The 2022 NCAA wrestling championships brackets always inspires great debate. Who will emerge as the biggest star of the tournament? Which low-ranked wrestler will break through and take over his weight? Which defending champs have the best chance to win another title?
Let's break down the bracket by weight class, assessing the most likely title contenders and a few sleepers who could cause disruption over the course of three days in Detroit:
Top title contenders: Nick Suriano, Vito Arujau, Pat Glory
When three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee announced that he would be pulling out of the rest of the 2021-2022 season and electing to pursue ACL surgery on both of his knees, all eyes turned to 125 pounds to see who would emerge as the newest leader at this lightest weight class.
Princeton's Pat Glory assumed the No. 1 spot at first, only to be surpassed by Michigan's Nick Suriano after the Wolverine wrestled his first match. Suriano has maintained that top spot throughout the season and now heads into the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed at the weight.
In an interview with NCAA.com earlier this year, Glory said he preferred wrestling as the underdog, and he's now back in that positioning, entering this year's NCAA tournament as the No. 3 seed after dropping to Cornell's Vito Arujau in the EIWA conference tournament. Aruja's victory reversed a previously result against Glory in the Princeton-Cornell dual where Glory topped him 11-9, but most importantly, Aruja's latest win gives him the No. 2 seed in the bracket, putting him opposite Suriano. If the bracket goes chalk, he'll have Glory in the semifinals while Suriano could meet 2021 NCAA finalist Brandon Courtney in his semifinals. The likelihood that the bracket goes as seeded, however, is rare.
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Minnesota's Pat McKee has stirred up seeding in the past, and he's back to his winning ways after finishing third at the Big Ten tournament. Jakob Camacho of NC State has also proven that he's on the All-American level with his ACC finals win over Sam Latona and could make a run. Lock Haven's Anthony Noto has additionally quietly put together an almost undefeated season out of the MAC conference, though his path is tough. Any of these guys and plenty of others want to shake up predictions and send a message. The 125-pound weight class is one of the most fun weights in the country, and these guys will come out ready to rock. If Iowa can put a wrestler on the podium at this weight once again, the result would certainly be newsworthy, so the sleeper here is Drake Ayala, the true freshman who medically forfeited out of Big Tens after qualifying for the tournament but could go on a run if he's healthy.
Sleeper pick: Drake Ayala, Iowa
Top title contenders: Roman Bravo-Young, Daton Fix, Austin DeSanto
Last year's NCAA finalists Roman Bravo-Young and Daton Fix both return as the top two seeds in this year's bracket, followed by No. 3 Michael Michael McGee of Arizona State, No. 4 Korbin Myers of Virginia Tech and No. 5 Austin DeSanto of Iowa. Bravo-Young and Fix have separated themselves as the only two undefeated wrestlers at the weight, and they've been the athletes to beat all year. Navigating a deep 133-pound conference bracket that included Lucas Byrd and Austin DeSanto, Roman Bravo-Young emerged victorious in the Big Ten while Fix rolled past everyone in the Big 12 as well.
Korbin Myers from Virginia Tech is an interesting player at this weight as well, and while he's been overshadowed this year by the success of Bravo-Young and Fix, the Hokie comes into this tournament as the No. 4 seed with an 18-1 record. His only loss came against Arizona State's Michael McGee, a Sun Devil All-American who similarly has two losses on the year to Bravo-Young and Job Greenwood.
Last year, the placewinners at 133 pounds went as follows: Bravo-Young, Fix, DeSanto, Myers, Byrd, McGee, Chris Cannon of Northwestern and Louie Hayes of Virginia.
The 2022 seeds reflect a similar order of Bravo-Young, Fix, McGee, Myers, DeSanto, Dylan Ragusin of Michigan, Byrd and RayVon Foley of Michigan State. Chris Cannon sits at the No. 10 spot, one behind No. 9 Michael Colaiocco of Penn. How will this order shake out this year? When filling out your brackets, don't forget that No. 12 Mickey Phillippi has a career win over Daton Fix and could be an issue for some wrestlers on his side of the bracket.
Sleeper pick: Micky Phillippi, Pittsburgh
Top title contenders: Nick Lee, Jaydin Eierman, Sebastian Rivera
This is a weight class defined by three seniors. Three former conference champions and three All-Americans. Only one of them, Penn State's Nick Lee, has an NCAA title to his name, but any of them are capable of winning it this year. Lee has the top seed though, so the conversation starts with him.
The 2021 NCAA champion had finished fifth in the NCAA tournament on two occasions, but he broke through last year and topped Big Ten champion Jaydin Eierman in an electric finals bout. Lee repeated that performance in Carver-Hawkeye earlier this year, beating Eierman in overtime in his home gym and locking up the top seed at the Big Ten tournament. Eierman then forfeited out of the Big Ten finals against Lee, giving him the No. 2 seed in this tournament.
