Monday, March 12, 2018

2018 NCAA Wrestling Tournament Predictions

It's the most wonderful time of the year when it comes to watching daytime sporting events during the work week. While most will be watching the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, I will be huddled next to as many screens as possible playing WatchESPN feeds of the NCAA Wrestling Tournament. In my hopes to get other people amped for wrestling, I'm going to preview each Iowa wrestler's chances and predict the All-Americans at each weight class.

125 - Spencer Lee - #3 Seed
As an Iowa fan, 125 is the most interesting weight class as it is Iowa's best chance at a national champion this year. Spencer Lee came in as the most blue chip of blue chip prospects that Iowa could hope for, and he has more than lived up to that hype as a true freshman. Lee has just two losses on the year, one to Ronnie Bresser, a good but not great wrestler, who beat Lee early on in the season, and a loss to Nathan Tomasello, a man who has already been a national champion, but also someone who Lee has beaten this year. Lee has gotten better as the year has gone on, and he's definitely peaking at the right time. He's earned a three seed in the tournament. In his first three matches, I don't just expect to win, I expect him to get bonus points in each of those matches, the toughest of which will be Nick Piccinnini who he only beat by decision earlier this year, but with his improved gas tank, yeah, let's move that up to a Major. The semifinals is going to be his toughest match, the rubber match against Nathan Tomasello, who will also definitely be there. Whoever wins that match will go onto win in the Finals. So can Lee pull it off? I'm an unabashed Hawkeye Homer, so yeah, Lee pulls it off, and caps off an incredible freshman season with a national title.

1. Spencer Lee
2. Darian Cruz
3. Nathan Tomasello
4. Sean Fausz
5. Sebastian Rivera
6. Nick Suriano
7. Taylor LaMont
8. Ronnie Bresser

133 - No Qualifier
Iowa did not qualify anyone at this weight class, which is unfortunate, as that will end Iowa's streak of having someone in the finals at this weight class for the last five consecutive years. Even sadder is that the #1 ranked guy at this weight class, Seth Gross, spent a year at Iowa before some legal troubles sparked his transfer to South Dakota State. Still, I'm going to pick an upset in the finals, because Stevan Micic from Michigan has been wrestling out of his mind late in the season, and I just can't see anybody stopping that momentum from rolling to a national title.

1. Stevan Micic
2. Seth Gross
3. Kaid Brock
4. Austin DeSanto
5. Scott Parker
6. John Erneste
7. Luke Pletcher
8. Josh Terao

141 - Vince Turk - Unseeded
Vince Turk may be the most fascinating wrestler on the Iowa team. He had a lot of hype going into last season before tearing his ACL right at the beginning of the season. This year, there was less hype, but he won out in some tough wrestle-offs to take the starting spot. I had hopes that he could make a positive impact on the lineup. Then he went out and wrestled like crap. Carter Happel nearly took the starting spot, but then Turk got another chance and he just started letting loose. He was uber-aggressive, and he was causing fits for people. His defense seemed nearly non-existent, but he was going for so much offense that decisions were going in his favor, and the matches were all exciting as hell. His only losses at the Big Ten Tournament were to Joey McKenna and Nick Lee, the fourth and eighth ranked wrestlers at 141. I really like Turk, but this weight class is STACKED. The depth is the best of any weight class, and although I think Turk gets some wins, I can't quite see him making it to All-American status.

1. Yianni Diakomihalis
2. Bryce Meredith
3. Dean Heil
4. Joey McKenna
5. Jaydin Eierman
6. Kevin Jack
7. Michael Carr
8. Mason Smith

149 - Brandon Sorensen - #2 Seed
Sorensen is Iowa's highest seeded wrestler, but he does not have the best chances of winning a National Championship, due to the existence of Zain Retherford, an absolute monster who will be closing in on his third national title this year. Sorensen is great, but Retherford is transcendent, and although Sorensen should make the finals, he has never beaten Retherford, and I just can't see that changing on Saturday night.

1. Zain Retherford
2. Brandon Sorensen
3. Ryan Deakin
4. Grant Leeth
5. Justin Oliver
6. Troy Heilmann
7. Ke-Shawn Hayes
8. Jason Tsirtsis

157 - Michael Kemerer - #6 Seed
Let's just get this out of the way: Michael Kemerer got totally screwed on seeding. That is not just Iowa homerism in me either, as everyone seems to agree. Yes, he got caught and pinned against Micah Jordan in the semifinals. That's bad, but that also only made Jordan 1-1 against him. Kemerer then forfeited out of the tournament, which the NCAA seeding committee definitely punished this year. Still, Jason Nolf, whose resume this year is nearly identical to Kemerer's, injury defaulted a round earlier than Kemerer and managed the #3 seed. Somehow, Kemerer fell to sixth despite having a convincing win over the #4 seed, Josh Shields earlier this year. It does not make sense, and it means that Kemerer will have to go up against Jason Nolf in the quarterfinals. Nolf was hurt earlier this year but is at least close to back to normal as he was fairly impressive in his two wins in the Big Ten Tournament. It should never happen that whoever wins a quarterfinal matchup is the favorite to win the whole thing, but here we are, and if these guys are near 100%, the winner is going to go on to win the National Title. I want to pick Kemerer so bad, but until I see someone actually beat Jason Nolf, I can't pick against him. I don't see Kemerer losing to anybody else in this tournament.

