NC State 133 lber Kai Orine (Photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
The ACC enters Tulsa looking for as many wrestlers as possible to stand on the podium Saturday night. I feel pretty good about the path for a lot of these guys to earn All-American honors, but as we all know, the NCAA is chaotic and unpredictable. Let's take a quick look at the first-round matchups and potential paths for the ACC reps.
125: This weight will be tough for the ACC. All three reps are seeded 20 or higher and will not be favorites to open the tournament. There is an outside chance for an All-American finish here, but it will take multiple upsets to make it happen.
(20) Jarrett Trombley (NCST) vs (13) Dean Peterson (RUT). Peterson is one of the better redshirt freshmen in the country at this weight. He comes in at 22-9, and the majority of his losses are to top-15 opponents. Trombley will have a big task to open the tournament; he will likely face (4) Matt Ramos (PUR) if he is able to pull the upset.
(26) Jack Wagner (UNC) vs (7) Brandon Kaylor (ORST). Kaylor was a surprise All-American last year and will be looking to replicate his run. Wagner has shown that he can hang with anyone, so I expect a low-scoring match; if Wagner can keep it close he can win matches late. If he gets the win he will likely face another All-American in (10) Brandon Courtney (ASU).
(27) Eddie Ventresca (VT) vs (6) Stevo Poulin (UNCO). The biggest question is which Eddie will we see; Ventresca has the talent to beat almost anyone in the country but he has shown some mental lapses this year that have cost him matches he should have won. Ventresca can beat Poulin, but will have to be at his best to make that happen. If he wins he will face (11) Patrick McKee (MINN) in the second round.
133: I think this weight, along with 141 and 157 will shape up the best for the ACC on the podium. All three are top-10 seeds and have multiple top-10 ranked wins on the year.
(5) Kai Orine (NCST) vs (28) Gable Strickland (LOCK). Orine will be favored here and will face two-time All-American Chris Cannon (NW) in the second round. If Orine wrestles the way he did in Raleigh, he could make a run. If it goes to seed, he would face (4) Michael McGee (ASU) in the quarterfinals. If he drops to McGee, his path in the bottom bracket is tough but manageable.
(6) Sam Latona (VT) vs (27) Taylor Lamont (WIS). Latona opens with an All-American, though Lamont has not shown the same form since his transfer from UVU, he is still dangerous. He would likely face Cody Phippen (AF) in the second round and would have the rubber match with (3) Vito Arujau (COR) in the quarterfinals. Vito won at CKLV and Latona avenged the loss at home in their dual--I would love to see a round 3.
(9) Micky Phillippi (Pitt) vs (24) Wyatt Henson (OU). I think Micky can break through this year to make the podium, and I like his path. He is favored over Henson and would likely face (8) Aaron Nagao (MINN) in the second round. Nagao had a great B1G tournament and is coming in hot, but I favor the tournament experience of Phillippi. His quarterfinal would likely be against reigning national champion Roman Bravo Young (PSU)--a big ask, for sure. If he wins there, he is a semi-finalist and an AA, if he loses, he drops to the blood round (again) and would be one win away from the elusive honors.
141: Another weight where I love the potential for the ACC. Matthews and Jack are seeded to AA with McNeil and Crook just on the outside. Matthews, McNeil and Crook are in the bottom half of the bracket and could potentially meet on the front side--but it would take some upsets. I like the path to the quarterfinals for Matthews and Jack and like both of them to make it to Friday night on the front side. I also think McNeil and Crook have a very real potential to get to the podium. All of these guys have shown they can win big matches, now they will have to string them together.
(3) Cole Matthews (Pitt) vs (30) Seth Koleno (CLAR). Matthews is favored big to start and will likely face (14) Cael Happel (UNI) in round 2 and (6) Beau Bartlett (PSU) in the quarterfinals. If it goes to seed, he would face (2) Andrew Alirez (UNCO) in the semifinals. I like these matchups for Cole. Alirez has a win over Matthews at the All-Star Dual early in the year, but I think Matthews has looked significantly better than that performance the rest of the season.
