Steve Widzinski: Only one wrestler with a direct Michigan connection, Mike Ottinger (CMU). The #10-seeded junior is now a 3X NCAA qualifier, and has made an impressive transition up from 165lbs last season.
He’s not the flashiest, but Ottinger seems like a guy capable of grinding out the tight matches typical of this tourney. How likely is it that he breaks through and gives the Chips an All-American at this weight?
JJ: I think it’s extremely likely. It’s his third trip to the NCAA’s and he has shown that he can wrestle with the best guys in the country. Fun fact: Ottinger is 13-5 in matches decided by two points or less this year. That’s a lot of close matches, and you better believe that his matches at NCAA’s will come down to the wire as well. So I like that he’s used to those situations, and for the most part, thrives in them. He’ll give himself the best chance of placing by making the quarters. That’d likely give him Weatherman of IA State to place (If all goes according to seeds), who he’s got a win over this year. I think the top 6 in this weight are all penciled in to place top 6, but / I think Ottinger wrestles Saturday for 7th/8th
SW: I have to agree on Ottinger. They don’t have anyone who can be considered a lock, but after looking at the brackets I really think we could see 3 Chips on the podium.
This was one of many weight classes to be shaken up considerably following conference championship weekend. 2010 National Champ Andrew Howe (Oklahoma) had been the favorite all season, but 2013 Chris Perry (Oklahoma State) avenged a loss in their previous meeting to earn the #1 seed.
There’s been a great deal of talk about the expected rubber match, but, given the extreme depth at this weight, how likely is it someone else crashes the finals, and who would it be?
Assuming Howe/Perry III in fact goes down, who do you lean towards and why?
JJ: It’s definitely a deep weight class from 1-6 but I think for all intents and purposes you’re looking at a two horse race. #3 Robert Kokesh of Nebraska has the best chance of crashing the finals, as he dropped a 3-2 decision to Howe earlier in the year. I just don’t see either of the favorites not making it to the stage.
For Perry/Howe III, I’ve got Howe. Expect a one-point match, a lot of handfighting, and a side headlock ride from Perry on top. Ultimately, I just feel like Howe will make the necessary adjustments to end his long and storied career with another title. Over/Under on total match points scored: 5.5. I’ve got the under.
Outside of the finals match, there should be several great matches between the 3-6 wrestlers battling it out on the backside of the bracket. All are capable of beating each other on any given day.
JJ’s PICKS: 1) Howe 2) Perry 3) Kokesh 4) Storley 5) Evans 6) Brown 7) Ottinger 8) Walters
Steve’s PICKS: 1) Perry 2) Howe 3) Kokesh 4) Evans 5) Brown 6) Storley 7) Wilps 8) Walters
SW: There’s a lot more MI representation which I’ll get to shortly, but we have to start by talking about freshman Gabe Dean (Cornell/Lowell). Dean set the world of collegiate wrestling on fire at the Southern Scuffle this January when he ended 2X National Champ Ed Ruth’s (PSU) 84-match winning streak.
Keep in mind that Ruth pinned Dean in ~90 seconds just 6 weeks prior, but Dean’s win in January was extremely decisive and left no doubt on the table. Since then Dean is undefeated, and his only other loss prior was to #1-seed Jimmy Sheptock (Maryland).
National perception is strongly in favor of Ruth avenging the loss to Dean. I realize that with 2 titles under his belt and split matches on the season Ruth is absolutely the favorite, but I am still a big believer in Dean as a competitor.
Do you think I’m wrong and we will see the Ruth performance many are expecting, or does Dean have some more magic in the tank?
However, Dean isn’t the only freshman to talk about here. Domenic Abounader (UMich) heads into NCAA’s with a lot of momentum and a #9 seed. Looking at his draw, I actually really, really like the odds of Aboundaer cracking the top 8…what are your thoughts on him.