Two-time Big Ten champion Sebastian Rivera comes in at the No. 3 seed, despite also forfeiting out of the tournament before his match against Eierman. Rivera took a 9-3 loss to Lee last year in the NCAA semifinals and a sudden victory loss to him in the Big Ten finals, but Rivera looks like he's filled out into a stronger 141 pounder ready for the upset. The Rutgers graduate student is 24-0 on the year with 87.5% bonus. Like Eierman, Rivera has a Big Ten title, but no NCAA title. If the bracket goes chalk, he'll have Eierman in the semifinals this year, and these two have never met.
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Eierman, Lee and Rivera, of course, aren't the only guys capable of winning a title, as Stanford's Real Woods is wrestling well right now, and Nebraska's Chad Red, despite needing an at-large bid, is known as Mr. March. Big 12 champ Andrew Alirez is also hungry for a shot at the podium. North Carolina's Kizhan Clarke also needed an at-large bid to the tournament, but he has a win over Red and wrestled a disciplined style. He's absolutely an All-American contender. The talent level in this weight class is high, and these guys are ready to put on a show.
Sleeper: Kizhan Clarke, North Carolina
Top title contenders: Yianni Diakomihalis, Austin Gomez, Sammy Sasso, Tariq Wilson
When Yianni Diakomihalis beat Ohio State's Sammy Sasso comfortably in the Cliff Keen Invitational finals at 149 pounds, he solidified himself as the top man at the weight. Sasso, a 2021 Big Ten champion and NCAA finalist, is unquestionably one of the top guys in this class, but Diakomihalis sent a message with his win that he was on another level. For months, Sasso held down the No. 2 spot. He was expected to win the Big Tens and take the No. 2 spot in the NCAA bracket, opposite Diakomihalis, setting up another potential final.
Enter Austin Gomez. The Wisconsin transfer student caught fire at the Big Ten tournament and roared past 2021 Big Ten finalist Ridge Lovett in 20 seconds to set up his match with Sasso. The Buckeye defending conference champ scored first, but Gomez notched his own two-point takedown in the second. He then hit another takedown in the third to take the lead and worked to fend off Sasso's last-minute efforts for the remainder of the period. Time ticked down. Gomez was the champ.
The win gave him him the No. 3 seed, as NC State's Tariq Wilson scored the ideal No. 2 spot after finishing his ACC season undefeated. The Pack senior will work from the bottom half of the bracket to try and earn his bid to the finals, and he could meet Gomez in the semifinals, if the brackets go chalk. Up on the top side, Sasso comes in with the No. 4 seed, a good position particularly considering his runner-up finish. This weight brings a clash of styles, a range of techniques and lots of speed.
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One athlete to keep an eye on as well is No. 19 Yahya Thomas from Northwestern who made a run to third-place last year after coming in at the No. 25 seed. Thomas can't qualify as a sleeper because of his third-place finish last year, so that honor will go to Campbell's Josh Heil, the highest seeder "sleeper" on this list at No. 7 but someone who nearly beat fourth-place finisher Boo Lewallen last year in a series of crazy sequences and has the potential to make a high podium run in his last season.
Sleeper: Josh Heil, Campbell
Top title contenders: David Carr, Ryan Deakin, Jacori Teemer
David Carr has been the man at 157 pounds since he took over the weight at the 2021 NCAA tournament, and he'll come into this year's championships as the top seed with a target on his back. In his three-year varsity career, Carr has just one loss, a 9-8 decision against Northwestern's Ryan Deakin, and while the two haven't met since that match in 2019, Carr has dominated just about everyone else he has faced. He's 21-0 on the year, fresh off a third Big 12 title, and he's looking as strong as ever.
Deakin, though, is ready to win his own NCAA title. After working through the Big Ten championships for his third conference title as well, Deakin is primed to compete for the top spot nationally, and his undefeated record speaks for itself as well. No. 3 Jacori Teemer out of Arizona State, the third undefeated wrestler at the weight, doesn't always get the attention he deserves wrestling out the Pac-12, but he's on Deakin's side of the bracket and could meet the Wildcat in the semifinals if the bracket goes chalk.
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2021 NCAA champion Austin O'Connor, the Tar Heel senior who beat Sammy Sasso out for the 149-pound title last year, is now up a weight looking for another gold, but he sits at No. 11 after losing the ACC finals to NC State's Ed Scott, who comes in ranked No. 4. Scott's win put him in a great position to make some noise on the top side of the bracket, and, if all matches go chalk, he'll have a shot at Carr in the semifinals. In addition to dropping to Scott, O'Connor also took a loss to Nebraska's Peyton Robb, making Robb the obvious sleeper to watch at the No. 10. Quincy Monday from Princeton is a fun All-American contender to watch at the No. 5 seed, and Michigan's Will Lewan at the No. 8 would shake up the standings if he competes like he did at the Big Ten tournament. This is a weight where the podium could look wildly different than the seeds, but there are a few elite leaders at the top who will be looking to hold down their spots.
