Penn State Wrestling’s Floors And Ceilings At The Big Ten Championships
Bracket junkies have mused all week about all the potential matchups the wrestling world could be blessed with this weekend during college wrestling’s flagship conference’s postseason tournament.
Although the seedings won’t be finalized until Friday afternoon’s coaches’ meeting, we broke down all 10 brackets to assess Penn State’s best and worst case scenarios at each weight.
The Nittany Lions have a tall order in front of them as they attempt to reclaim the conference title from Ohio State, which will likely once again be their closest contender.
125 lbs. Carson Kuhn
Floor: Kuhn goes 0-2, is eliminated without earning any points for Penn State, and is pinned by Nathan Tomasello, who scores 20+ points for Ohio State and later wins the 125 lb. title.
Ceiling: Kuhn loses to Tomasello by decision but scores a few points in the consolation bracket and qualifies for the NCAA Championships.
If Carson Kuhn can survive his first round bout with No. 3 Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State without giving up any extra points, it’ll be a win for Penn State. If he can qualify for the NCAA Championships, it will be a triumph.
Kuhn showed he can keep up with Tomasello in his first match in more than a year during their teams’ epic dual last month, even leading after the first period before eventually dropping a major decision. All Cael Sanderson needs Kuhn to do is once again execute his job of damage control in that bout.
The 125 lb. bracket works in Penn State’s favor. The Big Ten received 10 bids to Cleveland, so all Kuhn has to do is win one or two matches to secure his berth. Additionally, as the bracket works out, only one of the wrestlers from Ohio State and Iowa, Penn State’s two closest competitors, can reach the finals. Tomasello will have to go through Spencer Lee of Iowa, who he lost to earlier this season, to make the finals.
Unfortunately then, Penn State fans may have to find themselves rooting for Nick Suriano, if he competes this weekend.
133 lbs. Corey Keener
Floor: Keener gets upset in the first round and eliminated in the consolation bracket without scoring any points for Penn State. Luke Pletcher of Ohio State wins the bracket.
Ceiling: Keener fights his way through the consolation bracket against the conference’s weaker competition to place somewhere in the top five.
Keener has wrestled well as of late, and Penn State will rely on its graduate student 133-pounder to make a run this weekend and score at least a few points. As a three-time NCAA qualifier, Keener has experience wrestling in the postseason and should find his way through the consolation bracket, onto the podium, and into the Quicken Loans Arena.
141 lbs. Nick Lee
Floor: Lee gets upset early in the tournament, and Joey McKenna of Ohio State wins the 141 lb. title.
Ceiling: Lee wins the 141 lb. bracket and does so with a few technical falls. McKenna doesn’t make the finals.
Ever since he burned his redshirt against Michigan, Nick Lee has been an exciting spark plug at 141 lbs. for the Nittany Lions. I see Lee making it to the finals, where he’ll lose another tight match to Joey McKenna. He needs just a little bit more experience to beat a top-flight wrestler in a high stakes bout, but I believe he’ll make that jump during the NCAA Championships, just as Mark Hall and Vincenzo Joseph did a year ago.
149 lbs. Zain Retherford
Floor: Retherford wins the 149 lb. title but does so without any falls. Ohio State’s Ke-Shawn Hayes makes a nice run and places third.
Ceiling: Retherford holds onto the 149 lb. title and pins his way to the finals, where he beats Brandon Sorensen by major decision.
Unless all hell breaks loose and Retherford loses in the finals to Brandon Sorensen, who he’s already beaten five times, the Zain Train is a lock at 149 lbs, which would be his third consecutive conference title. It’s more a question of how many points he’ll score for Penn State, but even that isn’t too big of a doubt. Retherford is 11-1 with five falls in the Big Ten Championships.
Here’s another thing we’re betting the house on: by the time he wrestles in the championship bout, Retherford will have broken the program’s fall record.
157 lbs. Jason Nolf
Floor: Michael Kemerer of Iowa receives the No. 1 seed, and Nolf ends up not competing. Some combination of Kemerer and Micah Jordan of Ohio State place first and second.
Ceiling: Nolf makes a legendary comeback and seizes the 157 lb. championship with a few falls.
Blame Nick Suriano’s postseason last March and the team’s cryptic responses Wednesday for my skepticism of whether Jason Nolf will actually compete this weekend or even in Cleveland in two weeks. However, the optimist inside of me thinks he’ll compete, and as long as Nolf is close to his full health, he shouldn’t have an issue reaching the finals.
A coaches’ meeting on Friday will decide whether Nolf or Michael Kemerer will receive the No. 1 seed. And there’s no way a healthy Jason Nolf isn’t the top seed at 157 lbs. The two have both wrestled 20 bouts, but Nolf holds a distinctive advantage in falls. He has 15 compared to Kemerer’s seven. How that decision goes will be critical, because it’ll determine whether Nolf or Michael Kemerer are on Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo’s side of the bracket. Nolf narrowly beat Pantaleo 6-4, the closest win of his career, earlier this season and while at full health.