And lets not forget about John Rizgallah (MSU/Allegan), Phil Joseph (EMU) or Lelund Weatherspoon (ISU/Napoleon), where do they all figure into the 184lbs equation?
JJ: Before we get to the big question, can we look at the slight possibility that Gabe Dean wrestles three Michigan natives in his first three matches? That’d be wild. He’s got Weatherspoon first, that’s set in stone. Then, it’s likely he’ll see Rizgallah, if he beats Indiana’s Luke Sheridan (He’s 2-1 against him and won the last two). The quarterfinal match could potentially be against Lapeer East State Champ Phillip Joseph, who is making his third trip to the NCAA Tournament. That would mean he’d have to pull some crazy upsets, but hey, it’s March Matness- you never know…
Okay, Dean v. Ruth. Will he do it again? I think 95% of the country is pulling for Gabe to do it again (5% being PSU fans). After all, it was one of the biggest stories in college wrestling this year. Gabe has made insane progress so far in his first year wrestling for the Big Red and he hasn’t had a letdown yet. Then again, Ruth has only had one letdown in the last three years. It’s hard to say how it’ll turn out.
Michigan’s Abounader has been a pleasant surprise for the Wolverines. He got pulled out of redshirt midway through the year, and with the help of the UM staff, he put together a heck of a season. He’s coming off a monster B1G tournament that saw him finish 3rd and avenge an earlier loss to 2x AA Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota. That performance is likely what landed him the #9 seed.
In Round 2, he’ll probably do battle with Nebraska’s TJ Dudley. They split during the season, but Abounader won two weeks ago. I think he’ll do it again and advance to the quarters, before falling to undefeated #1 seed Jimmy Sheptock from Maryland. In the match to place, I’m projecting he’ll wrestle either Vic Avery from Edinboro or Rizgallah. Avery is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the entire tournament. Besides injury defaults, he’s only got 3 losses this year- the 12 seed, the 4 seed, and last year’s 9 seed who is redshirting. All things considered, I have Abounader winning the bout and finishing his freshman year on the podium. By my count, that’s four AA’s so far for the Wolverines.
SW: Wow, thanks for pointing that out about Dean’s potential slew of MI opponents, certainly one of the most unique storylines for Michiganders to follow.
You already gave us the lowdown on Dean/Ruth, but what about the top-seeded Sheptock? Just how good is the Maryland senior? We’ve seen he can beat Dean, but how do you see him matching up in a potential finals showdown with Ruth?
JJ: Sheptock is very, very good. His win over Dean is proof of that, and he’s scored bonus in 17/28 of his matches. That’s a little uncharacteristic of his career, as he used to grind out a lot of matches in his previous seasons. He’s incredibly tough to score on, as he’s shorter than most 84 pounders, and like a typical PA guy he can scramble very well and is tough top.
If Ruth makes the finals, I think Ruth walks away a 3x NCAA Champion. However, that’s not the way I’m going with it. I’m going with two upsets in the semifinals and saying that the top two seeds don’t make the finals.
It’s been 110 days since Gabe Dean last lost. I might as well ride his bandwagon all the way to the championship. It’ll take an incredible effort to knock off Ruth again, but obviously he’s shown that he can do it. As for Sheptock, I’m picking #5 Ethen Lofthouse of Iowa take him down. Sheptock won a very tight one at the Midlands this year- Lofthouse’s only loss other than Ruth. In addition, the Hawkeye defeated the Terp in the 5th place match at last year’s tourney. So that’s what I’m going with- Dean over Lofthouse.
JJ’s PICKS: 1) Dean 2) Lofthouse 3) Ruth 4) Sheptock 5) Steinhaus 6) Abounader 7) Thomusseit 8) Thomas
Steve’s PICKS: 1) Dean 2) Sheptock 3) Ruth 4) Lofthouse 5) Steinhaus 6) Thomusseit 7) Thomas 8) Abounader
SW: The only weight with no Michigan representation at all. I needed to catch my breath anyways…stay tuned!