Sleeper pick: Peyton Robb, Nebraska
Top title contenders: Evan Wick, Keegan O'Toole, Alex Marinelli, Carson Kharchla, Dean Hamiti, Shane Griffith, Cam Amine
Is this the year Alex Marinelli battles all the way to the finals and captures the NCAA title that has eluded him so far in his career? Or does Evan Wick's undefeated season continue and end with gold at 165 pounds? Where does the funk of Keegan O'Toole and Dean Hamiti fit into the mix?
These questions and more linger over the 165-pound weight class as defending Stanford NCAA Champion Griffith looks to overcome his three losses to Evan Wick this year and reclaim his crown. Wick, a Cal Poly senior who previously earned All-American honors wrestling for Wisconsin, earned the top seed at the weight with undefeated Keegan O'Toole from Missouri coming in at No. 2. O'Toole finished third last season, losing only to NCAA finalist Jake Wentzel by decision in the wrestlebacks.
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Wentzel earned the No. 10 seed this year, and he's still in the discussion as well, though he has a tougher path and could face Ohio State's Carson Kharchla in the second round. Kharchla beat Iowa's Alex Marinelli in the Ohio State-Iowa dual, but he then took two losses to Michigan's Cam Amine and Wisconsin's Dean Hamiti in the Big Ten tournament. If Marinelli is a title contender, Kharchla has to be considered a title contender, and if Kharchla is a title contender, Hamiti and Amine also deserve that respect.
Julian Ramirez earns "sleeper to watch" honors after beating Shane Griffith in the Stanford-Cornell dual earlier this year, but All-American Anthony Valencia also has a win over Griffith from last year, so he can't be ignored either at the No. 18 seed. His All-American honor last year makes it hard to call him a "sleeper," but he certainly adds depth to an already insane weight class.
Sleeper pick: Julian Ramirez, Cornell
Top title contenders: Carter Starocci, Mekhi Lewis, Michael Kemerer, Hayden Hidlay
While 165-pounds might be the deepest weight class in terms of number of potential champions, the 174-pound weight class is the most elite, with No. 1 Carter Starocci leading the way as the defending champion and 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis also in the mix trying to return to the top of the podium. NCAA finalists Michael Kemerer of Iowa and Hayden Hidlay of NC State also want their moment in the spotlight in their final season, and they've each beaten one of those former champions earlier in their career. Starocci and Lewis both have the most recent wins over these rivals, but Hidlay and Kemerer need to be acknowledged as potential champion contenders given their history of success and 2021-2022 records so far.
The problem for anyone in this weight class is going to be navigating through the bracket, as landmines wait at every turn. Michigan's Logan Massa impressed in his Big Ten semifinals against Nebraska's Michael Labriola, and his grit has been on display all year as he continues to be a point-scorer for the Wolverines in their 100th season as a program. The win over his Husker opponent made a major difference in the bracket, as Massa is now at the No. 3 seed with Labriola at the No. 9 spot, meaning Labriola will have to beat No. 8 Michael O'Malley of Drexel just to advance, then he could have Starocci in the quarterfinals. Starocci hasn't wrestled Labriola this year, but the Husker did push him to sudden victory last year.
These Big Ten stars along with ACC leaders Hayden Hidlay and Mekhi Lewis will generate most of the significant hype leading into the national tournament, but Cornell's Chris Foca at the No. 14 seed could be an early challenge for someone like Massa, and Clay Lautt at the No. 10 seed is a danger too, as he pinned Hidlay earlier this season. Guys like Peyton Mocco from Missouri have pushed also Lewis and Hidlay before and could do it again, so while the weight is top-heavy and led by stars, there's no reason to underestimate anyone.
Sleeper pick: Peyton Mocco, Missouri
Top title contenders: Myles Amine, Aaron Brooks, Trent Hidlay, Parker Keckeisen
Michigan's Myles Amine made headlines at the Big Ten tournament when he topped Penn State's Aaron Brooks in the 184-pound finals and helped elevate Michigan to the Big Ten team title. Now Amine will have a chance to produce the same result in a bigger bracket with even more competition. The Wolverine graduate student comes into the bracket as the No. 1 seed, opposite Brooks, but, if the bracket goes chalk, he could have Northern Iowa's Parker Keckeisen in the semifinals, an opponent Amine has not yet faced in college but one who pushed both Brooks to a one-point decision twice.
