Spencer Lee in the 2023 Big Ten quarterfinals (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Several of the nation’s top title contenders took a big step forward at their conference tournaments. Several of those contenders will come out of the Big Ten conference, which features membership from some of the top programs in the country. As always, there were a few wrestlers who set themselves apart from the field. The following looks at some of those standout statistical performances from the tournament.
Spencer Lee +2.18
Over the last few seasons of college wrestling, nobody has dominated the point differential stat like Iowa’s No. 1 Spencer Lee. His ability to score points from the top position and finish opponents quickly allows him to rack up a lot of points in a short period of time, and his finishing ability usually prevents his opponents from adding to their score. That skill and style was certainly on display this past weekend in Michigan.
On the way to his third Big Ten title, Lee averaged 2.39 points per minute and allowed only 0.21 points per minute. After a 17-0 technical fall shutout over Jack Medley (Michigan) in his first match, Lee picked up another technical fall over Patrick McKee (Minnesota) by a 20-2 score. In the finals, Liam Cronin (Nebraska) managed to avoid giving up bonus points but still fell via an 8-2 decision. The four points that Lee allowed were composed entirely of escapes.
Lee will be the heavy favorite to become a four-time NCAA champion at the upcoming tournament. There will likely be other dominant wrestlers in the college ranks, but fans might not see another with a skillset perfect for dominating this metric.
Points per Minute
Aaron Brooks 2.41
Despite Lee’s impressive offensive display, he was not the highest-scoring wrestler of the weekend. That honor belongs to No. 1 Aaron Brooks (Penn State). The two-time NCAA champion picked up a Big Ten title at 184 pounds with victories over Brian Soldano (Rutgers), Matt Finesilver (Michigan) and Kaleb Romero (Ohio State).
Along the way, Brooks scored 48 points in a little under 20 minutes for a 2.41 points-per-minute average. The scoring rate narrowly edged out Lee (2.39) and no other wrestler really came close to these two. The third-highest scorer of the weekend was Brook’s teammate Shayne Van Ness who averaged 1.57 points per minute on his way to a fourth-place finish at 149 pounds.
Brooks awaits his seed for the NCAA tournament. He is the returning champion at the weight, but he took a surprising loss early in the season against No. 4 Marcus Coleman (Iowa State). A few of his regular rivals will be back, No. 2 Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa) and No. 3 Trent Hidlay (NC State), but Brooks showed at the Big Ten tournament that he is near his point-scoring peak already.
Points against per Minute
Real Woods 0.06
The story has been the same for pretty much the whole season for No. 2 Real Woods (Iowa). He has continually blitzed his opponents early and looked like the best first-minute wrestler in the country. At times against tougher opposition, he has then relied on his strong hand fighting and scrambling to hold on for close victories. That defense was certainly on display this past weekend at the Big Ten tournament.
Woods, the champion at 141 pounds, allowed his three opponents to score only a combined one point. In his first match, he decked Parker Filius (Purdue) before he could score anything. Woods then took a 3-0 decision over Frankie Tal Shahar (Northwestern). In the finals, Brock Hardy (Nebraska) managed to score a single point via stall calls. However, Woods held on for the two-point victory after nearly missing out on two sets of back points.
That one point equates to 0.06 points against per minute, which was by far the best defensive rate of the tournament. The closest wrestler was Penn State’s Levi Haines, who won the 157-pound bracket and gave up only three points on the way.
Woods went undefeated this season and will likely slot into one of the top two seeds at the NCAA tournament. He does hold a victory from last season over No. 1 Andrew Alirez (Northern Colorado), but he also dropped a decision against No. 3 Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh) at the last NCAA tournament.
Total match time
Will Lewan 46.53
Anyone who watched a few of the matches from Will Lewan (Michigan) over the weekend, probably thought, “this guy has to spend more time on the mat than anybody else.” At least for the Big Ten tournament, this statement rings true. Lewan spent over 46 minutes wrestling across his six matches. He ended up winning five of those matches and finishing third at 157 pounds.
Of his six matches, Lewan went to overtime in half of them. His lone loss came against Kendall Coleman (Purdue) in regulation. The only wrestler to have nearly as much mat time as Lewan was Edmund Ruth (Illinois) who finished with exactly 45 minutes through his six matches.
Lewan managed only 17 points across all the time he spent on the mat. This comes out to a 0.37 points-per-minute average, which was the 27th-lowest scoring rate across the entire tournament. However, he was also very stingy defensively as he allowed only 0.24 points per minute. Also, his strategy of slowing matches down does seem to work for him. After all, he did finish third in a rather deep weight.
At the last NCAA tournament, Lewan famously finished fifth while employing quite similar tactics. It may not be the most fan-friendly style, but at the end of the day winning is what matters, and winning close matches can be essential in big tournaments.
Also, this is the second year that NCAA wrestling has used the two-minute sudden victory round in overtime. Previously, it was only a one-minute period before tiebreakers. Now, the wrestlers must slog through an entire two minutes before they get their shot on bottom. This was clearly implemented to limit the number of matches that go to tiebreakers, and it appears to be working.
At the Big Ten tournament, there were 285 matches excluding medical forfeits. Of those 285 matches, 31 went to overtime. Of the matches that went to overtime, 27 were decided in the first sudden victory period. Only three matches went to rideouts.