Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Iowa Wrestling: Who Has The Best Shot At A National Title in 2018?

Wrestling season is finally upon us which means we are just four months away as I stand alone on a mountain, screaming at the top of my lungs that you should be watching March Matness instead of March Madness. Again, nobody will hear my screams. Iowa lost a lot of talent from last year's roster, so they are more in a rebuilding mode, but it is Iowa, so it's not like they aren't going to be incredibly good. Do they have a realistic shot at winning the team title? Well, that depends, is it realistic to expect both Penn State and Ohio State (and possibly Michigan) to all miss weight at the national tournament? If so, they definitely have a shot at the team title.

But I'm going to focus on the individuals today and go through who has the best shot at making an impact on a national level. We'll start at the bottom and move our way up to the Hawkeye that will lead this team to glory.

10. Justin Stickley - 125
This is the biggest wildcard on the team. At wrestle-offs, he dominated Perez Perez, so he really couldn't have looked much better without getting pins in his matches, but that isn't a ton to go off of. This isn't a super loaded weight class. I think everything went right for Darian Cruz at the NCAA Tournament, and I don't really see him as a threat to repeat. The two real studs this year are Nick Suriano of Rutgers and Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State. Stickley doesn't appear to have the horsepower to be a threat, but I do think he will get better as the season goes along. But he's got a lot of ground to make up if he even wants to qualify for the tournament.

Of course, that all changes if Spencer Lee burns his redshirt and wrestles this season. Spencer Lee is a SPECIAL wrestler. He lost one match during his high school career, and that was with a torn ACL against Austin DeSanto, who has been tearing things up at 133 this year. If he does wrestle, he's top-4 and without a doubt, a threat to take him the National Title. He dominated the UNI Open this past weekend and just off that, I'd probably put him at #2 or #3 on this list, and that may be too low.

9. Paul Glynn or Philip Laux - 133
The bad thing about this team is that it's going to be tough for Iowa to have an individual champion this year. But the good thing about this team is that it has no notable weak spot. I fully expect Iowa to qualify guys at all ten weights, and it's pretty reasonable to think that all of them could even be seeded. Philip Laux has been a solid backup for Iowa the past couple seasons, but he never really shined. Paul Glynn beat Laux in the wrestle-offs, but then lost to a guy that Laux beat at the Luther Open. Since then, Laux has seemed to take over the weight class. Both of these guys should be tough, but neither will provide much of a ceiling for this weight. I can see a few wins at the tournament, but I don't see All-American status for the Hawkeyes this year.

8. Vince Turk or Carter Happel - 141
If you would have asked me where Turk should be after the Iowa City Duals, I would have had him in the top five. Turk was injured in his first match last year and was out for the year, but he looked great early on. After that, he has stopped looking great as slow starts have doomed him in recent matches. The issue with this weight class is that it is very deep, but there aren't unbeatable monsters at this weight. Dean Heil always finds a way to win at the top, but everyone else is in that same grinding, close decision style. If Turk can grind with the best of them, he could pull some upsets and find himself wrestling in the quarterfinals on Friday morning. The floor is very low as it wouldn't be shocking if he went 0-2 and was eliminated from the tournament, but I think he has the potential to at least win a couple matches this year.

7. Cash Wilcke - 197
This may seem low, considering Cash Wilcke is one of the few returning Hawkeyes that competed at last year's NCAA Tournament. Not only that, he made it to the Round of 12, just one win shy of All-American status. But my expectations aren't that high for Wilcke, because EVERYTHING went right for him last year. He won so many close matches in that tournament, and had there not been an injury right before the tournament, he wasn't even going to qualify to make it. He made the most of his opportunity, so hopefully it's a sign of things to come, but he's still going to be doing his best to grind it out as an undersized 197 which is not an easy thing to do. I think he qualifies on his own merit to the NCAA Tournament, but I think the blood round is likely where his ceiling lies at this weight, and I think he'll have a lot of trouble repeating that performance.

