In our pre-NCAA tournament ranking system, which uses the current seeds to determine team placements, Iowa will win the NCAA tournament title by 10 points over Cael Sanderson's defending NCAA champion Penn State program. The likelihood that all the seeds hold and that not a single wrestler registers a bonus point is impossible, which leaves fans and media to wonder which teams will perform by improving on their seeds, capturing bonus points, and coming away with individual national champions.
One of the other factors deciding this year's race will be the effect this year's mismanaged seeding process will have on the No. 1 and No. 2 tournament seeds with formidable semifinal opponents. Falls, techs, and major decisions earned with consistency could make up for a faltering semifinalist, and a courageous Ironman-like performance by early losers should also impact the team race.
Keep your brackets handy, with one of the most level talent fields, this year's tournament might come down to a single technical fall or upset run. It'll be "matness."
The Minnesota team is one of the most consistently performing squads in the nation. For 10 years every wrestler not named Ness has looked like the progeny of Luke Becker, big-thighed behemoths with vicious short offense. The Minnesota style wins, and this year the Gopher squad is loaded with talent and potential. The only thing holding them back from a team title in 2012 is lack of certain NCAA champion talent. The squad could make up for it by placing all their available wrestlers, a task that earned them the 2001 NCAA championship.
J Robinson has nine seeded wrestlers, but does he have enough horses to win the team title? (Photo/Bill Ennis)That won't happen this year. The Gophers earned nine spots with four Minnesota wrestlers entering as returning All-Americans. All nine Gophers who qualified are seeded. Zach Sanders, seeded No. 2 at 125, and Tony Nelson, seeded No. 2 at heavyweight, are the team's best bets for reaching the NCAA finals. There are plenty of team points to be found in the wrestlebacks, but Minnesota isn't known for scoring bunches of bonus points, and while every single wrestler has a seed, four of them are lower seeds: No. 10 Chris Dardanes (133). No 9. Nick Dardanes (141), No. 10 Cody Yohn (165), and No. 10 Sonny Yohn (197). The three other Gopher wrestlers are seeded within All-American status: No. 7 Dylan Ness (149), No. 4 Logan Storley (174) and No. 5 Kevin Steinhaus (184)
Without question, the number of weapons at J Robinson's disposal allows the team to think of making a potential title run, but to do that he'll need a convergence of good wrestling and luck. He'll need his two No. 2 seeds to make the finals, and for one to win in an upset. He'll then need all three of his seeded wrestlers to not just place, but earn bonus points and outperform their seeds. Finally, to win the NCAA title, Robinson will need two of his lower-seeded wrestlers to place. Seven All-Americans and and an NCAA champion might get the job done. Might.
Prediction: Fourth Place, 79 Points (Five All-Americans)
Cornell Big Red
Cornell's Kyle Dake is a strong favorite to win at 157 pounds (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)Coach Rob Koll has always led a well-balanced NCAA team, placing 13 wrestlers over the past three seasons, second-most behind Iowa. The team has two wrestlers entering as undefeated top seeds, Kyle Dake (157) and Cam Simaz (197). Other All-American candidates include No. 6 Frank Perrelli (125), No. 4 Steve Bosak (184) both of who can place with little additional support. To have a shot at a team trophy the Big Red will need another of their qualifiers -- Nick Arujau (133), Mike Nevinger (141), Chris Villalonga (149), Marshall Peppleman (165) and Maciej Jochym (285) -- to place, and one or two more to win at least three matches.
Prediction: Third Place, 85 Points (2 Champions, 4 All-Americans)
The Brands brothers are hoping to bring the NCAA championship trophy back to Iowa City (Photo/Bill Ennis)There weren't many prognosticators willing to give Brands and Co. a shot at the title after Penn State won last year's tournament with a team filled with underclassmen. However, in true Iowa fashion, the team was able to rebound and see improved regular season performances from wrestlers like Tony Ramos (133) and Derek St. John (157), whose last-second takedown against Jason Welch in the Big Ten finals earned him a No. 2 seed and some much-needed momentum for the tournament. The Hawkeyes will almost certainly have a champion in Matt McDonough (125) and likely another finalist between No. 3 Montell Marion (141), Ramos (133), and St. John (157).
Like many teams, the Hawkeyes' ability to win the championship will depend on their ability to score bonus points in the early rounds, but unlike other teams they have a secret weapon: Grant Gambrall (184). The unseeded wrestler spent most of his season at 197, and though he only has a 10-10 record, he's the returning third-place finisher at the weight class and has every ability to make the semifinals, or further. If Gambrall can help Iowa get six into the semifinals, then they can compete for an NCAA title. If not, then they might be destined to a runner-up position.
Prediction: Second Place, 91 Points (1 Champion, 6 All-Americans)
Penn State Nittany Lions
Cael Sanderson's team has looked vulnerable this season, with a streaky Quentin Wright giving wrestling fans in Happy Valley cause for refilling their prescription blood pressure medication before the trip to St. Louis. The team is so loaded, and there are so many talents that feel generational, I can't come to grips with the idea that they won't all perform ... something they have a habit of doing (2011 Big Tens, 2011 NCAAs, 2012 Big Tens). If a team can show their will to win in three of the last three big tournaments, there is no reason to doubt their ability to do it a fourth time.
Cael Sanderson has four potential NCAA finalists, with three of those wrestlers seeded No. 1 (Photo/Bill Ennis)For Penn State to win they'll need the Big 3 to win with bonus points. Top seeds Frank Molinaro (149), David Taylor (165) and Ed Ruth (174) haven't lost this season and have dominated opponents. None of them has had a one or even two-point match. That's 81 matches and not a single opponent could've gotten a last second takedown to secure an overtime. That's domination. Add in a potential finals run by Q-Tip Wright and you're looking at four potential NCAA finalists.
What makes Penn State so formidable is that they will get at least three to the finals with plenty of extra bonus points, and potentially placings from a handful of other wrestlers: No. 10 Nico Megaludis (125), No. 7 Andrew Alton (157), and No. 6 Cameron Wade (285). On top of those likely placers are potential point-scorers Frank Martellotti (133) and Morgan McIntosh (197).
Penn State scored 107.5 points at the 2011 NCAA tournament with one champion, two runner-ups, and a third-place finisher. This year's tournament will likely produce an additional champion, two more All-Americans than last season, and a whole bunch of bonus points.
Prediction: Champion, 124 Points (3 Champions and 6 All-Americans)