The Iowa Hawkeyes are heading north to kick off their 2019 postseason at the Big Ten Championships, hosted this year by the University of Minnesota. All ten of the Hawkeye wrestlers received a top ten pre-seed which will present them with the opportunity to send the entire lineup on to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the national championships will be held. Of Iowa’s ten the highest pre-seed obtained was the #2 seed, and that feat was accomplished by a trio of wrestlers: Spencer Lee, Austin DeSanto, and Alex Marinelli.
In the later portion of last week the NCAA announced their qualifier allotment by weight and conference, with the Big Ten receiving 78 auto-bids distributed among the ten weights. Looking at the pre-seeds, Iowa should qualify eight of their wrestlers. That means the remaining two wrestlers will need to finish above seed in order to guarantee their season continues in Pittsburgh.
Who: #3 Iowa
What: Big Ten Conference Tournament
Where: Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: All times Central
Saturday, March 9th
Session I – 10 AM
Session II – 6 PM
Sunday, March 10th
Session III – 12 PM
Finals – 3 PM
Watch Online: BTN+/Flowrestling (Subscription required) | TV: BTN (Finals Only)
It was little surprise that the aforementioned trio of Lee, DeSanto, and Marinelli all earned the #2 spot after their seasons. Both DeSanto and Marinelli were undefeated throughout their conference slate, and Lee’s only loss came to the wrestlers directly in front of him, Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern. It also may sound a bit obvious, but these three are also the most likely Hawkeyes to earn a conference title this weekend, as all three own a win over the wrestler seeded directly ahead of them.
We’ve seen a much different version of Lee than we did a year ago when he was tearing through the competition like it was wet paper in the 2018 postseason. After struggling with Rivera last year in a 7-4 win at Carver, Lee won 12-0 in his next meeting against the Northwestern wrestler at the conference tournament. Fast forward to this season and Lee dropped his first match to Rivera 7-3 in the Midlands finals, and lost a surprising match to Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni to close out the regular season. Like Rivera, Lee had previously owned a 2-0 series advantage over Piccininni before his loss.
Obviously something is different for the Hawkeye’s 125-pound star, but given his upside he will still remain a threat to win the conference title this weekend. As a freshman Lee went from looking like a really good wrestler in the regular season, to super human at the NCAA tournament. We’re not predicting that kind of a performance in Minnesota, but obviously the potential is there for the reigning national champion.
Moving up to 133 DeSanto’s victory over the wrestler seeded ahead of him, Michigan Stevan Micic, came a year ago while he was still competing for Drexel. Iowa did not hit the other three Big Ten power programs (Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State) in the regular season due to an odd fluke in the Big Ten scheduling rotation. That means that means if DeSanto and Micic meet in the Big Ten finals it will be their first match since the infamous “Kimura match” from last year’s NCAA’s tournament which earned DeSanto a negative reputation from other fanbases.
The flip side is DeSanto has clearly thrived since being in Iowa City. Not only have the coaches and team taken to him, but his wrestling has been that of a championship caliber wrestler. He’s won big victories over the likes of Nick Suriano of Rutgers and Ethan Lizak of Minnesota, and his only losses came in a pair of non-conference matches. Going back to his freshman year DeSanto won a 22-10 match against Micic at the Cliff Keen Invitational, and fans from Iowa will be hoping for that version of DeSanto to be on the mat this weekend.
The final remaining Hawkeye seeded second is Marinelli who finds himself behind Penn State’s two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph. The only wrestler with remaining college eligibility to own a win over Joseph is Marinelli, as the Hawkeye defeated him 9-6 when they met for a Big Ten dual last season. A finals meeting would be the first time the two have faced each other since that dual.
Four other Hawkeyes earned top five seeds at their weight and are in a fairly comfortable position to advance through with an automatic qualifier spot. Pat Lugo is seeded #3 at 149, Kaleb Young is #5 at 157, as is Cash Wilcke at 184, and Jacob Warner earned the #3 seed at 197.
