Thursday, November 23, 2023

125 lbs Cliff Keen Las Vegas Preview (Fri Dec 1st-Sat Dec 2nd)


Year after Year I keep saying because it is the truth.  The Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational is the toughest in-season tournament in NCAA Division I wrestling.  We are talking 14 ranked programs, including the #2, #4, #5, #7, #8 & #9 teams. 

Here at 125 lbs, we're talking 20 ranked wrestlers! Plus a couple more studs who aren't currently ranked who are looking to be.   

As far as I'm concerned earning a top 8 showing here is only a smidgen below earning a top 8 showing at the NCAA tournament. It's about as prestigious of an honor as one can get. It shows how good you are and it's a credential that anyone should be very proud of. 

My job is to try and determine a handful of different things.  

Who are my championship contenders?
Who are my darkhorse Champion contenders?
Who is strongly looking for a top 8 finish?
Who could sneak in a top 8 finish?
Who could possibly be a monkey wrench? 

I hope to try and answer these questions as best I can.   Here's what I got...

Richard Figueroa
Arizona State

Believe it or not, Richard Figueroa was a backup to multiple time All American Brandon Courtney last season. Nevertheless he did give us a glimpse of how good he was going to be by winning last year's Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.  He did so by defeating eventual NCAA DI finalist Matt Ramos of Purdue by a 3-2 decision.  Now he enters his second CKLV championships, looking to defend his title & show that he deserves the high ranking he has been given.  Other victories over opponents he could very well see include a 6-2 tiebreaker over Brett Ungar, a 13-1 major decision over Diego Sotelo, a 6-3 victory over Tanner Jordan & a 13-5 major over Nico Provo. 

Jakob Camacho 
North Carolina State 

Injuries have thus far kept the Wolfpack member from having the glory he most likely would have already experienced, but as of right now he's healthy, he's 100% & he currently holds a #3 ranking.  Winning a CKLV title would be huge for Jakob Camacho.  Evidence that he is more than a candidate goes far beyond his high ranking.  He also owns an 8-5 victory over Matt Ramos.  Other victories include an 8-5 decision over Dylan Ryder & a 7-2 decision over Spencer Moore. 

Matt Ramos

Thus far 2023-2024 has been an up and down season for Matt Ramos of Purdue.  The 2023 NCAA DI finalist went into the season wanting to be everyone's favorite to win the 2024 NCAA DI title, & while some still have him picked, others have looked elsewhere.  Destroying #1 ranked Anthony Noto of Lock Haven 10-2 in the NWCA All Star Classic, he's kept himself on my radar. It would be a huge step for the Boilermaker to win this year's CKLV. It would help to silence the doubters and it would be a boost of confidence.  Thus far Ramos has been 8th & 2nd in these championships. 

Michael DeAugustino

The end of John Hughes' classic The Breakfast Club is flashing through my head as are the lyrics to Don't You Forget About Me by the Simple Minds.  I see a lot of discussion over who our candidates are for NCAA DI champions & I don't see many mentioning the name Michael DeAugustino.  I think they should & furthermore I think there's a good chance that they will once CKLV is all said and done. Dealing with injuries last season, let's keep in mind that he majored Matt Ramos 9-1 at the BIG 10 championships.  3rd at CKLV four seasons ago, he also owns a 6-1 victory over Anthony Molton, an 8-decision over Nick Babin, a 5-2 decision over Caleb Smith & a 6-1 decision over Brandon Kaylor. 

Kysen Terukina
Iowa State 

Figueroa, Camacho, Ramos & DeAugustino.  I think I have named the top four candidates to win this year's CKLV title at 125 lbs.  However, I question just how good Kysen Terukina is at the moment. Was his nearly tech'ing two time All American Eric Barnett of Wisconsin a testimony to how much he's improved over the summer? Or was it simply a really off day for Barnett? We'll see here at the CKLV championships as Terukina will more than have the opportunity to prove himself. Ironically enough, he has yet to face any of the ranked competition. 

