Now we enter the absolute madhouse that is the BIG TEN. Often proclaimed collegiate wrestling's toughest conference & often for good reason. Just take a look & find out for yourself.
Once again color coded
Black = These wrestlers earned allocations throughout the season & are expected to be our NCAA qualifiers
Blue = These wrestlers have not earned allocations and will either need to steal a spot or earn NCAA qualification through an at large/Wild card selection.
Devin Schroder of Purdue going to make his third BIG 10 finals appearance in a row? I think he's certainly capable of it. He'll have to avoid Eric Barnett of Wisconsin along the way though. For some reason while Schroder can beat just about everyone else in the BIG 10 at the weight class, he can't seem to figure out Barnett. While he does own a 9-8 decision over Barnett, Barnett has won the last three meetings in a row. The Badger has been the cut in Schroder's Achilles heel. The other question to ponder about Schroder is what will happen if he meets Ayala again. That's a rematch I'm anxious to see. The neutral atmosphere of Lincoln, Nebraska will be much different than that of Iowa City.
Another possible finalist here could very well be Penn State's Drew Hildebrandt. The former Central Michigan Chippewa has proven himself to be a valuable addition to the Nittany Lion lineup. In three seasons with CMU he made the MAC finals every time, winning two titles. Can he make the BIG 10 finals? Having the closest match with Suriano this season suggest that yes he can, but again not a given.
Anxious to see Iowa's Ayala in action here against the whole field at once. The BIG 10's can be a house of wonders for someone who hasn't experienced it before. It's one thing to wrestle BIG 10 duals, but a whole other thing to wrestle the tournament. Sometimes freshmen come in and with a nothing to lose attitude tear through the competition. Other times, it overwhelms them. Ayala has struggled with Minnesota's Pat Mckee thus far this season, but has some very nice wins including Schroder & Michael DeAugustino of Northwestern.
And that's kind of where I'll leave Mckee, DeAugustino, Barnett & Malik Heinselman of Ohio State for right now. It seems that each one of these guys at one time or another has beaten the other & the parity within the madness makes it so difficult to predict. What I will say is that McKee is one of those guys that if he doesn't place top 8 & is wrestling in the 9th place match it wouldn't surprise me. If he makes the finals & has Suriano fighting off his back as I'm watching them live, it wouldn't surprise me. I'm happy to see Heinselman wrestling so well this season. I love guys that go after it with an attack, attack, attack style. His motor is set on go the entire time & it's rewarding to see him & that style wrestling so well.
Dylan Shawver of Rutgers & Justin Cardani of Illinois are who I think we'll see battling it out in the 9th place match, although I could be wrong. Shawver upset McKee last year at the BIG 10's. Maybe he'll do it again. Cardani is no slouch. Wins over DeAugustino, Heinselman and Barnett more than prove that.
In the end it's clear to see that there is good reason why the NCAA awarded the BIG 10, 10 allocations here. They were well earned. They are more than deserved.
The Magic 8 Ball says that the forecast for March 6th is a final between Penn State's Roman Bravo Young & Iowa's Austin DeSanto. Is there any chance whatsoever for it to be someone other than those two? The first time I saw DeSanto & Illinois' Lucas Byrd wrestle, I thought absolutely not. Yet the second time I saw them wrestle, I thought maybe. So I'll give it that. I'll give it a chance that Byrd could upset DeSanto in a likely semi-final but still going with DeSanto on who I think will win.
Now as far as RBY Vs DeSanto is concerned, yes DeSanto CAN beat RBY. He's done it twice before, but in the last series of matches, it has been the Nittany Lion always one step ahead of the Hawkeye. It doesn't seem like much when you look at the end result & only see a separation of 1 point between the two, but lately it's been a world of difference.
