Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Do the Iowa Hawkeyes Have a Shot at the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championship?

Does Iowa have a shot at the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Championship? Well, the short answer is yes. They have a shot, but they are going to need some help to pull it off. Iowa failed to qualify all ten weight classes this season, in fact; they barely qualified nine. That puts them in a slight hole, although tournament favorite, Penn State, has just as many wrestlers competing this weekend. I touched on which guys had the best shot of winning a National Title a couple weeks ago, so I'd definitely check that out, but now that the brackets are out, I wanted to quickly thoroughly look at how things shaped up for each Iowa wrestler before addressing their chances of winning the team title.

125 - Thomas Gilman - #4 Seed
After losing to Nico Megaludis of Penn State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, this was as good of a seed as can be expected for Gilman There are four elite talents at this wegiht, so Gilman was going to have to go through two of them either way. I don't see any real chance of Gilman not making it into the semifinals (obviously, anything could happen, like Gilman getting caught in a cradle in the semifinals last year, but it's very doubtful). He has beaten #1 seed Nathan Tomasello before, and he has the skills to do it again. Joey Dance beat Megaludis earlier in the year, and that match could go either way. I had Gilman as having the best chance of winning a National Title, and I'd say that he has probably become 1B in my current rankings, but that is mostly because of how things shook out for Iowa's next wrestler.

133 - Cory Clark - #2 Seed
Cory Clark moves into that 1A spot based on him winning the Big Ten Tournament but also because he got a great draw for the tournament. The biggest benefit that despite Cory Clark beating Zane Richards in the finals of the B1G Tournament, Richards stayed at the 3 seed which means that the gy who beat Clark in last year's NCAA Tournament, the defending National Champion, Cody Brewer, is at the 4 seed on the same side as Nahshon Garrett, whom Brewer lost to earlier this season. The biggest dark horse in this weight, Ryan Taylor, from Wisconsin, got a 12 seed which also puts him on the opposite side as Clark. The biggest threat up until the semifinals is probably 10 seed, Johnni DiJulius, who has beaten Clark previously, but it seems like Clark has his funk figured out, and I expect him to cruise into the semifinals. This was a great draw, and that's why I'm even more excited about Clark's chances of getting an asterisk next to his name.

141 - Brody Grothus - Did Not Qualify
Brody Grothus got a tough draw in the B1G Tournament. He drew the top seed in his first match and lost a close match. Then the #3 seed got upset and met him in his first consolation match, and he lost another close match. Had things broken a little more favorably for him, he could have shown he has the talent to compete at the NCAAs, but it's an unfortunate end to an up and down career for Grothus.

149 - Brandon Sorensen - #2 Seed
Sorensen lost in the finals to Penn State's Zain Retherford, who has run through everyone this year. Sorensen maintained a #2 seed which is good, but his side of the bracket is no joke. He should cruise in his first two matchups, but that likely sets up another matchup against Jake Sueflohn, who Sorensen handled in the B1G Tourney but who is a very tough out. His side of the bracket also includes Lavion Mayes from Missouri, Anthony Collica from Oklahoma State, and former National Champion Jason Tsirtsis, who appears to be struggling with injuries this year but is still a guy who can make a match against anybody. Sorensen has the skills to make it to the finals; there's a reason he's ranked #2, but he never really threatened Retherford when they wrestled, so it's really hard to see a National Title coming his way.

157 - Edwin Cooper - #13 Seed
Edwin Cooper has made tremendous strides this year, and it's a great accomplishment to get seeded at this weight. That being said, it's going to be tough to rise up and become an All-American, because this weight class is DEEP. As long as he wins in the first, he takes on Ian Miller, who is a returning All-American whose only loss was due to a concussion suffered in his conference tournament last weekend where he was forced to injury default in his match. This weight class is stacked on paper, but that's the beauty of this tournament, in that anything can happen in seven minutes of wrestling.

