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  • Photo: Photo/Mark Lundy

    Photo: Photo/Mark Lundy

    Best first-round matchup in every weight class

    The first round of the NCAA tournament always features at least a few upsets, and there are always strong matches right out of the gate. That will almost certainly be the case again this year. Below is a look at the best first-round matchup in each weight class.

    Note: The ranking listed below is the InterMat ranking heading into the tournament, not the tournament seed.

    125: No. 13 Ryan Milhof (Arizona State) vs. Christian Moody (Oklahoma)

    When Milhof last stepped on the mat at the NCAA tournament, he was wearing an Oklahoma singlet. After earning All-American honors for the Sooners in 2016, he left the program, transferred to Arizona State and redshirted. It is oddly fitting that his return to the mat would come against an Oklahoma wrestler. The two met as teammates at the Oklahoma open in 2016. Milhof won that match with a 14-0 major decision. Since that match, Moody has turned himself into an NCAA qualifier, and this season, he has earned wins over No.11 Zeke Moisey (West Virginia), No. 15 Luke Welch (Purdue) and No. 19 Jay Schwarm (Northern Iowa).

    133: No. 15 Bryan Lantry (Buffalo) vs. Jason Renteria (Nebraska)

    Lantry was one match away from becoming an All-American last season. His campaign for the podium will get off to a tough start. In the first round, he faces Renteria. The freshman missed the first semester, so he has not had much time to show what he can do. However, he went 8-4 on the season with two of his losses coming against No. 2 Stevan Micic (Michigan). There's a chance this could be the most competitive first-round match of the tournament.

    141: No. 8 Brock Zacherl (Clarion) vs. Chad Red (Nebraska)

    Zacherl won his first 28 matches to start this season, but he suffered an upset in the EWL final when he gave up a fall against Evan Cheek (Cleveland State). Zacherl will need to get right in a hurry. Red had a disappointing performance at the Big Ten tournament last weekend and ended up finishing seventh. However, he was a top recruit two seasons about, and he certainly has the pedigree to pull off a first-round upset.

    149: No. 5 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) vs. Frank Garcia (Binghamton)

    Garcia had a surprising run through the EIWA tournament. He upset the second and third seeds Will Koll (Cornell) and Cortlandt Schuyler (Lehigh) before falling against No. 9 Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) in the finals. With that being said, Deakin is on another level. The junior world silver medalist has only lost to Kolodzik, No. 2 Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) and No. 1 Zain Retherford (Penn State) this season. He is clearly the favorite here, but some wrestlers are able to turn it on around tournament time. If Garcia can replicate his early round performance from the EIWA tournament, he might be able to turn some heads.

    157: No. 6 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) vs. Ian Brown (Lehigh)

    Pantaleo came into this season as someone who might challenge No. 3 Jason Nolf (Penn State) for supremacy in the 157-pound division. While he ended up having a nice season, things did not get off to a very strong start. In his second match of the season, he suffered an upset against Brown. For Brown, the win turned out to be his biggest victory of the season, and he finished 17-10. Pantaleo is favored to win this rematch, but Brown will certainly try to make lightning strike twice.

    165: No. 14 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State) vs. No. 20 Andrew Fogarty (NDSU)

    Not only is this a ranked match up in the first round, but it is also another bout where the unseeded wrestler, Fogarty, won the previous meeting. At the Cliff Keen Invitational back in December, The NDSU wrestler his a six-point move in the first period and hung on for a 7-4 decision victory. Valencia went on to win the Pac 12, while Fogarty finished as the runner up at the Big 12 tournament.

    Jacobe Smith edged Joey Gunther 3-1 on Jan. 14 (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

    174: No. 11 Jacobe Smith (Oklahoma State) vs. Joey Gunther (Iowa)

    These two met earlier this year, and Smith took a 3-1 decision. There are rarely very many points scored in matches containing Gunther, but he took this to the extreme at the Big Ten tournament. In the bracket, he wrestled six matches. Five of those matches were decided by a point. Two of those matches went deep into overtime. There might not be a lot of points scored in this rematch, but there will almost certainly be drama.

    184: No. 17 Jordan Ellingwood (Central Michigan) vs. Kayne MacCallum (Eastern Michigan)

    This bout is a rematch of the MAC tournament semifinal. Ellingwood was the second seed, but he fell against MacCallum in sudden victory. MacCallum then went on to knock off No. 16 Canten Marriott (Missouri) and unexpectedly win the MAC title. On one hand, Ellingwood gets a chance for revenge. On the other hand, he has to reverse an extremely recent result to move on in the NCAA tournament. The Central Michigan wrestler had won the previous three meetings between the two.

    197: No. 17 Stephen Loiseau (Drexel) vs. No. 14 Daniel Chaid (North Carolina)
    Chaid is finishing up his collegiate career that saw him wrestler for three schools: Oklahoma, Grand Canyon and North Carolina. There is a strong argument that he deserved a seed at this weight, but the committee did not do him any favors. In the first round, he takes on Loiseau who is part of a resurgent Drexel program that is looking to finish strong at the NCAA tournament.

    285: No. 3 Jacob Kasper (Duke) vs. A.J. Nevills (Fresno State)

    For the first time since 2006, Fresno State will have a wrestler in the NCAA tournament. One of their best shots for an All-American is at heavyweight. Nevills went 25-8 this season and finished second at the Big 12 tournament. His run will get off to a tough start against Kasper. The Duke representative went 35-2 this year and won the ACC title. One of his two losses this season came against No. 4 Nick Nevills (Penn State), who happens to be the Bulldog's brother.

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