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  • Photo: Photo/Mark Lundy

    Photo: Photo/Mark Lundy

    Best match in every Division I conference tournament

    Iowa's Pat Lugo and Ohio State's Sammy Sasso met on Jan. 24, with the Buckeye freshman getting the win (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

    Conference tournament weekend is almost here, and this year's tournament field promises to bring a variety of interesting matches. The bouts could have a major impact on the seeding for the NCAA tournament, and conference bragging rights will be on the line.

    The following is a preview of the best potential match in every Division I conference tournament.

    Big Ten at 149: No. 1 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) vs. No. 2 Pat Lugo (Iowa)

    The Big Ten tournament could have as many as six matches between the No. 1 and No. 2 wrestlers in the InterMat rankings. However, the most intriguing potential bout might be the rematch between Sasso and Lugo at 149 pounds. The two met in a dual meet back in January, and Sasso handed the Iowa wrestler his only loss of the season. Sasso's signature defense was on full display as he was able to fend off multiple deep takedown attempts from Lugo before ultimately winning in tie breaker period.

    Since defeating Lugo, Sasso has risen to the No. 1 ranking and won five more matches including avenging a previous defeat against No. 7 Brayton Lee (Minnesota). He has continued to play it close at times and needed overtime to defeat No. 14 Jarod Verklreeren (Penn State).

    On the other hand Lugo has bounced back with a five-match winning streak. It had been a run of decisions until he scored a surprising first-period fall over No. 6 Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State) in his last match before the tournament.

    It will be interesting to see how this match plays out in neutral territory. The crowd was certainly behind Lugo during their first match, and he was the more aggressive wrestler. Despite getting close on several takedown attempts, Sasso was able to escape each time. If that defense holds up, the Ohio State wrestler should be able to win another close match due to his edge on riding ability. However, a few slight tactical adjustments could make the difference and help Lugo enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed.

    Prediction: Lugo (Iowa) decision over Sasso (Ohio State)

    ACC at 184: No. 1 Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech) vs. No. 2 Trent Hidlay (North Carolina State)

    The apparent absence of multiple-time NCAA champion Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) has created a void at the top of 184 pounds. So far it looks like that void will be filled by a pair of wrestlers from the ACC. Bolen and Hidlay enter the conference tournament with a combined 44-5 record and a history.

    The two recently faced off on Valentine's Day with Bolen knocking off the freshman phenom from NC State. It was a close match, but Bolen escaped with a 3-1. It appeared as if the Virginia Tech senior was putting everything together at the right time, but he then suffered an upset against another ACC opponent No. 5 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh). Bonaccorsi may end up playing spoiler yet again and preventing this bout between the top wrestlers at this weight.

    Hidlay got back on track with a second-period technical fall over Kai Blake (Duke) after his loss to Bolen, so he will enter the conference tournament with some momentum. The redshirt freshman is 22-3 and holds wins over Ben Darmstadt (Cornell), No. 4 Louie DePrez (Binghamton) and No. 3 Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa).

    Even though it was close, Bolen showed enough in their first meeting to be considered the favorite in this potential match. The ACC tournament in general should be interesting at this weight since three of the top five ranked wrestlers will be in the bracket.

    Prediction: Bolen (Virginia Tech) decision over Hidlay (North Carolina State)

    Big 12 at 197: No. 2 Noah Adams (West Virginia) vs. No. 10 Tanner Sloan (South Dakota State)

    Adams has been one of the revelations of this season. After going 19-15 last season and failing to become an All-American, Adams has gone 29-0 and currently sits second in the InterMat rankings at 197. He will enter the Big 12 tournament as the prohibitive favorite at the weight.

    His biggest challenge will likely come from Sloan. The redshirt freshman has gone 18-5 for his first season in the lineup. He did not meet Adams during the regular season, but he did pick up victories over No. 16 Jake Woodley (Oklahoma) and Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming). Sloan's ability to score from the top position makes him a prime candidate to pull off an upset.

    With that being said, Adams should be up for the challenge. He has been able to turn on the scoring when needed this season, and he should be able to survive on the bottom against Sloan. Look for Adams to get out to an early lead and hold on for a decision victory.