It's asinine to think that with a weight class that already has 10 allocations that someone would need to steal a spot, but that just furthers the argument for why so many call the BIG 10 the toughest conference in the nation. If anyone is going to steal a spot here it is Wisconsin's Kyle Burwick. 5th in the BIG 10's last year, he's already prove that he can defeat Minnesota's Jake Gliva as he handed him a 6-4 SV loss earlier this season. I'd also say that neither Matt Ramos of Purdue or Joey Olivieri of Rutgers are out of his league. Those are both winnable matches. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Burwick were to finish within the top 10.
While I do believe that Byrd is our forerunner for 3rd place, I'm anxious to see what happens between RayVon Foley of Michigan State, Brock Hudkins of Indiana, Dylan Ragusin of Michigan & Chris Cannon of Northwestern. Within that bunch you have two All Americans & it's peculiar to think that they'll most likely be fighting for somewhere between 4th & 7th place. Again, testimony to the toughness that is the BIG 10.
You know how they say that because of all of the venomous snakes, spiders & scorpions along with the crocodiles & sharks you wanna stay the heck out of the Australian outback because everything there wants to kill you? That's pretty much what we're dealing with in the BIG 10 at 141 lbs. This is outright scary & as the late Steve Irwin would say, "Danger, Danger, Danger!"
We're talking six returning All Americans, and out of those All Americans one is a four timer & three more are three timers! If that isn't enough We have a national champion & two NCAA Runner-ups! I'm still not finished. We also have three wrestlers returning that have won BIG 10 titles, one that owns two BIG 10 titles.
Who's winning this thing?
Almost all eyes focus in on a probable final of Iowa's Jaydin Eierman Vs Penn State's Nick Lee. These guys have had quite the feud with Eierman taking the first two matches & Lee winning the last two. Here is what is on the line for these two gentlemen. Thinking in terms of team points, both the Hawkeyes & the Nittany Lions need a win here. On a personal level, Eierman has won every conferene tournament that he's ever participated in. The four time All American hoping to be one of the rare five timers by season's end has won three MAC titles & one BIG 10 title. On the same hand, being 3rd-3rd-2nd-2nd in the BIG 10, Lee who has an NCAA title, has yet to own a BIG 10 title. Can he keep Eierman from winning his fifth? Or will Eierman walk out of Lincoln, Nebraska with yet another bracket sheet to hang on the wall?
Is anyone stopping Eierman or Lee?
Sebastian Rivera of Rutgers is your strongest maybe. Let's not forget that on his impressive resume are two BIG 10 titles that he won in 2019 & 2020. He has yet to wrestle Eierman in his career & while he didn't look good in a 9-3 loss to Lee, he did look good in a 8-6 SV loss to him. When Rivera gets hot & on a role he's tough to beat. I'd consider him a contender.
Our Darkhorse here is Chad Red Jr of Nebraska. At this point he's not even an allocation, he'll have to either steal a spot or rely on the mercy of an at large bid/wild card. Yet I find it hard to believe that a four time NCAA qualifier, who has earned All American status three times won't make it to the NCAA tournament in 2022. He's always given Eierman a match. Seems to never be able to come out on top but he's always in the match. Other than a 9-1 loss to Lee, he's always been right there with the Nittany Lion too. Matter of fact, I think he's wrestled Lee better than what he's wrestled Eierman. He's only met Rivera once & that was a tight 4-3 victory for the Scarlet Knight. Red can also be susceptible to upsets from time to time, but usually once we've hit the post season, he's ready to rock and roll. Let's also take into consideration we're in Lincoln, Nebraska this weekend. That WILL make a difference.
So that leaves us with what in the world to make of Stevan Micic of Michigan. If you read JT#1 on a regular basis you already know my analysis all season has been that he just isn't big enough for 141 lbs. Here's a guy that is a three time All American. An NCAA finalist that has won a BIG 10 title, & we're not even sure if he's going qualify for this year's championships. There are 7 allocations here at the BIG 10, plus besides him, four other guys trying to steal those spots from the 7 that earned them. I'd like to think that Micic has something in his back pocket, a little magic that he's gonna let loose at the BIG 10's, but I don't know. Let's see what happens.