(5) Ryan Jack (NCST) vs (28) Saul Ervin (SIUE). Ryan is also heavily favored to open, and will likely face (12) Parker Filius (PUR) in the second round and (4) Brock Hardy (NEB) in the quarterfinals. Jack can win all of these matchups--he has split matches with Hardy on the year, beating him in a dual and losing at CKLV.
(10) Lachlan McNeil (UNC) vs (23) Cole Mattin (UM). Mattin is sneaky good, but I favor Lachlan to get the opening win. He would likely face (7) Vince Cornella (COR) in the second round, and if he wins he would draw (2) Andrew Alirez (UNCO). Both of those will be difficult matches for Lachlan, but he could pull an upset. I think he has a good path on the backside if he drops in either of those matches.
(15) Tom Crook (VT) vs (18) Frankie Tal Shahar (NW). Crook will be favored in his first match but will draw the undefeated Alirez in round 2. Crook has the talent to knock off someone of Alirez's caliber, but it will be a big challenge. If he drops to Alirez, he will have a tough, but possible, path to the podium.
149: This is a tough weight for the ACC but at the 4 seed, Caleb Henson has a great draw to make it to the All-American round as a true freshman. Arrington and Verkleeren will both be looking to make the most of their first trip to the NCAA tournament and cause as much chaos as possible to make their way to Saturday.
(4) Caleb Henson (VT) vs (29) Dylan Chappell (BUCK). For a true freshman, Henson is incredibly battle tested and has wrestled a very difficult schedule, including wins over four All-Americans. He will be heavily favored in the opening round and by seed, would face (13) Kellyn March (NDSU) in round two to earn his way to a face-off with fellow true freshman (5) Paniro Johnson (ISU). The winner of that match will draw (1) Yianni Diakomihalis (COR) as he goes for his fourth NCAA title. I think Henson is well-positioned to get on the podium as a true freshman.
(16) Jackson Arrington (NCST) vs (17) Quinn Kinner (RID). Arrington will draw Quinn Kinner in the opening round in what should be a pretty solid match. I favor Arrington to get through to round two to face some kid from Ithaca named Yianni… a tough ask. Arrington will have a path to the podium that will be full of landmines in a very tough weight.
(27) Jarod Verkleeren (UVA) vs (6) Brock Mauller (MIZ). Verk makes his NCAA tournament debut against a very good Brock Mauller. Mauller is 16-2 with losses to Johnson and All-American Kyle Parco and holds a 7-5 win over Henson. Verkleeren will face either (11) Doug Zapf (PENN) or (22) Chance Lamer (UM) in round two. Verk has looked great in the second half of the season and I would love to see him make a run in Tulsa.
157: My favorite weight for the ACC in Tulsa. All three are top-10 and have a fantastic path to the podium. O'Connor and Scott are in the same quarter so we could/should have an ACC rematch. I personally have an all-ACC final as well. I told you it was my favorite weight. All three of these guys are incredibly entertaining, high-point-scoring, aggressive wrestlers and will put on a show.
(1) Austin O'Connor (UNC) vs (32) Vinny Zerban (UNCO) or (33) Nathan Lukez (ARMY) O'Connor earned the top seed and will be favored in round one, and will face the winner of (16) Anthony Artalona (PENN)/(17) Jarrett Jacques (MIZZ) in round two. I don't think either will trip up AOC on his way to the quarters against familiar foe Ed Scott of NCST. If he can notch another win over Scott, he would likely face (4) Jared Franek (NDSU) or (5) Josh Humphries (LEH) in the semifinals. The way Austin has looked this year, I see him making another appearance in the NCAA finals.