JJ: Not so fast. While no one made it there this year, there are some guys who will have a great shot to get there next year. Look for Nick McDiarmid (MSU/Hartland), Shawn Scott (NIU/Holly), Kevin Beazley (ODU/DCC), and Anthony Abro (EMU/Canton) to break out next season. All four guys notched “Quality Wins” this year, which are wins over NCAA Qualifiers.
SW: Interesting. This year 184 had the most MI natives with 4, and it looks like 197 could match that total in 2015. Pretty wild considering there’s not a single qualifier this year.
Moving on, there were a few seeding controversies this season, but the one that received the most scrutiny was Kyven Gadson (ISU)’s #5-seed. Many thought the returning AA should’ve been seeded #1...what about you, did the seeding committee screw up with this one?
Seeds aside, this weight feels extremely deep and balanced, and the quarterfinals should be dynamite. Do you think we are in for chaos too, or could the seeding end up being justified?
JJ: True, Gadson was probably deserving of the 1 seed, but so were the four other top seeds. All I can see is that he lost twice to fourth seeded Scott Schiller, and even though he beat him the last time they wrestled, Heflin and McIntosh beat him also. So it’s a somewhat fair seeding.
Gadson is still my pick to win it. Part of that is for feel-good reasoning. As most probably know, his father, Willie Gadson, passed last year. Willie was the former head coach at EMU and led the ’96 team to the only MAC Championship in school history. So I’m really pulling for him.
The top eight seeds in the weight are all very evenly matched. I think you’ll see a Heflin-Gadson semi on the top, and a McIntosh-Cox matchup on the bottom. Selfishly I’d like to see Gadson v. Cox in the finals, because I think that’s a win-win for me. Cox is as solid a true freshman as you’ll find. If you’ve never seen him wrestle, he’s a freak. He’s got two losses, one of which was to Gadson in OT.
The weight in general is, in my opinion, incredibly balanced from 1-33. #12 Taylor Meeks was ranked #1 for the beginning part of the season. I think the top five seeds will all finish in the Top 8, but then about eight other guys will battle it out for the final three slots.
JJ’s PICKS: 1) Gadson 2) Cox 3) McIntosh 4) Rutt 5) Heflin 6) Schiller 7) Burak 8) Perry
Steve’s PICKS: 1) Cox 2) Gadson 3) McIntosh 4) Heflin 5) Schiller 6) Rutt 7) Burak 8) Wellington
SW: When it became clear that he would not be redshirted, I felt pretty optimistic saying that Adam Coon (UMich/Fowlerville) would AA as a true freshman. However, it was only a matter of weeks before the entire nation shared that expectation.
I’d have to do some research, but it’s hard no imagine that Coon’s season to date is not among the best all time by a true frosh at this weight class. So far he has wins over: #1 Tony Nelson (Minnesota), #2 Nick Gwiazdowski (NCSU), #5 Bobby Telford 2x (Iowa) and #8 JT Felix (Boise) and #12 Spencer Myers (Marlyand) 2x.
Prior to last weekend he had lost only once (which we’ll expand on soon), but last weekend Coon suffered his first real setback with a 9th place finish at Big 10’s. He lost to #14 Jon Gingrich (PSU) and Nick Tavanello (OSU), both opponents he had previously beaten.
So, the obvious question is: what on earth do we make of his performance at Big 10’s? Was this just a chink in his armor finally being exposed, or could the toll of his first collegiate have Coon worn down. How realistic of a title contender does this leave him, and how confident are you know that he AA’s?
As I mentioned previously Coon lost just once prior to Big 10’s, and that loss came to Mike McClure (MSU/West Ottawa). The Spartan senior has enjoyed an impressive 5 years in East Lansing, and will be intent on capping it off as an AA.
He lost to #16 Amarveer Dhesi (Oregon State) in November, but since then McClure’s only losses are to #1 Tony Nelson (Minnesota), #3 Adam Chalfant (Indiana), #5 Bobby Telford (Iowa) and #6 Mike McMullan (Northwestern).
