Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Breaking Down the #1 Seeds in the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Tournament

As an Iowan, it is genetically ingrained in me to love wrestling. I can't help it, and my love of the sport seems to grow with each passing year. Even though my beloved Hawkeyes are on a drought (not winning a National Title since 2010), I am still awed by the sport, as I think it is one of the most action packed events you can watch.

This NCAA season has already been pretty surprising. Kyle Snyder took an Olympic Redshirt, then changed his mind and came back, but instead of wrestling 197, he's wrestling 285 (although his weight will be nowhere near that). Gabe Dean got beat by a guy who wasn't even a starter to begin the season, and Isaiah Martinez, who I thought had a chance to never lose a college match, lost to a Freshman this year. These are just some of the crazy things that have happened in the last few weeks. Wrestling is awesome.

Anyway, I was going through the rankings at each weight class, and it got me thinking how crazy this NCAA Tournament could be. Usually, there are a few guys who you know are going to win National Titles, but this year, it is different, as there isn't a single #1 seed that I would feel confident betting on this year. So I though it'd be fun to look at the #1 ranked guys and see who has the best and worst chance of winning a title this year.

1. 165 - Alex Dieringer, Oklahoma State
As much as it pains me to say this about an Oklahoma State wrestler, if I had to bet on anybody, it would be Dieringer. There is a reason he is looking for his third straight National Title, and it's because he is an absolute beast. 165 is shallow outside of that top 3, so I really don't see anybody tripping up Dieringer before the finals. His biggest competition are the Jordan cousins, Isaac from Wisconsin and Bo from Ohio State, and although both are tough wrestlers, Dieringer's offense gives him a significant advantage when he squares off against them.

2. 149 - Zain Retherford, Penn State
You know how I said it hurt to put Dieringer as having the best chance? Yeah, this might hurt more, because Retherford is currently ranked #1, and Brandon Sorensen from Iowa is ranked #2. Both guys are undefeated, and that should give me confidence in Sorensen's chances, but man, the Zain Train has just been unstoppable. After the top two, the defending National Champion, Jason Tsirtsis from Northwestern, is back, but hasn't quite looked right throughout this season. He is without a doubt a threat, as he's just incredibly good in all positions when he's wrestling at his best. This is going to take a monumental effort to knock off Retherford, which is very unfortunate.

3. HWT - Nick Gwiazdowski, North Carolina State
I nearly put Gwiazdowski in the top spot, but heavyweights are tough to predict as they are so inclined to wrestle close matches. Gwiazdowski has been an absolute hammer for NC State, as he hasn't just won, he's been putting up big points all year long. Still, he's had some close matches, and there is some good competition at this weight. Kyle Snyder's the guy that everybody talks about, and obviously winning a World Freestyle Title deserves a whole lot of respect, but I have doubts he'll make it to the Finals. He didn't win a title at 197 last year, so wrestling at 285 isn't going to make things any easier. I think Adam Coon has the highest potential of anybody outside of Gwiazdowski, but I still think GWizz has a damn good shot of getting through the field unscathed.

4. 184 - Gabe Dean, Cornell
Dean probably would have been on top of this list had I made it a couple weeks ago, but his recent loss to Nolan Boyd has to drop him a little. Still, he's pretty high for not being undefeated, but that shows you how good Dean has been when it matters in March. He wasn't able to overcome Ed Ruth, but he plowed through the field last year. He has close matches, but he always finds a way to come through. There is a ton of depth at this weight class (too many to name), so it won't be easy, but it's tough for me to reasonably pick against Dean without a single monumental talent to take him out.

5. 197 - Morgan McIntosh, Penn State
McIntosh has done everything he can to cement himself as the top guy at 197 this year. Still, there is J'Den Cox sitting there, who won the National Title two years ago. They're both incredibly good, and I definitely favor McIntosh, but not by a whole lot. As a Hawkeye homer, I will note that Nathan Burak wrestles everybody tough and his only loss is controversial as he came very close to a takedown (I thought he had it) in the closing seconds of his match against Brett Pfarr. McIntosh is the best but being the best over and over again isn't easy, so it's far from a guarantee that he'll pull it off.

6. 133 - Nahshon Garrett, Cornell
This may have been the hardest guy to place in these rankings. Garrett moved up from 125 this year, and he has dominated everyone he has faced. However, he hasn't faced a ton of the top guys at this weight class, and considering he never won the title at 125, Also, the defending national champion, Cody Brewer, is back this year. Garrett got the better of him when they faced off earlier in the season, but Brewer was one of the most dominant forces in the NCAA Tournament last year, so I'm not ready to count him out by any means. This doesn't even include Zane Richards and Cory Clark who are both incredibly tough and could definitely reach the finals. Garrett is great, but it's tough to have a lot of confidence in him with how strong the top of this weight class is.

7. 157 - Jason Nolf, Penn State
Nolf has been ridiculously good this season. He's not only undefeated, but he's also putting up bonus points like it ain't no thang, when it most certainly is a thang. No offense to Ian Miller, but the only real question on whether Nolf can win this National Title is getting through Isaiah Martinez from Illinois. I honestly thought that Martinez was the best wrestler at any weight class coming into this season, so my jaw dropped when I saw that he not only lost but got pinned by Nolf when they met earlier this season. Martinez looked off in that match in that he got down early, panicked, and possibly even gassed out trying to come back in a single move. The Big Ten Tournament is going to answer a ton of questions at nearly every weight class, but never is that more true than here. If Nolf wins again, he shoots up to the top of this list, but if he loses, it's likely him and I-Mar will have a rubber match in the finals of the NCAAs.\

8. 174 - Bo Nickal, Penn State
Penn State's other super freshman, although I don't see Nickal on the same level as Jason Nolf. Nickal has been crafty and has only suffered one loss in a weak division. Still, he's not physically overwhelming, and there are those chances of him slipping up well before reaching the finals. As to who is going to beat him, on that, I really don't have much of a clue. There's a lot of guys that could rise up, but Nickal is still probably the favorite, just because nobody else has been all that impressive either. This is probably the most wide open weight class in the nation, but Nickal deserves to be the favorite.

9. 125 - Nathan Tomasello, Ohio State
Not much faith in Tomasello repeating as a National Champion, and he has really given no reason for me to doubt him, but Thomas Gilman of Iowa has been wrestling ridiculously well the entire season, and I see that matchup as a coin toss. Maybe that's me being a homer, but Tomasello isn't untouchable, and 125 is incredibly deep. Outside of him and Gilman, Joey Dance and Nico Megaludis are both legitimate threats, and Tomasello is going to have to be his peak abilities to overcome everyone in this weight class.

10. 141 - Dean Heil, Oklahoma State
This was a tough one, as this is what I believe to be the weakest weight class in the nation, and because of that, they have the weakest #1 ranked guy in Heil from Oklahoma State. Now, I still must say that Heil is definitely a tough wrestler; it's just that I'm never overwhelmed by his performances. I just don't think there is much that separates 1-10 at this weight class, and there are plenty of opportunities to slip up before finding himself on top of the podium. Kevin Jack and Joey McKenna are the best alternatives at this weight, but this is the weight class where I could see somebody coming from out of nowhere to make a run at the title.

The elephant in the room is the team race. Currently, Penn State has four top-ranked guys and are the clear favorites for the team title. But the beauty of March Matness is the unpredictability. This year should have no shortage of that. It makes me happy to be a wrestling fan, because otherwise, there is like NOTHING going on in college sports in the month of March.

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