2011 Big Ten Championships Preview

The 2011 Big Ten Championships take place Saturday and Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Illinois. The finals will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network at 3 p.m. CST. As always, the field is loaded with talent. Seven Big Ten programs are ranked in the InterMat Top 25. There are 53 ranked wrestlers expected to compete, including two defending NCAA champions and 14 All-Americans.

InterMat will be providing coverage throughout the 2011 Big Ten Championships. The coverage will include a live blog, plus articles and interviews.

Below is a weight-by-weight breakdown with predicted finalists and champions.

Defending NCAA champion Matt McDonough of Iowa is 20-1 this season and has been on a tear lately. He has pinned six of his last seven opponents. Northwestern's Brandon Precin, a two-time All-American and U.S. Open placewinner, is the only wrestler to defeat McDonough this season. That victory came in the finals of the Midlands. Precin scored a first period takedown in that match, which proved to be the difference in a 3-1 victory. McDonough came back to avenge the loss by pinning Precin on Jan. 28. Precin led 3-0 in the third period of their rematch before McDonough threw a headlock and picked up a pin with under a minute remaining in the match. That is the only blemish on Precin's record this season. Two-time All-American Zach Sanders of Minnesota is 25-3 and ranked fifth. Sanders has not faced Precin this season, but is coming off a 10-3 loss to McDonough. Prior to that loss, Sanders had reeled off 12 straight victories. Penn State's Brad Pataky, a two-time NCAA qualifier, has battled injuries this season, but should figure into the mix. He lost a close match to Sanders, 10-8, in his first match back in over a month. Others that should battle for spots on the podium include Sean Boyle of Michigan, Justin Brooks of Indiana, Camden Eppert of Purdue, and Matt Kelliher of Wisconsin. Boyle is 23-11, but has been pinned in his last three matches. Brooks is slightly over .500 and has won his last three matches. Eppert has split two matches with Brooks. Kelliher has won two of his last three matches, beating Ohio State's Bo Touris and Michigan State's Eric Olanowski.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Five

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 1 McDonough (Iowa)
No. 3 Precin (Northwestern)
No. 5 Sanders (Minnesota)
No. 10 Pataky (Penn State)

1. McDonough (Iowa)
2. Precin (Northwestern)
3. Sanders (Minnesota)
4. Pataky (Penn State)
5. Boyle (Michigan)
6. Brooks (Indiana)
7. Eppert (Purdue)
8. Kelliher (Wisconsin)

Andrew Hipps' Finals Prediction: McDonough (Iowa) over Precin (Northwestern)
T.R. Foley's Finals Prediction: Precin (Northwestern) over McDonough (Iowa)

Penn State's Andrew Long, an NCAA runner-up last season at 125, is ranked third and will head to the Big Ten Championships with an 11-1 season mark. He has scored double digit points in eight of those 11 wins. Wisconsin's Tyler Graff was on track to get the No. 1 seed until he took a loss to Long, 12-5, in the final weekend of the regular season. Graff was a runner-up at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in early December, losing to No. 2 Andrew Hochstrasser of Boise State, but came back to win the Midlands in late December. Tony Ramos of Iowa is having a strong freshman season and wrestling well heading into the postseason. He is 18-3 on the season and hasn't lost in the calendar year, going 11-0, which includes a victory over Long. Futrell is 7-4 this season against Big Ten 133-pounders, but three of those losses came to Graff, the other to Long. He defeated Ramos at the Midlands. Levi Mele of Northwestern 16-6 and ranked No. 19. Minnesota's David Thorn, a redshirt freshman, has been wrestling well of late. His only losses in the calendar year have come to wrestlers ranked in the top 10. Michigan's Zac Stevens is 18-13, but has dropped four of his last five matches. Ohio State's Ian Paddock was an NCAA qualifier last season and should be in the mix.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Eight

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 3 Long (Penn State)
No. 4 Graff (Wisconsin)
No. 7 Ramos (Iowa)
No. 8 Futrell (Illinois)
No. 19 Mele (Northwestern)

1. Long (Penn State)
2. Graff (Wisconsin)
3. Ramos (Iowa)
4. Futrell (Illinois)
5. Mele (Northwestern)
6. Thorn (Minnesota)
7. Stevens (Michigan)
8. Paddock (Ohio State)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Long (Penn State) over Graff (Wisconsin)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Long (Penn State) over Ramos (Iowa)

