Mitch McKee, seeded No. 7 at 141 pounds, is an X factor for Minnesota (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)
Many expect Penn State to run away with the NCAA team title this week in Pittsburgh. However, there are several teams that are in contention for a trophy. The following looks at the wrestlers who could be an X factor to teams and help decide their final placement.
No. 1 Penn State: No. 10 Roman Bravo-Young
Penn State is the odds-on favorites to pick up yet another national title. This is mostly due to the strong backend of its lineup, which will almost certainly feature multiple wrestlers at the top of the podium. However, they could easily pad their lead with a strong performance from Bravo-Young at 133 pounds.
Bravo-Young burst onto the scene this year as a true freshman. He won his first ten matches before falling to No. 13 Austin Gomez (Iowa State) in the semifinals of the Southern Scuffle. Bravo-Young finished the year with a 21-4 record, but he will have a tough path through the front side of the bracket. He is headed for a second-round match against No. 7 Austin DeSanto (Iowa), who defeated him 12-8 at the Big Ten Championships. If he happens to right that result, he will likely face No. 2 Stevan Micic (Michigan).
No. 2 Ohio State: No. 16 Chase Singletary
Two years ago, Singletary was the No. 6 recruit in the country and poised to take over for multiple-time champion Kyle Snyder. After a redshirt year, he took over the starting job for the Buckeyes. It did not turn out to be as smooth of a transition as coach Tom Ryan hoped. Singletary compiled a 19-7 record on the season and went only 1-2 in the Big Ten Championships. Although he did score victories over No. 9 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan), No. 12 Conan Jennings (Northwestern) and No. 17 David Jensen (Nebraska).
Despite dealing with several significant graduations, Ohio State is poised for a runner-up finish at the NCAAs. Some contribution from Singletary could go a long way to help with that. However, it will certainly be a tough road. He starts off with a rematch against Jensen and then with a win he will likely face No. 1 Derek White (Oklahoma State).
No. 3 Oklahoma State: No. 26 Dakota Geer
Due to some injuries and lineup shifting, Geer spent most of the season at 197 pounds, but it looks like the plan was to have him down at 184 pounds for the postseason. For the season, he went 25-5 and 10-1 at 184 pounds. At the Big 12 Championships, he made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to No. 6 Drew Foster (UNI).
Oklahoma State was one of the best teams all season. After the late-season lineup switch, they will get a chance to show it at the NCAAs. Geer certainly has a tough draw as he faces off against No. 7 Nick Reenan (North Carolina State). However, the former Edinboro wrestler has the skill and experience to go on a run.
Iowa's Sam Stoll fell to Minnesota's Gable Steveson in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Championships (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
No. 4 Iowa: No. 29 Sam Stoll
Stoll was the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the preseason, but he appears to have never fully recovered from an offseason gunshot wound. Prior to the Big Ten Championships, he wrestled sparingly and built an 8-3 record with wins over No. 10 Youssif Hemida (Maryland) and No. 26 Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State). However, at the Big Ten tournament, Stoll went 1-2 and failed to place. He needed an at-large berth to simply make the NCAA field.
In the preseason, Iowa appeared to be a potential dark horse in the team race. However, due to injuries and underperformance that has not really materialized. If they want to keep themselves in the trophy hunt, they might need a big performance from Stoll.
No. 5 Michigan: No. 2 Stevan Micic
After a season-ending injury to returning champion Seth Gross (South Dakota State), Micic became the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 133 pounds. However, he forfeited his way out of the Big Ten Championships after winning his first match. The injury and default resulted in him being seeded behind No. 1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State).
If he is healthy, Micic is clearly one of the favorites to win the tournament and put Michigan into the trophy discussion. However, he did not look like himself in his last action, and he likely has an early match against the winner of the No. 10 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) and No. 7 Austin DeSanto (Iowa).
No. 6 Minnesota: No. 7 Mitch McKee
After back-to-back round of 12 finishes at 133 pounds, McKee moved up to 141 pounds for this season. After the change, he had probably his best regular season to date. He enters the NCAA tournament with a 20-5 record and victories over No. 15 Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State), No. 22 Max Murin (Iowa), No. 8 Kanen Storr (Michigan) and No. 16 Chad Red (Nebraska).
Minnesota has a nice bounce-back season this year. A strong push at the NCAAs could allow them to finish with a trophy. McKee will likely need to break through and become an All-American for the first time. He will be favored in all of his matches until a likely quarterfinal match against No. 2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State).
No. 7 Cornell: No. 9 Chas Tucker
Last season, Tucker made a name for himself by knocking off Austin DeSanto then of Drexel in the EIWA Championships. However, he then went only 1-2 at the NCAA tournament and failed to place. This year he went 27-4, won the EIWA title and picked up wins over the likes of No. 19 Josh Terao (American), No. 15 Ben Thornton (Purdue) and No. 5 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State).
Most of the attention around Cornell will be focused on returning champion Yianni Diakomihalis at 141 pounds. However, Tucker has a good chance to help his team move up in the team standings. He will likely need to have a strong showing in an early expected match against No. 8 John Erneste (Missouri).
No. 8 Missouri: No. 4 Brock Mauller
In his true freshman season, Mauller has gone from the 63rd ranked recruit in the 2018 recruiting class to the fourth seed at 149 pounds. He went 29-2 on the season with his only two losses coming against No. 8 Jarrett Degen (Iowa State). During the year, he knocked off No. 15 Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa), No. 23 Josh Maruca (Arizona State) and No. 7 Kaden Gfeller (Oklahoma State).
The early career success of Mauller is really a testament to the Missouri training program and recruiting style. He has performed beyond expectations and has the ability to become an All-American in his freshman season.
Nebraska's Chad Red reached the Big Ten finals before losing to Ohio State's Joey McKenna (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
No. 9 Nebraska: No. 16 Chad Red
Red already busted one bracket this postseason. He knocked off the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament and made it to the finals before falling to No. 2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State). Last season, Red overcame a tough regular season to finish seventh at the NCAAs and become an All-American. Nebraska is in the running for a top-ten finish and another strong tournament run will help the squad pad their team score for sure.
No. 10 North Carolina State: No. 11 Tariq Wilson
Wilson came into the NCAA tournament last season unseeded. He ended up reaching the semifinals before losing against eventual champion Seth Gross (South Dakota State) in overtime. He returned this year and went 14-3. As the 11th seed, he will need to put together another magical run. If that happens, it should keep the Wolfpack towards the top of the leaderboard.