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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Ten Must-Watch First Round NCAA Bouts

    Ridge Lovett (right) and Jaden Abas at the 2021 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com

    NCAA brackets have been released! The first of our many articles related to the 2022 NCAA Championships will focus on the best opening round matches. There are plenty at every weight class, but we'll focus on one per weight. While anyone is susceptible to a loss, these competitors will have to be ready to go, match number one, out of the gate!

    125 lbs

    #9 Devin Schroder (Purdue) vs. #24 Sam Latona (Virginia Tech)

    It's sort of surprising to see a 9/24 matchup as one of the best of the first round, but Sam Latona isn't a typical 24th seed. Latona was an NCAA All-American a year ago and entered the tournament as the second seed. Schroder is a two-time Big Ten finalist that came up a match shy of the podium a year ago. Both were in the top ten to start the year and this was a bout you'd expect to see in the bloodround moreso than session one.

    133 lbs

    #9 Michael Colaiocco (Penn) vs. #24 Ramazan Attasauov (Iowa State)

    Another good one at 9/24. EIWA champion Michael Colaiocco makes his NCAA tournament debut after the 2020 event was canceled. He's only lost twice this year and comes in on an 11-match winning streak. More often than not, your recent record is more important than season totals at the NCAA Tournament. That bodes well for Ramazan Attasaouv, who finished third at the Big 12. During dual competition, Attasauov hung tough with #2 Daton Fix and #5 Austin DeSanto.

    141 lbs

    #14 Dresden Simon (Central Michigan) vs. #19 Chad Red Jr (Nebraska)

    Two of the most notable at-large selections at 141 lbs will clash in the opening round as three-time NCAA All-American meets Dresden Simon, a 2021 NCAA Round of 12 finisher. Last year, the two squared off in the Round of 16, as Red Jr. was the eighth seed and Simon the ninth. In that instance, Simon pulled the ever-so-slight upset, 6-3. That evened the score between these two, who also met at the 2016 Midlands, while redshirting. Red Jr. got that one, 9-3. We'll have to see what condition both are in, mentally and physically, after both going 1-2 and failing to place at their respective conference tournaments.

    149 lbs

    #10 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska) vs. #23 Jaden Abas (Stanford)

    This is another matchup that feels like it should take place in the quarterfinals or the bloodround, rather than right off the bat. Jaden Abas was a seventh-place finisher at the tournament last year, while Lovett entered the 2021 championships as the fifth seed, after making the Big Ten finals. These two already met at Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and Lovett had a surprisingly one-sided, 9-2 decision. But, Abas has been there and done that, at the big show, while Lovett was 1-2.

    157 lbs

    #16 Brady Berge (Penn State) vs. #17 Hunter Willits (Oregon State)

    Seeing Big Ten third-place finisher Brady Berge as the 16th seed doesn't really pass the eyeball test, but I'm sure his lack of matches hurt him in the seeding room. That didn't hurt him in Lincoln, as he started B1G's as the tenth seed and reeled off a pair of wins over Kaleb Young (Iowa) and dominated Kendall Coleman (Purdue). Hunter Willits is as solid as they come. While he has six losses this year and turned in a subpar performance in Vegas. Willits has risen to the level of his competition and taken undefeated #3 Jacori Teemer (Arizona State) into extra time on two occasions.

    165 lbs

    #15 Austin Yant (Northern Iowa) vs. #18 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State)

    In the 2021 Tournament, Anthony Valencia was the second seed at 165 lbs. On the opposite side of the bracket, Austin Yant was the lowest-seeded wrestler of the bunch at #33. Yant has improved dramatically, finishing third in the Big12 and sporting a record with only six losses. Valencia started the year winning 13 straight, but now is in the midst of a 3-6 slump. If Valencia can right the ship, he can get an "upset" that's only an upset in number.

    174 lbs

    #12 Cade DeVos (South Dakota State) vs. #21 Bailee O'Reilly (Minnesota)

    One of the more underappreciated wrestlers at this weight has been Bailee O'Reilly. O'Reilly seized the starting role for the Gophers after a third-place showing at the Southern Scuffle. A strong showing at the B1G's could have catapulted him into the top ten, but instead, he had to pull out with an injury. Hopefully, it's something he can fight through in Detroit. He'll see a familiar face in Cade Devos, someone who edged him by a point at the Bison Open, 3-2. DeVos also blossomed in 2021-22, a regular season that was highlighted by a title at the Scuffle.

    184 lbs

    #16 Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State) vs. #17 Jeremiah Kent (Missouri)

    By the numbers, 16 vs 17 should be the most competitive bout at every weight. That certainly looks like the case at 184 lbs. Two-time NCAA All-American Dakota Geer fought through Jeremiah Kent in the school's classic dual meet with a 2-0 win. Kent seems to have heated up at the right time and defeated #7 Marcus Coleman (Iowa State) in the season finale, before doing so again in the Big 12 semifinals. Geer, on the other hand, did not automatically qualify and had to rely on an at-large berth.

    197 lbs

    #10 Yonger Bastida (Iowa State) vs. #23 Braxton Amos (Wisconsin)

    Obviously, the NCAA season is folkstyle, but both of these two have proven themselves in freestyle. Braxton Amos with a Junior world title and Yonger Bastida a Junior world silver medal and a bronze at U23's. However, this plays out; we should see a lot of offense from the pair. As one may expect, Bastida has seen his results improve as he becomes more acclimated to folkstyle. Amos had sky-high expectations this year, but hasn't been able to crack into the top-20 consistently. But none of that matters with a couple of wins next week.

    285 lbs

    #16 Zach Elam (Missouri) vs. #17 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin)

    This is another matchup where the lower-seeded wrestler is a multiple-time All-American. That's Trent Hillger, albeit a very slight underdog, seeding-wise. Hillger had an off-song Big Ten and had to settle for ninth-place, though he still qualified automatically. Zach Elam was an upset victim at the Big 12 Championship, but rallied for third place. These two have a history with each other at the NCAA Tournament. While both were freshmen, they met in the bloodround and Hillger prevailed, 1-0.

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