Lugo finds himself on the opposite side of the bracket from top seeded Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers. When the pair met during the regular season the match went into overtime with Ashnault scoring the match’s only takedown in sudden victory. Instead Lugo will find himself with Micah Jordan of Ohio State as the other top wrestler on his side of the bracket. The two have met on one other occasion with Buckeye winning the bout 7-3.
The Hawkeyes other #3 seed is the freshman Warner who finds himself in a more favorable position being opposite of Penn State’s Bo Nickal at 197. This weight received the fewest auto-bids to the NCAA tournament and both wrestlers behind Warner, Christian Brunner of Purdue and Eric Schultz of Nebraska will without question be a tough matchup should he run into either wrestler.
Coming in with the #5 pre-seeds are Young and Wilcke, who given their spot in the bracket will have to deal with a tough draw. For Young being seeded fifth means he will likely face the returning Big Ten Champion Alec Pantaleo in the quarterfinals, who is the #4 seed. A win there will likely then pit him against the top seed Jason Nolf of Penn State, who is also a former Big Ten Champion at this weight.
Wilcke will be matches against Illinois Andre Lee as his projected quarterfinals opponent, a wrestler that beat him 4-1 in the dual season. If Wilcke manages the upset he then would likely face top seed Myles Martin of Ohio State in the semifinals. Martin is a two-time NCAA finalist, and was the 2016 NCAA champion at 174 pounds.
141-pound starter Max Murin comes into his Big Ten tournament with the #7 pre-seed at a nine auto-bid weight. Murin kept it close with a couple of the wrestlers seeded ahead of him. He dropped narrow decisions to #6 seed Mitch McKee of Minnesota (5-3) and top seeded Mike Carr (6-4). There is no question that Murin has a knack for keeping matches close against some of the top guys he’s faced this season so if he is able to strike while the iron is hot he could find himself out producing his seed.
The two Hawkeyes that will need to finish above seed are senior Mitch Bowman, who is seeded tenth at 174, and Sam Stoll, eighth at heavyweight. Of the two Stoll obviously has the most upside being a former All-American. Injuries prevented the Minnesota native from wrestling a full schedule, which obviously had an impact on his pre-seed. The biggest issue of course will be that as the #8 seed his quarterfinal matchup will be against the conference’s top heavyweight, Gable Steveson of Minnesota. That means Stoll may have to most of his work on the backside of his bracket.
We are also never one to count Bowman out of a fight. As a junior he punched his ticket to the NCAA tournament where he wound up winning several matches for the Hawks. As a senior he looked to be headed for backup duty, but he then seized an opportunity to step into the lineup at 174. He’s seed would indicate he needs to beat two wrestlers ahead of him to earn an auto-bid.
There are three other wrestlers at the Big Ten tournament who have an Iowa tie that will also be competing this weekend. We’ll start with Iowa native Max Lyon, who was a two-time state champion for Western Dubuque and now wrestles for Purdue. Lyon is seeded #8 at 184, which would put him in an auto-bid finish.
Two other wrestles have ties to the state of Iowa having previously competed for an Iowa school. Michigan’s Kanen Storr was a starter for Iowa State at 141-pounds, before leaving the team mid-year last season. At 165 pounds Illinois’s Joey Gunther will look to become a three-time NCAA qualifier, with his first two trips coming as a member of the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Weight (Number of NCAA Allocations) – Iowa Wrestler
125 (9) – #2 Spencer Lee
133 (8) – #2 Austin DeSanto
141 (9) – #7 Max Murin
149 (6) – #3 Pat Lugo
157 (9) – #5 Kaleb Young
165 (9) – #2 Alex Marinelli
174 (8) – #10 Mitch Bowman
184 (8) – #5 Cash Wilcke
197 (5) – #3 Jacob Warner
285 (7) – #8 Sam Stoll