Thursday, November 23, 2023

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


Like I did with 125 lbs & as I will do with the other eight weight classes, my job right now is to try and determine who I think could possible win CKLV.  Who I think are the forerunners. Who I think are the darkhorses. Also wanna try and determine who's our top 8. Who's our top 8 on paper?  Who's our top 8 by potential despite what the rankings might say?  As was 125 lbs, 133 is full of talent.  We're talking 17 ranked wrestlers including the #1 & the #2.  Will it be a showdown between the two or could we possibly see one if not both knocked off along the way? In a world where it seems the only predictability is unpredictability, we head into Vegas. 

Daton Fix
Oklahoma State 

A three time NCAA finalist, I think it is safe to say that Daton Fix is the best wrestler in NCAA Division I wrestling yet to win a national title. Yet the most pressing question still remains. Can he beat Vitali Arujau? There one and only meeting, Arujau had an answer to everything Fix threw at him & it ended 11-3 for the Big Red. A guy like Fix hasn't just lucked his way into three NCAA final appearances though. He got there for good reason & even though it was a major decision loss, there's no reason to think that he couldn't possibly turn things around.  It's not a matter of can, it's a matter of will. Can he? Of course.  Will he? Now that's the question.  While focused on the Arujau question, the other concern here is of course avoiding any plausible upsets. Fix has been a working man's wrestler.  You don't see him duck or avoid. Against the competition otherwise, he's been fairly dominate.  Kai Orine gave him a 7-4 match, but even that doesn't concern me too much. I'd feel fairly confident that Fix will be in our final. 

Vitali Arujau

After watching him perform at the NCAA Division I championships last season, I truly wondered if anyone would ever come close to touching him again. He was unbelievably dominant the last three days of the '22-'23 season.  I'm still in shock that this early into the year, he already has a mark against him. It just goes to show how incredibly tough it is at this level to go undefeated & be at your best at all times. 

Now he comes into  CKLV, wanting to answer "No!" to our question of whether Fix will defeat him or not. He already knows that by year's end he's gonna have to deal with Fix again & that by handing him a loss here, it plays into the important psychological edge that is so important in this sport. 

As to anyone possibly knocking Arujau off? I think the Crookham loss really woke him up & made him reevaluate his position. Nevertheless Sam Latona who will also be participating in these championships was Arujau's only loss last season. Not extremely concerned about that though, as Arujua owns three wins over him otherwise.  

This is collegiate wrestling, in particularly NCAA Division I collegiate wrestling.  Yeah, anything can happen & anything often does happen.  BUT...I think Fix Vs Arujau is likely to be our final. 

Kai Orine
North Carolina State

You want further testimony as to how competitive & tough CKLV is? How about the fact that Kai Orine, the #4 ranked wrestler who was an All American last season, finished one match shy of placing here? That's how tough this tournament is. While Orine is looking to knock off both Arujau & Fix, I think it's more likely that we see him fighting for bronze than it is we see him going after the gold.  Agaisnt others looking to stand in that 3rd place spot, Orine owns a 4-3 victory over Sam Latona. 

Sam Latona
 Virginia Tech 

As previously mentioned, Sam Latona does own a victory over Vitali Arujau. He's never faced Daton Fix & despite having a loss to Kai Orine, he's also defeated him twice by 3-1 scores. The thing about it is, Latona is capable of winning CKLV. On the same hand, he's shown himself to be susceptible to loss. He's already been upset once this season, so thinking it might happen again is not out of the question. Kind leaves us in a pickle doesn't it?  We got a guy here that by all means could shock the wrestling world & win this tournament. He could also get upset along the way & end up much lower on the podium.  That's wrestling. He was 6th here last year. 

Chris Cannon 

In a sport with so many highs & lows, redemption is often the story of wrestling. In many ways the 2022-2023 season didn't go for Chris Cannon quite the way he wanted it to. CKLV being no exception.  Two seasons ago, Cannon made the CKLV finals taking home a silver medal. Last year, he fought tooth & nail just to get on the podium taking home 8th.  Would I call him a darkhorse champion? With talent like Fix, Arujau, Latona & Orine, that's a mighty long stretch. The idea that he could maybe knock off one of them? Now that's more realistic. I think what is truly feasible though, is to think that Cannon could be the next best after the top four. While not a shoe-in, I see no reason at all to doubt that Cannon could be our 5th place.  I think that is a very doable task for the former Wildcat, now Wolverine. 