(7) Bryce Andonian (VT) vs (26) Peyton Keller (OHIO). Hollywood Andonian is primed for the big stage again. He is favored to beat Keller to face (10) Kaden Gfeller (OSU) or (23) Peter Pappas (GMU) in round two. His quarterfinal would likely pit him against (2) Levi Haines (PSU); I think the experience and constant calm of Andonian will serve him well in this match. If he pulls the upset to make the semifinals again, he could see (3) Peyton Robb (NEB) or (6) Daniel Cardenas (STAN). I know I hold an ACC bias, but I have an O'Connor/Andonian final in Tulsa.
(8) Ed Scott (NCST) vs (25) Jason Kraisser (ISU). Ed Scott has a bad taste in his mouth from his blood round "loss" last year and will be on a mission to make the podium. If he takes care of business against Kraisser, he will face (9) Will Lewan (UM) in the second round. I love that matchup for Ed; his style and relentless attacks will be a lot for the, let's say, "methodical", style of Lewan. He would face O'Connor in the quarterfinal, against whom he had a close match in the dual. A win puts him in the semis and earns AA status, a loss would put him in the blood round in a matchup that should favor him.
165: We go from my favorite weight to what I think is the toughest weight for the ACC to get an AA. I think McCoy has a path but he will have to battle through some very tough matchups to make it happen. Heller and Brady will be underdogs from the first match and will have an uphill climb to get on the podium, but there is a shot.
(15) Justin McCoy (UVA) vs (18) Maxx Mayfield (NW) McCoy didn't face Mayfield in their dual, but did win over their previous starter. McCoy has looked great since being fully healthy and he enters the tournament in a good spot. He will likely face reigning national champ (2) Keegan O'Toole (MIZZ) in round two in what will be a very challenging matchup. O'Toole is 16-2 on the year with his only losses to (1) David Carr (ISU). With 165 being as crazy of a bracket as it is, McCoy will likely have to knock off at least one former All-American on the backside to make the podium in Tulsa.
(20) Holden Heller (Pitt) vs (13) Alex Facundo (PSU). I wouldn't be shocked by an opening round upset for Heller, but it will be a challenge. He will face either (29) Caleb Fish (MSU) or (4) Julian Ramirez (CORN) in his second match. Just like McCoy, he will have a minefield to navigate on the backside.
(23) Connor Brady (VT) vs (10) Carson Kharchla (OSU) Brady will face a familiar opponent in high school teammate Kharchla; Brady dropped a close match in the dual. Brady will face either (26) Brevin Cassella (BING) or (7) Michael Caliendo (NDSU) in his second match. Same story for Brady in the consi bracket. 165 is an insane weight this year and it will be a tough path for anyone that gets on the podium.
174: While this isn't the deepest weight for the ACC, we have Mekhi Lewis looking to make his third finals appearance and add another NCAA title. Lewis has been working through a knee injury that he sustained in a December dual that was tweaked at the ACC tournament, but the staff said he is ready to roll in Tulsa.
(3) Mekhi Lewis (VT) vs (30) Jackson Turley (RUT). All roads for Lewis lead to rematches with the last two opponents to beat him. He will likely face (14) Ben Pasiuk (ARMY) in round two before facing familiar foe (6) Ethan Smith in the quarterfinals. If all goes to seed, he will face (2) Mickey Labirola (NEB) in the quarterfinals--Labriola won over Lewis in the CKLV finals in rideouts. If he is able to avenge that loss--which I think he will--he will likely have a rematch of last year's NCAA finals against (1) Carter Starocci (PSU). All of this lays out to be a pretty phenomenal storyline if Lewis is able to replicate his title run in 2019.
(22) Alex Faison (NCST) vs (11) Nelson Brands (IOWA). I have been impressed with Faison all year, but his performance last weekend gives him some solid momentum going into Tulsa. He will have a tough, but winnable first-round match against Brands and will face either (6) Ethan Smith or (27) Tyler Eischens (STAN) in his second match. I think Faison has a good path to the blood round, but will need to pull multiple upsets to get on the podium.
