Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Each Iowa Hawkeyes Wrestler's Chance at a National Title in 2017

The wrestling season is sadly winding down. All that is left is the National Duals, Conference Tournaments, and the NCAA Tournament. Even as an eternal optimist for the Iowa Hawkeyes, their chances at winning the team national title are incredibly slim. It is looking like they can qualify eight weights, with 197 and Heavyweight unlikely to make the cut. That alone puts them in a pretty deep hole, and two of their other qualifiers are unranked, so those guys putting up major points seems unlikely. Still, crazy things can happen in wrestling, so let's look at all ten starter's chances at winning a National Title this season.

10. Heavyweight - Steven Holloway
When Sam Stoll reinjured his knee, it basically ended Iowa's hopes for a team National Title. If healthy, he's a likely All-American and those missed points are tough to make up. Holloway is stepping in and doing his best. Unfortunately, he's small for the weight class and not skilled enough to make up for the size discrepancy. He's kept matches close outside of when wrestling the top guys at the weight, but he consistently falls short of pulling off the victories. It's not gonna happen.

9. 197 - Cash Wilcke
Unfortunately, the guy with the best name on the team probably doesn't have the best chances at making a dent at the NCAA Tournament. Wilcke is another guy that would probably be better suited at a lower weight class. He is doing a serviceable job as he has only been on the losing end of one major decision this year. He's kept matches close but just hasn't had quite the firepower to get things done. It wouldn't be totally shocking if he put together a strong Big Ten performance to qualify for the NCAAs, but even if he makes it, he will not be favored in any of his matches once he gets there. The good news is there will be a lot of turnover at 184 after this year (including his teammate Sammy Brooks), and it will be interesting to see what kind of damage he can do at his more natural weight.

8. 165 - Joey Gunther
Gunther has done enough this year. First, he did enough at 165 where Brands didn't feel like it was worth burning Alex Marinelli's redshirt for this season. He's continued to do enough by beating guys he should beat at 165 in close matches and even pulled off a good win against Nick Wanzek of Minnesota. With that, he's probably done enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament although it's not yet a guarantee. Gunther will reliably give you seven strong minutes out there. I think he qualifies, but even though he's gotten stronger as the year has gone on, I'd be pretty surprised if he got more than a win or two at Nationals.

7. 141 - Topher Carton
Carton may be Iowa's most improved wrestler as this season has gone on. Kevin Jack and Dean Heil are the only two guys who have definitively beaten him, and even those were just regular decisions. Otherwise, he has given guys fits, and even though he's still working on coming out on top, he's the type of guy who could pull off a big upset at the NCAAs. Usually a guy from Iowa can't sneak up at a national tournament, but Carton could prove to be the exception to that rule. 141 is a deep weight class, so there are going to be nothing but tough matches, but Carton has shown enough that he might be able to pull off some upsets and make some noise. It's still not likely, but it wouldn't totally shock me to see him in the Round of 12.

6. 174 - Alex Meyer
Now we get into the range of returning All-Americans. Meyer finished seventh last season and looked to have the opportunity to build on that as his weight class actually lost some of its heaviest hitters. Instead, he's had some rather disappointing performances in toss-up matches this year. Of course, he also beat Penn State Super Freshman, Mark Hall, a guy who has only lost one other time this year and has bonus points in 70% of his matches. Basically, it is impossible to know what you are going to get out of Alex Meyer. Nobody will blow him out, but he has the ability to beat and lose to anybody. If he's aggressive and pushing the pace, he could make a serious run, but if he is passive and on the defensive, it's probably not going to be a long tournament for him. Since I'm an eternal optimist when it comes to Iowa wrestling, I say he becomes a two-time All-American, although I have trouble seeing him advance more than a spot or two from last year's finish.

5. 184 - Sammy Brooks
Another seventh place finisher last year, I would love to put Brooks higher on this list, but there is a bit too much volatility in Brooks's outcomes for me to reasonably put him higher on this list. He only has two losses this season, one to Nate Jackson, which he avenged later in that same Midlands tournament, and the other to Bo Nickal, where he showed some hesitation on a good shot and got caught in a weird spot and pinned. I'm not really concerned about either of those outcomes. Bo Nickal is a monster offensively, but guys have shown that he can be scored on with a good pace. There is also two-time defending National Champion, Gabe Dean, who has seemed to take his wrestling to another level this season. Brooks wrestled him close a couple years ago, and that's why I believe he could beat anybody. I'd be shocked if Brooks didn't finish as a two-time All-American, and I think he could cause some damage if he gets the right matchups and stays aggressive in his matches. I think the likely outcome is the 3-5 range, but if don't be surprised if he's wrestling on Saturday night. Never doubt the mullet.

