The postseason is here with the Pac-12 Championships in Tempe, Ariz., this weekend. Everyone else hits the mats in two weekends with NCAA bids on the line. Penn State finished as the only unbeaten in Division I. Can they win a fifth NCAA title in six seasons the third weekend in March in New York City's Madison Square Garden? On paper, yes. But everyone knows championships are not won on paper.
1 ― Penn State: The more you look at Penn State’s numbers the more you realize why they are No. 1 and the only unbeaten dual team in Division I. Six of their starters are a combined 147-6 with Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Bo Nickal, and Morgan McIntosh each ranked first in their weight class. PSU finished its regular season with a 29-18 victory over No. 3 Oklahoma State and was crowned Bowl Dual Series champion. If the Nittany Lions hammer through the Big Tens and come out on top in New York City might this be the start of another run?
2 ― North Carolina State: Believe they belong yet? NC State finished its incredible regular season run with a win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Not many programs can say they beat Minnesota, Iowa, and Oklahoma State in the same season, but Pat Popolizio’s did just that, beating OSU in Gallagher-Iba Arena. The ACC race will be fun with Virginia Tech, NCSU, and North Carolina. Question: Can the Wolfpack win the NCAA Championship in 2016? Kevin Jack (141), Tommy Gantt (157), Max Rohskopf (165), Pete Renda (184), and Nick Gwiazdowski (285) think so. It will most likely take at least six All-Americans to win in 2016 and NCSU, from all indications, will be right in the mix.
3 ― Oklahoma State: Health, physical and mental, is the main concern for the Cowboys. Rookie 157-pounder Joe Smith will be back for Big 12s, but 174 pounds is suddenly an issue. All-American Kyle Crutchmer, lost to injury, and Chandler Rogers, working through the death of his father last weekend, are each battling different forms of adversity. Anthony Collica (149) and Nolan Boyd (184) have been good of late and two-time NCAA champion Alex Dieringer (165) continues to keep his name in the Hodge Trophy conversation. If OSU is healthy they will dominate the Big 12 Conference tournament in Kansas City and make a run in New York City.
4 ― Iowa: For the second year in a row, Iowa lost on its home mat in the National Duals final. That being said, Tom Brands’s crew still has to be considered a challenger for top honors in New York City. It has been the same story most of the season: Thomas Gilman (125), Cory Clark (133), Brandon Sorenson (149), and Nathan Burak (197) are going to finish on the medal stand. Alex Meyer (174), Sam Brooks (184), and Sam Stoll (285) have to find a way inside the top eight for the Hawkeyes to be in the hunt. Stoll injury defaulted on Monday night, so he will have to mend before the rugged Big Ten Championships, hosted by the Hawks in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
5 ― Missouri: Brian Smith’s squad saw a long win streak end at Oklahoma State in January and the Tigers fell in a nail-biter to North Carolina State on Valentine’s Day. A 14-2 season included wins over Ohio State, Cornell, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, who the Tigers beat on Sunday thanks to some dramatics from 184-pounder Willie Micklus. It is becoming a broken record, but the Tigers, again, have put together another very good wrestling team. The Mid-American Conference kings will need to wrestle above their seeds and get big postseasons from Lavion Mayes (149) and J’Den Cox (197) in order to win the program’s first NCAA title.
6 ― Virginia Tech: Despite all the chatter about who should wrestle who, the workings of the Bowl Dual Series, and old sores not yet healed, Virginia Tech finished strong by beating Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Hokies lost just twice, to Penn State and Iowa State, and beat NC State during another good regular season. Translating regular season results into the national tournament is something Tech has not done yet. Head coach Kevin Dresser has a ton of star power with Joey Dance (25-1 at 125), Soloman Chisko (25-3 at 141), Ty Walz (22-1 at 285), plus Nick Brascetta (6-2 at 157) and Zach Epperly (9-1 at 174). On paper, the Hokies are dangerous. But NCAA Championships are not won on paper.
7 ― Ohio State: The 2015 NCAA champs have flown under the radar most of the year. The return of Hunter Stieber (149) and phenom Kyle Snyder, a world champion in freestyle in 2015 after finishing second at the NCAA Championships, was supposed to be the difference. However, Stieber is a shadow of his former self and the Buckeyes enter the postseason as the third or fourth best in the Big Ten. Still, it’s tough to count out tOSU with the likes of Nathan Tomasello (17-0 at 125), Micah Jordan (19-1 at 141), Bo Jordan (13-1 at 165), and Snyder all capable of wrestling on the big stage at Madison Square Garden next month.
8 ― Lehigh: The Mountain Hawks dropped an 18-15 dual to Rutgers to finish the regular season and enter the EIWAs with a balanced squad led by 2015 NCAA finalist Nathanial Brown, who is 18-2 at 184 pounds this season. Like Missouri, LU will have to wrestle above its seeds to stay in the hunt. That being said, Darian Cruz (24-5 at 125), Mason Beckman (13-9 at 133), Randy Cruz (18-6 at 141), and Max Wessel (20-4 at 285), plus others, have the ability to work their way onto the medal stand. LU always wrestles well in March and expect Pat Santoro to have this team among the top 10.
Knocking on the door
Rutgers, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma