Big Ten Tournament Preview
Tom Johnston and Ryan Simpson break down what to expect from the upcoming Big Ten Wrestling Tournament:
Now that the regular season is over, the time has come for the Big Ten tournament. The Big Ten Tournament will be hosted by the University of Minnesota on March 9 and 10, starting at 11:00 a.m. The tournament is comprised of four sessions, with the final session being aired on the Big Ten Network starting at 4:00 p.m.
This tournament will play host to nine of the top 20 teams in the country, per FloWrestling’s rankings, with nine of those teams being placed in the top five. Sixteen of the 20 best “pound-for-pound” wrestlers call the Big Ten conference home.
Ohio State will look to defend their title for the third time in a row as they went back-to-back champions in the 2017-2018 season. There will be six returning champions from last season across the weight classes while there are several key storylines to each weight.
The 125-pound weight class will be a great watch as nine of the top 20 athletes will be competing. Sebastian Rivera of Northwestern has held the number one ranking since upsetting Iowa’s Spencer Lee earlier in the season. Rivera and Lee will look for their first Big Ten individual title as Nathan Tomasello of Ohio State won the 125-pound Big Ten title for four straight years. The matchup of Rivera and Lee gets more intriguing as Lee was pinned for the first time in 10 years against Oklahoma State in Iowa’s regular-season finale.
The weight class to watch this tournament is going to be the 133-pound class. There are seven ranked wrestlers with six of those seven being ranked in the top 10. This class is incredible.
Michigan’s Stevan Micic will look to repeat as champion, as he was victorious last year. Micic’s toughest challenge in this tournament will be Austin DeSanto of Iowa. DeSanto has caused some controversy by his antics this season, but he knows how to win.
DeSanto and Micic have faced two previous times with either winning by major decision (DeSanto won 22-10, while Micic won 13-1). A sneaky wrestler to watch is Rutgers’ Nick Suriano as he has had a rough season. Holding a record of 20-3 this year, two of Suriano’s three losses have come at the hands of Micic and DeSanto. Suriano is a winner, so do not be surprised if he makes a run for the title in Minnesota.
Ohio State’s Joey McKenna looks to go back-to-back as the 141-pound champion this year. McKenna’s toughest opponents will be Penn State’s Nick Lee and Illinois’ Michael Carr. McKenna and Lee have swapped wins by a 7-6 score while McKenna holds a 13-0 victory over Carr.
McKenna ended this season with a tough loss to returning national champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell, but expect a rebounding McKenna to perform well and look to repeat.
Penn State’s Zain Retherford leaves a giant hole at the 149-pound weight, as only four wrestlers from the Big Ten are in the top 20. The leading candidate to win this weight will be Ohio State’s Micah Jordan. Jordan dropped down from 157 pounds to 149 pounds, which tells me that he is ready to destroy the rest of the Big Ten in his senior season.
The deepest weight class in the Big Ten this season is the 157-pound class, as 12 of the overall 20 ranked wrestlers come from Big Ten.
Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo won the title last year by beating Penn State’s Jason Nolf due to medical forfeit and beating Ohio State’s Micah Jordan in the finals. This year, Jason Nolf is healthy and is as close to an unstoppable as someone can be on the mat. Nolf has gone 23-0 this season and winning with bonus points in 87 percent of those matches. If you remove Nolf’s three losses due to injury/medical forfeit, Nolf has not lost a match since March 2016 (90 match winning streak). Second-ranked Tyler Berger of Nebraska and third-ranked Ryan Deakin of Northwestern have both fallen to Nolf this season and there are nine wrestlers still looking to knock off Nolf in his final season.