Julian Chlebove
Arizona State

As far as I'm concerned places 6th, 7th & 8th are more up for grabs. Among the contenders is Arizona State's Julian Chlebove. While the Sun Devil has had some notable victories in his career, he has yet to defeat anyone of note in what will be this bracket. Now's as good of time as any to show up and wrestle. 

Angelo Rini

Another contender for one of those spots 6th through 8th is Columbia's Angelo Rini. Like teammate Nick Babin, he's a senior, so the time has come to put up or shut up. As to put up, a recent 14-8 victory over Nic Bouzakis sticks out. As does the fact that he's defeated Brendan Ferretti on three occasions by scores of 14-9, 10-3 & 11-2. He also owns a 5-4 victory over Ethan Oakley & a 12-1 major over Dustin Norris. 

Brendan Ferretti

While Ferretti has thus far struggled with Rini, he does currently own a #11 ranking & among his wins a 4-3 victory over Derek Cardinal. 

Domenic Zaccone

On paper, I'm sticking to my gut feeling that the first four spots are already spoken for, with a very small probability of it being any different.  Feel fairly strong about the 5th place spot, although the probability of that being different is much higher.  With that said, wrestling doesn't take place on paper, it takes place on mats. We're gonna see some upsets. Guys are coming into Vegas this weekend to make a name for themselves.  One of those guys is Domenic Zaccone.  Among his wins thus far Vs the competition, a 6-3 decision over Ethan Oakley & a 9-3 decision over Dustin Norris. 

Nic Bouzakis
Ohio State 

Like I said when talking about McCone at 125, the Buckeyes came into the '23-'24 season overlooked & underrated and as a result they've been proving themselves over and over again.  Upsetting Virginia Tech, they completely shut out Edinboro, Columbia & Hofstra in dual action. Now it's time to show what the Buckeyes are capable of on the tournament front. They're young & lack experience, but what they lack in experience they make up for in pure tenacity. What a huge feather in the cap it'd be for Nic Bouzakis to capture a top 8 showing in Vegas.  He recently took Sam Latona to a 7-5 decision. 

Braxton Brown

You know it wasn't all that long ago that Maryland was at the bottom of the barrel within the BIG 10 & struggling just to send wrestlers to the NCAA DI tournament.  Now they have an assortment of ranked wrestlers on their team & they're ranked 29th in the nation. Seems a lot of this has happened rather quietly & they haven't gotten much credit for the vast improvements that have been made & are continuing to be made. Through coaching and recruiting Coach Alex Clemsen is doing a great job of building the program.  One Hell of a challenge, but it'd not only be huge for Braxton Brown to finish top 8 here in Vegas, it'd also be great for Coach Clemsen & for the Terrapin program. 

Evan Frost 
Iowa State 

I tell you what I like most about this kid. He knows how to turn even the ugliest of losses into wins. That takes tremendous courage & an ability to shake things off. It is also of course a testimony to the great coaching at Iowa State.  Evan Frost got his moke handed to him TWICE at the Harold Nichols Open by Julian Farber. Farber tech'd him 20-5 & then damn near tech'd him again 13-2.  A couple of weeks later at the UNI Open, Frost turned those embarrassing losses into an 8-5 victory.  Now that's saying something, which leads me think that Nevada can be the hottest state in the country, but we still might see some Frost. 

Haiden Drury
Utah Valley 

Every weight class has those wrestlers who are "not quite there." They ride the fence of respectable showing Vs glorification.  Haiden Drury is one of those wrestlers.  The Wolverine has been around for a while.  Even started off as a Bulldog before the Fresno State program was erroneously discontinued. He's proven what he's capable of in Vegas before. He was 3rd here two seasons ago. Albeit, the bracket wasn't as loaded as what it'll be this weekend, but still a 3rd place CKLV showing is a 3rd place CKLV showing. He also took Kai Orine to a 3-2 decision. 

I suppose it's a possibility we might also see Kase Mauger here instead. I wouldn't think so based on circumstance, but since when does anything make sense in collegiate wrestling?  He owns a very impressive 11-3 major over Sean Carter. 