6. Joey Gunther or Kaleb Young - 174
I'll admit that I thought Kaleb Young would take this weight convincingly from Joey Gunther, but Gunther won the wrestle-off in overtime, so he's getting the first shot at the starting gig. Both guys are wrestling up a weight class from last year where Gunther won a couple matches at the NCAA Tournament and Young had a very impressive redshirt year. I see these guys as having the potential to be ranked in the 10-12 range by the end of the season. Although on seed alone, that falls short, you never know how things may go at the NCAA Tournament, so it wouldn't be crazy to see them being a threat to be a low-level All-American this year.

5. Alex Marinelli - 165
Super recruit, Alex Marinelli, is finally ready to shine for the Hawkeyes after an impressive redshirt year last season. Still, even though his season was impressive, he did falter when taking on top notch competition. He's going to be very good this year, but 165 is stacked at the top. If everything breaks right, I could see him in the top five, but I more see him as a likely All-American, and my prediction is probably sixth for this season. The thing with Marinelli is the ceiling isn't great this season, but the floor is pretty high as he's a takedown machine who is going to be tough to upset at the tournament.

4. Sam Stoll - Heavyweight
Although this is Stoll's third year as the starting heavyweight for Iowa, we still really don't know what his potential is when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. I mean, is he going to beat Kyle Snyder, a man who is on his way to becoming the greatest American wrestler ever? No, he's not going to do that. But he could give just about anybody else a run for their money. Unfortunately, he was hurt going into the tournament during his freshman year, and an injury ended his sophomore year before he had a chance to compete at the tournament last year. I would say that he is at least an All-American this year. I think Coon will likely lock up that number two spot, but I could see Stoll anywhere from 3-6 this season. He's a big dude who can give anybody troubles.

3. Brandon Sorensen - 149
I only see one possible loss from Sorensen against anybody in the 149 pound division, but that one loss is nearly guaranteed against Zain Retherford who will likely be battling his teammate for the Hodge Trophy as college wrestling's best wrestler. I think Sorensen will be wrestling in the finals on Saturday night, but I do not see a way for him to get past The Zain Train.

2. Michael Kemerer - 157
Read above, but replace Zain Retherford's name with Jason Nolf's, and you pretty much have the same story. I give Kemerer a slightly better chance of upsetting Nolf, but the odds still aren't great. He got handled both times they wrestled last year, and even if Kemerer has improved, it's not like you can expect Nolf to stagnate. I see Kemerer making the Finals, but there is no logical way to pick him to upset Nolf at this point.

1. Pat Downey - 184
For my top spot, I am selecting a man who is not even on the Iowa Wrestling team at the moment. Downey is currently finishing his degree up at Iowa State University with the plan to be a graduate transfer for the Hawkeyes once the second semester begins. He's not technically a part of the team yet, so this is definitely a risky pick for my best chance of winning a National Title in 2018, but this is not the strongest Hawkeye team ever, so it's worth taking the risk. Pat Downey, despite being a senior, is one of the greatest mysteries in college wrestling. He started his career at Nebraska, never wrestled, and transferred to Iowa Central Community College to wrestle for a year. After that, he transferred to Iowa State where he wrestled at 197 and took fifth place, and very easily could have taken third had he not lost in sudden victory to former Hawkeye, Nathan Burak. Last year, he went 7-0 in limited action, mostly at his more natural weight class of 184, but got in trouble, and was unable to compete in the NCAA Tournament. Over the offseason, he beat Gabe Dean in freestyle but lost to the defending national champion at 184, Bo Nickal. Both Nickal and Downey are big move guys, and I really believe anything could happen when they square off. The weight class lost a ton of talent this past year, and Downey should immediately be considered a top-4 wrestler, even with a limited track record of success. At this point, there is no way to consider Downey the favorite, as Nickal has gone out and won an NCAA Tournament, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Downey is standing atop the podium on Saturday night, that is, of course, if he actually joins the Iowa Wrestling team. 

No comments:

Post a Comment