Similar to the 125 weight class, the 165-pound class will crown a new Big Ten champion for the first time in four years. Isaiah Martinez from Illinois was a four-time Big Ten champion even though he fell to Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State in the NCAA tournament the last two seasons. Penn State’s Joseph, Iowa’s Alex Marinelli, and Wisconsin’s Evan Wick are ranked one, two, three this season and will bring eyes to this class. Joseph is the two-time defending national champion, but Marinelli does hold a win over Joseph last season. Marinelli also holds two recent victories over Wick, but Wick won their first contest in impressive fashion to win 16-3 in last year’s NCAA tournament.
Not to mention, sixth-ranked Isaiah White of Nebraska, seventh-ranked Logan Massa of Michigan and 18th-ranked Joseph Gunther of Illinois are also still in the mix.
Penn State’s Mark Hall will look to win his second straight Big Ten title at 174 pounds, as he has great all year. Michigan’s Myles Amine gave Hall a tough match where Hall only squeaked out a 3-2 decision. Though Amine is winless against Hall in three bouts, Hall has only won by a sole point on all three occasions. Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola has been fantastic during his redshirt freshman campaign and is my dark horse pick at this weight. Labriola has a 22-4 record entering the conference tournament and sitting ninth in the rankings. Labriola could be the future of 174, but do not expect Hall to lose any time soon.
For the first time in two years, a new 184 pound champion will be crowned, due to Bo Nickal’s move to 197 pounds. Ohio State’s Myles Martin is the top-ranked wrestler and looks to win his first conference title. Nebraska’s Taylor Venz who is ranked fourth and Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed who is ranked seventh are also lurking behind Martin. Martin has been dominant over Venz in their three bouts and has yet to face Rasheed in his career. Penn State’s Coach Cael Sanderson held Rasheed out of the competition when the Nittany Lions traveled to Columbus in which Martin won his bout 18-6 over Mason Manville. Martin’s collegiate career is winding down, but his work is not finished yet.
The 197-pound weight class will be fun to watch for one reason: Bo Nickal. The Penn State senior is arguably the front runner for the Hodge Trophy with the only knock on his body of work this season is how weak the 197-pound class is this season. Nickal has run roughshod over the division since moving up, which includes pinning Kollin Moore of Ohio State, who is ranked second in the country. Nickal is looking to win his third Big Ten title and his first at 197 pounds. He won the 174-pound title in 2016 and moved on to win the 184-pound title last season. If Nickal does win the 197-pound title, he will be the first wrestler in Penn State’s history to be a conference champion in three different weight classes since joining the Big Ten in 1991.
Finally, the 285-pound weight class is going to be fun to watch with nine ranked athletes in the top 20. Minnesota’s freshman sensation Gable Steveson is 28-0 since having his redshirt pulled. Northwestern’s Conan Jennings, who ranks eighth, gave Steveson a run and only lost 9-5 as well as Maryland’s Youssif Hemida who recently took a 7-4 loss to Steveson. The deciding factor on Steveson is going to be experience; Penn State’s Anthony Cassar and Iowa’s Sam Stoll, along with Hermida, look to use their senior experience to upend the youthful competitor.
Big Ten Champion Predictions:
125: Spencer Lee-Iowa
133: Stevan Micic-Michigan
141: Nick Lee-Penn State
149: Micah Jordan-Ohio State
157: Jason Nolf-Penn State
165: Alex Marinelli-Iowa
174: Mark Hall-Penn State
184: Taylor Venz-Nebraska
197: Bo Nickal-Penn State
285: Gable Steveson-Minnesota
Team: Penn State
Ryan Simpson is a senior majoring in statistics and minoring in sociology. To contact him, email email@example.com.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Tom Johnston is currently a fifth-year senior from Pittsburgh, PA. Currently, Tom host Talk Time with Tom on PSU’s Comm Radio. Furthermore, Tom also does play-by-play, and contributes articles for the web-based radio station. Additionally, Tom is a member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism and a member of PSN-TV’s Penn State Sports Night. Tom has the aspiration of becoming a play-by-play broadcaster in college or professional sports or a sports anchor back in Pittsburgh.