    Prediction: Adams (West Virginia) decision over Sloan (South Dakota State)

    EIWA at 149: No. 4 Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) vs. Jared Prince (Navy)

    The plan for Kolodzik appeared to be an Olympic redshirt this season. However, he returned to the starting lineup in February. He has won all 10 of his matches since returning including three technical falls and a fall over Gerard Angelo (Rutgers) in his last match. Kolodzik will be one of the favorites at the EIWA tournament, but he may need to get past an old rival to win the tournament title.

    Last year Kolodzik appeared ready to run through the EIWA field, but instead he ran into Prince and dropped a 5-4 upset. Prince has been extremely limited this season, and he has only competed in four matches. Despite the limited schedule, he has already knocked off respected veterans Larry Early (Old Dominion) and P.J. Ogunsanya (Army).

    Kolodzik should be the favorite in this match, but this could easily be considered a tossup. Neither wrestler has been overly active, and Prince does hold a previous upset. With that being said, they have wrestled twice before that upset, and the Princeton wrestler won both via decision.

    Prediction: Kolodzik (Princeton) decision over Prince (Navy)

    MAC at 157: No. 5 Jesse Dellavecchia (Rider) vs. No. 12 Larry Early (Old Dominion)

    The EWL teams joining the MAC has created a very interesting conference tournament. Rider brings a variety of strong competitors to the school's first MAC tournament. Leading the way is Dellavecchia, who has been a strong performer at 157 pounds all year.

    He has gone 26-2 on the year. Dellavecchia's list of signature wins includes wins over Quincy Monday (Princeton), Markus Hartman (Army) and Mike Van Brill (Rutgers). Early is now a two-time NCAA qualifier, and he became an All-American for the first time last season. He has hit a few speed bumps, but he has still registered a 17-5 record on the year.

    These two met in late January, and the match was about as close as it can get. In the end, Dellavecchia won a 1-0 decision. If this bout ends up taking place at the MAC tournament, it might just be as close as their last meeting.

    Prediction: Dellavecchia (Rider) decision over Early (Old Dominion)

    Pac-12 at 197: No. 9 Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State) vs. No. 11 Nathan Traxler (Stanford)

    There is a bit of a dark cloud over the Arizona State program after Valencia's suspension. Nothing would raise that more than a conference title an All-American run for Norfleet. In order to get that started, he will need to get past Traxler.

    Norfleet has gone 12-3 on the year, and two of those three losses were close decisions against No. 1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State). Outside of that, he has picked up wins over Kyle Conel (Penn State), No. 13 Greg Bulsak (Clarion), No. 12 Thomas Lane (Cal Poly).

    Traxler is a two-time NCAA qualifier who is still looking to become an All-American for the first time. He has gone 19-4 on the season, but momentum might not be on his side entering the Pac-12 tournament. Traxler is only 3-2 in his last five matches and dropped a decision against Sloan in his last outing.

    The other other loss that Traxler lost during the stretch came against Norfleet, but it was a close match. In the end, the Arizona State wrestler ended up taking a 6-4 decision in sudden victory. A similar result here should be an upset, but Traxler is an above average wrestler who could easily go on a run this time of year.

    Prediction: Norfleet (Arizona State) decision over Traxler (Stanford)

    SoCon at 184: No. 9 Andrew Morgan (Campbell) vs. Matthew Waddell (Chattanooga)

    It is entirely possible that both of these wrestlers end up qualifying for the NCAA tournament since the SoCon was allocated two spots at 184 pounds.

    Morgan has been one of the top wrestlers in the conference this year, and one of the many highlights for the rising Campbell program. The senior has gone 26-6 and is currently riding an eight-match winning streak. During the streak, Morgan has dominated the competition and scored a technical fall and three falls.

    His only decision during the stretch came against Waddell. Even though Waddell dropped a 5-0 decision against Morgan, he still built a 20-8 record on the year. Since the Southern Scuffle, he has gone 8-2 with six wins coming via fall.

    Morgan has two wins over Waddell on the season, but at the same time this should be an interesting match. Waddell has given some top wrestlers tough matches this season, and this might just headline the SoCon tournament.

    Prediction: Morgan (Campbell) decision over Waddell (Chattanooga)

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