As to the rest of those who haven't earned an allocation but are looking to steal one, I'd think Dylan Duncan of Illinois will most certainly be a candidate. I also think Northwestern's Frankie Tal-Shahar is another one to keep an eye on. He has yet to get much love or recognition from the wrestling media, but he might here. He already owns victories over Park Filius of Purdue & Joe Zargo of Wisconsin. Not to mention he's kept it very close with Jake Bergeland of Minnesota & Red. While not as promising & at this point rather unlikely, I also wouldn't count out Cayden Rooks of Indiana from stealing a spot either.
The Spanish word for wrestling is lucha libre, which literally translates into "free for all." In the case of 149 lbs in the BIG 10, I think that's exactly what we're going to get. Being all & 0 against the competition, already owning a BIG 10 title from last season, Ohio State's Sammy Sasso is the obvious favorite to win a title. I'm not 100% sold on that considering some of the really close matches the Buckeye has had this season but until someone proves otherwise, he is the man to beat.
As to the rest of the weight class.....
The first thing I'm going to say is that with only 7 allocations, it's almost a given that there will be at least one steal. Who it'll be & who they take it from, I have no idea but to think the 7 who earned the allocations will be the exact 7 who get them goes against the very foundation that has been the BIG 10 tournament ever since this new qualification system began in 2009. Maybe they will though, who knows?
Max Murin of Iowa is a candidate to make the finals. As good as he wrestled Sasso earlier this season, it's not asinine to think that he may even be able to knock him off. He's gotta worry about other opponents first before he gets that far though.
Ridge Lovett of Nebraska is another plausible finalist & truth to be known maybe Austin Gomez of Wisconsin is the guy we ought to be looking at. He's undefeated Vs BIG 10 competition thus far. He hasn't faced Murin or Sasso, but he has some other notable wins, including Lovett.
Will Yahya Thomas of Northwestern pull another stint like he did at the NCAA's last season? He took 3rd in the nation last year as if his life depended on earning that bronze medal. He wrestles like that again, he could very well be on top of the podium.
Did I say lucha libre yet?
Then there is Mike Van Brill of Rutgers. The best he's ever wrestled his entire collegiate career was at last year's BIG 10's. He was upset early on & then rallied back in style to a 3rd place finish. Will be see him wrestle like that again this tournament?
As to our possible stealers....
The only reason Kanen Storr of Michigan doesn't have an allocation or for that matter a ranking is because he hasn't wrestled enough matches. He's been 5th at the BIG 10's the last three seasons in a row. Already a three time NCAA Qualifier, you gotta think in the very least he's a threat.
Graham Rooks of Indiana? Well what sticks out to be most about Rooks is that he's been a thorn in the side of Thomas. On paper this looks like it should be a win for Thomas, but it's only turned out a win for him 1/4 of the time. The other three times the two have met, it has been Rooks who has had his hand raised.
I'm a fan of all of these guys but because of the story behind it, I'd really like to see Christian Kanzler of Illinois earn an NCAA qualification. Here's a guy that has spent his entire career as a backup & most likely would have finished his career as a backup if it weren't for the injuries of teammates, opening up a spot for him in the lineup. He's earned the ranking that he received, but is it enough to get him an at large/wild card selection? I don't know. Any other year, I'd say yes, but 2022 is a very abnormal season. This is just not the time to be relying on an at large bid. I'd say he's gonna need to place top 7 if he wants to go.
Michael Blockhus of Minnesota is a two time NCAA qualifier, and I think his chances are about the same. 2022 is simply a very difficult year to call yourself a qualifier.
The only weight class in the BIG 10 I could fit on one page. As far as I'm concerned Northwestern's Ryan Deakin is the best senior in 2022 yet to win an NCAA title. With that said though, he has to worry about winning his third BIG 10 title before he worries about winning his first NCAA title. I think he's sitting good but this is DI wrestling & furthermore the BIG 10. You can't overlook anybody.