This weight class is loaded at the top with five of the nation's top seven wrestlers at 141, including the top four. Michigan's Kellen Russell, a two-time Big Ten champion and 2009 All-American, has been perfect this season, going 30-0. Second-ranked Montell Marion of Iowa, an NCAA runner-up last season, has been impressive since his return to the Hawkeye team in January. He has gone 7-1, losing only to Russell in sudden victory. Defending Big Ten champion Mike Thorn of Minnesota is 32-3 this season, losing only to Russell (twice) and Marion. Two-time All-American Jimmy Kennedy of Illinois missed all of January due to injury and has just 15 matches under his belt this season. His only loss this season came by pin to Russell in the semifinals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. (Watch Russell-Kennedy match.) Kennedy has not faced Marion or Thorn. Penn State true freshman Andrew has gone 26-6 this season with 17 pins. He has lost to Russell (three times), Marion, Thorn, and Kennedy. Northwestern's Kaleb Friedley has put together a nice true freshman season, going 23-6. He leads the team in pins with 11. Friedley lost 7-3 to Russell, but has not faced Marion, Thorn, Kennedy, or Alton. Purdue's Jake Fleckenstein is slightly above .500 and does have a win in the early part of the season over the fifth-ranked 133-pounder, Lou Ruggirello of Hofstra. Wisconsin's Shane McQuade, who is 13-13 this season, comes in as the eighth seed.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Six

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 1 Russell (Michigan)
No. 2 Marion (Iowa)
No. 3 Thorn (Minnesota)
No. 4 Kennedy (Illinois)
No. 7 Alton (Penn State)

1. Russell (Michigan)
2. Marion (Iowa)
3. Thorn (Minnesota)
4. Kennedy (Illinois)
5. Alton (Penn State)
6. Friedley (Northwestern)
7. Fleckenstein (Purdue)
8. McQuade (Wisconsin)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Thorn (Minnesota) over Kennedy (Illinois)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Russell (Michigan) over Marion (Iowa)

Penn State's Frank Molinaro, a two-time All-American, is the favorite. The third-ranked Molinaro is 25-2 this season and went a perfect 8-0 in the conference. He has not dropped a match since losing to Cornell's Kyle Dake, 1-0, in the finals of the Southern Scuffle on Dec. 29. Andrew Nadhir of Northwestern is 27-3 and ranked seventh, but has yet to face Molinaro this season. (Nadhir lost 9-0 to Molinaro last season.) Indiana's Kurt Kinser, a three-time NCAA qualifier, is 23-7 this season and went 4-1 in the Big Ten, losing only to Molinaro. Cole Schmitt of Wisconsin had a strong regular season, going 22-7, which included splitting matches with Nadhir, but has dropped three of his last four matches. Michigan State's Dan Osterman has won over 20 matches this season and finished his regular season with a victory over Schmitt. Eric Terrazas of Illinois went 5-3 against this field. He split matches with Nadhir and Osterman and lost to Molinaro. Michigan's Eric Grajales, a redshirt freshman, has been up and down this season and comes in with a 13-11 season record. He has wins over Nadhir and Osterman and losses to Molinaro (two) and Kinser. Minnesota's Danny Zilverberg went 17-10 during the regular season and lost narrowly to Molinaro, 6-5. Iowa's Mark Ballweg was ranked earlier this season at 141 before moving up to 149 when Marion returned to the Hawkeye lineup.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Eight

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 3 Molinaro (Penn State)
No. 7 Nadhir (Northwestern)
No. 10 Kinser (Indiana)
No. 13 Schmitt (Wisconsin)
No. 20 Osterman (Michigan State)

1. Molinaro (Penn State)
2. Nadhir (Northwestern)
3. Kinser (Indiana)
4. Terrazas (Illinois)
5. Schmitt (Wisconsin)
6. Grajales (Michigan)
7. Osterman (Michigan State)
8. Zilverberg (Minnesota)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Molinaro (Penn State) over Grajales (Michigan)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Molinaro (Penn State) over Nadhir (Northwestern)

