't have to be a Big Ten wrestler to win the Hodge... but it helps. Seven of the last 10 Hodge winners are from the Big Ten. The three that non-Big Ten wrestlers to win the Hodge over the last decade were some of the best in the sport over that span, too. Jordan Burroughs (Nebraska) won it in 2011 (the year before the Huskers joined the Big Ten), capping off an outstanding senior season and a great final two years of his career. Kyle Dake (Cornell) won it in 2013, the year he became the third wrestler ever to win four national championships. And Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) won it in 2016 after winning his third straight national championship. 

With all due respect to Glory, Tucker, Griffith, and Adams, they're not in that league. If they'd been able to navigate the treacherous waters of the NCAA Tournament and remain undefeated, they'd have a legitimate case to be the Hodge winner, but without running that gauntlet, their resumes simply aren't strong enough. How can Glory win the Hodge when he's not even the best wrestler at his own weight? Tucker's 30-0 mark is impressive, but the strength of 133 lbs was in the Big Ten this year (as evidenced by the fact that five of the top seven seeds at this year's NCAA Tournament at that weight were B1G boys) and he faced none of them. His 10% bonus rate is also nowhere near good enough to merit Hodge consideration. 

Griffith's 27-0 record is impressive and he has solid bonus point numbers, but like Tucker, he didn't face any of the acknowledged top contenders at this weight. Much like 133, 165 lbs was a weight dominated by the Big Ten this year (three of the top five at that weight hail from the Big Ten) and Griffith didn't face any of them (nor any of the lower-seeded but still dangerous competitors there, like #8 Evan Wick). Adams also has a gaudy record (30-0), but he has the second-lowest bonus percentage rate of the finalists and he also didn't face the strongest competition during the season. 

That leaves us with four Big Ten wrestlers: Lee, Deakin, Moore, and Steveson. In terms of pure record, Moore has the clear advantage; he won 27 matches, while Deakin won 21, Lee won 17, and Steveson won 15. But is an extra 6-12 matches alone enough to make him the favorite here? That seems like a stretch. The fact that his team happened to schedule a few more tournaments shouldn't automatically give him an advantage over the others. Number of pins is a wash -- Deakin had five, while Lee, Moore, and Steveson each had four. 

That leaves us with "dominance" and "quality of competition." Deakin and Steveson both ascended to #1 at their weights after beating the previous #1; Deakin knocked off NC State's Hayden Hidlay at the Cliff Keen Invitational in December, while Steveson defeated Michigan's Mason Parris at the Big Ten Tournament just two weeks ago. Those are big wins on their resume that Lee and Moore can't quite match -- in part because they couldn't record a win over the #1-ranked wrestler because they were the #1-ranked wrestler at their weight; Lee and Moore were the only wrestlers to be #1 at their weights from the beginning of the season to the end. Steveson also has two wins over the consensus #3 at his weight (Tony Cassioppi). Lee has a win over the #3 wrestler at his weight (Oklahoma State's Nick Piccininni), as well as a pair of wins over the #5 wrestler (Purdue's Devin Schroder). Kollin Moore has two wins over the #3 guy at his weight (Nebraska's Eric Schultz), as well as a win over the #6 guy (Purdue's Christian Brunner), and two wins over the #9 guy (Kordell Norfleet). In addition to his win over Hidlay (current #2), Deakin also has wins over the current #3 (Iowa State's David Carr), two wins over the current #6 (Purdue's Kendall Coleman), and a win over the current #9 (Arizona State's Jacori Teemer). 

I think all four Big Ten contenders fare pretty well on the "quality of competition" metric. They all faced -- and defeated -- some of the best guys at their respective weights. How you want to rank them there may be a matter of personal preference as much as anything else. 

How about "dominance" then? Again, in terms of pins this category is a wash. And all four wrestlers posted bonus points in over half of their matches. Deakin ranks worst here, with bonus points in just 62% of his matches. Steveson and Moore are roughly equal, with bonus points in 73% and 74%, respectively, of their wins. And then there's Spencer Lee. He scored bonus points in 16 of his 17 wins, an incredible 94% bonus rate. And the only match where he didn't post bonus points was an 8-1 decision win where he was never threatened. The three biggest wins of Lee's season -- the victory over Piccininni and the two wins over Schroder -- all came with bonus points as well; he dispatched Piccininni 12-3 and Schroder via scores of 15-0 and 16-2. Lee was as much of a buzzsaw against the top guys at his weight as he was against the lesser lights. 

Meanwhile, Steveson, Moore, and Deakin each had several regular decision wins and each had some close calls, as well -- Steveson had a pair of 2-point decision wins, Deakin had three wins of three points or fewer (including a bizarre 3-2 win over a wrestler seeded #19 at the NCAA Tournament), and Moore had four wins of three points or fewer (including a 6-4 sudden victory win over a wrestler seeded #18 at the NCAA Tournament). Their wins over the toughest competition rarely came with bonus points, too. 

If "dominance" is the differentiating factor in this year's Hodge Trophy race, Spencer Lee should be tough to top. He blitzed the field at 125 lbs this year, rarely even venturing into the second period (let alone the third) and while he wasn't able to pick up a third NCAA championship to cap off his brilliant display, a first-ever Hodge Trophy would be a decent replacement award. 

Voting begins on Monday, March 23, from a voting bloc comprised of past Hodge winners, a college coach from each region, and members of the national media. There's also an official Fan Vote for the Hodge Trophy, beginning at 12 PM CST on Monday, March 23 at www.win-magazine.com; the winner of the Fan Vote will receive an additional two first-place votes. The winner of the 2020 Dan Hodge Trophy will be announced at 12 PM CST on Monday, March 30. 

EDIT: Cast your vote for Spencer for the Hodge Trophy right here


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