What: The Greatest Three Days in Wrestling
Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio
When: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, March 15-17, 2018
Watch: ESPN – See below for the full TV schedule, all mats/matches streaming on ESPN3
This bracket is an absolute mess and if you want my opinion I can’t quite determine what the seeding committees goal was. Overall it looks like the committee tried to punish those wrestlers that medically forfeited out of their conference tournament and while they did succeed in that aspect they still left a few head scratchers.
The top seed is NC State’s Hayden Hidlay who went undefeated which seems to be the main criteria holding him in that spot. The second seed went to Missouri’s Joey Lavallee, third being Jason Nolf of Penn State and fourth being Joshua Shields of Arizona State.
It’s here that we see how the committee punished those who forfeited out of their tournament. Nolf is ranked #1 in the country, the returning NCAA champ (I realize this isn’t part of the seeding criteria, but it speaks to where he stands as a competitor) and his only loss was an injury default yet we see him behind Lavallee who also had one loss and no where near the level of elite wins Nolf has. Similarly, Iowa’s Michael Kemerer fell to the #6 seed, his only loss in the Big Ten semifinals and he forfeited the rest of the way of the Big Ten’s.
If that were the end of it one could maybe deal with the “punishment”, but I still can’t explain why Alec Pantelo got seeded above Kemerer with a 17-5 record, yet Micah Jordan is behind Kemerer at #7 with a 22-6 record, despite holding a head-to-head win over Kemerer.
All of that prefaces that this bracket appears to be widely out of balance. The guys who were ranked #1 and #2 all season – Nolf and Kemerer – could meet in the quarterfinals. Maybe I am having difficulty removing my own bias, but if you looked at this bracket alone wrestlers who’s teams had a less difficult schedule – i.e. they avoided all the major in-season tournaments – were rewarded with strong seeds and the preseason top two being in the same quarter just feels out of whack.
Iowa – #6 Michael Kemerer
First Round Opponent: Cole Hammond (Cal State Bakersfield)
Next Round: #11 Clay Ream (North Dakota State)/Paul Fox (Stanford)
To be honest this doesn’t look like a good draw at all for the Hawkeye. Starting out it looks like two potential bonus point matches for the returning All-American starting off with Cole Hammond and then likely facing Clay Ream in the second round. Earlier this season Kemerer won by technical fall over Ream, which makes the first two matches favorable. But as we hit on above drawing Nolf as a quarterfinals opponent is less than ideal.
A two-time finalist, the fact that he didn’t wrestle through the conference tournament is a sign that Nolf isn’t 100%, but even an unhealthy Nolf is a handful. If Kemerer manages to get through his quarterfinal he has a legitimate chance to reach the finals, and could be a perceived favorite depending who comes out the top.
It’s been talked about all season long, but this 165-pound bracket is an absolute meat grinder. The top seed went deservedly to Isaiah Martinez of Illinois, who has a chance to wrestle in his fourth NCAA finals and compete for his third NCAA title in his career.
The second seed went to the undefeated David McFadden of Virginia Tech with Vincenzo Joseph of PSU and Chad Walsh of Rider rounding out the rest of the top seeds. When it comes to the top spot few are considering very many outside of the top five seeds – Iowa’s Alex Marinelli checks in at #5 – but depending how the quarterfinals go earning All-American status this season could be an absolute dog fight.
In terms of how they seeded this bracket there doesn’t appear to be anything that looks disagreeable. This weight should provide plenty of excitement this weekend so buckle up.
Iowa – #5 Alex Marinelli
First Round Opponent: Jacob Morrissey (Purdue)
Next Round: #11 Nick Wanzek (Minnesota)/Keilan Torres (Northern Colorado)
With this weight being tough in order to have a good draw you have to be one of the best guys, but with that being said it doesn’t look like the seeding committee hammered Marinelli to hard for his Big Ten tournament performance that saw him drop matches to two wrestlers he had previously defeated. Up first is Jacob Morrissey, who he hasn’t faced this season, though he enters a solid favorite. His next round opponent would then likely be Nick Wanzek who he owns a 5-1 and more recently 11-4 victories against.
From there he hits his quarterfinal, and based on seeds one would think it would Walsh though the #13 seed Te`shan Campbell of Ohio State will be a threat to change that. Marinelli owns two wins over Campbell (4-1 and 9-3) and has yet to face Walsh despite Iowa dualing Rider early in the season. Back in November we saw backup Kaleb Young lose a hard fought 5-4 decision to Walsh, which could mean Marinelli is a strong candidate to reach the semifinals. History favors Martinez, but at this weight anything can happen between now and Friday night.
Another weight that it appears the committee did a solid job in identifying the top four seeds. You could debate whether or not Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia or Penn State’s Mark Hall deserved the #1 spot (the committee went with Valencia), but looking at their resumes a case could be made for either guy. The next two seeds went to Missouri’s Daniel Lewis and Lehigh’s Jordan Kutler.
Overall the weight is expected to be a two-horse race between the top two seeds and everyone else will be fighting for the next six spots.
UNI – #7 Taylor Lujan
First Round Opponent: Will Schany (Virginia)
Next Round: #10 Ethan Ramos (North Carolina)/Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech)
Getting the #7 seed Taylor Lujan one would think UNI caught a bit of a break considering the rest of the Panthers are all in the top seed’s quarterfinal of their respective brackets. but as mentioned in the bracket overview, this weight’s top two seeds are fairly level. Throw in the fact that Hall is the reigning NCAA champion and its obvious to see why his frontside path is less than desirable.
But before we can worry about Lujan’s quarterfinal opponent he is going to need to win two matches (pretty much Lujan needs to win the ACC tournament), starting with Virginia’s Will Schany who to this point hasn’t shown he has the ability to knock off the top tier of wrestlers that Lujan falls into. A likely first round win would send Lujan into the next round against one of #10 Ethan Ramos of North Carolina or Hunter Bolen of Virginia Tech – with Ramos holding two wins over Bolen. Ramos is searching to repeat the All-American performance he was able to put together his freshman season and he will certainly be a difficult matchup for the Panther.
Iowa – Joey Gunther
First Round Opponent: #13 Jacobe Smith (Oklahoma State)
Next Round: #4 Jordan Kutler (Lehigh)/Josef Johnson (Harvard)
Right off the bat Hawkeye Joey Gunther is going to be thrown into a match against an opponent that holds a win over him during the regular season. Facing off against Oklahoma State’s #13 Jacobe Smith, we will see if Gunther can manage to flip a tight loss into a win as the sophomore looks to build off of his 2-2 performance he put in a season ago at nationals. During their regular season meeting Gunther dropped his match 3-1, giving up a takedown in the third period as the only separation between the Cowboy.
An upset will mean that Gunther’s likely next opponent will be the #4 seed Jordan Kutler of Lehigh, where he will be a heavy underdog. A loss will likely mean Harvard’s Josef Johnson who will be a much more winnable match. From there the bracket is a mystery. Going off my predictions a win-then loss would put him up against #14 Yoanse Mejias of Oklahoma, and first round loss followed by a win could mean a match against #11 David Kocer of South Dakota State.
Session I: Thursday, March 15; 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU
Session II: Thursday, March 15; 7 p.m. on ESPNU
Session III: Friday, March 16; 11 a.m. on ESPNU
Session IV: Friday, March 16: 8 p.m. on ESPN
Session V: Saturday, March 17: 11 a.m. on ESPNU
Session VI: Saturday, March 17: 8 p.m. on ESPN2