Brett Ungar

The young Big Red was 7th in these championships last season, looking to climb higher on the podium this season. What gives me confidence that he could do very well here, is the fact that he owns a lot of wins over quality opponents.  He's beaten Brandon Kaylor & he's beaten Eddie Ventresca.  What concerns me though is that so many of Ungar's victories are by a single point.  At the end of the day a W is a W, but it can be risky keeping every match close. 

Caleb Smith 

The former Mountaineer, now a Husker is looking for his first major moment as a member of his new team. CKLV provides an excellent opportunity for Caleb Smith & there's plenty of reason to think that he could deliver.  Thus far he owns two victories of All American Eddie Ventresca by scores of 6-3 & 5-3.  Sticking Brett Ungar in 7:14, he has also defeated Tucker Owens twice by scores of 9-1 & 5-1.  A 4-1 victory over Anthony Molton, he owns a 7-3 decision over Spencer Moore. 

Jore Volk

The young sophomore has given illustrations that he is capable of doing some great things in his career as well as this season. CKLV provides the Cowboy with an opportunity to do well & really cement his name among the top at 125 lbs.  His most notable win thus far is a 3-1 s.v. over Michael DeAugustino.  With wins over Nick Babin, Anthony Molton & Tucker Owens, its safe to assume he's capable of more. 

Brandon Kaylor 
Oregon State

An All American two seasons ago, thus far in 2023-2024 Brandon Kaylor has had his fair share of ups & downs.  Coming off a huge win against Iowa's Drake Ayala, I'd say he's going into CKLV on a high.  The other thing he has going for him is that he has always performed well in Vegas taking 3rd & 4th place finishes the last two seasons respectively.  No question about it, he's probably not to keen on his current #16 ranking & a good showing here will propel him up the rankings. 

Nico Provo 

Here's a a guy I would definitely keep an eye on this weekend. Placing bets? Wanting to maybe earn a little dinero on a bold pick? Don't know if I'd go as far as to think Provo might win a title here in Vegas, but I would be comfortable calling for a few upsets.  It's not so much his victories that are speaking to me right now either.  He's got them.  Nearly tech'ing Tucker Owens 14-1, he also owns a 6-4 s.v. over Troy Spratley.  However,  it's the fact that he's had such good, close matches in some of his losses.  He's wrestled Brandon Kaylor to 6-5 & 3-2 decisions.  He gave Matt Ramos a 3-2 match. I don't think I'm stretching the laws of probability too much in thinking he might be able to turn some of these close losses into wins. 

Troy Spratley 
Oklahoma State 

The young Cowboy is thus far 5-0 in competition. Yet he has yet to face any ranked opponents this year & against those whom he'll be competing, his sole victory is a 4-3 decision over Tanner Jordan whom he defeated last year.  CKLV will give us a chance to see exactly where he stands amongst some of the best 125 has to offer in a very large & prestigious tournament. 

Tucker Owens
Air Force 

The Young Falcon has pulled off some big upsets thus far in his career & he'll need to pull off a few more here if he wants to try and make the top 8 in CKLV.  Against the competition, he thus far owns a 2-1 decision over Tanner Jordan. 

Tanner Jordan
South Dakota State 

Here's a guy whose career has been full of ups and downs. 20-17, 18-16, the past two seasons he has stayed a hair above a .500 record & he's had as many head scratcher losses as he has quality wins.  You never know quite what to expect with a guy like Tanner Jordan & I suppose that's what makes the sport of wrestling so much fun, especially in a place like Vegas.  He's already proven that he knows what it takes to make the CKLV award stand as he was 6th in last year's championships.  A 6:10 fall over Tucker Owens & a 4:11 fall over Anthony Molton, the Jackrabbit knows how to pin. He also owns a 5-3 victory over Eli Griffin & an 8-6 overtime win over Caleb Smith. 

Brendan McCrone
Ohio State 

A recently 11-3 major decision over All American Eddie Ventresca, I'm anxious to see just how fair or unfair Brendan McCrone's #23 ranking truly is. The entire Ohio State squad has been wrestling this season as if they have something to prove. A top 8 showing here at CKLV, would indeed be proving a lot. 

