At first glance, the 2019 NCAA Championship brackets are, as usual, filled with plenty of questions. Not about who is seeded where or which possible quarterfinal matchup is the most intriguing, but about the unbelievable depth of most weight classes. The new qualifying process is not perfect, but getting the 33 best wrestlers per weight class is coming closer to a reality. Yes, a few with good arguments were left out, but that is going to be the case until the year 2100.
A new addition to the 2019 brackets is the seeding of all 33 wrestlers. There was a time when eight were seeded at the NCAA Championships, then 12. Now, the seeding committee has taken on the task of seeding everyone in the bracket. Not an easy endeavor.
NCAA TOURNAMENT INFO: How the NCAA wrestling tournament works
Penn State earned No. 1 seeds, as expected, at 157, 174, and 197 pounds with Jason Nolf, Mark Hall, and Bo Nickal, respectively. Three others, Vincenzo Joseph (165), Shakur Rasheed (184), and Anthony Cassar (285), are each seeded No. 2, giving the Nittany Lions the pre-tournament favorite tag. Second-ranked Oklahoma State, with Daton Fix (133) and Derek White (285), have two top seeds. The others are: Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern (125), Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell (141), Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers (149), Iowa’s Alex Marinelli (165), and Ohio State’s Myles Martin (184). The committee had few questions about No. 1 seeds at 125, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, and 197 pounds. The other two – 133 and 285 – had a few things to consider. Michigan’s Stevan Micic won his first 14 matches this season, but injury defaulted after two bouts at the Big Ten Championships. Oklahoma State’s Fix has just one loss, to Pittsburgh’s Micky Phillippi, while Rutgers’ Nick Suriano, who lost a video-review-filled, multiple-overtime match to Fix, won the Big Ten title. Fix earned the top spot with Micic and Suriano in the bottom half of the bracket.
The debate at 285 includes Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, Penn State’s Cassar, and Oklahoma State’s White, each with one loss. Steveson beat White early in the season and White beat Cassar in January. At the Big Tens, Cassar beat Steveson. Throw them all in a hat and White comes out as the No. 1 with the two Big Ten men together in the bottom half.
It is always dangerous to “look ahead” in wrestling brackets. Coaches and student-athletes will tell you it is best to prepare for each match, not looking to the next round. It is also important to note that earning a qualifying spot in the NCAA Championship is special. A lot of good wrestlers will not be in Pittsburgh. That being said, oh the possibilities on Thursday, Friday, and, of course, Saturday night. Somewhere out there among the 330 is a No. 20, a No. 29, a freshman, a senior, someone not expected to advance, that will excite the folks in Pittsburgh.
Let March Matness begin!
Can anyone besides Rivera (25-1), Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni (31-0), Iowa’s Spencer Lee (18-3), or Oregon State’s Ronnie Bresser (23-1), the top four seeds, win this weight? Yes. Virginia’s Jack Mueller (17-0) could get a shot at Bresser in the quarterfinals and Rivera in the semifinals. Cornell’s talented rookie Vito Arujau (26-2) is also in the top half with Rivera. A possible Lee-Sean Fausz second round matchup is tasty, while Princeton’s Pat Glory (26-4) is another wrestler to watch in Piccininni’s quarter, along with Big 12 runner-up Brent Fleetwood (24-4) of North Dakota State. Fausz, of North Carolina State, has just 13 matches as a senior.
The bottom half of the bracket at 133 pounds is a minefield. Whoever survives between Michigan’s Micic, Rutgers’ Suriano, Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak, Iowa’s Austin DeSanto, Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young, and North Carolina State’s Tariq Wilson will have earned it. Although PSU’s Nolf or Nickal, both seniors, are already favorites to win the Outstanding Wrestler Award in Pittsburgh, the winner of the 133-pound bracket should get a special prize. Fix’s road could go through Phillippi or Iowa State’s Austin Gomez (21-5), Wyoming’s Montorie Bridges (29-8) or Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher (23-5). It might be wise to watch Fresno State’s Gary Joint (17-13) and Phillippi in the first round; Joint gave Fix one of his better matches this season and Phillippi is the only man to beat Fix.
Yianni. Yianni. Yianni. The Cornell sophomore is 24-0 and has lost just once in college. He’s the top seed with an interesting second match with either Chad Red of Nebraska or Iowa State’s Ian Parker, both quality opponents. Missouri’s Jaydin Eierman (23-3) is, surprisingly, a No. 5 seed behind Northern Iowa’s Josh Alber (31-5), who lost in the first round of the Big 12 meet. The last man to beat Diakomihalis? The Missouri junior in a dual back in December of the 2017-18 season. Might the funky Eierman get another shot at the Big Red sophomore in a Friday night semifinal? Ohio State’s Joey McKenna (20-2) and PSU’s Nick Lee (27-2) are seeded 2 and 3, respectively. It would be a surprise if those two don’t meet in the semifinals.
Rutgers has never had a Division I national champion in wrestling. The Scarlet Knights’ Anthony Ashnault enters at 27-0. Princeton’s Matt Kolodzik struggled some down the stretch and dropped to a No. 5 seed. Missouri’s Brock Mauller (29-2) earned the No. 4 seed, but may have to deal with another rookie, Penn’s Anthony Artalona (26-5) in the second round. Ohio State veteran Micah Jordan (25-2) is a solid No. 2 with Duke senior Mitch Finesilver (28-3) at No. 3. Oklahoma State rookie Kaden Gfeller (28-4) won a Big 12 title and opens against former Cowboy Ryan Blees, now at Virginia Tech. One of the better first rounders has Iowa’s Pat Lugo and Arizona State’s Josh Maruca squaring off with the winner possibly seeing the seventh-seeded Gfeller.
