It is time to start thinking about tournament power. Winning duals does not always translate to winning tournaments. The modern scoring rubric means a team with three or four superstars can finish inside the top 15, while a balanced team of eight or nine might not be able to score as many points. That being said, Penn State wins dual meets and also can score a ton of tournament points thanks to the bonus-point power of Nick Lee, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, Shakur Rasheed, Bo Nickal, and Anthony Cassar.
There are still some duals to wrestle, namely, the Oklahoma State-Iowa matchup in Stillwater this Sunday. The old rivals, along with Big Ten powers Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Nebraska, will try and chase down Penn State in Pittsburgh next month. One thing is for sure: The Big Ten Championships, hosted by Minnesota, is going to be a bloodbath. Another thing? Parity exists in Division I college wrestling. Those ranked anywhere from No. 9 through 20 can beat each other on any given day. Better bring your “A” game the rest of the way.
1 – PENN STATE: Last weekend’s wins over Michigan State and Illinois moved the Nittany Lions to 13-0 this season and their dual streak to 58 straight (Oklahoma State owns the record at 69). PSU hosts Buffalo this Sunday, meaning the streak should stay intact heading into the 2019-20 campaign. This season’s cast of Cael Sanderson characters has been, in a word, phenomenal. Will they set NCAA records in Pittsburgh next month? It is certainly possible, if everyone stays healthy.
2 – IOWA: Determining No. 2 could happen this Sunday when Iowa travels to Stillwater to battle old friend Oklahoma State. The two programs own a combined 57 NCAA titles between them and will be in the thick of things next month. But none of that matters this Sunday. These two programs do not like each other. Yes, there is mutual respect, but that is where it ends when these two foes take the mat. The Hawkeyes have plenty of firepower with Spencer Lee (125), Austin DeSanto (133), Kaleb Moore (157), and Alex Marinelli (165), plus a solid trio in the upper weights. Iowa’s last NCAA crown was in 2010. This year’s group might be head coach Tom Brands’ best since then.
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3 – OKLAHOMA STATE: A shift is underway in Stillwater with Joe Smith, Jacobe Smith, and Dakota Geer dropping a weight late in the season. Senior Chandler Rogers, a two-time All-American, has been the starter at 165 pounds, and will battle it out with one of the Smiths for a starting spot in March. The return of All-American Preston Weigel at 197 pounds has forced movement in the lineup. The Cowboys stole a road win at Missouri last Saturday, getting an overtime win from heavyweight Derek White to seal the deal. Gallagher-Iba Arena should be amped when the Hawkeyes visit this Sunday.
4 – MICHIGAN: The Wolverines moved to 12-1 with a solid win at Rutgers last Sunday highlighted by top-ranked Stevan Micic’s win over Nick Suriano in the 133-pound bout. Michigan has a strong lineup top-to-bottom and possibly big tournament points from Micic, Kanen Storr (141), Alex Pantaleo (157), Logan Massa (165), Myles Amine (174), and talented young heavyweight Mason Parris. The Big Ten Championships might give an indication if the Maize and Blue are ready to make a run in Pittsburgh.
5 – OHIO STATE: Ranked second most of the season, the Buckeyes might be Penn State’s biggest threat in a tournament environment. Tom Ryan’s squad is certainly led by former NCAA champ Myles Martin, who has been a beast as a senior at 184 pounds. Throw in Joey McKenna (141), Micah Jordan (149), and Kollin Moore (197) and you have three other potential finalists. You put people on the big stage and you have a chance to compete with the Nittany Lions.
6 – MINNESOTA: Brandon Eggum has guys who have been there and done that, meaning NCAA tournament experience. Sean Russell is a senior transfer at 125; Ethan Lizak was in the NCAA finals two seasons ago; Mitch McKee might be ready to move onto the medal stand; Steve Bleise (157) is a senior. Leading the Gophers, however, is a true freshman heavyweight who is currently 28-0, Gable Steveson. He alone could put UM inside the top 20. Considering where the program finished last season, a top 10 showing would be nice.
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T7 – MISSOURI: The Tigers had a 35-match win streak snapped against Oklahoma State last Saturday. Brian Smith’s squad had a lead, sparked by Jaydin Eierman’s pin at 141 pounds, but the visitors won the final three bouts to end MU’s streak. Smith has had some good squads over the last 15 years and this is another one. Eierman is a threat to all at 141 and rookie Brock Mauller is 25-1 at 149 pounds; he will move into the top five after his win over OSU’s Kaden Gfeller. Three-time All-American Daniel Lewis pinned 2018 NCAA champ Zahid Valencia two weekends ago and dominated Joe Smith of OSU. Can he challenge PSU’s Hall if he makes it to the big stage?
T7 – CORNELL: It is business as usual for Rob Koll and Cornell. February means getting the lineup in order, and the Big Red are a good tournament squad once again. With unbeaten Yianni Diakomihalis (141) leading the pack, Cornell also has scary-good rookie Vito Arujau at 125 pounds, under-the-radar Chas Tucker (133), and veteran Ben Honis (197). A champion, a few All-Americans, and expect another top 10 showing for the Big Red. Oh, and a win over Princeton secured a 17th-straight Ivy League title.
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9 – NEBRASKA: Battle-tested, the Huskers dropped 21-12 dual to Ohio State last weekend. NU is 11-5 with losses to Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa, North Carolina State, and Wisconsin. Tyler Berger is a title threat at 157 pounds, and NU certainly has All-American potential at 125, 141, 165, 174, 184, 197, and 285 pounds. In other words, Mark Manning has a team with the potential to make some noise in Pittsburgh. They finish the dual season at Stanford this Saturday.
T10 – LEHIGH: The toughest schedule in the country will have Lehigh prepared for the postseason – if they stay healthy. The trio of Jordan Kutler (174), Ryan Preisch (184), and Jordan Wood (285) give Pat Santoro three pretty good bets at top eight finishes. Lehigh also seems to wrestle well at the NCAAs, not unlike Cornell. The Mountain Hawks might need a few surprises in March to stay in the top 10.
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T10 – NORTH CAROLINA STATE: An odd year for the Wolfpack with losses to Pittsburgh and Wyoming, but a win over Nebraska. This Friday a dual with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg could be a dandy. The health of a few weight classes could determine where NC State fits in, especially at 133 and 141 pounds, but bet on 157-pounder Hayden Hidlay and Nick Reenan (184) to challenge for top honors. Justin Oliver (149) and Sean Fausz (125) could also cause problems in their brackets.
T10 – VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies host North Carolina State this Friday and the ACC Championships next month. Tournament power comes from Mekhi Lewis (165), David McFadden (174), and Zack Zavatsky (184). Rising Mitch Moore (141) and veterans Tom Sleigh (197) and Billy Miller (285) could also factor in. Korbin Myers, another Edinboro transfer, should not be taken lightly.
The next 11 – Northwestern, Rutgers, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Princeton, Arizona State, Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, Wyoming