Thursday, January 8, 2015

Which Iowa Hawkeye Wrestler Will Win A National Title in 2015?

The 2014-2015 Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling team is currently ranked number one in the nation. They have managed this despite not having a single guy ranked in the top two spots in their weight class to start the year. This is a team built on depth, but that does not mean that no Iowa wrestler will get a National Championship. It is going to be tough, but every wrestler is ranked, so you certainly can't count any of them out. As I see it, each Iowa wrestler falls into one of three tiers. So let's look at where Iowa stands currently and rank the wrestlers in order of their chances of getting an asterisk next to their name in the Iowa wrestling room.

It Would Take a Miracle
10. Josh Dziewa
Yes, I know Dziewa is not the lowest ranked Iowa wrestler, but if you saw the Ohio State meet, you would understand why he really has no shot at winning a national title. That's not a total knock on him, as if you put an equivalent of Logan Stieber at any weight class, the Iowa wrestler's chances of winning it all would basically end up at about zero. Stieber is by far the best wrestler at any weight class this year, and nobody is going to beat him. The other issue is that Mitchell Port is pretty great too. Dziewa may not win a national title, but he has shown he can be good enough to wrestle tough against anybody outside of the top guys, so if he wrestles a hard tournament, he can still be an All-American this year. Unrelated: Dziewa produced my favorite moment of The Midlands as the poor announcer pronounced his name Dzoo-ee-wa (it's pronounced Jeva).

9. Mike Kelly
Let me just start by stating that I am completely irrational when it comes to Mike Kelly. More than any Iowa wrestler, Kelly goes for big moves. Now I have to say he goes for them, because I am nearly positive it has NEVER worked out for him. Half of the time it turns into nothing, and half the time his opponent reverses him for a big move of their own. That being said, every time he goes for a big throw, I am 100% convinced that this will be the time that it works out for him. I am convinced that he is just as good of a wrestler as Dylan Ness, but Ness has perfected funky wrestling, and there is literally no funk in Mike Kelly. If Mike Kelly can absorb the funk of Ben Askren, he has a legitimate shot of winning a title, but since that is not actually a possible thing. Ness, James Green, and Ian Miller are all on another level from Kelly. Still, he may only be ranked 16th, but he is on the rise, and deep down, in my totally biased heart, I think he could be an All-American, but he could just as easily go 0-2 and leave Iowa fans in a deep depression.

8. Nick Moore
Before the NCAA Tournament last year, Nick Moore had a strong case that he was the second best wrestler in his weight class (a distant second, considering David Taylor was there, but still). He beat Tyler Caldwell who was ranked second and barely lost to the guy who was ranked third. He had the fourth seed and promptly proceeded to have the wheels completely fall off in the NCAAs. He has simply not been the same wrestler since. He used to be rock solid, where he would get his takedown and be nearly impossible to score on. For some reason, that has changed this year in that he can't get to offense and people are finding holes in his defense on the feet. Honestly, if he keeps wrestling like this, I would say he might have the smallest shot at becoming an AA. But he has shown he can be better, so I hope that he is better. A National Title is still probably asking too much, but being the extremely optimistic Iowa fan that I am, I can't rule it out.

They Can Compete With Anybody
7. Thomas Gilman
You could make a pretty strong case that Gilman is the Hawkeyes fourth best wrestler, but he ranks at seven, because 125 is an extremely tough weight class at the top this year. He is currently ranked number five, and he's only looked good, not great this year. He lost to the fourth ranked wrestler in the finals of the Midlands, but then got a 4-point tech fall, because he was unable to get any back points in his 25-10 match. Finally, he got a very good win against Ohio State, but it came in overtime, because he never got to any offense. but he's likely going to have to go up against two of the Delgado, Waters, Garrett trifecta, and it's going to be tough for him to come out on top with what he has shown so far this season. Still, this if the first guy that I have mentioned where I would be shocked if he didn't become an All-American this year.

6. Nathan Burak
Since becoming an All-American last year, Burak looks like a changed wrestler. He seems to have a lot of confidence on his feet, and he has been more willing to take shots while also doing a better job of finishing them. He's strong on top and pretty solid at escaping from the bottom as well, so he won't be an easy out for anybody. This weight class has good depth as the top seven guys could all conceivably make a run but aren't so strong that they aren't in danger of getting upset. Burak hasn't wrestled the toughest competition yet this year, so his meets against Minnesota and Penn State will go a long way in determining what type of talent he is bringing to the National Tournament. I have him with the sixth best chance for now, but I could definitely see him moving up a few spots depending on how he looks against Schiller and McIntosh.