So many of us were worried about Kaleb Young of Iowa at the beginning of the season, but I knew that once he found himself, he'd be ok. Took him till the beginning of February, but with three nice wins, including Garrett Model of Wisconsin, Wyatt Sheets of Oklahoma State & Peyton Robb of Nebraska, it's clear that the old Young (love that oxymoron) is back. Now, let's consider the options. Best case scenario for Young? He has beaten Deakin twice in the past. It was a long time ago, but as far as who is wrestling in this tournament, no one else has. I think he has about a 1 in 10 shot at beating Deakin. What has greater odds is Young not wrestling up to expectation. Go back to 2020 & the nightmare that BIG 10 tournament was. Hawkeye fans would much rather see a repeat of 2021 when Young finished as the BIG 10 Runner-up.
Wisconsin's Garrett Model was 10-14 his first year of varsity competition for the Badgers. Then he was 9-15. Last season he was 4-7. It's rewarding to see the guy with a winning record this year & to have broken into the rankings. That's very cool & inspiring. However, I think he's in serious jeopardy of having his spot stolen from him & I think the person that will steal his spot will be Brady Berge of Penn State.
There's one thing I have learned watching Penn State since Cael Sanderson took over as head coach. The Nittany Lions operate on the polar opposite of Murphy's Law. What can go right, will go right for Penn State. Berge has wins over Young, Michigan's Will Lewan & he has already majored Model. A two time NCAA qualifier, I say the chances of him making a third trip to the NCAA's are pretty good.
Nebraska's Peyton Robb, Lewan, & Purdue's Kendall Coleman are all capable of doing big things here too. Wouldn't at all surprise me to see any of the three have outstanding tournaments.
Stinks that Brayton Lee of Minnesota ended up getting hurt this season. Would have made the bracket even more interesting.
Ironically enough as Iowa's Alex Marinelli heads into Lincoln, Nebraska looking to capture his fourth BIG 10 crown, it is two freshmen that stand in his way. One, Carson Kharchla of Ohio State that has already handed him a 3-2 loss & the other D.J. Hamiti of Wisconsin who gave him a Hell of a match in an 8-5 effort. I am so looking forward to the possible meeting between Hamiti & Kharchla. I have a feeling it'll be a feud to enjoy in the years to come. Matter of fact, if you're a fan of sensational freshmen, this IS the bracket to watch. He's not up there with them yet, but I have a feeling Cael Carlson of Minnesota will eventually catch up soon enough. If you watch his matches, he's not getting killed by anybody. He wrestled Marinelli to a point & Kharchla to a two point match. He's simply still young & making those rookie mistakes that freshmen often make. He'll work on those, he'll fix them & he'll use the experience of qualifying for the national tournament to enhance his skills for next season. Truth to be known, Bubba Wilson of Nebraska would also be talked about right now if it wasn't for the Hell that he's gone through the past couple of years. If you're unaware of his story, I'd be more than happy to share it with you. The fact that he's wrestling at all, let alone ranked, with some quality wins is outright miraculous. He might not make it to the NCAA's this year, because of how stacked 165 is with 7 allocations & 10 people fighting for them, but he too will be a force to be reckoned with as the years go by.
Is anyone going to steal a spot? Well, if David Ferrante draws Illinois' Danny Braunagel he might. It's been quite the affair between the Fighting Illini & the Wildcat. They've gone back & forth, 2-2 in four matches & both have beaten the ever lovin' crud out of the other. I'd also maybe give a small chance to Michigan State's Caleb Fish. He has some notable wins this season.
Lastly, I'm anxious to see where Cam Amine of Michigan ends up placing. To be honest I was shocked when he took home 3rd at last year's BIG 10's & even more shocked when he placed 7th at the NCAA's. Is he going to light it up & have a similar finish this season? We'll find out.
All right, since I forgot to put them in the photos, the 2021-2022 individual records.
