Betting on college wrestling requires a formula that predicts small actions. For example, a late and meaningless stall point against Kyle Dake, combined with missed back points against Logan Stieber can mean the difference between enjoying a lucrative NCAA finals and taking the early flight back home to Chicago. I was on the wrong side of those small differences last year, but luckily Steve Bosak's win in 2012 is still paying for my morning bagel.
With that in mind, it's once again the time of year when we find out who has all the angles, and who has the stones to play 'em!
As the NCAA wrestling tournament gains more coverage and fans each year, the lines offered by online sportsbooks also tightened. This year will be no different, and there aren't likely to be major flubs.
However, the 2014 wrestling season was one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. That, along with terrible seeding, could mean some big bets are available.
And remember, I'm in no way responsible for what you bet, or if you bet. Think twice before laying your mortgage on the field at 165 pounds. This is for giggles so if you can't afford to lose it, don't bet it.
For the newcomers, here's how it usually works:
A few numbers for thought before we break down the weight classes (all data is since the 2003 NCAA tournament):
1. The No. 1 seed at the NCAA wrestling tournament has won almost exactly 50% of the time.
2. A wrestler seeded third or lower has won approximately 30%.
3. A wrestler seeded fourth or lower has won approximately 20%.
4. The field comes in on average twice a year.
5. All NCAA champions in 2013 came from either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. That hadn't happened previously since a few years before David Taylor was born.
The "powers to be" shied away from offering too many field bets last year. Steve Bosak's Cinderella run in 2012 most likely played a part in that. We're hoping to see the range of lines back to normal for this year's tournament.
On to the breakdown of this year's weight classes and my personal (pre-official lines):
125: Jesse Delgado of Illinois is your returning NCAA champion and top seed. His newfound defensive style has come under scrutiny as of late, but he did sneak away with his second Big Ten title, despite the noise. We will see if he finds his offense again for the big dance. Nahshon Garrett of Cornell and Nico Megaludis of Penn State are likely facing off for the third time this season in the lower half of the bracket for a ticket to the finals. Iowa's Cory Clark comes in the No. 8 seed, but is probably Delgado's biggest threat in the top half of the bracket.
The Lines: Delgado even, Garrett +150, Megaludis +220, Field +600
The Play: Megaludis is a two-time NCAAA finalist so a big line would be tempting. However, Garrett has shown the ability to separate in their first two matchups and this weekend should be no different. Even if Megaludis solves that riddle he still needs to find a way to beat his nemesis in the final. Delgado found a different cylinder at NCAAs last year. He may not need to perform at quite as high of a level this time around since it looks like he's the only wrestler in the nation to figure out Garrett, his probable finals opponent. Stay away from the field as this is a three-horse race. I like Delgado to silence the critics and repeat for even money.
133: Joe Colon of Northern Iowa and A.J. Schopp of Edinboro come in as the two longshot top seeds here by virtue of their respective wins over third-seeded Tony Ramos of Iowa. Three-time All-American Tyler Graff of Wisconsin and fourth-seeded Jon Morrison of Oklahoma State headline the field.
The Lines: Ramos +120, Colon +155, Field +350
The Play: Most expected Tony Ramos to walk through this weight class in the beginning of the season. I certainly did. However, losses to Colon and Schopp have pumped the breaks on that line of thought. Ramos is still the slight favorite and Colon has a tough road, but never underestimate the deadly combo of sporting a serious mustache with Doug Schwab in your corner. I like Colon if he comes in +150 or better and/or the field +350.
141: Two-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber of Ohio State falls to the No. 2 seed after a rare loss to super frosh Zain Retherford, which he avenged at the Big Tens. Devin Carter of Virginia Tech has seemingly willed his way back to health and a third ACC title six months ahead of schedule after an early season injury. He joins the other undefeated wrestler in the bracket, Edinboro's Mitchell Port, on the top half.
The Lines: Stieber -230, Port +135, Carter +300, Field +550
The Play: Carter is a great story and the big wild card here. I think he poses problems for Port in that semifinal matchup but has never figured out Stieber in their previous meetings. I expect Retherford to fight through a brutal early road back to Stieber and make it very interesting in their third installment. The Buckeye is still too much though and we should be looking at the third of four titles. Lay the odds.
149: Drake Houdashelt of Missouri earns the top seed here, but it comes with few rewards as he's handed NCAA champion Kendric Maple of Oklahoma and Big Ten champion Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern on his side of the bracket. Nick Dardanes of Minnesota and Chris Villalonga of Cornell round out the top-five seeds.
The Lines: Houdashelt +140, Maple +180, Tsirtsis +250, Field +400
The Play: This bracket is top heavy in a big way, and I like whoever emerges from that half. Houdashelt has taken a loss this year and there are few wrestlers talented enough to keep him from the top of the podium. Many thought Maple would be JO 2.0 with his jump up in weight this year, but the transition hasn't been nearly as smooth. I do still like him to finish with his second title with it all on the line. Take him +180 or better. The field is hungry and talented, but one level below.