1. Jason Nolf
2. Hayden Hidlay
3. Michael Kemerer
4. Alec Pantaleo
5. Josh Shields
6. Micah Jordan
7. Joseph Lavallee
8. Andrew Crone

165 - Alex Marinelli - #5 Seed
Well, where Kemerer got screwed on seeding, Marinelli seemed to get a fairly generous draw. He should be able to handle his first two opponents with limited worries before facing Chad Walsh of Rider. Although Walsh has an impressive 24-1 record, it was done against fairly weak opposition. His best win is against #9 seed, Chance Marsteller, who also beat Walsh once. I think Marinelli can get that one, although I can't see him getting by Martinez in the semifinals. At that point, his NCAA Tournament would be at least as good as his sixth place finish at the Big Tens, so I think Hawkeyes fans should be pleased with Marinelli's performance.

1. Isaiah Martinez
2. Logan Massa
3. Vincenzo Joseph
4. David McFadden
5. Alex Marinelli
6. Chance Marsteller
7. Anthony Valencia
8. Richie Lewis

174 - Joey Gunther - Unseeded
Gunther had a solid year bumping up to 174 this season, but it's tough to see him making much of an impact. I could see him getting a couple wins, but nothing more than that as I don't think he will be near competing for All-American status. This weight class is fascinating as it has three undefeated wrestlers in Zahid Valencia, Mark Hall, and Daniel Lewis. I think those top two guys are clearly better than the rest, but Daniel Lewis may surprise me. He's been a bonus point machine, but it has been against a weak schedule so it's tough to say how good he is at 174. I'm not buying what he's selling though.

1. Zahid Valencia
2. Mark Hall
3. Bo Jordan
4. Daniel Lewis
5. Myles Amine
6. Jaeden Bernstein
7. Ethan Ramos
8. Taylor Lujan

184 - Mitch Bowman - Unseeded
Bowman is a solid wrestler for the Hawkeyes, but there is ntohing about him that really stands out. Sometimes, he's relentless; other times, he gets stuck on the mat with no hope of getting up. Sometimes he'll be ultra aggressive; other times, he will barely go for a shot. Even when he's on, it's not the most impressive thing in the world. If he gets a couple wins, it will be a nice tournament for him, but he probably has the best chance of not scoring any team points for the Hawkeyes, so no, I do not see him becoming an All-American. At the top of the bracket, you've got Bo Nickal. Abounader could give him some troubles, but Bo Nickal is really freaking good, so I've got to pick him at this weight class.

1. Bo Nickal
2. Myles Martin
3. Pete Renda
4. Dominic Abounader
5. Emory Parker
6. Maxwell Dean
7. Ryan Preisch
8. Drew Foster

197 - Cash Wilcke - #14 Seed
Cash Wilcke made it to the Round of 12 last year, and although I love Cash Wilcke, I kind of saw that as his ceiling again this year. Many probably thought I was pretty dumb when he was undefeated and ranked fifth in the nation. I would have been so happy to be dumb about that, but instead, I was correct, and he basically fell apart during the second half of the season. He can be competitive against all but the very best in this division, but it is going to take him squeaking out a whole lot of wins for him to make it to All-American status. I predict the same result as last year, where he makes the Round of 12, just barely falling short of AA. Oh, and this weight class is a total clusterfuck, and I have no idea what is going to happen. Random predictions below.

1. Kollin Moore
2. Jared Haught
3. Ben Darmstadt
4. Michael Machiavello
5. Nate Rotert
6. Preston Weigel
7. William Miklus
8. Shakur Rasheed

Heavyweight - Sam Stoll - #5 Seed
Sam Stoll is right where he should be in the seeds. If he wrestles like he should, he will cruise into the quarterfinals against Duke's Jacob Kasper. I don't love Stoll's chances in that match, but I wouldn't count him out either. Even if he does win that match, he's not getting by America's greatest living athlete, Kyle Snyder, so don't expect to see him wrestling Saturday night. But for the first time, Stoll is actually healthy at the NCAA Tournament, and I think he does enough to become an All-American. It's going to be Snyder and Coon in the finals, and although they have split their first two matches this year, there is no way I am going to pick against Snyder. 

1. Kyle Snyder
2. Adam Coon
3. Jacob Kasper
4. Sam Stoll
5. Tanner Hall
6. Derek White
7. Nick Nevills
8. Michael Boykin

And that wraps up my selections for the tournament. Iowa is definitely not winning a team title this year, but with Lee, Sorensen, and Kemerer, they have three guys who have the potential to be competing on Saturday night. And seriously, take a break from college basketball and at least tune in on Saturday night, it really is one of the most fun sporting events of the year.

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