David Taylor of Penn State has put together arguably the most dominant regular season of any freshman in NCAA wrestling history. He is 31-0 with bonus points in 30 of those victories. His closest match is a 9-3 victory over fifth-ranked Jesse Dong of Virginia Tech. Iowa's Derek St. John is also putting together a nice freshman season, but has been overshadowed by Taylor. St. John is 16-3 on the season and has only lost to Taylor in the calendar year. Jason Welch of Northwestern was an NCAA qualifier two seasons ago as a true freshman and redshirted last season. He is 23-3 on the season and 6-1 in the Big Ten, losing only St. John in conference action. Welch has not faced Taylor. Indiana's Paul Young has been an NCAA qualifier the past two seasons at 165, but moved down a weight class this season. He is currently 23-7 and ranked No. 10. Purdue's Colton Salazar was a Big Ten runner-up last season and has a recent win over Young. Brandon Zeerip of Michigan, Sean McMurray of Michigan State, and Jackson Morse of Illinois are all freshmen who could make some noise in this weight class. Zeerip and McMurray have split two matches this season. Minnesota's Matt Mincey is 10-8 and earned a No. 8 pre-seed.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Six

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 3 Taylor (Penn State)
No. 7 St. John (Iowa)
No. 9 Welch (Northwestern)
No. 10 Young (Indiana)
No. 20 Salazar (Purdue)

1. Taylor (Penn State)
2. St. John (Iowa)
3. Welch (Northwestern)
4. Salazar (Purdue)
5. Young (Indiana)
6. Zeerip (Michigan)
7. McMurray (Michigan State)
8. Matt Mincey (Minnesota)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Taylor (Penn State) over Welch (Northwestern)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Taylor (Penn State) over Welch (Northwestern)

Wisconsin's Andrew Howe, the defending NCAA champion at 165, will be looking for his third Big Ten title. Howe suffered a serious knee injury on Jan. 16, which has kept him off the mat. He says he feels great and is making progress, but there are still questions surrounding his health. Prior to his injury, Howe dropped a match to Nebraska's Jordan Burroughs, 10-7, in the finals of the Midlands, which snapped a 51-match winning streak dating back to 2009. Ohio State's Colt Sponseller will be looking for a return trip to the Big Ten finals. Last year he lost 4-2 to Howe in the finals. Sponseller started the season at 157, but made the move back up to 165 part way through the season. He is 19-4 on the season and has won his last eight matches. Cody Yohn of Minnesota, an NCAA qualifier last season, is wrestling well heading into the postseason. The Gopher sophomore has won five of his last six matches, losing only to Sponseller during that stretch. Yohn is 25-9 this season and ranked 12th. Iowa's Aaron Janssen, who is 22-6 and ranked 14th, is also wrestling well, having won five of his last six matches. He was edged by Yohn, 6-4, in the final dual meet of the season. Conrad Polz of Illinois has the most wins against this field of 165-pounders, but has also dropped four matches this season to Big Ten 165-pounders. He lost to Howe at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Janssen at the Midlands, and Sponseller and Yohn during the Big Ten dual meet season. Michigan's Dan Yates has over 20 wins as a redshirt freshman. He started the Big Ten dual meet season 5-0, but dropped two of his last three to finish 6-2 in the conference. Ryan LeBlanc of Indiana and Kevin Bialka of Northwestern are both .500 wrestlers this season.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Five

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 2 Howe (Wisconsin)
No. 6 Sponseller (Ohio State)
No. 12 Yohn (Minnesota)
No. 14 Janssen (Iowa)

1. Howe (Wisconsin)
2. Sponseller (Ohio State)
3. Yohn (Minnesota)
4. Janssen (Iowa)
5. Polz (Illinois)
6. Yates (Michigan)
7. LeBlanc (Indiana)
8. Bialka (Northwestern)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Howe (Wisconsin) over Sponseller (Ohio State)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Yohn (Minnesota) over Janssen (Iowa)