Nolf. Nolf. Nolf. Like 141 pounds we have a strong favorite. Penn State senior Jason Nolf has been a phenomenal collegian, winning 112 of 115 matches and two national titles. He majored the second-seeded Tyler Berger of Nebraska in the Big Ten final. The surprise here is that North Carolina State sophomore Hayden Hidlay (20-2), a finalist in 2018, is the fifth seed. The Wolfpack man and Michigan veteran Alec Pantaleo (18-7), the fourth seed, could be on a collision course for Friday night’s semifinals. The bottom half is loaded with Big Ten talent – Berger (24-3), third-seeded Ryan Deakin of Northwestern (28-4), Iowa’s Kaleb Young (20-5), and Minnesota’s Steve Bleise (18-7). No doubt, Nolf, a Hodge Trophy candidate, is the favorite here.
The 165-pound bracket gets going really early. Oklahoma State’s Joe Smith is seeded No. 33 after finishing fifth at the Big 12 Championships. The two-time All-American redshirted last season and wrestled at 174 all season. A win over Northwestern’s Tyler Morland and Smith faces top-seeded Alex Marinelli of Iowa. You think Oklahoma State and Iowa fans can recreate the 13,000-plus fans from the rivals’ dual meet? Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph is the second seed and a two-time NCAA champion who fell to Marinelli in the Big Ten final. This weight class is loaded. Third-seeded Josh Shields of Arizona State (28-3) is a Pennsylvania native; Wisconsin’s Evan Wick (28-4) was an All-American last March as a freshman; Michigan’s Logan Massa (20-5) is the sixth seed; Lock Haven senior Chance Marsteller (22-2) is the fifth seed. A fun second round match could see Big 12 champion Demetrius Romero (25-3) of Utah Valley facing talented rookie Mekhi Lewis (23-2) of Virginia Tech. Joseph has won back-to-back titles at this weight and will be tough to unseat.
Like Nolf and Nickal, PSU’s Mark Hall is the top seed. And for good reason. The junior lost in the 2018 final to Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia a year after claiming top honors as a rookie. Expect Hall’s run to be challenged by Michigan’s Myles Amine (17-3) in the semifinals, if Amine can get by Lehigh’s difficult-to-score-on Jordan Kutler (21-4), the fifth seed. Wrestling fans want to see Valencia (26-2) and Missouri’s Daniel Lewis (24-1) in the bottom half’s semifinals; Lewis pinned Valencia during the regular season. Perhaps the most intriguing man in the bracket is Oklahoma State senior Jacobe Smith (27-3), the seventh seed who competed well at 184 most of the season. Smith and Nebraska’s Mike Labriola (26-6), if the two win in the first round, could be a dandy in Thursday night’s session.
Unbeaten Myles Martin did not get a shot at No. 2 Shakur Rasheed (19-0) in the Big Ten final with Rasheed forfeiting. The two are 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh with Virginia Tech’s Zack Zavatsky (24-3) a worthy No. 3. This weight class has been wild all year with wrestlers jumping in and out of the top 10 weekly. A heck of a first round match has Oklahoma’s State’s Dakota Geer (25-5) and North Carolina State’s Nick Reenan (15-4) squaring off. Binghamton’s Louie DePrez (30-5) is a dangerous No. 11 seed and Northern Iowa’s Drew Foster (23-5) is coming off a Big 12 title. How’s that for a second round match-up, along with Iowa’s Cash Wilcke (21-6) and Cornell’s Max Dean (21-5), who earned a No. 5 seed. Martin won an NCAA title as a freshman and was pinned in the finals in 2018.
TRACK LIVE RESULTS: Live results and team scores for the 2019 championships
Hodge Trophy candidate Bo Nickal (25-0) has, with blonde hair flying, been a treat to watch the last three years. His fourth NCAA Tournament could be more of the same. Princeton’s Patrick Brucki (29-1) is the fourth seed. With limited action due to injury, Oklahoma State senior Preston Weigel (11-0), who was injured in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Championships, earned the No. 3 seed after his third Big 12 title. The Kansan outscored his four opponents, 42-0, and enters his fourth NCAA meet as an unknown to much of the country. Ohio State’s Kollin Moore (19-2) entered the 2018 NCAA meet as the top seed but was upset early. Could Weigel see Iowa State’s Willie Miklus (22-3) in the quarterfinals and earn a shot at Moore in the semifinals? If the Cowboys are going to hang with the Nittany Lions, all hands must be on deck.
The No. 1 seed was big at 285 pounds. Oklahoma State’s White earned it and is on the opposite side of PSU’s Cassar and Minnesota’s Steveson. Lehigh’s Jordan Wood (21-3) is a good No. 4 and dropped a match to White during the regular season. Michigan rookie Mason Parris (29-7) earned the No. 5 seed. Iowa heavyweight Sam Stoll enters his final collegiate tournament as a No. 29 seed and against Lehigh’s Wood in the first round. Stoll started this season ranked No. 1.