5. Brandon Sorensen
Sorensen just had himself a hell of a week. He took third at the Midlands, got the starting job at 149 over Brody Grothus and proceeded to get a big win over Rutgers before beating the fifth ranked wrestler from Ohio State, Hunter Stieber. He is now ranked fifth in a very winnable weight class. Jason Tsirtsis is rightfully ranked number one as he is undefeated and the defending national champion, but he wrestles a lot of close matches (he beat Brody Grothus after two full overtimes on riding time), and it's tough to count on winning all of those when you get to the tournament. Sorensen still has to get better as the season goes on. Although his win over Stieber is great, it was mostly based on conditioning as opposed to skill, so he needs to get a marquee victory before he can be seen as a top candidate to win it all. Luckily, he'll have plenty of chances to prove himself, especially with the second ranked wrestler, Josh Kindig, on schedule next when Iowa takes on Oklahoma State.

4. Sammy Brooks
Brooks just gets after it. He has been the most aggressive Iowa wrestler this season, and guys who can get to offense have a great chance of succeeding at the tournament. He has also done a good job of getting turns, although he is not the best at accumulating riding time. There has been a lot of chaos at this weight class so far this season as Gabe Dean was supposed to be the top dog, dropped to seventh, and is now ranked number one again. Brooks lost to Dechow, but he showed that he can hang with the top guys, and he still has the potential to get better as the season goes on and he gets more experience against top competition. He's going to be a tough out for anybody, and although there are no world-beaters, there are a lot of tough guys that he'll have to go through. I'm not saying he can't, but it is going to be tough.

Legitimate Shot
3. Bobby Telford
I'll admit when I formulated this list in my head, I had Telford first, and considering his win at The Midlands and his current #1 ranking, it makes a lot of sense. Telford has wrestled phenomenally this year. Medberry gave him a tough match, but that's the guy currently ranked fifth in the nation. He squeaked by McMullan, who was #1 before dropping a spot from the loss. I think Telford finally wrestled to his potential for the first time last year at the NCAAs, and he has carried that into this year, but every year, he starts out as a dominator of worlds and the aggression fades where he ends up in a lot of 1-0, 2-1. That's not a great recipe for success. He's still got Marsden, Coon, Lawson, and McMullan again before he even gets to the Big Ten Tourney. Those are all guys who are going to wrestle him close. I think there are four guys who have a legit shot with Telford, McMullan, Gwiazdowski, and Coon (who is only 8, but wrestles as good as anybody when he's at the top of his game). I think Telford can beat any of those guys, but I can't guarantee it.

2. Mike Evans
Mike Evans is Iowa's best wrestler. But he's still number two, because the top of 174 is going to be an absolute dogfight. Right now, the rankings would probably work out best for Evans, as I think he has the best chance against Storley, followed by Brown, and then distantly followed by Kokesh who struggled against Evans early in their college careers, but has really taken it to Evans in their most recent matchups. These guys are going to sort out the rankings during the Big Ten season, but anything can happen at the NCAAs, and I think it will be very difficult for the Big Ten champ to repeat two weeks later. Evans not only can beat anybody at this weight, when it comes to the top guys, he has beaten anybody at this weight. Anybody can get hot and wrestle their best out of those guys, which means the Stache could come out on top, or the refs could refuse to call a pin for him in the semifinals again this year...
not that I'm bitter or anything.

1. Cory Clark
The timing of this may make my pick especially surprising, as Clark was just upset by Johnni DiJulius on Sunday. Honestly, it was a great strategy from DiJulius, as he used some funky moves and shoulders that can be put in any position imaginable to build up an early lead and hold on late. I think Clark will figure him out in time for the Big Ten Tournament and have his number if he has to face him at the NCAA Tourney. After that, the biggest thing at this weight class is that there is no dominant wrestler at this weight class. Schopp was number one, but he got upset at the Midlands, and now Dardanes is number one, but he's not a world beater. Cory Clark showed that he can handle the tournament situation with his win at the Midlands, and it's not just a matter of Clark being able to compete with anybody at this weight class, it's that nobody has done anything to be favored against him in future matches for the rest of this season. Before the season, Clark and Gilman said that they would be better than McDonough and Ramos. Those were big words, as those guys accounted for six All-American finishes and three national titles. I have no doubt that those guys will add to the All-American numbers, and if any Hawkeye is going to get an asterisk next to his name, Cory Clark is my pick to do it.

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