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
During the conference tournaments two weekends ago there was a bit of an epidemic (mainly in the Big Ten) where wrestlers reached the semifinals of their respective brackets and then medically forfeited out. Unlike a majority of the conferences, most weights in the Big Ten send at least six wrestlers at each weight. Once a wrestler reaches the semifinals they are able to forfeit out because they are already assured a top six finish.
All of that prefaces the seeding committee’s decision to “punish” the wrestlers who didn’t compete in every match possible. We’ll see it a couple more times throughout these brackets, but the first wrestler getting dealt one of these blows was Rutgers’ Nick Suriano, who has been ranked among the top two all season, but finds himself at the #4 seed despite having no losses. The top spot went to returning NCAA champion Darian Cruz of Lehigh and the second seed to Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes freshman Spencer Lee then received the #3 seed.
Iowa – #2 Spencer Lee
First Round Opponent: Sergio Mendez (CSUB)/Alonzo Allen (Chattanooga)
Next Opponent: #14 Luke Welch (Purdue)/Connor Brown (SDSU)
Looking at Lee’s draw you might be happy that the freshman pulled the #3 seed over Suriano, but how much Suriano is actually being punished won’t be known until the end of the season. Without a doubt Cruz is a solid choice for the top spot, but when it comes to would Hawkeye fans rather face Tomasello for the third time this season or take their chances against Cruz I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them say they’d rather take their chances with the unknown.
Lee drew the pigtail as his first round matchup which means we will have to wait until we know if he will face Cal State’s Sergio Mendez or Chattanoog’s Alonzo Allen. He will be favored by bonus of regardless the outcome. His next match would be the winner of #14 Luke Welch (Purdue) and Connor Brown (SDSU) where he will again be favored by bonus. Where it starts to get interesting is his potential quarterfinal meeting with #6 Nick Piccininni of Oklahoma State. During their regular season meeting Lee jumped out to an early 6-0 lead but then allowed the Cowboy back into the match, winning 10-5. A win there sets up the potential rubber match with Tomasello with Lee winning 3-2 in the dual, and Tomasello winning 2-1 at Big Tens.
UNI – #16 Jay Schwarm
First Round Opponent: Drew Mattin (Michigan)
Next Opponent: #1 Darian Cruz (Lehigh)/RayVon Foley (MSU)
There is about to be a theme among these UNI wrestlers as we kick off the Panther portion of the preview with sophomore Jay Schwarm. Like a lot of his teammates, Schwarm wound up in the same quarterfinal portion of the bracket as the top seed, which will obviously put a damper on his frontside chances. Before we can worry about who he may have in the quarters Schwarm will need to be on his game as he will face Michigan true freshman Drew Mattin, who spent part of this season ranked in the top ten.
Mattin’s big season moment came against Minnesot’a Ethan Lizak, when he was able to shut down Lizak’s top game – where the Gopher scores a majority of his points – and eeked out a 4-2 win in overtime. Fans that follow Schwarm know that like Lizak his best position is on top, which means Mattin will be looking to execute a similar gameplan against Schwarm.
The state of Iowa as a whole got shut out on this weight – with no Iowa natives competing for a college outside our state boarders making the field either. The top seed went to South Dakota State’s Seth Gross with Michigan’s Stevan Micic getting the second seed. Other top seeds went to Luke Pletcher of Ohio State and Kaid Brock of Oklahoma State.
This weight shook out almost perfectly when it came to the top four guys – who many view as the only four title threats in this bracket. The most intriguing draw is Micic who has both guys that have beaten him this season on the same side of his bracket – #3 Pletcher and #7 Austin DeSanto of Drexel. Even though Micic looks to be wrestling at a high level, the fact that he needs to go through two wrestlers that have had success against him just to reach the finals will be interesting to watch.
This should be one of the more entertaining weights at the tournament, with two-time defending national champion Dean Heil seeded 6th(!!), Missouri’s Jaydin Eierman 2nd, and the Big Ten champion in Joey McKenna 4th. Other than that you just have the #1 seed Bryce Meredith, who’s only loss on the year came to the 3rd seeded Yianni Diakomihalis (good luck with that Hager). Everybody seems to have seen everybody in the upper seeds, with Heil being the odd man out more than a few times. It’s one of those weights where anything could happen, but at the end of it I’d be really tempted to go all chalk through the quarterfinals, except, you know, with Heil.
UNI – #9 Josh Alber
First Round Opponent: Sa’Derian Perry (Eastern Michigan)
Next Opponent: #8 Nick Lee (Penn State)/Ryan Diehl (Maryland)
The second Panther to have a match at the NCAA Tournament, UNI’s Josh Alber comes in with the ninth seed after finishing 3rd in the Big 12 Tournament two weeks ago. Alber had a tough loss to Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil in the semifinal before handling Iowa State’s Ian Parker and South Dakota State’s Henry Pohlmeyer, both for the second time this year to earn his third trip to the national tournament. His first round match is against an old MAC foe, Sa`Derian Perry from Eastern Michigan. Although the two have never met, the familiarity between the two teams should help both wrestlers, though I don’t expect that to matter too much, as Alber is the heavy favorite coming into the match.
Alber’s path isn’t exactly ideal. Like a number of his teammates he drew the ninth seed and in this case that means facing a tough Nittany Lion in Nick Lee second round. These two wrestled in the semifinals of the Southern Scuffle back in January, with Lee getting the fall with just 9 seconds left in the match as Alber was looking for a last-second takedown; Alber trailed the entire match.