157: We arrive at the most fun and anticipated weight class of the tournament. James Green of Nebraska enjoyed a dominant Big Ten with yet another win over returning champ DSJ of Iowa as well as the always-dangerous Dylan "Honey Badger" Ness of Minnesota. The talented Cowboy Alex Dieringer is sitting with one loss on the year and grabs the No. 3 seed. Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin, Ian Miller of Kent State, Dylan Alton of Penn State are some big names in a scrappy field.
The Lines: Green +120, DSJ +160, Dieringer +200, Field +350
The Play: "Mean" James Green is my pick (again) here and not just because he's a Burroughs-esque New Jersey native. However, this field is too deep and too talented to ignore. Isaac Jordan has wins over both Green and DSJ. Dylan Ness and Ian Miller can pin anyone in the weight class, while Penn State might just need Alton to come to wrestle to gain a fourth straight title. I think you get the idea. Let's take our first chance on the field.
165: In news that shocks nobody, David Taylor of Penn State is your overwhelming top seed. Tyler Caldwell of Oklahoma State and Nick Sulzer of Virginia come in at No. 2 and No. 3 respectively.
The Lines: DT -600, Caldwell +350, Field +1350
The Play: In a year that saw Ed Ruth and Logan Stieber take losses anything can happen, right? Nah. The only thing to contemplate here is how many falls we see. Sulzer, Caldwell and Monk may be able to keep it close but this is the lock of the tournament. That being said, laying money on DT would be too expensive with little payoff. Stay away and enjoy the ending to a magical career. I'll take over 2.5 falls.
174: Chris Perry of Oklahoma State is your returning NCAA champion and avenged his only loss with a controversial win over Andrew Howe of Oklahoma a week ago. The next tier down includes a gritty and deep field of wrestlers who will try to play spoiler to a trilogy meeting between the two top dogs.
The Lines: Howe even, Perry +160, Kokesh +300, Field +450
The Play: This weight class wants to be 157 pounds, but in reality I think Howe and Perry have shown separation from the pack. Howe will be hungry and it's tough to imagine anyone in the bottom bracket contesting his place on the elevated mat. Perry's road will be much more interesting, but in the end I think we find another meeting between the two former champs. Howe will find redemption and a second title via more collar tie snaps than we knew existed. I'd take him for even money or better.
184: Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland is your top seed here. Take a moment. Jimmy Sheptock is seeded above two-time NCAA champion ... untouchable for two-and-a-half years ... never lost in the Big Ten ... best cradle in the "biz" ... Ed "The Truth" Ruth. He earns that distinction following an undefeated season, while Ruth took the season's most surprising loss to giant killer Gabe Dean of Cornell. Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota is worth mentioning in the field.
The Lines: Ruth -300, Dean +225, Sheptock +210, Field +750
The Play: Let's all bow our heads collectively and hope that the actual lines are based on the seeds here. Gabe Dean is Jimmy Sheptock's new best friend for the time being as he hopes he can duplicate his "miracle on the mat" from the Southern Scuffle. Ruth does have the toughest road as he will have to go through Steinhaus, Dean and Sheptock potentially. No doubt that Dean is an animal and I don't think his win in January was any sort of fluke. I also don't think it will be repeated. Lay the odds on Ruuuuuuuth if they are within reason and enjoy the winning chants of his name one last time.
197: Strange seeding here as Kyven Gadson of Iowa State falls to the No. 5 seed after arguably the season's most impressive body of work. He comes in behind top seed and Big Ten champion Nick Heflin of Ohio State. J'den Cox of Missouri and Morgan McIntosh of Penn State will battle it out below as the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds. Scott Schiller of Minnesota is the No. 4 seed and spent a healthy amount of time ranked No. 1 this season before some recent losses.
The Lines: Heflin +170, Cox +175, Gadson +200, Field +400
The Play: Nobody could fault you for taking the field if the odds are right. No wrestler here has been able to hold the top spot for long and it has changed hands a few times. McIntosh was my preseason pick, but I've jumped ship to J'den Cox. I like his chances even more with Gadson on the opposite side and as a freshman you should be able to get some good value betting on him. There will be room for a few more stars in the sport with Taylor and Ruth gone. Cox is ready to fill the void.
285: Have we seen a heavyweight bracket this exciting and wide open? Not since Bloodsport. Minnesota's Tony Nelson is the No. 1 seed and two-time returning NCAA champion. He also has losses to four of the five wrestlers seeded directly below him.
The Lines: Nelson +165, Gwiz +220, Chalfant +230, Field +265
The Play: This weight class is as wide open as we can hope for. Nelson rebounded nicely at the Big Tens and has two previous titles, so he's still your frontrunner. But this is as unpredictable as they come. Field. All the way.
Official lines should be available at your online sportsbook midweek (Wednesday) and individual lines are posted before the finals in case you would like to hedge your bets or double up on Saturday. Good luck and enjoy the winnings!