Big Ten weight-by-weight preview and predictions
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
The Big Ten Championships are set for this Saturday and Sunday, March 8-9, at the University of Minnesota's Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
The top seven finishers in each weight class, plus two wild cards overall, will advance to the NCAA Championships on March 20-22 in St. Louis.
Nine of the 11 Big Ten teams are ranked in the nation's top 20 by InterMat. They include No. 1 Iowa, No. 6 Penn State, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 10 Illinois, No. 11 Michigan, No. 13 Northwestern and No. 20 Indiana.
Iowa rolled to the title at the National Duals and has to be considered the clear favorite to win the Big Ten title after going unbeaten in league duals. If Minnesota's key wrestlers are healthy, the returning Big Ten and NCAA team champion Gophers will definitely be in the mix as well.
The Big Ten features a pair of past NCAA champions in Iowa's Mark Perry (165) and Minnesota's Dustin Schlatter (149). Perry is a returning national champion and Schlatter won an NCAA title in 2006.
Here is a weight-by-weight breakdown of the 2008 Big Ten Championships:
Minnesota's Jayson Ness, ranked No. 1 in the country, placed fifth in the nation last year. He is a returning Big Ten champion. Ness is 33-0 this season and has been racking up major bonus points all season.
Among his biggest wins was a triumph over returning national champion Paul Donahoe of Nebraska.
Second-ranked Charlie Falck, second at the 2007 Big Tens, has had a very strong season but dropped a lopsided match to Ness in a dual this year. Falck is a returning All-American.
Ness hasn?t faced third-ranked Angel Escobedo of Indiana this season. Escobedo beat Ness at last year's NCAA tournament. Escobedo placed fourth in the country in 2007. He dropped his only match of the season to Falck in a dual meet at Iowa.
Fifth-ranked Brandon Precin of Northwestern is another top wrestler to watch here. He was second at the Midlands Championships. Two other wrestlers who could contend are eighth-ranked Gabe Flores of Illinois and No. 9 Mark McKnight of Penn State.
Wisconsin's Collin Cudd is ranked 20th.
TheMat.com's pick: Ness
Minnesota senior Mack Reiter is a two-time All-American, but is nationally ranked below four other wrestlers in his own conference. Reiter is ranked No. 9 nationally.
Jimmy Kennedy of Illinois is now ranked third after scoring a recent win over now-No. 4 Joey Slaton of Iowa. Michigan State's Franklin Gomez is ranked fifth after coming up short of qualifying for nationals last season at 125. Kennedy, Slaton and Gomez are all sophomores.
Slaton will compete in his first Big Ten tournament after transferring to Iowa from Virginia Tech.
Wisconsin's Zach Tanelli, ranked eighth, also will be in the mix here as will No. 12 Andrae Hernandez of Indiana and No. 13 Reece Humphrey of Ohio State.
Reiter, who did not place at NCAAs in 2007 after returning late in the season from a knee injury, has struggled at times this season. It will be interesting to see if Reiter, a senior, can return to the form of his freshman and sophomore seasons in the postseason.
TheMat.com's pick: Slaton
This looks like one of the most wide-open weight classes of the tournament with no clear-cut favorite.
Michigan true freshman Kellen Russell, ranked No. 1 earlier in the season, enters the Big Tens ranked fourth nationally. Wisconsin's Kyle Ruschell is ranked fifth, Iowa's Dan LeClere is No. 6, Ohio State's J Jaggers is No. 7 and Minnesota's Manuel Rivera is No. 8. Jaggers placed seventh at nationals last season.
Penn State freshman Garrett Scott is ranked 10th. Teammate Jake Strayer, an All-American at 133 last year, had been ranked as high as No. 2 this season. But Scott ended up winning the starting spot for Penn State.
TheMat.com's pick: Rivera
Watching this weight class alone will be worth more than the price of admission this weekend.
To say this weight class is loaded is a huge understatement. Wrestling fans are salivating about the prospect of watching all these talented wrestlers competing at the Big Tens.
This class starts with top-ranked Brent Metcalf of Iowa. Metcalf is unbeaten against Big Ten opponents, but is yet to face 2006 NCAA champion Dustin Schlatter of Minnesota. Schlatter, a two-time Big Ten champion, was out with an injury when the teams met in a dual.
Schlatter and Metcalf last met when Schlatter beat Metcalf in the finals of the Senior High School Nationals in 2005.
This weight class also includes two runner-up finishers from the 2007 NCAA tournament in Josh Churella of Michigan and Ryan Lang of Northwestern. Lang was second at 141 last year and won the Big Ten title at 141.
Then you throw in returning All-American Lance Palmer of Ohio State, 2007 Junior World freestyle champion Bubba Jenkins of Penn State and the dangerous Jake Patacsil of Purdue. That's seven wrestlers ranked in the nation's top nine in one poll.
Palmer caught and pinned Schlatter in a recent dual.
The first college matchup between prized recruits Metcalf and Schlatter is what fans are clamoring to see. But they have to reach the final round first against a very talented field.
TheMat.com's pick: Metcalf
This may be the Big Ten's second-strongest weight class besides 149.
Wisconsin's Craig Henning is a returning NCAA runner-up, but he may be the No. 4 seed for the Big Ten Tournament.