Penn State's Ed Ruth, who is ranked second, has his sights set on a winning a national title as a redshirt freshman. With the exception of an early season loss to Maryland's Mike Letts, Ruth has run the table and beaten some of the nation's best, including NCAA runner-up Mack Lewnes of Cornell and two-time All-American Chris Henrich of Virginia. He has won 19 straight matches. After Ruth, the next six wrestlers in this weight class are virtually interchangeable. Purdue's Luke Manuel, a three-time NCAA qualifier, went 6-1 during the Big Ten dual meet season. He had a victory earlier this season over All-American Jordan Blanton of Illinois, who was lost for the season due to injury. Ohio State's Nick Heflin has put together a solid redshirt freshman campaign, compiling a record of 18-6. He had two wins over Manuel at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in December, but losses to two other Big Ten wrestlers during the Big conference dual meet season. Ben Jordan of Wisconsin is 18-8 this season, but has lost four of his last six matches. Minnesota's Scott Glasser, a Big Ten runner-up last season, has wins over Manuel, Heflin, and Iowa's Ethen Lofthouse, but losses to Ruth, Jordan, and Michigan's Justin Zeerip. Lofthouse, a redshirt freshman, is 15-7 and has wins over the aforementioned Letts, Oklahoma State's Mike Benefiel, Zeerip, and Heflin. Zeerip, a two-time NCAA qualifier, is 15-10 and has wins over Glasser and Jordan. Michigan State's Curran Jacobs has a 22-9 season record and defeated Lofthouse early in the season.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Eight

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 2 Ruth (Penn State)
No. 8 Manuel (Purdue)
No. 10 Heflin (Ohio State)
No. 12 Jordan (Wisconsin)
No. 13 Glasser (Minnesota)
No. 14 Lofthouse (Iowa)
No. 18 Zeerip (Michigan)

1. Ruth (Penn State)
2. Heflin (Ohio State)
3. Glasser (Minnesota)
4. Manuel (Purdue)
5. Lofthouse (Iowa)
6. Jordan (Wisconsin)
7. Zeerip (Michigan)
8. Jacobs (Michigan State)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Ruth (Penn State) over Glasser (Minnesota)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Ruth (Penn State) over Heflin (Ohio State)

Wisconsin's Travis Rutt has been one of the most improved wrestlers in the country this season. He improved from 17-13 last season to 29-1 this season heading into the postseason. The only blemish on Rutt's record this season is a 2-0 loss to Cornell's Steve Bosak in the finals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota is among the nation's top freshmen. He is 28-8 this season, but seven of his eight losses have come to wrestlers ranked in the top 10. Grant Gambrall of Iowa is having a strong season with a record of 17-5. He went 6-1 during the Big Ten dual meet season, losing only to Steinhaus, 6-5, in the last regular season match of the season. Purdue's A.J. Kissel went 20-6 during the regular season, which included a 4-3 victory over Steinhaus, but has lost three of his last four matches, with two of those losses coming to unranked wrestlers. Quentin Wright of Penn State, an All-American two seasons ago as a true freshman, has battled injuries and inconsistency this season, but has the talent to compete with and beat any wrestler in this weight class. Michigan State's Ian Hinton is a two-time NCAA qualifer (at 174) and has wins this season over Kissel and 16th-ranked Nate Schiedel of Binghamton. Tony Dallago of Illinois, a redshirt freshman, is 16-12 and has beaten Kissel, Wright, and 13th-ranked Luke Rebertus of Navy. Ohio State's C.J. Magrum was an NCAA qualifier last season (at 197) and has a win this season over Dallago. The three unseeded wrestlers, Hunter Collins of Michigan, Eric Cameron of Indiana, and Aaron Jones of Northwestern, should not be overlooked.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Six

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 3 Rutt (Wisconsin)
No. 7 Steinhaus (Minnesota)
No. 11 Gambrall (Iowa)
No. 12 Kissel (Purdue)
No. 17 Wright (Penn State)

1. Rutt (Wisconsin)
2. Steinhaus (Minnesota)
3. Gambrall (Iowa)
4. Hinton (Michigan State)
5. Dallago (Illinois)
6. Kissel (Purdue)
7. Magrum (Ohio State)
8. Wright (Penn State)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Rutt (Wisconsin) over Steinhaus (Minnesota)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Gambrall (Iowa) over Rutt (Wisconsin)

Defending Big Ten champion Trevor Brandvold of Wisconsin is undefeated and ranked No. 2. He missed most of December and January because of an injury, but has been dominant since returning to the mat. Brandvold has picked up bonus points in eight of his 11 victories this season. Iowa's Luke Lofthouse, who is ranked sixth, is red-hot heading into the postseason. He went a perfect 6-0 in the Big Ten dual meet season, which included victories over three wrestlers ranked among the top 11. Sonny Yohn, a Big Ten runner-up and All-American, has been hampered with injuries this season and was out of the lineup for a month and a half. Since returning, Yohn has gone 1-1, beating Penn State's Nick Ruggear and losing to Lofthouse. Purdue's Logan Brown is 19-4 with all four of his losses coming to wrestlers ranked in the top 10. He went 5-1 in conference dual meets, losing only to Brandvold, 2-0. Matt Powless of Indiana went 32-4 during the regular season, but has recent losses to Lofthouse and Brown. Michigan's Anthony Biondo, a two-time NCAA qualifier, has been up and down this season and comes in with a 21-10 season record. Joe Barczak of Illinois is 13-6 this season and has won six of his last seven matches. Ohio State's Peter Capone went 17-13 during the regular season.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Six