I think most of the wrestling world sees this as a two man race to the BIG 10 title between Iowa's Mike Kemerer & Penn State's Carter Starocci. I am not one of those people. While I do give that the odds of about 75%, I see this as a four man race to the title, which also includes Michigan's Logan Massa & Nebraska's Mikey Labriola. There's nothing about the matches between Labriola Vs Kemerer or Starocci & there's nothing about the matches between Labriola Vs Kemerer or Starocci that tell me that these can't be won. I think on Sunday when it's all said & done our final will be Kemdawg Vs Starocci & our consolation final will be Massa Vs Labriola, but there's absolutely no reason anyone should be in shock if Massa or Labriola make the finals.
Ethan Smith of Ohio State possibly getting within the top 4 here? It's possible but I think he's our man to finish a strong 5th, although with as much as Bailee O'Reilly of Minnesota has improved & keeps on improving, he might take that spot. His last match with Smith was a wild 11-8 meeting.
There are 8 allocations here & it's hard to believe that a three time NCAA qualifier that made the MAC finals three year's running, that has won an MAC title, is going to need to steal a spot. Andrew McNally of Wisconsin could theoretically get an at large bid/wild card but in the insanity that is 2022, I wouldn't rely on it. He's going to have to garner out wins like the 3-1 victory he has over Troy Fisher of Northwestern & he's gonna have to figure out how to turn close losses, like the 3-1 Sudden victory loss to Gerrit Nijenhuis of Purdue into wins. Above anything else, he absolutely must avoid a loss like the 4:55 fall to D.J. Shannon of Illinois. It just goes to show you, nothing is a given. It must always be earned.
The 10% chance, is looking at Kaleb Romero who has wrestled pretty well this season. He gave Amine one Hell of a scare in a 3-1 Sudden victory loss & we have yet to see what Romero can do against Brooks.
I was hoping that 2021-2022 would be a breakout season for Nebraska's Taylor Venz & it's not that he hasn't had some highlights this year. He's had some notable wins & he looked very solid in a runner-up finish at Cliff Keen in Las Vegas. Yet he's not wrestling like the guy that took 4th at the 2018 NCAA's or the guy that does own a victory over Brooks. Matter of fact, he's taken some ugly losses this season but Saturday as well as Sunday are new days. He's still capable of doing very well. That potential hasn't gone anywhere. It's still there. Beating Brooks or Amine for a spot in the finals? That's a tall order but finishing as high as 3rd? Very doable.
As to the rest of the weight class? Well, I'll start off by saying that the 12 allocations awarded here were very well deserved. Matter of fact, we have 13 guys & this is an occasion where I'll say that if one of the spots is stolen (which it likely will be) that all 13 guys deserve to go. Who is our stealer?
Abe Assad of Iowa. The Hawkeye is in very good shape to steal a spot from one of the 12 who has earned one. In fact, I'd bet on him stealing a spot. He's undefeated against Zac Braunagel of Illinois & Max Lyon of Purdue & he's also defeated Chris Weiler of Wisconsin. I'd be shocked if he doesn't break into the top 12.
Speaking of Lyon I gotta put in a word for this guy. He's one of those guys that has just always been there. He's not one that's going to contend for the BIG 10 title & most likely he'll finish on the lower half of the podium, but you know what? He's never backed down from anyone. He's never ducked a match in his career. He's always went out and battled. To quote Elmo (the late J.C. Quinn) from Vision Quest there's something "pretty God damn glorious" about that. Definitely respectable and admirable. Hope to see him have a good run in his final hurrah.
The rest of the weight class I think is a crap shoot. All of these guys are so good, they've beaten one another, there's parity, the whole works.
From top to bottom, all the way around for a multitude of reasons this is a very fun weight class. For one is it so wide open. It really is. Parity & even more so the fact that so many of the matches that have been wrestled between these guys have come down to the wire. A lot of sudden victories & matches that have only been won by a point or two. Thus actually being or at least giving the illusion of being, "could have gone either way."
It's hard to believe that as long as Eric Schultz of Nebraska has been around & with as much as he has achieved during his career that he hasn't been an All American yet. It's also hard to believe that he hasn't won a BIG 10 title yet. He's got as good of a shot as anyone. It's now or never.