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Down on the bottom side of the bracket, Brooks and Hidlay are set for a collision course, if the two of them win their first three matches leading into the semifinals. Brooks beat Hidlay 3-2 in the finals last year, but Hidlay looks to be even more powerful and athletic than he was last year when he nearly beat the champ. If this match happens in the NCAA semifinals, wow. These two will put on a show.
Ohio State's Kaleb Romero, seeded at No. 7, is a quality wrestler who has not yet won All-American honors despite his impressive career, and he's in a favorable position, but there are a number of other elite competitors ready to top him for their own podium spot. No. 12 Brit Wilson of Northern Illinois, No. 24 Caleb Hopkins and No. 11 Jon Loew of Cornell all sit outside the top 10 but just won conference titles and ave the confidence of their recent wins working in their favor as they fight for NCAA glory. Don't forget about Maryland's Kyle Cochran who won the Southern Scuffle and is looking for an All-American trophy. There's a lot to be excited about at 184 pounds, and while only one wrestler remains undefeated in this bracket — Trent Hidlay of NC State — everyone starts the NCAA tournament with the same opportunity to win five straight matches.
Sleeper pick: Kyle Cochran, Maryland
Top title contenders: Max Dean, Stephen Buchanan
Without defending champion AJ Ferrari, the 197-pound bracket is a complete toss-up. Penn State's Max Dean leads the way, and he'd be a much more certain title contender if he hadn't taken a later season loss to Michigan's Cam Caffey. Dean, of course, left no doubts that he was the best 197-pounder in his conference, at least, when he beat Caffey, Nebraska's Eric Schultz and Rutgers' Greg Bulsak to take gold, and he's now in a good spot to make another run to the national finals.
On the other side of the bracket is another top talent in Stephen Buchanan, a 23-2 Wyoming All-American who only has losses to Ferrari and well-known pinner Owen Pentz. The problem for Buchanan, though, is that if the bracket goes chalk, he could have an early second-round matchup with NC State's Isaac Trumble, another dangerous pinner who wrestles a wild style and puts people on their backs. Trumble did take a loss to Nino Bonaccorsi at the ACC finals, dropping him to the No. 15 seed while Bonaccorsi, a 2021 NCAA finalist, is up at the No. 5 and on track to meet Michigan's Pat Brucki in the quarters if the brackets fall according to seed.
Brucki's dangerous because he beat Iowa's Jacob Warner at the Big Ten tournament, but he also has a loss to Maryland's Jaron Smith, an upperweight grad student who needed an at-large bid to qualify. Smith has Lou DePrez in his first round match, and the winner of that bout faces the winner of Caffey vs. UVU's Evan Bockman. There is so much potential for chaos and upsets here, and that's not even considering the the sleeper of the weight, Owen Pentz, who sits down at the No. 22 spot but has that win over Buchanan. It's wild.
Sleeper pick: Owen Pentz, North Dakota State
Top title contenders: Gable Steveson
The story of heavyweight is Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson. The senior Gopher has bonused every single opponent in his weight class this season and comes into the national tournament as the unquestioned top seed and national title favorite.
Pac-12 champion and 2021 All-American Cohlton Schultz has the fortunate No. 2 spot, so he'll be away from Steveson for most of the tournament, though he could face No. 3 Tony Cassioppi, a wrestler who beat him 5-0 and 4-1 in last year's tournament, in the semifinals.
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Then there's the Wyatt Hendrickson, one of the most exciting, unreported stories of the year. The Air Force sophomore has had an exceptionally dominant season this year, pinning all but five of his 24 opponents. His bonus rate is absurd, and while Steveson is still the man at the weight until proven otherwise, Hendrickson is still one of the most interesting wrestlers to watch at this weight.
In an interview with NCAA.com, Hendrickson talked about his goals of finishing Top 5 at the 2022 NCAA tournament, and the nation's pin leader is in a great position to just that, coming in at the No. 5 seed. He doesn't have an easy road to the semifinals though, as he'll have to get past Penn State's Greg Kerkvliet if the bracket goes chalk. The winner of that bout will likely face Steveson, barring the biggest upset of the year, which isn't a great reward for success in the tournament.
Mason Parris is also a top wrestler to watch at the weight, and he holds down the No. 7 seed while Lehigh's Jordan Wood comes in at No. 6 Matt Stencel of Central Michigan is also dangerous at the No. 8 seed, as he just one his fifth MAC title but could have Steveson in the quarterfinals of the national tournament if the brackets go chalk. Of course, don't forget to tune in to see "Gas Tank Gary" Traub fight for a podium spot in his final NCAA tournament as the "sleeper to watch."