4. 157 - Michael Kemerer
Kemerer has exceeded all expectations in his first year wrestling for the Hawkeyes. I mean, I was incredibly excited about him last year, but he's even outdone my wildest expectations for him this year. He moved up a weight class this year and still has stormed through absolutely everybody except for #1 ranked, Jason Nolf. He's ranked second currently, and he will be expected to make the finals of the NCAAs. The reason he's only fourth on this list is partially due to the strong performances of the top three guys and partially because Nolf seemed to overwhelm him in their first match. I think Kemerer has the ability to close the gap on Nolf in the next month, but I have a real hard time seeing him overtake the top guy at that weight. Still, it's gonna be a ton of fun watching him close out his Freshman season.

3. 149 - Brandon Sorensen
Sorensen is in a similar boat as Kemerer, as he can pretty clearly beat anyone but the top guy at this weight, although Sorensen did lose by riding time in a match against Anthony Collica at Oklahoma State. Still, if Sorensen gets the second or third seed, I think he'll be favored to make it to the Finals. Last year, top seeded Zain Retherford dominated Sorensen in their two matches,as in two matches, Sorensen managed only a single escape point. But this year, he came out and wrestled his ass off against Retherford in one of the most exciting matches of the year. He did end up losing OT, but he showed that he can compete with Zain Train, who, outside of that match, has been the most dominant wrestler at any weight class in college wrestling. Do I think Sorensen will beat him? No, I don't think he will, but I also didn't think he'd be as close as he was earlier this season. I'm just really hoping that he doesn't have to worry about that match until the Finals.

2. 133 - Cory Clark
Yes, I know Clark got upset this past weekend against Nebraska, but I still believe in him. Cory Clark has finished second the last two years and has the chance to become a four-time All-American this year. Still, anything less than a Championship is going to be a disappointment for Clark's Hawkeye career. He has been so close for so long that Iowa fans are just waiting for him to get over the hump. Of course, when it finally looked like he would be the number one guy, favored to take it all, he suffered a shoulder injury, and although he's looked strong in his matches, he hasn't quite looked as dominant as he has in the past. 133 is a tough weight class, but there are no unbeatable monsters at this weight. There are probably five guys who could go on a run and win the thing with Tomasello (Ohio State), Brock (Oklahoma State), Richards (Illinois, and Gross (South Dakota State after transferring from Iowa). Clark's only other loss this season was to Brock, and it was a close match where Clark probably wasn't 100%. The season slows down over this next month, so it should give Clark an opportunity to rest and hopefully get close to 100%. The goal for the Big Ten Tournament should be to do enough to be ranked in the top three. At that point, you only have to take out two of the top guys instead of three of them. A healthy Clark wins the National Title this year. A Clark with a shoulder injury makes that proposition more dicey, but I still believe he can string things together and make a run.

1. 125 - Thomas Gilman
Gilman is the man at 125. He has gotten bonus points in all but three of his matches, once against second-ranked, Nick Suriano, once against Tim Lambert, who is another top five guy, and once against Josh Terao, who is just as funky as his brother who was a former All-American. Oh, yeah, there was that other match where Gilman got caught and was down 8-0 with his opponent having nearly four minutes of riding time, but Gilman started pouring on takedowns in the third period, and then decided to turn him over and get the pin. This was against the sixth-ranked wrestler in the nation, which, yeah, you shouldn't be able to do things like that to the sixth-ranked wrestler in the nation. Suriano and Joey Dance of Virginia Tech are both tough, but ain't nobody beating Gilman this year. Everything is coming together, and as long as he stays healthy over the next month, he's going to finally get an asterisk next to his name.

Overall, Iowa has a solid shot at four guys wrestling on Saturday night for the Finals. In one of those four matches, Iowa will have the favorite, they might have the favorite at another and would be heavy underdogs in the other two. Still, every year the NCAA surprises us. Iowa hasn't had an NCAA Tournament where they really peaked and exceeded expectations in quite a few years, so maybe this is the year that they shock the wrestling world. Penn State's going to win another National Title, aren't they? God damnit.

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