So, that makes him a #7 seed to start, but where do you seem him finishing? I really like his chances at the semis, how do you feel about his early opposition, and the expected QF matchup with Gwiazdowski?
JJ: How awesome is it that Heavyweight could be the most exciting weight of the tournament? I love that the big fellas are changing the game. This group in particular features some unbelievable athletes that, in my opinion, are transforming how heavyweight is wrestled. It’s exciting.
What do we make of Coon’s performance at B1G’s? Eh, not much. It happens. Better to happen there than this weekend. He’s in the tournament, he’s a 4 seed, and that’s really all that matters. Just to give some perspective on Coon’s ability to make an adjustment, last year he lost to Sam Stoll of MN at the FILA Junior WTT’s twice. A month later, he tech-falled him in under 30 seconds. So yes, I think he’s going to be able to be on his game again like the Coon of “old.” Like 149 and 157, there’s nearly a dozen guys who could win this bracket- it’s that close. So he’s a legitimate title contender.
I would be really surprised if he doesn’t at least make it to the semifinals. I think he’s got Telford’s number, having beaten him twice now- albeit two nail-biters. As for beating Nelson (hear me out), I’m not sure he will be able to have the magic to do it again. Like Dean, obviously I, along with everyone from MI, am pulling for him undoubtedly. But let’s give Nelson the benefit of the doubt. He’s won the NCAA’s twice and he’s got the momentum of winning the B1Gs on him side. I predict a top-5 finish for Coon, but a title wouldn’t surprise me the slightest. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say he takes 3rd?
McClure is in the same boat. He’s a guy who’s definitely good enough to end his career with a Championship, but it’s just such a tough weight. He’ll have a very tough opponent second round in 2012 All-American Jeremy Johnson from Ohio U. They met twice last year, with McClure winning both- one in OT, one by a point. So I’ve got McClure moving on, but he’ll have to be ready to go. His quarterfinal match with Nick Gwiazdowski of NC State will be a great match. Both guys can move well and are athletic big men. Gwiaz has 2 losses on the year, to Coon in OT and to Nelson by 1. Tough to say, but seeds say Gwiazdowski wins. That’d put McClure in a must-win situation his next bout. And I think he’s got enough to win. I’m projecting that he gives the Spartans their first All-American since 2010. And like Coon, I’m not sure where he’ll end up exactly. I’ll put him taking 7th, which is mostly due to where he’s placed in the bracket.
SW: Couldn’t agree more about this year’s group of heavies. Perhaps best of all, only 6 of the 16 seeded wrestlers are seniors, so expect this year’s excitement to carry over into the future.
Given that MI has two horses in the thick of the title race you already gave us a pretty good outline of the big picture at this weight class, but let’s dig a little deeper. Are you leaning towards Nelson to grind his way to a 3rd consecutive title, or will one of the less traditional big guys such as Gwiazdowski or Mike McMullen (Northwestern) break through?
JJ: Yep. Nelson is who I have winning it, and I have him beating Gwiazdowski in the finals. It’s hard for me not to put McMullan in the finals from the bottom half, because I love watching him compete. He’s got losses to Gwiaz and #3 Adam Chalfant, though, so it’s hard to say that he’d knock off both of them.
Alternate ending: Coon over Nelson, McClure over Gwiaz and Chalfant. In-state rivalry rematch between the fifth-year senior and the true freshman. Fingers crossed for this one.
JJ’s PICKS: 1) Nelson 2) Gwiazdowski 3) Coon 4) McMullan 5) Chalfant 6) Telford 7) McClure 8) Marsden
Steve’s PICKS: 1) Nelson 2) McMullan 3) Coon 4) Telford 5) Chalfant 6) Gwiazdowski 7) McClure 8) Felix
Please login to comment.
Let’s get the conversation started! Post your comment.