The brackets for next weekend’s NCAA Championships were released on Wednesday evening in a live streamed selection show on NCAA.com. Eight of the nine of the Penn State wrestlers who qualified for the national tournament received top-five seeds.
Freshly crowned Big Ten champions Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf, who are a combined 45-0, were seeded first at 149 and 157, respectively. Nolf is 12-0 with five pins and four technical falls against fellow qualifiers while Retherford is 11-0 with five pins and two technical falls against qualifiers.
Barring major upsets, in order for Retherford to defend his 149-pound weight class national title, he’ll have to beat both Brandon Sorensen of Iowa and Anthony Collica of Oklahoma State — the only two wrestlers not to give up bonus points to him this season, with each dropping a tough one-point decision to him.
At 184, Bo Nickal was seeded second behind two-time reigning NCAA champion Gabe Dean, who Penn State fans may remember as the freshman who upset Ed Ruth at the 2013 Southern Scuffle, one of only three losses in the three-time champ’s career. Nickal’s road to the finals to face Dean will likely include a semifinals bout with Ohio State’s Myles Martin, the only wrestler to beat him this season and who beat him in the 174-pound weight class national finals a year ago.
Both Nick Suriano and Vincenzo Joseph came in as the three seeds in their brackets.
At 125, Suriano injury defaulted his way through the Big Ten Championships in order to maintain his eligibility for the NCAA Championships. He remains the favorite to take down two-time All-American Thomas Gilman, who beat him 3-2 in January. Luckily for Suriano, he has an easy road to the finals provided that he is healthy. The only two wrestlers to beat him this season, Gilman and Nick Piccinnini of Oklahoma State, are on the opposite side of the bracket.
In the first round of the bracket at 165, Joseph will meet Stanford’s Keaton Subjeck, who beat Joseph 18-12 in the redshirt freshman’s second collegiate dual. Although he lost to Subjeck, Joseph has improved immensely since November and is a strong candidate to reach the finals and unseat two-time champ Isaiah Martinez, who beat Joseph twice this season via decision. Joseph also won’t have to face Michigan’s stud freshman Logan Massa until the semifinals.
Mark Hall, Matt McCutcheon, and Nick Nevills all were seeded fifth in their brackets. The main roadblock to the finals for Hall will be Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia, who is 33-0 and seeded first. After Hall’s impressive runs at the Southern Scuffle and Big Ten Championships, the true freshman, a six-time Minnesota state champion, is one of the most intriguing and noteworthy wresters in the tournament.
If all works out with obsessive, wrestling-crazed Big Ten fans in mind, Hall could meet Bo Jordan of Ohio State for the national title in a rematch of Saturday’s overtime conference tournament final thriller. That would be the second consecutive national tournament with a Nittany Lion/Buckeye 174 lb. championship bout.
Both coming in as the five seeds on the same side of the bracket as a dominant, reigning national champion, 197’s McCutcheon and 285’s Nevills don’t seem ready to challenge J’Den Cox or Kyle Snyder for the finals. The two upper weights, however, are dangerous threats to place high for the Nittany Lions, who will need all hands on deck to defend their title and hold off the Cowboys and Buckeyes.
The lone Penn State wrestler not seeded in the top five is Jimmy Gulibon, who enters the tournament unseeded after a disappointing seventh place finish at the Big Ten Championships.
Although the senior 141-pounder has shown signs of greatness throughout his career, he has been inconsistent. Gulibon’s performance next weekend could be what pushes the Nittany Lions over the hump to their sixth national title in seven years. Just two years removed from his All-American sophomore season, Gulibon still has a relatively easy road to a medal if he wrestles up to par. He will face No. 13 seed Javier Gasca of Michigan State in the first round.
Every match of this year’s tournament will be broadcast live on either ESPN or ESPNU from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis beginning Thursday March 16 at 12 p.m. Follow along on OnwardState.com and @OnwardState on Twitter for all of your in-depth, in-the-moment 2017 NCAA Championships coverage.