Duke's Mitch Finesilver recently defeated UNC's Austin O'Connor (Photo/Duke Athletics)
This weekend all eight Division I wrestling conference will officially kick off the 2019 postseason. The parity across college wrestling leads to a variety of interesting matches between the superpowers and some mid-major squads. The following is a breakdown of the most interesting potential matches from each conference tournament.
SoCon: No. 18 Neal Richards (VMI) vs. No. 19 Andrew Morgan (Campbell) at 174
The SoCon tournament could end up hosting this ranked match at 174 pounds. If it happens, it would be a trilogy match. The two wrestlers have already met twice this year. Morgan won the first meeting back in November via a 5-2 decision. However, the rematch was an entirely different story. In late February, Richards took home a commanding 14-7 victory over Morgan.
In fact, Richards has not lost since falling against No. 1 Mark Hall (Penn State) in the semifinals of the Keystone Classic back in November. He will bring a 19-match winning streak into the SoCon championship tournament. During the streak, he captured the 174-pound crown at the All Academy Championships.
Morgan has dropped seven matches on the season, but he has picked up some key wins in addition to his win over Richards. On the year, he has defeated the likes of Mitch Bowman (Iowa), Ben Harvey (Army) and Anthony Mantanona (Oklahoma). This will be his first match back since Richards stopped his four-match winning streak.
Once Richards got going this season, he has looked like a different wrestler. Their most recent meeting is much more emblematic of his style of wrestling. Look for the VMI to take the match and the top spot on the podium at the SoCon tournament.
Prediction: Richards (VMI) dec. Morgan (Campbell)
EIWA: No. 3 Patrick Brucki (Princeton) vs. No. 7 Ben Honis (Cornell) at 197
Brucki has been one of the top wrestlers at this weight class all season, and he has only one loss on the season. That lone defeat came against Honis in Princeton's dual against Cornell.
In their first meeting, Brucki got out to a 4-2 lead based on two first-period takedowns. He then chose bottom, but Honis was able to ride him out. In the third period, Brucki scored yet another takedown. He could not cut into the riding time from the top position. Late in the period, Honis scored a takedown. To tie it at 6-6 with the riding time. Brucki appeared to score a reversal at the buzzer, but the referee said it was after the bell.
Honis finish the regular season with a 16-3 record. The senior saw two of his losses come against No. 2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State).
Brucki was in the driver's seat against Honis in their previous match. If he avoids the bottom, he should be able to rack up the takedowns and take the match.
Prediction: Brucki (Princeton) dec. Honis (Cornell)
EWL: No. 10 Thomas Haines (Lock Haven) vs. No. 16 Matt Voss (George Mason) at 285
Coming into this season, Haines owned a pair of victories over Voss. However, when they met in November, it was Voss who left with the 5-2 decision. Haines will likely get another shot at Voss at the EWL tournament.
Haines went 20-3 on the season and is currently riding an eight-bout winning streak that dates back to the Southern Scuffle. Haines has twice qualified for the NCAA tournament, and his quest to make it onto the podium starts right here.
Voss nearly picked up his biggest win of the season. He dropped a sudden victory match against No. 9 Youssif Hemida (Maryland) two weeks ago. In addition to his victory over Haines, Voss has also defeated No. 18 Joey Goodhart (Drexel).
Voss, like the rest of the George Mason program, has seemed to take a step forward this year. He has looked like the best version of himself so far in his senior season. His ability to shutdown Haines' offense in their first meeting this year was impressive, and he will likely be able to make it happen again.
Prediction: Voss (George Mason) dec. Haines (Lock Haven)
MAC: No. 9 Larry Early (Old Dominion) vs. No. 16 Jarrett Jacques (Missouri) at 157
Early burst onto the scene this season with a victory over No. 4 Hayden Hidlay (North Carolina State) in November. He picked up some losses on the season and finished 20-4. However, he enters the MAC tournament as the highest ranked wrestler at this weight in conference.
Jacques locked down the starting job for the Tigers in early December. After the Cliff Keen Invitational, he has gone 13-2 with his only losses coming against Jake Keating (Virginia) and No. 14 Christian Pagdilao (Arizona State). During the run, he has picked up victories over Chase Straw (Iowa State), Wyatt Sheets (Oklahoma State) and Fredy Stroker (Cornell).