All-American Mike Poeta of Illinois has to be considered the favorite. Poeta is ranked second nationally and owns a win over top-ranked Gregor Gillespie of Edinboro. Gillespie was the NCAA champion at 149 last year before bumping up to 157 this year.
All-Americans Brandon Becker of Indiana and C.P. Schlatter of Minnesota also are ranked in the top six nationally as is Penn State's Dan Vallimont. Becker is No. 4, Schlatter No. 6 and Vallimont No. 3. Schlatter is the returning Big Ten champion at 157. Schlatter also owns a win over Gillespie this season.
Michigan's Jeff Marsh, ranked 15th, and Iowa's Ryan Morningstar, ranked 16th, also could be a factor here. Marsh beat Poeta in a dual meet this season.
TheMat.com's pick: Poeta
The big question here obviously is how healthy is Mark Perry, Iowa's three-time All-American.
This will be Perry's first competition in nearly two months after he underwent knee surgery. Perry, the returning Big Ten champion at 165, has delivered in big competitions in his career. He's placed second, third and first in the NCAAs for the Hawkeyes.
Perry still looks like the man to beat here, but will face strong opposition from three-time All-American Eric Tannenbaum of Michigan. Perry beat Tannenbaum, who is ranked third, in the Big Ten finals last year. Perry beat Tannenbaum 4-1 earlier this season at the National Duals.
This weight class also includes 11th-ranked Tyler Safratowich of Minnesota, No. 12 Colt Sponseller of Ohio State and No. 15 Matt Coughlin of Indiana. Sponseller, a freshman, has looked impressive in compiling a 16-2 record. Coughlin was an All-American last season at 149 before bumping up two weight classes this year.
TheMat.com's pick: Perry
Barring an upset, Michigan's second-ranked Steve Luke and Iowa's third-ranked Jay Borschel will meet in the Big Ten finals.
Borschel edged Luke at the National Duals before Luke returned the favor with a win over Borschel in a Big Ten dual meet.
Luke, a junior, placed sixth nationally last year after moving up from 157 to 174. Luke is a returning Big Ten champion. Borschel, a sophomore, is competing in his first postseason this year after transferring from Virginia Tech.
The Big Ten has five other ranked wrestlers at 174. They include No. 11 Gabe Dretsch of Minnesota, No. 12 Nick Hayes of Northwestern, No. 15 John Dergo of Illinois, No. 16 Dave Erwin of Penn State and No. 17 Nick Corpe of Purdue.
Dretsch is a veteran who could provide a big boost for the Gophers this postseason.
TheMat.com's pick: Borschel
The health of past NCAA runner-up Roger Kish of Minnesota likely will hold the key to what happens here.
Kish, a 2006 Big Ten champion, has been hampered by injuries this year and is ranked ninth nationally.
Two other returning All-Americans ? Ohio State's Mike Pucillo and Michigan's Tyrel Todd ? have emerged as the favorites at 184. Pucillo is ranked second nationally, one spot ahead of Todd.
Todd beat Pucillo in the fifth-place match at the 2007 NCAA tournament. Todd pinned Pucillo in overtime in the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational before Pucillo edged Todd 6-5 in a recent dual meet.
Iowa sophomore Phil Keddy, who has made huge improvement since last season, is ranked seventh in the country. Penn State's Phil Bomberger is ranked 14th.
TheMat.com's pick: Todd
This should be another very good battle between three very good wrestlers at 197.
Penn State's Phil Davis is a three-time NCAA All-American who placed second at nationals in 2006. Davis is ranked third, one spot behind Mike Tamillow of Northwestern. Tamillow, seventh in the nation last year, beat Davis 6-1 in a recent dual meet.
Tamillow is the returning Big Ten champion at 197.
Wisconsin's Dallas Herbst, who fell one win short of All-American honors last year, is ranked sixth in the country.
The Big Ten also has ranked wrestlers here in No. 11 Patrick Bond of Illinois, No. 15 Joe Williams of Michigan State and No. 19 Anthony Biondo of Michigan.
TheMat.com's pick: Davis
Ohio State's top-ranked J.D. Bergman, a two-time All-American at 197, is 27-1 in his first season at heavyweight.
Bergman's only loss is to third-ranked Dustin Fox of Northwestern. Fox's only loss this season is to No. 2 Kyle Massey of Wisconsin.
Fox placed third at NCAAs last year while Bergman took fourth at 197.
Two-time NCAA qualifier Matt Fields of Iowa is looking to finally make a splash in his final trip into the postseason. Fields, a senior, is ranked No. 6 in the country. He is 27-6 this season. His performances at Big Tens and NCAAs could hold the key to Iowa's title hopes.
John Wise of Illinois is ranked 13th nationally.
TheMat.com's pick: Bergman
The Hawkeyes are very strong in 9 of 10 weight classes, and could score big points in every one of those divisions. Iowa is looking very strong. The biggest question for the Hawkeyes will be how all of their young wrestlers respond in their first trip to the postseason.
Minnesota is capable of pushing Iowa for the team title, but with so many key wrestlers battling injuries this year it may be tough for the Gophers to overtake the Hawkeyes.
Michigan and Ohio State have a handful of very good wrestlers capable of contending for titles, but may not quite have the overall depth to challenge for the team title. Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern also could make a splash in the team race.
TheMat.com's pick: Iowa