The 10 brackets for the 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships were released early Wednesday evening. Regardless of who falls where in each weight class, reigning champion Penn State and Ohio State are the two top dogs entering the final collegiate tournament.
Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland will host the three days of wrestling, and if the brackets tell us anything, it's going to be a wild ride. Penn State has won six of the last seven NCAA team titles with Ohio State (2015 champs) keeping Cael Sanderson and Co. from making it seven straight.
The other contenders? Missouri, North Carolina State, Lehigh, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Iowa and Arizona State each could likely finish as high as third or as low as 10th. In other words, things are going to resemble a mosh pit outside the top two because, quite simply, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have two powerhouse squads ready to do battle for three days in Cleveland.
What follows is a few tasty treats from each of the 10 brackets. Qualifying tournaments were held the last two weekends, with at-large berths given out on Tuesday.
Lehigh’s Darian Cruz lost to Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni in the NWCA All-Star Classic way back in November. As an exhibition, the bout does not count toward season records and Cruz, the champion here in 2017, has gone 26-0. Nick Suriano (21-0) qualified for the 2017 championships as a freshman at Penn State, but has since transferred to Rutgers. As the fourth seed this year, Suriano injury defaulted at the Big Ten Championships and is not 100 percent healthy heading into nationals.
The No. 2 seed is Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello (11-1), a three-time All-American and former champion at 125; he just won his fourth Big Ten title last weekend. Seeded third is Iowa’s Spencer Lee (17-2), who has credentials that show a propensity to win wrestling tournaments.
Someone to watch? How about West Virginia’s Zeke Moisey (22-9). The Mountaineer lost in the 2015 NCAA finals and has battled injuries since then. At last weekend’s Big 12s, Moisey was pinned by Piccininni in the finals.
The mat to beat here is Seth Gross (24-1), a junior for South Dakota State. Gross, a runner-up last March, is a monster on the mat and beat Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock (25-3) in a great Big 12 final.
: The top seed goes to South Dakota State's Seth Gross! pic.twitter.com/t5WfbPc7ER— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018
Second-seeded Stevan Micic (22-2) is dangerously good on his feet and will have to get through Drexel’s Austin DeSanto (28-5), Lehigh’s Scott Parker (18-3) and Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher (26-2), all in the bottom half. Another Oklahoma product, Wyoming’s Montorie Bridges brings a salty 32-4 mark to Cleveland — he is the No. 8 seed.
“It’s a good weight class with a lot of talented guys,” said Gross after his Big 12 title. “I have to wrestle hard every match, can’t think about what lies ahead in the bracket. This time of year, you really have to be ready to go each time you step on the mat.”
How crazy is 141? Two-time defending champion Dean Heil (23-5) is seeded sixth. Heil lost to top-seeded Bryce Meredith (29-1) in the Big 12 final and to the Wyoming senior in a dual meet. Missouri’s second-seeded Jaydin Eierman (28-1) pinned Heil in a dual meet and can go with anybody. The third seed is Cornell rookie sensation Yianni Diakomihalis (29-1), the only man to beat Meredith. At No. 4 is Ohio State’s Joey McKenna (16-1), who, as a high seed, did not place last March after finishing as an All-American at Stanford. Fifth-seeded Kevin Jack (18-3) is a senior for North Carolina State and Clarion’s Brock Zacherl brings 27 wins in 28 matches.
Meredith might be favored, but this class is about as deep as any of the 10.
Wyoming 141-pounder Bryce Meredith is a top seed! pic.twitter.com/I2yW9gM1QO— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018
The Zain Train has not stopped since arriving at Penn State. That’s Zain Retherford (26-0), a winner of 89 straight matches and two-straight NCAA titles. His top challenger is Iowa senior Brandon Sorensen (21-2), who lost to Retherford in the 2016 final. After those two, it’s wide open with No. 3 Grant Leeth (22-2) of Missouri and No. 4 Troy Heilmann (28-4) turning in good years. Someone to keep an eye on is Arizona State’s Jason Tsirtsis (17-6), who, as a member of the Northwestern squad, won a national title at 149 pounds in 2014.
2x NCAA Champ Zain Retherford is at the top of the 149-pound bracket! pic.twitter.com/j9H0mx66gT— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018
Question No. 1 entering the tournament? What is the status of Penn State’s Jason Nolf? Maybe the most dynamic, creative wrestler in the field, Nolf suffered a late-season injury and defaulted after two matches at the Big Ten Championships. Seeded third, the rest of the country might know that status by the end of Thursday’s first two sessions. North Carolina State’s Hayden Hidlay (22-0) is a freshman and seeded No. 1 for Pat Popolizio’s rising Wolfpack. Missouri’s Joey Lavallee (29-1) lost to Nolf in the 2017 NCAA final and is seeded No. 2 in Cleveland. Iowa’s Michael Kemerer (22-1) was also injured at the Big Tens and is the No. 6 seed; he and Nolf, the top two men at the weight for most of the year, could meet in the quarterfinals. Arizona State’s Josh Shields is 29-2 and dangerous as a No. 4 seed, as is Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo (17-5), seeded fifth.