Beating both Pantaleo and Kemerer if he isn’t at 100% could be a challenge, but this is Jason Nolf, so logic and the laws of physics don’t apply.
165 lbs. Vincenzo Joseph
Floor: Joseph places third after once again falling to Iowa’s Alex Marinelli in the semifinals.
Ceiling: Joseph wins the 165 lb. title and shows college wrestling last March wasn’t a fluke.
Vincenzo Joseph *should’ve* beaten Alex Marinelli last month. He led 5-2 in the third period, before one mistake cost him six points, the lead, and his No. 1 ranking. Although it is alarming that Joseph has been put on his back from the neutral position in each of his last two matches, Joseph should enter the tournament well-tuned and ready to avenge his loss to Marinelli, who is undefeated as a freshman.
Once Joseph reaches the finals, he’ll have yet another date with Isaiah Martinez, and folks, we will have the popcorn ready. My gut tells me Martinez will win Round IV, but Joseph has grown leaps and bounds, since he “got lucky” against “The Face of College Wrestling” in last year’s NCAA finals.
174 lbs. Mark Hall
Floor: Hall loses to Bo Jordan of Ohio State in the finals.
Ceiling: Hall wins the 174 lb. title and puts on a dazzling display of falls. Jordan gets upset and doesn’t make the finals.
174 lbs. is the first of three consecutive weight classes that will determine the team race this weekend. Both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes have the top two seeds at 174, 184, and 197 lbs (not mention 141 lbs.).
Good news for Hall: the only wrestlers to give of close bouts in conference are on the same side of the bracket. Hall shouldn’t have an issue getting to the finals, before he and Bo Jordan will likely square off in their fourth meeting. Hall is 2-1 against Jordan, and the winner in each of the first three bouts was on the winning end of the tournament/dual.
If Jordan doesn’t make the finals, Hall would likely face Myles Amine, who he beat 6-5 in January, thanks to a riding time point after being on top for more than two and a half minutes.
184 lbs. Bo Nickal
Floor: Nickal loses to Myles Martin of Ohio State in the finals.
Ceiling: Nickal pins his way through the tournament and hoists the 184 lb. crown; Martin loses early in the tournament and places outside the top two.
Bo Nickal is 82-3 during his college career, 15-2 in the postseason, 5-2 against Myles Martin, and 1-2 against Myles Martin in the postseason.
Although Nickal’s major decision win over Martin all but asserted that he had re-distinguished himself from Martin, the Buckeyes’ 184-pounder is still the only wrestler to beat Nickal in the postseason– and he’s done so twice.
In reality, Nickal *shouldn’t* have a problem beating Martin, but history is a scary, scary place.
197 lbs. Shakur Rasheed
Floor: Rasheed falls to Iowa’s Cash Wilcke in the semi-finals, and he and Kollin Moore of Ohio State place first and second.
Ceiling: Rasheed beats Moore to win the 197 lb. title and picks up a few falls along the way.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a previous matchup between Ohio State’s 197-pounder and Penn State’s 197-pounder to base our predictions on?
Shakur Rasheed was Penn State’s best bet at 197 lbs. for the postseason because of the scoring ability he and his pin-machine cradle provide. The all but imminent matchup with Kollin Moore in the finals might be the biggest and most entertaining bout of the weekend, considering how many points both wrestlers score.
While Moore has dropped two of his last three bouts, Rasheed hasn’t lost since he was still competing in open tournaments in December. The nation’s hottest wrestler and the season’s biggest story is primed to have as big of a tournament as he did at the Southern Scuffle, where he caught fire and burst onto the scene.
Heavyweight Nick Nevills
Floor: Nevills gets upset by Northwestern’s Conan Jennings, has to wrestle back, and places fifth. Kyle Snyder of Ohio State wins the title.
Ceiling: Nevills places third and once again, doesn’t give up bonus points to Snyder, who loses to Adam Coon of Michigan in the final.
Nick Nevills is RIGHT THERE, but there’s still a noticeable gap between him and the nation’s top two heavyweights. Nevills placing third may be the best case scenario, but it’s also the most likely. I don’t see Kyle Snyder losing again in college, after he fell to Adam Coon last month, but the Nittany Lions will be cheering for the Wolverine, as hard as it is.
In conference, Nevills’ only losses have come against Coon and Snyder, and he looked especially good against Iowa’s Sam Stoll, the No. 4 seed, so expect a big weekend and more growth from Penn State’s heavyweight.
The Bottom Line
The Nittany Lions’ best case scenario is that they have seven, count them, seven individual champions, and Ohio State fails to win a title at any weight class. The worst case scenario is the Buckeyes claim eight titles, while Penn State only wins one. This weekend’s end result will almost assuredly be somewhere in between, thanks to a few upsets and wild finishes, which are what makes March the greatest month of the calendar year.
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Penn State earned a ranking in the preseason AP Top 25 poll for the third consecutive season.
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