Early has recently regained some of his early season momentum, and he should be able to control the match against Jacques. He might not have the dynamic scoring ability that Jacques has shown at times, but he has more experience and the ability to control tempo. That should put him in the driver's seat to win a MAC title.
Prediction: Early (Old Dominion) dec. Jacques (Missouri)
ACC: No. 4 Mitch Finesilver (Duke) vs. No. 5 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina) at 149
Finesilver and O'Connor have wrestled three times already this season. Their first meeting came at the Hokie Open where Finesilver won a 3-2 decision. In the rematch at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, O'Connor took another close match via a 3-1 score. The rubber match was the last regular season action for both wrestlers, and Finesilver took home the 6-4 victory.
Finesilver has gone 26-3 on the season and picked up victories over the likes of No. 8 Justin Oliver (NC State), Jared Prince (Navy), No. 13 Brady Berge (Penn State) and No. 10 Josh Heil (Campbell).
Outside of his two losses to Finesilver, O'Connor has only dropped matches against Matt Kolodzik (Princeton) and Micah Jordan (Ohio State). He finished the regular season with a 28-4 record including victories over Oliver, Prince, Heil and No. 17 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota).
These two will likely meet at the ACC tournament and could possibly run into each other at the NCAA tournament. Finesilver showed in their last meeting that he can put up points if he turns on his offense, and that confidence will likely carry him to a victory here.
Prediction: Finesilver (Duke) dec. O'Connor (North Carolina)
Big Ten: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) vs. No. 2 Alex Marinelli (Iowa) at 165
In order for this match to happen per the pre-seeds, Marinelli will need to pick up a third victory over Evan Wick (Wisconsin) for these two to meet in the finals.
Last year Marinelli handed Joseph one of his two losses of the year. They met in a dual meet at Penn State, and the Iowa wrestler picked up a 9-6 victory. This year, they have both gone undefeated, which sets up a clear battle for No. 1 at the Big Ten tournament.
Both wrestlers have looked unstoppable at moments during this season. Joseph continues to be hard to score against, while Marinelli has controlled matches in the tie. Last season Marinelli went undefeated in the regular season before dropping six matches at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. He will need to get over his postseason issues in order to pick up the win here. Based on his savvy approach to matches and his previous history with Joseph, he should be able to get it done.
Prediction: Marinelli (Iowa) dec. Joseph (Penn State)
Big 12: No. 9 Branson Ashworth (Wyoming) vs. Joe Smith (Oklahoma State) at 165
Smith recently won a challenge match against No. 10 Chandler Rogers to earn the starting spot for the rest of the season for the Cowboys. Smith has gone 14-4 this season and picked up some impressive victories, but all of those matches have come at 174. At 165 he is mostly an unknown commodity.
Ashworth his risen to the top of a deep 165-pound division in the Big 12. The field will include three other ranked wrestlers. Ashworth has gone 31-3, and he holds victories over all of them. If Smith wants to start his postseason campaign with a Big 12 title, he will certainly need to go through Ashworth.
Smith has shown that he has dynamic takedown ability. A lot of his problems getting to his offense could be due to the fact that he was wrestling up a weight class. However, Ashworth will certainly be a test and a good barometer of his chances to become an All-American for a third time.
Prediction: Smith (Oklahoma State) dec. Ashworth (Wyoming)
Pac-12: No. 14 Christian Pagdilao (Arizona State) vs. Paul Fox (Stanford) at 157
On paper Pagdilao comes into the Pac-12 tournament as the favorite. However, there are reasons to believe that Fox is a live underdog. First, Fox has struggled the past two regular seasons, but he has turned it on at tournament time. He made the round of 12 last year and placed seventh the previous season to become an All-American. Fox dropped eight matches this season, but this is normally when he shines.
The good news for Pagdilao is that the loss to Fox came all the way back in 2015, and he has had the better results recently. He finished the season 21-8 including a signature victory over No. 5 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan). In the last month, he has gone 4-0 with a win over No. 16 Jarrett Jacques (Missouri).
Pagdilao has clearly made strides this season and should be able to handle Fox. Regardless of his status as an underdog, Fox's history makes this one of the most interesting matches at the Pac-12 tournament.
Prediction: Pagdilao (Arizona State) dec. Fox (Stanford)