3x NCAA Champion Carter Starocci (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
Another NCAA tournament is in the books. 10 champions were crowned, and there were several standout statistical performers. The following looks at those top performers even though not all of them managed to bring home national titles.
Spencer Lee +1.70
Mason Parris +1.30
Things certainly did not end for Spencer Lee (Iowa) as many Hawkeye fans had hoped. Instead of bringing home his fourth NCAA title, Matt Ramos (Purdue) pinned him in the final seconds of the semifinals. The loss sent Lee to a sixth-place finish and effectively ended his collegiate career.
While Ramos had wrestled Lee tough earlier in the season, the loss was still unexpected due to the fact that Lee was wrestling well. He ran through the Big Ten tournament where he outscored his opponents 45 to four and finished with a tournament-high +2.18 point differential. His patented scoring was also on display in the earlier rounds of the NCAA tournament. Prior to the match against Ramos, Lee had outscored his opposition 33 to four.
Even including the loss against Ramos, Lee still scored 2.34 points per minute and allowed only 0.64 points per minute. That leaves him with a +1.70 point differential, which was the highest across the entire tournament. Lee's ability to score from the top position was basically unmatched during his collegiate career. His 2.34 points per minute was also the highest scoring rate of the entire tournament. This year, he finished with the highest point differential in all three tournaments he entered: the Soldier Salute, the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament.
The second-highest point differential of the tournament belonged to Michigan heavyweight Mason Parris. On his path to the title, he averaged 1.48 points per minute and allowed only 0.18 points per minute. His +1.30 differential was ahead of all other competitors outside of Lee.
Parris had the fifth-highest scoring rate in the field, but he allowed more than one point in only one of his matches. Four of his five opponents, including Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State) and Tony Cassioppi (Iowa), scored only a single point before suffering defeat. Parris also added to his Hodge Trophy candidacy by picking up bonus points in three of his five matches.
Points Against per Minute
Carter Starocci 0.08
Thanks to a strong defensive performance and some killer instinct, Penn State's Carter Starocci allowed the fewest points on a per-minute basis across the tournament. He allowed only two points in his quarterfinal match against Bailee O'Reilly (Minnesota) and shut out his other four opponents. Starocci was able to finish two of his matches, including his finals victory over Mikey Labriola (Nebraska), via first-period fall. That obviously limited his opponent's opportunities to score. He had only two falls on the season prior to the tournament and doubled that total.
Most Match Time
Jesse Mendez 62:39
One of the biggest recruits in the last class made his NCAA tournament debut, and he certainly made the most of it from a duration perspective. Ohio State's Jesse Mendez lost his second match against Michael McGee (Arizona State) before wrestling all the way back to finish sixth.
Along the way, Mendez wrestled in eight matches. He was one of only five wrestlers to compete in eight matches joining Jacob Warner (Iowa), Ed Scott (NC State), Clay Carlson (South Dakota State) and Caleb Henson (Virginia Tech).
While those fellow competitors may have wrestled the same number of matches as Mendez, nobody could equal his amount of match time. He spent over an hour wrestling at the NCAA tournament and finished with 62:39. This total was increased dramatically as he won three-straight matches on the backside in rideouts. This included his bloodround victory over Lucas Byrd (Illinois) to become an All-American.
The only other wrestler who was close to Mendez in terms of match time was Henson. The Hokie, who also wrestled eight matches, finished with over 57 minutes of match time. While that was certainly a lot of time, it was significantly less than Mendez.
For years, the sudden victory period following a match tied in regulation was only one minute long. A few seasons back, this period was expanded to two minutes. If the theory behind this move was to increase the number of overtime matches that finish before rideouts, then this plan was a rousing success. At the 2023 NCAA wrestling tournament, 61 matches went to overtime. Of those 61 matches, 47 were decided in the initial sudden victory period.
While the collegiate rules of folkstyle do give an advantage to wrestlers who like to work from the top position, the new overtime rules certainly favor wrestlers who can score in the neutral position. Top position wrestlers can still have their riding time, but two minutes is a long period to work through while waiting for the rideout periods.
The round of 32 was the road that featured the most matches that went to overtime. 11 first-round matches needed extra time, which was more than any other round. Interestingly enough there were only four matches in the "bloodround" that went to overtime despite some of those matches being the most hotly contested bouts.