ACC champ Hayden Hidlay takes the top seed in 157! pic.twitter.com/Y0sEsD61en— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018
How about his for a Hollywood movie? Illinois stud Isaiah Martinez (14-0) won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2015 and 2016, avenging a regular season loss to Nolf in the ’16 final. In the 2017 final, Martinez locked up with Penn State rookie Vincenzo Joseph and was pinned. Martinez beat Joseph (20-2) in the Big Ten final last weekend. The No. 2 seed is Virginia Tech’s unbeaten David McFadden (31-0). Also keep an eye on Rider’s Chad Walsh (24-1), a pinner extraordinaire. The top half also features pinner Chandler Rogers (20-3) of Oklahoma State and Lock Haven’s Chance Marsteller (40-2), who started his career at OSU before transferring; Rogers and Marsteller could meet in the second round. Logan Massa (16-6) of Michigan, Rutgers’ Richie Lewis (18-4), and Iowa’s Alex Marinelli (16-3) could also make deep runs in the bracket. Nebraska’s Isaiah White (23-6) was the Division II champion for Notre Dame College last season.
I-Mar is No. at 165! pic.twitter.com/Hxck5xwYcW— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018
All Penn State’s Mark Hall does is win championships. A Junior World champion, Hall won the title here as a true freshman last March. He brings a 28-0 record to Cleveland. Yet, he is the No. 2 seed behind Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia (27-0), an All-American for Zeke Jones as a freshman in 2017. Missouri’s Daniel Lewis (29-0) is a beast, along with Ohio State’s Bo Jordan (23-5). Lehigh’s Jordan Kutler (24-3) is dangerous, but this weight could be waiting on a Valencia-Hall slugfest on Saturday night.
Undefeated at 174 pounds, Arizona State's Zahid Valencia is the top seed! pic.twitter.com/ZZp3tajAbn— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018
Like Retherford, Nolf, Joseph, and Hall, Bo Nickal was a national champion for Penn State last March. Nickal (26-0) is a human highlight reel and seeded No. 1 after beating Cornell’s Gabe Dean in the finals a year ago. Ohio State’s Myles Martin, a former national champion at 174, had Nickal’s number for a bit, but Nickal has been the better of the two of late. North Carolina State’s Pete Renda (21-1) is a former All-American who sat out last season; Lehigh’s Ryan Preisch (14-2) is another quality wrestler for head coach Pat Santoro. Nickal could meet another Dean, Cornell’s Maxwell, in the quarterfinals.
Reigning 184-pound national champ Bo Nickal tops the bracket in his weight class! pic.twitter.com/OGesx06xST— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018
Ohio State’s Kolin Moore (22-2) is seeded No. 1 with Cornell rookie Ben Darmstadt (30-1) at No. 2. Virginia Tech’s Jared Haught (26-2) and North Carolina State’s Mike Macchiavello (17-3) are 3-4, respectively. Way under the radar is Oklahoma State’s Preston Weigel (11-2), third at the Big 12s behind South Dakota State’s Nate Rotert (28-4) and West Virginia’s Jake Smith (13-7), who draws Darmstadt in the first round. Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed (20-3) won an intrasquad battle for the starting spot and is seeded fifth. A Rasheed run could go a long way in helping the Nittany Lions against the Buckeyes.
Buckeye Kollin Moore tops the 197-pound bracket entering Cleveland! pic.twitter.com/rGmcqMOxXO— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018
Some thought Kyle Snyder was an alien. Two world championships, an Olympic Gold medal at 20 years old. Two NCAA titles for Ohio State. But late in the year Snyder was beaten by Michigan’s mammoth Adam Coon. A few weeks later, in the finals of the Big Ten Championships, Snyder (12-1) beat Coon (25-1) in overtime. Others to watch in this bracket: Penn State’s Nick Nevills (26-5), Duke’s energetic Jacob Kasper (35-2), Arizona State’s Tanner Hall (20-6), Oklahoma State’s Derek White (23-2), Hofstra’s Mike Hughes (34-3) and Iowa’s Sam Stoll (19-4) could all be fighting for Snyder and Coon’s table scraps.
At the top of the heavyweight bracket is 2x NCAA Champ Kyle Snyder! pic.twitter.com/AGenbBY7M8— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) March 7, 2018