Nick Babin 

Much easier said than done amongst this incredible competition, but being a senior, it's do or die time for Nick Babin.  He'd have to pull off some major upsets, while at the same time, avoiding being upset if he were to make the podium here in Vegas.  Signs of capability include a 7-2 victory over Diego Sotelo & more impressive a 14-5 major decision over McCrone. 

Diego Sotelo

I feel similarly to Diego Sotelo as I do to Nico Provo.  Here's another guy with a ton of potential that could rocket up the rankings, if he could just learn how to turn close losses into wins. He's beaten Brett Ungar 1-0, also given him a 3-2 match, taking into overtime in another.  He also owns both a 4-1 as well as a 3-2 victory over Nick Babin. I've said it once, I've said it 100 times. The Crimson is looking to get back what they once were not all that long ago. A good performance from Sotelo here at CKLV could possibly be the spark that starts the fire. 

Spencer Moore
North Carolina

I said in a recent write-up, that I felt that Spencer Moore has thus far shown himself to be one of the most improved wrestlers in the nation.  Now it's really time to see how much he's improved here in Vegas.  You know as well as I do that CKLV will be full of huge surprises & shocking upsets. That's the nature of sin city.  As to who will be pulling them off? Spencer Moore could very well be one of them.  Thus far, owns a 5-4 tiebreaker over Tucker Owens. 

Eddie Ventresca
Virginia Tech 

As to actual capability and potential, it wouldn't be that much of a shock to see Eddie Ventresca come in here & have a phenomenal tournament.  As to rankings though? It'd be a huge upset.  In reality all a ranking is, is how you are currently performing at the given time.  With as much parity & chaos as their is in wrestling, especially at the lower weights, that can all change dramatically on a dime.  After all Ventresca was an All American last season, so he obviously knows how to perform in high pressure situations.  Coming out of here with a CKLV title would be a bit surprising, but coming out of here with a top 8 medal, not so much.  I will say though, in reference to just how tough & honorable of a tournament CKLV is, while Ventresca earned an NCAA DI medal last season, he failed to place here. 

Dom Mendez
Cal Poly 

There have been a lot of positive happenings & changes in San Luis Obispo & Dom Mendez has been one of them. As the Mustangs continue to work extraordinarily hard towards improving their wrestling program, they will look to perform well here at CKLV.  Mendez among their ammunition. 

Eli Griffin
California Baptist 

Here's another California guy looking to do well in Vegas. Don't let the fact that he has a lower ranking at the moment fool you either. He's capable of doing quite a bit.  A 4-2 decision over Kysen Terukina, he owns a major over Jore Volk 10-1 & a major over Nico Provo 11-2.  Rankings & seedings be what they may, I wouldn't go into a match with Griffin looking at the next round. Anyone does that, they could very well find themselves in the consolations. 

Anthony Molton

All of this immense talent, including twenty ranked opponents & I have the audacity to include an unranked wrestler in plausible top 8 talks? You damn right I do.  Anthony Molton as far as I'm concerned is getting severely disrespected by being left out of the top 33 at the moment. After all he accomplished last season & his only loss being to #13 Jore Volk, I think it's the definition of getting shafted.  No matter.  CKLV gives Molton plenty of opportunity to open up the eyes of his deniers & prove that he indeed deserves a ranking.  Want testimony?  How does a 6-4 s.v. over Matt Ramos last season strike you? Or a 14-6 major decision over Eddie Ventresca?  For the record he also owns a 6-3 decision over Spencer Moore. 

Dylan Ryder

Ok, now you can accuse me of being delusional.  The thing is, Dylan Ryder is a very talented wrestler. As to what he can do & what he is capable of, I have no problem thinking we could find him in the R12 looking for a place on the podium.  After all, he finished in the bloodround here four seasons ago. Then again, that was four seasons ago. Between injuries & reasons unknown to me, he also completely missed both the 2021-2022 & 2022-2023 seasons.  Recently against Brendan McCrone he really showed how detrimental all of the time off has been .  I can't help but hope though, that he still has a little something left in him. That he's still capable of doing some big things this season. I'll hold on to that hope for now & see what happens. 

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