Max Dean of Penn State is certainly another candidate & for him to win a title here would be pretty cool because in the history of NCAA DI wrestling, I don't know how many wrestlers have won both an EIWA title & a BIG 10 title. The same thing could be said for Pat Brucki of Princeton, another candidate that could end up winning a BIG 10 title.
Then we have Greg Bulsak of Rutgers. It's hard to believe as removed as we are from the last days of the EWL conference that we still have wrestlers competing today. Bulsak never did win an EWL crown, but he does own a MAC title. While Iowa's Eierman is one to have won both a MAC & a BIG 10 title, there aren't too many around that have.
Iowa's Jacob Warner is definitely a candidate in his own right that could win a BIG 10 title. He's been 3rd here three years in a row. Is this the to trade in the bronze for gold or at least silver?
Last but far, far far from least is Cam Caffey of Michigan State. A BIG 10 finalist in 2020, he's gunning for the title too.
And honestly maybe I ought to put Gavin Hoffman's name in the hat. Inconsistent & not as likely as the others, he'd have to have one Hell of a good tournament but I wouldn't call it impossible. He's had some rough losses, but he's had some good wins & he's also taken guys to the wire in some of those losses. Wrestled Warner to a point & took Dean into overtime. The inept ability is there.
Maybe Thomas Penola of Purdue or Braxton Amos of Wisconsin will have a break through tournament with some big wins. Penola has already shown promise with wins over Hoffman and Bulsak. Amos doesn't have the BIG win yet, but he's came close a lot of times for only being a freshman.
Another thing I must point out about this weight class is Jaron Smith of Maryland. He is living, breathing proof the utter importance of health in this sport. You have got to remain healthy, it is every bit as important as is the work you put in & everything else. He's spent his entire career with one injury or another & finally in his final year, he's healthy. It's made a world of difference & it's been rewarding to see. Similar notes can be made about Andrew Davison of Northwestern.
Lastly I'll say that Michial Foy of Minnesota stands more than a begger's shot at stealing a spot here. There are 11 allocations & the idea of him taking one is not far fetched. He's beaten Hoffman already & while he's struggled with Brucki & ironically enough Penola, he's kept it very close with Amos, Warner and Schultz.
As you can tell by the massive amount of results provided in the photographs above, the HWT's in the BIG 10 know one another very well. Last year's BIG 10's saw Champion Gable Steveson of Minnesota, runner-up Mason Parris of Michigan, third place Tony Cassioppi of Iowa & 4th place Greg Kerkvliet of Penn State. I'd wager to say that while the order might not be the exact same, those will be our top four once again.
After watching Cael Sanderson just dominate the competition twenty years ago, I was certain that I'd never seen anything like it again. It was a once in a lifetime ordeal & the sophomore in High School I was at the time realized as I watched it how historically significant it was. Then Steveson came along. If it weren't for a guy named Anthony Cassar, we might even be arguing that he's better than Sanderson. Maybe we still can. He is an Olympic Gold medalist during college. Or maybe it doesn't matter & the truth of the matter is, we just got really lucky to see what by all means should be a ONE time thing, TWICE.
Can anyone else here break into the top 4? No. I'm almost certain of it The battle from here on our is for 5th. I think Christian Lance of Nebraska stands a real good shot at taking that position but you know what? Despite any head scratcher losses he has during the season, Trent Hillger of Wisconsin is always game come post season.
My last thought on BIG 10 HWT is that there are 9 allocations here & I'm 99.9% as close to 100 as I'll get that the 9 allotted will be the 9 who go. With that said, even though I don't think he's going to qualify this season, a word needs to be put in for Purdue's Michael Woulfe. He wrestled for Navy initially qualifying for the NCAA championships in 2016. Then he served our country the past 5 years in the United States Naval Academy. He came back to finish his final year of eligibility. Now some throw a fit because they think everyone in college should be 17-20 years old, but personally I think it's very cool and I think it deserves recognition.
So that's my look at the BIG 10's for 2022. What a fun & crazy tournament it will be.