3x Big Ten Champion Gable Steveson (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The Big Ten Conference tournament wrapped up on Sunday. No. 1 Penn State finished with four individual champions, but No. 2 Michigan walked away with the tournament title. Along the way, there were several top statistical performers. These performances say a lot about not only a wrestler's showing on the conference level but also their prospects at next week's NCAA tournament.
No. 1 Nick Lee (Penn State) recently completed an undefeated regular season. His last loss came in the 2021 Big Ten final against No. 2 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa). Since then, Lee has won all of his matches, including a pair of rematches against Eierman. The two seemed destined to meet in the Big Ten finals once again before Lee received a medical forfeit and took home the conference title.
While Lee only wrestled two matches at the Big Ten tournament, his dynamic scoring was on full display. He scored 3.14 points per minute, while only allowing 0.10 points per minute. His +3.04 point differential was the highest of the entire tournament.
In his two matches against No. 24 Joseph Zargo (Wisconsin) and No. 10 Jake Bergeland (Minnesota), Lee scored five takedowns, three four-point near falls, three two-point near falls and two reversals. Interestingly enough, both of his reversals came in the third period to close out technical falls. The only point he allowed was a first-period escape against Bergeland.
Despite having the lowest bonus rate of his career this season (58.82%), Lee appears to be rounding into form and poised to make a run at his second NCAA title. He will enter his final tournament as the number-one seed and the clear favorite.
The rest of the top five in point differential features some of the usual suspects. No. 3 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) forfeited out of the tournament after making the semifinals. No. 5 Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin) suffered a close loss against eventual champion No. 3 Alex Marinelli (Iowa) at 165 pounds, before bouncing back with a sudden victory upset over No. 7 Carson Kharchla (Ohio State) in the third-place match.
Top Five Point Differential Performances
Nick Lee (Penn State) +3.04
Gable Steveson (Minnesota) +2.13
Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) +1.44
Nick Suriano (Michigan) +1.38
Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin) +1.13
No. 1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) continued his historic run through the heavyweight division. Like Lee, he received a medical forfeit in the finals, but he scored a 20-5 technical fall over No. 15 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State) and a 14-6 major decision over No. 5 Mason Parris (Michigan). His points per minute rate was the highest of the tournament as he edged out Lee's rate by only 0.006.
In those two matches, Steveson had 13 takedowns and added three two-point near falls. He, as per usual, allowed nothing but escapes. For the season, he has outscored his opponents 201 to one excluding escapes, and that one point was a penalty point for shoving Parris out of bounds during their regular season match.
After adding 13 takedowns this past weekend, Steveson now has 81 for the season. He has not come close to surrendering one this year. If he is able to finish the NCAA tournament without giving up a two-point score, he should take home his second-straight Hodge trophy and ride off into the WWE craziness.
Top Five Points per Minute Performances
Gable Steveson (Minnesota) 3.14
Nick Lee (Penn State) 3.14
Nick Suriano (Michigan) 2.04
Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) 1.92
Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin) 1.57
While Lee only allowed one point through two matches and had the lowest points allowed per minute rate (0.10), the wrestler who displayed the second-best defense was a bit of a surprise. No. 6 Cameron Amine (Michigan) entered the tournament as the fourth seed, and he ended up facing off against Kharchla in the semifinals. He won that match and moved on to the finals.
Amine allowed only five points through his four matches. The only match where he allowed more than one point was the final. Marinelli managed to best him via a 2-1 score. Even in that performance, Amine allowed only an escape and a stalling point.
So far this season, Amine has a 16-5 record. He has only allowed 2.29 points per match, and he has only allowed more than three points in three of his matches on the year. Having a lot of close matches can be risky, but at the same time, the strategy often pays dividends at tournament time. If Amine can show this type of defense at the NCAA tournament, he might be able to get on a roll and score a few more upsets.
Top Five Points Against per Minute Performances
Nick Lee (Penn State) 0.10
Cameron Amine (Michigan) 0.17
Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) 0.19
Alex Marinelli (Iowa) 0.24
Dylan Ragusin (Michigan) 0.25
Amine's trip the finals was an essential part of Michigan's tournament victory. The Wolverines won their first Big Ten crown since 1973. As a team, they averaged 0.78 match points per minute and allowed 0.49 per minute. This left the squad with a collective +0.29 differential.
Despite finishing with only one champion and finishing third, Iowa had the highest point differential. The Hawkeyes scored 0.82 points per minute, which was the second-highest scoring rate behind Wisconsin (0.87). Defensively they allowed only 0.41 points per minute, which was second-best behind Penn State (0.39).
Top Five Point Differential Performances by Team
Penn State +0.40
Ohio State +0.06
Many wrestlers choose to slow down the pace when tournament time comes around. While early in the season, folks are willing to let it fly, there is a lot of the line in a qualifier for the NCAA tournament. This was mostly the case last weekend, as the average combine points per match was 9.41. However, there was one in the 157-pound weight class that defied this trend.
In the first round of the tournament, No. 13 Kendall Coleman (Purdue) and Lucas Cordio (Maryland) combined to score 30 points, and Coleman walked away with the major decision victory. Cordio actually started off the scoring with a takedown 10 seconds into the match. The Purdue wrestler appeared to then take over with three takedowns of his own. However, Cordio got back into the match with a takedown in the last 45 seconds. The comeback came up well short. This time Coleman really did take control. He scored five more takedowns and walked away with the major decision victory.