Wrestling Preview: Penn State Seeking Fifth-Straight NCAA Championship
Fresh off a disappointing fifth place finish in the Big Ten tournament, Penn State wrestling heads to St. Louis for the NCAA Championships. The Lions qualified seven of 10 wrestlers and are looking to make a splash in the tournament despite coming in as more of an underdog than in recent years.
The Lions won’t carry any No. 1 seeds into the tournament, but figure to be competitive across the board. Junior Morgan McIntosh brings momentum from his first Big Ten Championship run into the tournament and could be the pick to win it all at 197 pounds. Matt Brown should also undoubtedly find himself near the top of the finishers at 174 pounds. These two wrestlers need to surpass their already high expectations if the Lions want any shot at making a title run.
Beyond these two standouts, individual titles seem like a long-shot. That being said, heavyweight Jimmy Lawson sits on the other side of the bracket from the two wrestlers to defeat him this season: Bobby Telford of Iowa and Adam Coon of Michigan. This favorable bracket and a renewed sense of confidence from Lawson mean he definitely has a shot to make a run for the title at 285 pounds.
Jordan Conaway collected a third place finish at the Big Ten tournament at 125 pounds, bringing some momentum into the NCAAs. He had a good showing there during his freshman season at 133 pounds before losing his starting spot last year. Another wrestler to watch will be Jimmy Gulibon at 133 pounds, one of the Lions’ best wrestlers this season despite his disappointing Big Ten tournament performance.
Zach Beitz and Matt McCutcheon will be making tournament debuts for the Lions, but head coach Cael Sanderson will still expect a lot from the young wrestlers, and the entire team. The season may be drawing to a close, but the Nittany Lion wrestlers will battle to the finish in St. Louis.
Here’s a breakdown for each PSU grappler’s weight class.
125: The field is deep and wide open. Nahshon Garrett of Cornell is the pick, but not convincingly. PSU’s Conaway will have his work cut out for him getting deep into the tournament.
133: Jimmy Gulibon has a serious shot here. Chris Dardanes of Minnesota is the favorite, but Gulibon has the potential to make waves. He needs to bring that aggressiveness he showed against Iowa in the BJC.
149: Zach Beitz checks in as a No. 12 seed and he will be competitive. That being said, expecting a national title run is a little bit of a stretch for the talented young wrestler.
174: Matt Brown has done ALMOST everything in collegiate wrestling, but the NCAA title has eluded him. Brown can pull this off, but make no mistake, it will be difficult. This weight class runs through Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh, who defeated Brown in the Big Ten final and is the prohibitive favorite in the NCAA tournament.
184: Another long-shot here comes in freshman Matt McCutcheon. Fortunately, the talented freshman is wrestling better than he has all season. Gabe Dean from Cornell is the pick.
197: Penn State’s McIntosh will be a serious contender for the title at 197 pounds, there is no doubt about that. The California native captured his first Big Ten title and will look to one-up that performance with his first NCAA title. J’Den Cox of Missouri and Kyven Gadson of Iowa State will be major obstacles in the way.
285: While Lawson sits on the other side of the bracket from his two losses, he could be looking at a matchup with top seed Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State. If he can find a way through that match, the title could be there for the taking.