165 - Patrick Rhoads - Unseeded
Well, I'll be damned. Patrick Rhoads made the tournament. He is unseeded, but got a favorable draw in that he goes up against the #13 seed. Rhoads wrestled really well in the B1G tournament outside of taking a beating from the top seed, Isaac Jordan. He has the skills to make matches tight against all but the top level of competition, so maybe a couple matches will go his way. He's not making the podium, but he has the potential to score some points, and Iowa needs all of the points they can get in their efforts for a team title.\

174 - Alex Meyer - #13 Seed
More than any wrestler on Iowa's roster, Meyer has put Hawkeye fans through an emotional rollercoaster this year. He has raised expectations, only to dash them later on. When he is aggressive early on, he can take out anybody, but sometimes he digs himself large holes early and doesn't have enough time to make up the deficits. Predicting what he is going to do is a fool's errand. He's just had so many close matches this year. Since I'm an eternal optimist, I think the aggressive Meyer will show up and put points on the board and cause major issues for anybody he goes up against. He has the skills to be an All-American, but he could just as easily play with fire and burn out before the Round of 12.

184 - Sammy Brooks - #2 Seed
Sammy Brooks receiving the #2 seed seems...generous. I'm not complaining, but I do believe this seeding was only partly from him winning the B1G Tournament; a lot of the credit has to go to the power of his mullet.

Outside of Gabe Dean at #1, 184 is a wide open but very deep division, and that is why Brooks got the 2 seed for the NCAAs despite only being the 3 seed for the B1G Tournament. Full disclosure: Sammy Brooks is my favorite current Iowa wrestler, and so I am even more blinded by my own bias when it comes to predicting his results. He can beat anybody at this weight class. He wrestled Gabe Dean last year and only lost 3-2. All of his losses to college wrestlers this season have come to guys that he has also beaten this year. I'd say he cruises through his first two matches before meeting 10 seed, Nate Brown in the quarters. I'm then favoring Blake Stauffer (6) to make it to the semifinals. He was the guy who eliminated Brooks in the Round of 12 last year, but I'm hoping Sammy can reverse his fortune this year. I'm not guaranteeing a National Title, but I just want to let everybody know that it is in your best interest to not doubt the power of the mullet.

197 - Nathan Burak - #4 Seed
The one inexplicably bad seed for Iowa, as it makes no sense that Pfarr from Minnesota would be ranked ahead of Burak considering he lost to him in the B1G Tournament. He did beat him earlier in the season, but even that was controversial, and the NCAA valued tournament performance very highly when coming up with seeds. One spot may not seem like much, but it puts him on the side of Morgan McIntosh, who he is 0-5 against, and the 5 seed is Conner Hartmann who is 26-1 this year and appears to be a much tougher matchup than the 6 seed, Jared Haught. Burak has taken care of business this year, but with his previous history against McIntosh, it's tough to see him doing any better than a third place match when it's all said and done.

HWT - Sam Stoll - #11 Seed
I think this is about as good as we could have expected for Sam Stoll after crapping out at the B1G Tournament. What happened? A significant knee injury, possibly a torn ACL, so the fact that he won any match is pretty impressive. But if it is as significant as it sounds, this is an awful way for Stoll to end his year as before this injury, his only losses were to the #1 seed, Nick Gwiazdowski and the #4 seed, Austin Marsden, who, between the two, have one loss this season. A healthy Stoll is an All-American, but if this version of Stoll can gut out 1-2 victories, it'd be a great performance.

So what does this all mean? Does Iowa have a legitimate shot at an NCAA Title? Yes, but they're going to need some breaks. Both Clark and Gilman have legitimate shots at National Titles this year, and if they can both pull it off, that is a huge boost to their chances. Even with that, Penn State is the clear favorite, and they're going to need some of their wrestlers to falter.

Zain Retherford isn't going to lose, and he's probably putting up a ton of bonus points. Morgan McIntosh is the second most likely to win a title, so you've got to hope that J'Den Cox can prevent that from happening. Bo Nickal doesn't have a single guy who looks most likely to take him out, but there's a reason Freshman don't win a lot of National Titles, so maybe he gets caught in a bad spot like he did against Nate Jackson and takes a loss well before he should. I think Nolf is their second best wrestler, but Isaiah Martinez beat him the B1G Finals, and he is set to face off against an undefeated Thomas Gantt before he even makes it there, but I have trouble seeing him not making the finals. Even Nico Megaludis, who is ranked 3, is somebody I could only see dropping to fourth place in this tournament. That's a lot of points in the worst case scenario, especially with how many bonus points those guys have put up this season.

As I said, Iowa needs those first two guys to take home titles for a legitimate shot at the overall title. After that, it's about having guys peak at the right time. Penn State has had their guys peak at the NCAAs for the last five years; Iowa has pretty much done the opposite. Those fortunes need to reverse this year. Iowa's always in the title hunt; hopefully this is the year they get number 24.

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