Wrestling: Big Ten Championships Preview

The Iowa Hawkeyes travel to Evanston Illinois this weekend to take on the rest of the Big Ten, trying to secure their 35th Big Ten title. Brian Finley checks in with his predictions for the championships.

NOTE:

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See the full bracket here

125 Pounds
Not that he needed much help, but things shook out fairly well for Matt McDonough with the pre-seeds. There are two wrestlers in the Big Ten that could beat McDonough, and they're both on the opposite side of the bracket, #2-seeded Brandon Precin and #3-seeded Zach Sanders. One thing I'm looking forward to seeing is the presumed semifinal matchup between Precin and Sanders. Sanders wrestles at a pace similar to McDonough, and Precin will do everything he can to slow that down, as Precin did in his two matches with McDonough so far this year. It would make for much better TV to have a Sanders/McDonough final, as the two would easily put up around 20 points. A Precin/McDonough final? Somewhere around 10, maybe

I think that's what we'll end up seeing, though. When Precin and McDonough match up in the finals, it will be the third time they've met this year, with all three coming in Welsh-Ryan Arena. Precin's been successful at slowing the pace against McDonough in the past, with a power move bringing McDonough a hail-mary win in their second meeting.

Prediction: 1st Place

133 Pounds
This is probably the most confusing bracket at the Big Ten Championships. #3 Ramos beat #1 Long, #4 Futtrell beat #3, #1 beat #2, but didn't wrestle #3, #3's losses came outside of Big Ten Dual Competition, so why is he #3? I'm not going to even pretend to understand how they've seeded these athletes. Ramos told the Daily Iowan, "I don't care about the seedings, it really means nothing." So that's about where we'll leave it.

Ramos is a very high-energy guy. He's out there to score points, win, and win big. That'll help the further he gets in the bracket, where other wrestlers may not have the same endurance. I'll admit, I haven't seen much of Tyler Graff. He seems to dominate lesser opponents, and struggle against the higher-ranked wrestlers. He nearly got majored by Andrew Long in their dual meet two weeks ago. He hasn't scored bonus points against a ranked wrestler this year. I think this plays into Ramos' hand. It seems Graff may get tentative against better competition, and if you're tentative on the mat against a 100-mph Hawkeye, you're done. That would leave us with another Long/Ramos matchup, and with the way things have gone lately, I'd take Ramos in that 8 days a week.

Prediction: 1st Place

141 Pounds
Montell Marion returned to the lineup and made an immediate impact. He did enough to earn himself the #2 seed at the Big Ten Championships, behind Kellen Russell. He had a late lead on Russell in the dual meet, but couldn't close it out, and lost a close decision. I don't think Marion will have any difficulty making it through to the finals, assuming he keeps his head in the game. Marion has been known to have mental lapses, particularly at the beginning of matches, and get himself in trouble. He gave up a quick 5-point move to Alton of Penn State, but rushed back and won that match. If he can avoid those early hiccups, he'll see Kellen Russell in the finals again. (Although I'm putting it out there that Jimmy Kennedy could sneak up and tag Russell, for the record.)

Russell vs. Marion, round 2. Complete toss-up. Marion looked very good against Russell early in the match, but fell off late. Conditioning? Possible. I'll give this one to Marion.

Prediction: 1st Place

149 Pounds
Unfortunately, Mark Ballweg is outmatched at 149. He hasn't trained his body at that weight all year, so while he may weigh 149 pounds, he doesn't have the same muscle mass that a 149-pounder would have. His first match is against Eric Grajales, who majored him in the dual meet last month, 13-3. The Big Ten has been allotted 8 qualifier at 149 pounds, though, so if he can wrestle back well, he'll have a real shot at making it to Philly.

Based on the way the bracket lines up, Ballweg, if he loses his first match, would then likely get either #4-seed Eric Terrazas or #5-seed Colthurst Schmitt. Both tough draws. Unfortunate positioning, especially against two wrestlers the Hawks avoided in dual meets this year.

Prediction: 7th Place

157 Pounds
Derek St John is the first Hawkeye to have a pigtail match, where he'll go up against Sean Nemec of Ohio State. St. John won 9-3 in the dual meet. That was back in January, when St John wasn't wrestling with much confidence at all. DSJ definitely has the ability to score some much-needed bonus points in this match. The only obstacle between St John and the finals would seem to be Jason Welch of Northwestern. In their dual meet, St John won 4-2.

Once he makes it to the finals, however, he's got his hands full. He'll likely see David Taylor, the freshman phenom from Penn State. Taylor destroyed St John, 12-4, in their dual meet. Taylor is the real deal, and barring some fancy stuff from Derek, Taylor will be your Big Ten champion.

Prediction: 2nd place

165 Pounds
Aaron Janssen really came on late in the year, earning the #4 seed at the Big Ten Championships. Unfortunately, that puts him between a rock and a hard place. His first match is against the #5-seed Conrad Polz, with Andrew Howe likely around the corner in his next match. Janssen has the ability to snag one of the 5 qualifying spots for the NCAA Championships, but it's likely going to involve some tricky wrestleback wins.

Prediction: 4th place

174 Pounds
Ethen Lofthouse gets a pigtail match to begin the tournament against Ben Friedl of Illinois. He has a fairly decent draw, however. He'd meet Ed Ruth of Penn State in the semifinals, but has represented himself well against the other competitors he may run up against in wrestlebacks. The Big Ten secured 8 qualifiers at 174 pounds, which gives Lofthouse a fighter's chance at making the field. It's a very even field outside of Ruth, which leads me to believe Lofthouse will be able to sneak in there.

Prediction: 7th place

184 Pounds
Grant Gambrall took the #3 seed. His first match will be against AJ Kissell, who didn't compete in the dual meet. That match may end up being a tougher roadblock than his possible semifinal matchup against Kevin Steinhaus. Grambrall was in complete controll through the first two periods against Steinhaus before giving up 5 points in the final period to lose 5-4. If Gambrall can get fired up and focus, he'll sail past Steinhaus and see Travis Rutt of Wisconsin in the finals.

Rutt doesn't score points. I think Gambrall pulls the upset and heads home with a title. He's drawn a lot of comparisons to Jay Borschel, and that continues this weekend, I think. Come tournament time, he'll step up.

Prediction: 1st Place

197 Pounds
Luke Lofthouse has really come on strong this season. His offense was limited to begin the year, but he's become more varied, as well as finding a way to consistently finish single-leg shots, something he struggled mightily with in the past. I see 197 unfolding very similarly to 184. There isn't a wrestler who's head-and-shoulders above the competition. Lofthouse shouldn't have trouble making it to the finals against Brandvold, where, just like Rutt, it'll be a low-scoring affair. Lofthouse's lungs (combined with Brandvold's lack thereof, he's missed plenty of time this year with injuries), lead to another champ for the Hawks.

Prediction: 1st Place

Heavyweight
Rasing really came on late in the year with big wins over Ben Apland and Tony Nelson. That kept him off of #1-seed Cameron Wade's side of the bracket. He's shown the ability to hang with anyone he's faced. That includes Wade, who defeated Rasing 1-0 in their dual meet. It wouldn't be out of the question for Rasing to stand atop the podium, but I feel like a third place finish is more likely. Lungs will play a huge role, if he'll find the energy to commit to shots late in matches, especially in his 2nd or 3rd match of the day.

Prediction: 3rd Place

Team:
Iowa definitely has the firepower to take home the title. The fact that Iowa's big guns at 125, 133, and 141 don't have a pigtail is disappointing, and definitely cuts down the margin of error. Still, I see the Hawkeyes finishing in first place, ahead of Penn State and Minnesota.


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