(28) Luca Augustine (Pitt) vs (5) Dustin Plott (OKST). Augustine gets a tough match to start the tournament and will face either (21) Lennox Wolak (COL) or (12) Aaron Olmos (ORST) in his second match. As with Faison, Luca will have to pull off multiple upsets to reach the final eight.
184: This has been the deepest weight in the ACC and there are several potential All-Americans at the weight. Trent Hidlay earned the 2-seed and is looking to avenge two losses on his way to an NCAA title. Bolen is looking to get back on the podium in his final NCAA appearance and Kane, Heller and Antrassian are looking to pull off some big wins to make it to Saturday.
(2) Trent Hilday (NCST) vs (31) Zayne Lehman (OHIO). The path for Hidlay will go through a semifinal against reigning NCAA champ Aaron Brooks and a finals matchup with Parker Keckeisen. Hidlay will be heavily favored to open and will face (15) Layne Malczewski (MSU) in the second round to set up his 232nd match against Hunter Bolen in the quarterfinals. A win against Bolen squares him up with Brooks for a potential rubber match with Keckeisen. Hidlay has a tough path to get back to the big stage Saturday night, but with as good as he has looked this year, it's a very good possibility.
(7) Hunter Bolen (VT) vs (26) David Key (NAVY) Bolen will be favored in round one and will face (10) Travis Wittlake (OKST). A win will put him in the quarterfinals for another round against Trent Hidlay. If he beats Hidlay, he is back on the podium and in the semis against Aaron Brooks. If he loses he will drop to the blood round for a match that he should be favored to win. I like the path for Bolen to finish his career on the podium.
(11) Gavin Kane (UNC) vs (22) Colton Hawks (MIZ). Kane came into the tournament last year with high expectations but struggled and went 0-2; he is looking to reverse that fate and work his way to wrestling on Saturday. He will be favored over Hawks of Mizzou to open, but will face a tough test in (6) Kaleb Romero (OHST) in round 2. Kane holds a win over Bolen, who split with Romero this season, so he has shown it is a winnable match, but Romero is a tough out. If he wins, he will probably face reigning champ Brooks in the quarters; if he drops to the bottom bracket he will need to win one match to make the bloodround, where he will likely face a top 10 seed to make the All-American round. When Kane is on, he is really good--it will be critical for Coach Scott and crew to make sure Kane is ready mentally as well as physically.
(16) Reece Heller (Pitt) vs (17) Tate Samuelson (LEH) Heller has shown throughout the year that he can beat anyone who steps on the mat--he is going to need to show that for three straight days to earn his way onto the podium. He will open with a tough match against another transfer in Tate Samuelson of Lehigh via Wyoming. This is a winnable match for him against another rather lanky 184. If he wins his opening bout he will draw the 1-seed Parker Keckeisen in a battle of very different styles. If he drops in that bout he will fall to the consi bracket and will have a very tough route to get through to Saturday--he will likely face multiple top-10 wrestlers to make the podium.
(20) Neil Antrassian (UVA) vs (13) Lenny Pinto (NEB) Antrassian has a shot to make some noise in Tulsa as he did at the Midlands; I like Antrassian's style for tournaments, I think it is beneficial for him when matches are close together. He draws a tough first-round match in Lenny Pinto from Nebraska. He will then face either (4) Trey Munoz (ORST) or (29) Will Feldkamp (CLAR). Antrassian will have to navigate a loaded field to make it through to the final day, but we have seen that he is capable of just that.
197: This bracket holds the other top seed for the ACC in Nino Bonaccorsi, along with Issac Trumble who are seeded to make the podium. Andy Smith has knocked off two top-10 wrestlers this year and will look to capture some more of that magic. Battista and Shaw will be looking to play spoiler to as many opponents as possible as they work toward Saturday. I like the path for both Nino and Isaac to get on the podium, but it won't be an easy task.