Gabe Whisenhunt
Oregon State

The Beaver pulled off a huge upset over Sam Latona here not too long ago.  Is Gabe Whisenhunt capable of pulling off some more upsets this season? If so, Vegas is certainly a place to do it. 

#27 Jacob Van Dee Or U.R. Kyle Burwick

I'm going to be honest here & say that I feel that most of Jacob Van Dee's #27 ranking comes from what he accomplished last year at 125 lbs & what he did while he was in high school.  He does own an overtime victory over #28 Gable Strickland of Lock Haven (who will not be competing in Vegas) but other than that, he resume at 133 doesn't amount to much.....yet.  I stress yet, because what could be is often as important as what is.  A great place to jump start your collegiate career would be Vegas. 

With that said, will Van Dee even be our starter here in Sin City? Kyle Burwick is one tough hombre himself.  A 17-0 tech over Evan Frost is all the testimony I need to be convinced of that.  He also owns a 5-3 victory over Dustin Norris. 

Richie Koehler

Here's a guy that I think could plausibly open up some eyes this tournament.  I said & I mean that the bottom half of the award stand is up for grabs. Richie Koehler is a tough wrestler.  A 19-4 tech over Domenic Zaccone proves it as does a 6-2 win over Ethan Oakley & an 11-7 decision over Sean Carter.

#31 Or U.R.
Ethan Oakley Or Sean Carter
Appalachian State 


Be it Ethan Oakley or Sean Carter, I think either one of these Mountaineers poses a threat to the CKLV podium. Matter of fact, even though Ethan Oakley is the one with the ranking, I would say even more so Sean Carter.  While it's thus far been a rough start (I question his health at the moment), let's keep in mind that Carter was one match shy of a top 8 showing here last year.  He owns a 3-1 s.v. over Kai Orine & he took Sam Latona into sudden victory before dropping a hard fought 3-1 decision. Oakley is dangerous as well. A 3-1 s.v. over Domenic Zaccone on his resume. 

Derek Cardinal
South Dakota State

Among the unranked looking to be heard and seen, we have Derek Cardinal.  He's pulled off some quality victories in the past & I wouldn't put it past him to do it again. 

Julian Farber
Northern Iowa

I mentioned Farber's dismantling of Evan Frost at the Harold Nichols open last season.  He also owns a 12-5 victory over Hunter Leake & a 4-2 victory over Kyle Burwick.  Farber is one of those wrestlers that gets on a roll, gets on a streak. This is Vegas! Be not a better place to do so again. 

Jackson DiSario

Jackson DiSario has been around for ever it seems.  It's like you know the guy has talent. You know the guy has ability.  Yet ever since moving up to 133 lbs from 125 lbs, he's had trouble finding his groove. It's not like he's been completely without substance.  He owns a 3-0 victory over Ethan Oakley & he's defeated Hunter Leake by scores of 7-2 & 7-0.  With that said, if he wants to earn a third trip to the NCAA's (hasn't been back since '21) in his final season, he's gonna have to pull off some huge victories. Among this sea of vast talent, the lady luck of Vegas will have to be on his side, but it is not impossible. 

Dustin Norris

Ups & downs thus far as a Boilermaker, it doesn't escape me how often in the past unranked wrestlers have entered tournaments like these & just let loose. Dustin Norris strikes me as the type of potentially do such a thing. Thus far he seems to own Kyle Burwick's number with 3-1 & 6-2 decisions.  He also took Richie Koehler into overtime. 

Hunter Leake
California Baptist 

I suppose at this point you could accuse me of calling the entire damn bracket top 8 contenders. Be so as it may, that's just the truth of the matter. These guys are all so good. So many of them right on pare with one another.  As I've now said four or five times, I do think we have clear favorites as to our top four.  One with a good shot at 5th & some suited better for 6th, 7th & 8th than others. Nevertheless with the parity, uncertainty & as of late the high number of upsets, it's difficult to leave anyone off the list that is even a smidgen within fate's chance. Hunter Leake may be the last name I mention on my 133 CKLV preview, but he's far from least. Tough guy. Has some notable wins. Perhaps he'll add a few more to the list. 

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