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 2 Brandvold (Wisconsin)
No. 6 Lofthouse (Iowa)
No. 7 Yohn (Minnesota)
No. 8 Brown (Purdue)
No. 10 Powless (Indiana)
No. 11 Anthony Biondo (Michigan)

1. Brandvold (Wisconsin)
2. Lofthouse (Iowa)
3. Brown (Purdue)
4. Powless (Indiana)
5. Yohn (Minnesota)
6. Biondo (Michigan)
7. Joe Barczak (Illinois)
8. Peter Capone (Ohio State)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Brandvold (Wisconsin) over Lofthouse (Iowa)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Brandvold (Wisconsin) over Brown (Purdue)

Penn State's Cameron Wade is the top seed in a balanced weight class. Wade has gone 26-4 this season and 6-1 in Big Ten dual meets. He has won eight of his last nine matches heading into the postseason. Ricky Alcala of Indiana, who transferred from UC Davis after the wrestling program was discontinued, has compiled a season record of 27-7. He has won 10 of his last 11 matches and his only loss in the calendar year came to Wade, 6-0, on Jan. 23. Iowa's Blake Rasing went 5-2 during the Big Ten dual meet season, losing only Wade and Alcala. He is 14-5 on the season and ranked 10th. Minnesota's Tony Nelson, a redshirt freshman, is 26-5, but finished the regular season with consecutive losses to Wade and Rasing. Eric Bugenhagen of Wisconsin has a win over No. 13 Tucker Lane of Nebraska, but has not defeated any of the Big Ten wrestlers seeded ahead of him. Michigan's Ben Apland started the season strong, reaching the finals of both the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and Midlands. But Apland struggled down the stretch this season, going 7-7 since the Southern Scuffle. He has two wins over Bugenhagen and has split two matches with No. 2 Jarod Trice of Central Michigan. Michigan State's Joe Rizqallah defeated Wade, 8-2, but has lost three of his last four matches. Northwestern's Ben Kuhar will head to the postseason with a .500 record.

Automatic NCAA Qualifiers: Six

Ranked Wrestlers:
No. 6 Wade (Penn State)
No. 9 Alcala (Indiana)
No. 10 Rasing (Iowa)
No. 11 Nelson (Minnesota)
No. 12 Bugenhagen (Wisconsin)
No. 17 Apland (Michigan)

1. Wade (Penn State)
2. Alcala (Indiana)
3. Rasing (Iowa)
4. Nelson (Minnesota)
5. Apland (Michigan)
6. Bugenhagen (Wisconsin)
7. Rizqallah (Michigan State)
8. Kuhar (Northwestern)

Hipps' Finals Prediction: Alcala (Indiana) over Wade (Penn State)
Foley's Finals Prediction: Alcala (Indiana) over Wade (Penn State)

The team race is expected to be very tight. No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 Iowa are the frontrunners. The Hawkeyes have won 34 Big Ten titles, including the last three. No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 7 Minnesota also have the potential to challenge for the title. Michigan and Northwestern, both top 20 programs, should battle for top-five finishes. Penn State has five No. 1 pre-seeds and eight pre-seeded wrestlers. Nine of Iowa's 10 wrestlers earned pre-seeds, but only one Hawkeye received a No. 1 pre-seed. Wisconsin has three wrestlers pre-seeded No. 1 and nine wrestlers who earned a pre-seed. Minnesota is the lone Big Ten program to have a wrestler pre-seeded in each of the 10 weight classes. However, the Gophers do not have a wrestler pre-seeded No. 1.

Hipps' Team Predictions:
1. Penn State
2. Iowa
3. Wisconsin
4. Minnesota
5. Michigan

Foley's Team Predictions:
1. Penn State
2. Iowa
3. Minnesota
4. Northwestern
5. Wisconsin


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