(1) Nino Bonaccorsi (Pitt) vs (32) Cole Urbas (PENN) or (33) Max Shaw (UNC) Nino earns the top seed and will be well positioned to make a run, but will have a very tough quarter bracket to get through along the way. He opens heavily favored in the first round and will likely face (16) Braxton Amos (WIS) in the second round. This is where it gets tricky for Nino. In the quarters he will face the winner of (8) Silas Allred (NEB) who won the B1G and (9) Max Dean (PSU) who is the reigning national champion. If he gets through that, he could face (4) Ethan Laird (RID) or one of two opponents he has wins over this year in (5) Michael Beard (LEH) and (13) Yonger Bastida--who is very dangerous from that seed.
(6) Isaac Trumble (NCST) vs (27) Nick Stemmet (STAN) Trumble will also face a difficult quarter bracket to make it through to the AA round, but he certainly has the potential to navigate it. He will be favored to open against Stemmet and his likely second-round opponent (11) Jaxon Smith (MD)--that could be a very entertaining match. I like Trumble in both of these and expect to see him in the quarters against (3) Rocky Elam (MIZZ). I think Trumble's style and his length will be difficult for Elam and I think he can get through to the semifinals for a rematch against Bernie Truax, who he pinned at Collegiate Duals.
(21) Andy Smith (VT) vs (12) Zac Braunagel (ILL) Tough, but winnable match to open for Smith, if he can keep it close, he has a good chance at beating Braunagel. In his second match, he will face either Michael Beard or (28) Jacob Koser (NAVY). He will have a tough route to get through on the back side to get to Saturday, but I wouldn't count him out.
(25) Michael Battista (UVA) vs (8) Silas Allred (NEB) Battista will look to pull off as many upsets as possible, starting with B1G champ Silas Allred. He will pull either Max Dean or (24) Levi Hopkins (CAMP) in the second round. Battista will also have a tough route and will need multiple upsets to get through to Saturday.
(33) Max Shaw (UNC) vs Cole Urbas (PENN) in the pigtail, will face (1) Nino if he wins. Shaw got in as an alternate and as such, will wrestle the pigtail match against Cole Urbas to open the tournament. If he wins he gets the privilege of wrestling Nino, if he loses he drops to the consi's to likely face (30) Andrew Davison (NW).
285: This is another tough weight for the ACC but there is a good shot for multiple people to make the podium if they are locked in. Trephan has a good route from the 7 seed, and Niesenbaum and Catka will both have very tough early matches on Thursday with the potential to make a run through the backside of the tournament.
(7) Owen Trephan (NCST) vs (26) Cory Day (BING) Trephan should handle his opening match easily and will probably face (10) Zach Elam (MIZZ) in the second round. If it stays to seed he would face a very dangerous (2) Wyatt Henderickson (AFA) in the quarters. I think this is a winnable match for Trephan, which would guarantee him AA status if he makes the semis, if he drops down he will need to win his blood round match to get on the podium.
(19) Jonah Niesenbaum (Duke) vs (14) AJ Nevills (SDSU) He isn't favored by seed, but I like this opening matchup for Jonah. If he wants to earn AA status, he'll have to muster multiple upsets, so why not start in round one? He will face either reigning national champ (3) Greg Kerkvliet or (30) Hadyen Compas (PUR) in round 2. He will probably need to knock off at least one, if not two, top-10 seeds on the back side to make it through to AA.
(22) Hunter Catka (VT) #22 vs (11) Trent Hilger (WIS) I have similar feelings with Catka--he's not favored, but if he is locked in, Hilger is a winnable match for him. He will face either (6) Yaraslau Slavikouski (HARV) or (27) Ben Goldin (PENN) in his second match. If the Hokies want to make a run at a team trophy, they will need points from Catka on the back side.
0 seeded to AA
1 seeded to AA
North Carolina State:
6 seeded to AA
2 seeded to AA
0 seeded to AA
5 seeded to AA