2022 NCAA Champion Keegan O'Toole (bottom) (Photos courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Another NCAA season is in the books. The 2022 NCAA Division I tournament will be referenced for years due to a variety of reasons. In his final season on the collegiate level, Gable Steveson hit some impressive statistical milestones, but he was not the only standout performer. The following looks at some of those top performances and some statistical trends that could influence the sport going forward.
As expected, Gable Steveson (Minnesota) finished his collegiate wrestling career in style. He won his second heavyweight NCAA title and completed his third undefeated season. On his run to the third title, Steveson averaged 2.18 points per minute, while allowing only 0.85 points per minute. His +1.33 point differential was the highest for any competitor in the tournament.
Fellow champion Aaron Brooks (Penn State) had the second highest point differential. He built a +1.05 differential on his path to the title at 184 pounds.
Top Five Point Differential Performances
Gable Steveson +1.33
Aaron Brooks +1.05
Nick Lee +1.01
Pat Glory +0.91
Austin DeSanto +0.87
Steveson and Brooks were also the most prolific scorers in the tournament. The Minnesota wrestler's 2.18 points per minute was the highest of the tournament, while Brooks finished second with 1.53 points per minute. Slightly behind Brooks was 2021 NCAA champion Shane Griffith (Stanford). He made the 165-pound finals again this year, thanks in large part to his 1.41 points per minute rate, but Griffith ultimately came up just short against Keegan O'Toole (Missouri).
Top Five Points per Minute Performances
Gable Steveson 2.18
Aaron Brooks 1.53
Shan Griffith 1.41
Pat Glory 1.40
Bryce Andonian 1.40
While Griffith relied on his scoring to make another finals run, O'Toole was a defensive stalwart. He allowed exactly zero match points in his first five four matches of the tournament, and held Griffith to only five in the finals. His ability to ride helped the Missouri wrestler neutralize opponents from the top position and eliminated some clear avenues to score. O'Toole's 0.17 points against per minute rate was the best in the tournament.
Iowa's Jacob Warner also mimicked this style and made a somewhat unexpected run to the finals at 197 pounds. He allowed only seven points in his five matches and came up just one point short of champion Max Dean (Penn State) in the finals. Warner allowed only 0.23 points per minute, which was the third best rate of the weekend.
Top Five Points Against per Minute Performances
Keegan O'Toole 0.17
Patrick McCormick 0.21
Jacob Warner 0.23
Rocky Elam 0.24
Jarrett Jacques 0.27
Total Match Time
For champions the NCAA tournament is a five-match trip to a title. However, when a competitor loses in the front side bracket, the tournament can turn into a marathon length mini-season. That was certainly the case for Yonger Bastida (Iowa State), Peyton Robb (Nebraska), Patrick McKee (Minnesota), Lucas Byrd (Illinois), and Jonathan Millner (Appalachian State) who all finished with eight matches in the tournament. Out of all those, Millner was the only one to go the full seven minutes in all eight matches. His 56 minutes of mat time were the most of any competitor in the tournament.
Most Match Time (in Minutes)
Jonathan Millner 56
Lucas Byrd 52.93
Patrick McKee 52.42
Parker Keckeisen 52
David Carr 52
This year the NCAA switched up the overtime years. The sudden victory period immediately following the third frame was expanded from one minute to two minutes. The idea behind the rule is that wrestlers should have an extended opportunity to win the bout before heading to tie breakers. At this year's NCAA tournament there were 54 matches that went to overtime. Of those matches, 39 (72%) were decided in the first sudden victory period. At last year's tournament, there were 57 overtime matches and 37 (65%) were decided in the first sudden victory period. Obviously this is a small sample set, but it seems like the impact of the rule change was statistically minimal.
Will Lewan (Michigan) had the most overtime matches in the tournament. He went to extra time three times on his way to a fifth-place finish at 157 pound. 16 other wrestlers had two overtime bouts.
Considering he had the highest scoring rate in the entire tournament, it should come as no surprise that Steveson had the most takedowns among champions from the tournament. He scored 32, which greatly outpaced the other 10 champions. Penn State's Brooks had the second most takedowns among champions with 20.
Of course, Steveson somewhat famously gave up his first takedown of the season in the quarterfinals against Lucas Davison (Northwestern). Unlike the heavyweight champion, Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) and Nick Suriano (Michigan) did not allow a single takedown throughout the tournament.
One of the biggest complaints about folkstyle is that escapes make it exceedingly difficult to build a lead. For example, a wrestler with two takedowns who allows both corresponding escapes has only a 4-2 lead. On the other hand, in freestyle a wrestler with two takedowns would hold a 4-0 lead. While the preference for either style is mostly a matter of opinion, it does make the ability to prevent escapes by riding or scoring late in periods a clear tactical advantage.
While Brooks was able to score 20 takedowns, he only allowed 13 escapes. His difference between takedowns scored and escapes allowed was the largest among champions. Steveson and Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) both allowed six more takedowns than escapes.