Ten things to watch
Star power at every turn highlights DI championships
Can anyone dethrone Penn State?
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson, once again, has a lineup full of tournament points. NCAA champions Ed Ruth, Quentin Wright and David Taylor will score enough points to finish in the top 10 by themselves; if you add All-Americans Nico Megaludis and Dylan Alton, plus Andrew Alton and Matt Brown, you have a team reaching the 100-point mark. The past two seasons the Nittany Lions have won by margins of 25.5 and 14 points.
Minnesota totaled 117.5 points in 2012, the most an NCAA runner-up has ever scored.
The Gophers, also second to Penn State at the 2013 Big Ten championships, may not have the star power of PSU, but certainly have a team capable of scoring plenty of points. Tony Nelson was the champion at 285 pounds in 2012 and joins Dylan Ness, Chris Dardanes, Logan Storley and Kevin Steinhaus as returning All-Americans. Storley was not himself at the Big Tens, but will most likely be a factor at 174 pounds. UM has shown it can be done without finalists; that may be what it takes this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa.
Oklahoma State has been here before. Winners of 34 NCAA team titles, the Cowboys will bring all 10 wrestlers to Des Moines, led by 2011 champion Jordan Oliver and All-Americans Chris Perry, Tyler Caldwell and Alan Gelogaev. Freshman Alex Dieringer is a star in the making; Jon Morrison, Chris Chionuma and Blake Rosholt are key to the Cowboys' hopes.
Iowa beat Penn State in a dual, but has not been the same since, losing to Minnesota and Missouri at the national duals. Still, a program with 23 NCAA titles and coached by mega-intense Tom Brands cannot be discounted. Matt McDonough has won two NCAA titles and Tony Ramos is a man on a mission. Derek St. John, a runner-up in 2012, will factor in his 157-pound bracket, along with Mike Evans, Ethan Lofthouse and Bobby Telford. The Hawkeyes will have to channel the Iowa of NCAA tournaments past to get it done in 2013.
Ohio State? Missouri? Cornell? A yet-to-be-named Cinderella? Cinderella does not usually appear at the NCAA wrestling dance in March.
The NCAA is so excited about a Kyle Dake and Taylor rematch in the 165-pound finals they moved the weight class to the end of the docket on Saturday night. Usually starting with 125 pounds and ending with 285, this Saturday’s finals will start at 174 and finish with 165.
Dake, a senior for Cornell who has won three NCAA titles and not lost a match since the 1970s it seems, is the top seed at 165 pounds. Taylor, a finalist as a freshman and champion last season, has just two career losses, one of those coming to Dake earlier this year. The two have been, without question, the talk of the wrestling community all year. There are a few 165-pounders, however, who would like to crash that party.
Dake already is the first wrestler to win three NCAA titles at three different weight classes. He will look for a fourth at a fourth weight class in Des Moines. A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Dake has not lost a match since the 2011 EIWA Championships, a run of 72 in a row. Only two wrestlers in DI history -- Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson and Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith -- have won four NCAA titles.
The big boys
The heavyweight class includes a long list of potential champions. Nelson won the championship in 2012 and was No. 1 this season until losing to Missouri’s Dom Bradley in the Southern Scuffle finals in January. In that same tournament, Bradley, an All-American two seasons ago who took an Olympic redshirt in 2011-12, beat Gelogaev in the semifinals. Gelogaev, an All-American at 197 pounds in 2010, has been injured the past two Marches. He lost to Nelson earlier this season in December, but beat Bradley on a February afternoon before losing to Nelson again that same evening.
That is the short list. Add Oregon State’s Chad Hanke, Central Michigan’s Jarod Trice and any wrestler who represents a Big Ten school to the contenders.
Band of brothers
Not since 1992 when Iowa’s Tom and Terry Brands won individual titles has a pair of brothers won NCAA titles in the same season. In 2012, Ohio State’s Logan Stieber won the 133-pound title with brother Hunter Stieber finishing sixth at 141 pounds. The 2012-13 campaign has seen the Stiebers, both sophomores, go a combined 52-0. Logan (21-0) is the top seed at 133 pounds; Hunter (31-0) is seeded second at 141 pounds.
There are seven sets of brothers in the 2013 tournament. They are: the Altons, the Buraks, the Dardanes, the Lesters, the Thomusseits, the Wilps and the Stiebers.
Ten wrestlers enter the tournament with perfect records. Three weight classes -- 141, 184, and 197 -- include two unbeaten wrestlers. At 141 pounds, Hunter Stieber is joined by Oklahoma junior Kendric Maple, an All-American a year ago who is 25-0 this season.
Ruth, unbeaten since the 2011 NCAA championships, is 28-0 and the top seed at 184 pounds. Central Michigan’s Ben Bennett, a three-time All-American, is 27-0 at 184 pounds.
Two champions -- PSU’s Wright and Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore -- highlight 197 pounds. Wright won NCAA gold in 2011 at 184 pounds and was a runner-up last March. He is 27-0 this season. Kilgore won the 197-pound title in 2011, took an Olympic redshirt in 2011-12, and is 39-0 in 2012-13.
And the replay shows …
A match, or two, may last a little longer than usual this weekend with the addition of video review challenges. Each school gets three total challenges at the beginning of the tournament. If a challenge is initiated and a call is overturned using the video replay the school does not lose that challenge. If a video challenge is initiated but the original call made by officials is not overturned then the school loses that challenge. Do not be surprised if a school, or two, runs through those challenges on Thursday.
Oh, those Pennsylvanians
The state of Pennsylvania annually produces more All-Americans than most. There are 52 student-athletes from the Keystone State spread among the 10 brackets this week. Easton’s Oliver, Harrisburg’s Ruth, State College’s Steve Bozak, Wingate’s Wright, West Miffin’s James Fleming,and Oakdale’s Matt Wilps are among those at the top of the list.
Every March there are student-athletes who enter the tournament unseeded, but find their way onto the medal stand Saturday. At the DIII championships in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, unseeded Devin Biscaha of Springfield (Ill.) won the 157-pound title. Could there be such a run in DI?
4, 3, 2 …
Dake leads a pack of 10 wrestlers who already have won NCAA titles. He goes for No. 4. ... McDonough goes for a third title, winning two and finishing second at 125 pounds in the past three seasons. ... And looking for No. 2 will be Oliver, Logan Stieber, Taylor, Ruth, Wright, Bozak, Kilgore and Tony Nelson. ... Only three weight classes -- 141, 157, and 174 -- do not have at least one former national champion in the bracket.