Thursday, February 18, 2016

Which Iowa Wrestler Is Going to Win a National Title in 2016?

Last week, I looked at each weight class's #1 ranked wrestler to show how crazy this NCAA Tournament could be. There are a lot of questions remaining, and things are wide open in some of those weight classes. Now it's time to determine which Iowa wrestler is going to rise above their seed and win a National Title in 2016. We'll start from the least likely and move our way on up to the Hawkeye that is most likely to be standing on top of the podium at the end of March Matness.

10. Patrick Rhoads - 165
Is it legitimate analysis to just write, "Haha, nope," and call it a day? I will be excited if Rhoads finds a way to make the tournament. If he got a win once he got there, that would be incredible. But Rhoads simply hasn't shown enough for me to even dream beyond that point.

9. Brody Grothus - 141
This is the only other Iowa wrestler who is a question mark to make the tournament. He's going to need a strong performance at the Big Ten Tournament to qualify, but I think he can do it. Outside of that, it's tough to say what he will do considering he's only had a handful of matches. He can definitely compete with guys, and I think he could be a viable contributor of some points if he gets in the tournament, especially with how weak 141 is as a weight class overall, but he's still got work to do, so I can't put him any higher than this right now.

8. Edwin Cooper - 157
This weight class has two absolute studs in Isaiah Martinez and Jason Nolf, so the chances of a National Title, well, it ain't happening. The key for Cooper in his matches is to start quickly. He's shown to be really dynamic on his feet, but if he gets down, it can get ugly. He really hasn't done much in the world of mat wrestling, from top or bottom, so it is going to be tough for him to find a way to win close matches in the tournament. Still, he's got a few solid wins, and he's taken care of business against guys he should beat. The only time he was really overmatched was against Gantt from NC State, so he has the skills to make an impact. It would take an incredible run for him to even reach AA status, but he has enough potential to put up a few wins and get points for the team battle.

7. Sam Stoll - HWT
This is when we stop looking at straight talent and start looking at the obstacles standing in their way to a National Championship. Sam Stoll has had a hell of a Freshman year, as he has exceeded everyone's expectations for him. Since his first varsity match, he has lost just one time, while racking up nine pins. Oh, and that one loss? That came to the top-ranked Nick Gwiazdowski (which I spelled right on the first try). That's the problem. Nick Gwiazdowski is in this weight class, and although Stoll has beaten good competition, he hasn't beaten great competition. I think he can become an All-American, but his chances of a National Title are minuscule.

6. Alex Meyer - 174
I was very excited about Meyer taking over the starting spot this season, as he showed a ton of promise when filling in last year. If you just looked at his record, you would probably still be excited. He only has two losses, and went undefeated in the Big Ten. That's good, but watching it all play out tells a different story. Meyer has rarely been the attacking wrestler that he was last season. He just hasn't wrestled much top competition this year, and he hasn't blown out guys that aren't on his level. He only had one match where he looked overwhelmed, and that seemed to just be a bad matchup, but wrestling close matches all the time and expecting to always come out on top is not a recipe for success. This is a winnable weight class, as I'm not sold on Nickal being an elite talent (yet, dude is great for a freshman), but Meyer just has too many question marks to pick him any higher than this. Still, All-American status is well within reach, but with a guy who has so many close matches, I could see anything from 3rd place to a 1-2 finish.

5. Nathan Burak - 197
Burak could very easily be undefeated this year, and I still can't put him any higher than this. Burak is the most solid wrestler that Iowa has, as he's not going to make any big mistakes, and he'll wrestle a smart match. But there just isn't enough high-end talent to see him having a great shot at a National Title. Morgan McIntosh and J'Den Cox are elite talents, and I see Burak just below that level. I see him as having a very high floor as I would be shocked if he wasn't an All-American, but I see him peaking around third place, which would be a great finish, but I just can't see that National Title.

4. Sammy Brooks - 184
Sammy Brooks is my favorite current Hawkeye wrestler. He's not the best, but the dude always goes for it whether it works or not. He's wrestled incredibly well this year, as he split a pair of matches with Hayden Zillmer, who is ranked fourth, and he got caught in a pin by TJ Dudley. Outside of that, he lost to David Taylor who is not only ridiculously good, but also graduated two years ago. He can compete with anybody, and I think he has the firepower to win the Big Tens. If he does that, it gets him a top-5 seed, and although beating Gabe Dean won't be easy, he wrestled him tough last year, and if he is aggressive, anything is possible. The chance of him winning a National Title is definitely small, but I'd be surprised if he wasn't an All-American.

3. Brandon Sorensen - 149
Sorensen is ranked as high as any Hawkeye at #2 at his weight class, and had you asked me about this weight class earlier in the year, I may have put him at the top of this list. But since a torrid start, he has slowed down, and Zain Retherford has sped up, as he has absolutely plowed through everyone that has stood in his way. Sorensen, meanwhile, has wrestled closely with guys that he should be blowing out, and it's tough to believe he can come out on top. I don't think Retherford is unbeatable, but Sorensen has to wrestle with reckless abandon if he is going to do enough to come out on top. It's tough for me to predict that when I haven't seen it for months. Still, he's got a great shot of making it to the raised stage on Saturday night.

2. Cory Clark - 133
Last year, I said Cory Clark had the best chance of anybody to win a National Title at his lowest point in the season. I knew how dangerous he could be when he was wrestling well, and he almost proved me right by making the finals before losing to Cody Brewer who was on an absolute tear throughout that tournament. I don't think his chances have gotten any worse, but the guy at the top's chances have gotten better. Clark has only lost one match this year, in Sudden Victory to the guy currently ranked #2, and he did that less than two weeks after suffering an injury that made him pull out of the Midlands. Cody Brewer is still there, and Nahshon Garrett is ranked #1, but Clark is the first guy that I've listed that I wouldn't be surprised if he was a National Champion this year. Everyone up to this point needs some luck, but Clark is legit, and he could definitely take the title at 133.

1. Thomas Gilman - 125
Thomas Gilman, back with a vengeance this year. After he got upset in the semifinals by Zeke Moisey last year, he has come out this year and simply dominated all of his competition. The only reason he is still only ranked second is that the defending national champion, Nathan Tomasello has done just as well this year. They will likely get another match at the Big Ten Tournament, and that will decide who goes in at #1, but the real deal will be who is peaking at the NCAAs. There is some other tough competition in Joey Dance and Nico Megaludis, but Gilman has the firepower and the intensity to overwhelm anyone that he faces. I think this is the year he gets his asterisk.

As for the team side of things, well, it's going to be tough. Penn State is loaded, but some of their top ranked guys are susceptible to upsets. Cael Sanderson has done a phenomenal job of getting his guys to peak at the right time, and Iowa's results have been rather pedestrian in the tournament. They're going to have to outperform their seeds and get contributions from the entire team (minus 165). It's not likely, but it is possible. The Big Tens will be interesting, but the NCAAs will be epic.

I can't wait.

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