If Alber can get by Lee in the rematch he’ll most likely see #1 seed Bryce Meredith in the quarterfinals and he’d probably need to have the match of his life to get by the Cowboy. With a win over Lee in the second round Alber would avoid a potential rematch with the loser of a quarterfinal match of Yianni Diakomihalis and Dean Heil, so it is even more important that Alber takes the rematch against Lee, if only to avoid that match in the bloodround.
Iowa – US Vince Turk
First Round Opponent: Kyle Schoop (Lock Haven, pigtail match)
Next Opponent: #16 Cole Weaver (Indiana)
Maybe the new crowd favorite, Vince Turk comes in to the NCAA Tournament after finishing fifth at the Big Ten tournament. Turk will be the first Hawkeye to wrestle on Thursday morning and ff Alber’s draw is tough, Turk’s is worse, being in the pigtail match against a solid Kyle Shoop from Lock Haven. Winning that one he’ll see the 16 seed in Indiana’s Cole Weaver. These two met at The Midlands this season with Weaver coming out on top, 8-3.
With a win over Weaver in the first round Turk would then most likely get Meredith on Thursday night, and that’s where his frontside run would most likely come to an end. From there it would be a long struggle on the backside to reach the podium, something I’m not sure Turk can handle this season. A best-case scenario for him would be upsetting Meredith in the second round, and then taking down his opponent in the quarterfinals. Even just upsetting Meredith would be huge for his All-American chances, but as it is I just don’t see him having the horses to run through the backside.
Iowa – #2 Brandon Sorensen
First Round Opponent: Jared Prince (Navy)
Next Opponent: Ronald Perry (Lock Haven)/Cortlandt Schuyler (Lehigh)
Brandon Sorensen looks to complete his senior year on top of the podium after finishing 3rd, 2nd, and 4th in the last three years at the NCAA Tournament. There seems to be only one problem, namely Zain Retherford. The Hawkeye took second at the Big Ten championships, to Retherford, his only other loss this season was to Retherford, and Sorensen is 0-6 against the Nittany Lion all-time.
Now the only time they would meet is in the final, so they would both have to get there first, but it seems to me the bracket sets up nicely for Sorensen even though our WrestleStat simulation disagrees with me. I think Sorensen’s toughest match could come in the quarterfinal, especially if he has to wrestle (the now 35-year old) Jason Tsirtsis. Tsirtsis has been here before, winning it all in 2014, and with this being his last year as well I don’t think he’ll go down without a fight. Sorensen is 3-2 against Tsirtsis all-time with the latest win coming this season at The Midlands, so I’m leaning on the Hawkeye to pull off another win.
If it comes down to Retherford and Sorensen in the final, Sorensen has got to find a way to score. He has only two points on him in their last two matches as Retherford’s defense is spectacular this season. I don’t know if Sorensen can beat Retherford, because he hasn’t yet, but he’ll only have one more opportunity to get it done and it would be on the biggest stage of them all.
UNI – #9 Max Thomsen
First Round Opponent: Khristian Olivas (Fresno State)
Next Opponent: #8 Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State)/Davion Jeffries (Oklahoma)
Max Thomsen joins the UNI ranks as the 9th seed at 149 pounds, and this one is a seed I have a little bit of an issue with. The 6th and 7th seeds in Justin Oliver and Ryan Deakin are both over-seeded, and putting just one (lets say Oliver, just for the sake of arguement) down at the 8th seed would greatly increase Thomsen’s chances of making the quarterfinals. That would bump Boo Lewallen up to the 7th seed and put Oliver and Thomsen in the second round, rather than a rematch of Lewallen and Thomsen from the Big 12 championship. Put on top of that Thomsen has win over Oliver in the MAC tournament from last season, and Thomsen probably gets to move on to the quarterfinals against Retherford.
But that didn’t happen. As it sits Thomsen will get a rematch with Lewallen and that might mean a short stint on the frontside of the bracket. Thomsen and Lewallen’s draw is like a mini Big 12 tournament, with Thomsen getting Fresno State’s Khristian Olivas and Lewallen getting Oklahoma’s Davion Jeffries. Jeffries did take Lewallen to sudden victory at the Big 12’s though, and if he could pull off the upset in the first round that would increase Thomsen’s chances of getting through to Retherford.
Though it’s not a sure thing that Thomsen would drop a match to the Cowboy. The Panther has a win, 3-1 in sudden victory, over Lewallen from the UNI/OSU dual meet in February. Lewallen seemed to make the adjustments necessary though and won convincingly, 9-3, in the Big 12 Tournament title match.
If Thomsen does fall in the second round it would be a long road for him to get back on the medal stand. Making the semifinals last season, Thomsen only had two matches on the backside, so this would be new territory for him. It’s all in how he responds to an assumed loss, and everyone knows what happens when we assume.
Iowa State – US Jarrett Degen
First Round Opponent: #13 Colton McCrystal (Nebraska)
Next Opponent: #4 Troy Heilmann (North Carolina)/Tyshawn Williams (Southern Illinois-Edwardsville)
Iowa State’s lone NCAA qualifier is the unseeded Jarrett Degen. Degen took home third from the Big 12 Tournament – Iowa State’s highest placing wrestler in Tulsa. Taking down Wyoming’s Sam Turner 20-5 in the third place match Degen looked as good as he could coming into Cleveland.
His first-round draw isn’t too bad either, as he’ll get the #13 Colton McCrystal from Nebraska. The two have never wrestled and, like Thomsen, if Degen can get the first round win a potential fall to the backside would be much easier. If Degen scores the upset he’ll have Troy Heilmann in the second round, and that, I think, is as far as we can expect him to go on the front side.
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