Saturday, February 24, 2007

Big XII Wrestling Tournament Preview

So….I figured I would finally dip a toe in the pool of blog writing. This is my first EVER blog post, though some could likely argue that I have been doing this for years on Tigerboard and other places. Anyway, with resident experts in just about everything on here (really they are, just ask them), I thought I might take a shot at something of which I likely know a bit more. With that in mind, here is my Big XII Wrestling Championship preview by weight class. I say by weight class because I don’t really know exactly how the team scoring works in a format such as this, so we will run through each of the 10 classes and then finish with a guess as to who is going to take the team title.

(A note on the format of this: I am using the InterMat Division 1 rankings, courtesy of I could have used all of the polls I am sure to create a stronger looking Big XII, but that would have taken far too much time. I will first talk about the chances of the MU wrestler in this class, and then make my overall prediction for the weight class. I will only predict the champ, but do remember each class gets three wrestlers to move on, plus the conference gets another eight wild cards, so almost four wrestlers per class of the five.)

The teams:

Iowa State (#2)
Mizzou (#3)
Oklahoma State (#4)
Oklahoma (#14)
Nebraska (#19)

125 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Sam Hazewinkle – Senior/OU (#1)
Nick Fanthorpe – Freshman/ISU (#6)
Paul Donohoe – Sophomore/NU (#12)
Tyler Shinn – Freshman/OSU (#14)
John Olanowski – Freshman/MU (NR)

You think John has his work cut out for himself in this class on Saturday? The 4/5 matchup in the first round will have a top wrestler in it…that is never a good sign if you are the #5 guy. Olanowski has not been very strong in Big XII season, and there is not much reason to believe he will be able to turn it on this weekend. In fact, this may be the last time we see him in this tournament, as MU brings in a top recruit from Hickman next year.

As for this class….from a national perspective, all you have to say is WOW. You have to bet that four wrestlers will move on to Detroit from this class. Sam Hazewinkle has to be considered the favorite, not just because of that shiny #1 national record, but because he has more Big XII Tourney experience than the other four do combined. Only Donohoe has wrestled previous, with a 3rd place finish last year. Hazewinkle is JUST now coming back from an injury, but I believe he will add to his two titles and one 2nd place and finish a tremendous career on top of the podium.

133 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Coleman Scott – Junior/OSU (#4)
Tyler McCormick – Junior/MU (#5)
Nick Gallick – Freshman/ISU (#20)
Patrick Aleksanyan – Sophomore/NU (NR)
Brian Shelton/Joe Comparin – OU (NR)

Tyler McCormick has had a tough year with injuries and Coach Brian Smith trying to rest him for this time of the year. Tyler has only wrestled 18 matches on the year, but does sport a 3-1 record against other Big XII opponents. If Tyler is healthy (and with the rampant flu problem, I don’t know that we know if anyone is really healthy or not) he should contend for the title, having already defeated Coleman Scott earlier in the season. If MU has designs on winning the team title, this is a weight class they might need to come away with.

This class could be pretty wide open. For the lack of ranked wrestlers, there is some good experience in the class. McCormick has a 2nd place finish, Comparin has a 3rd and Aleksanyan has a 4th. Gallick is the wild card here, looking very strong against MU, but not against McCormick a couple of weeks ago. I am going to predict a win by Coleman Scott in this class because I just do not know about the health of McCormick, flu bug or not.

141 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Nathan Morgan – Junior/OSU (#5)
Dominic Moyer – Senior/NU (#7)
Mitch Mueller – Freshman/ISU (#12)
Ashtin Primus – Freshman/MU (RV)
Kyle Terry – RS Freshman/OU (NR)

Once Ashtin Primus earned the spot in the starting lineup earlier this year, he has been quite impressive and successful as a freshman at 141 pounds. He holds 31 wins on the season, and a 4-4 record against other wrestlers in the Big XII. For much of the season, Primus had been able to work his way up into the national rankings, but fell out right at the end of the season. I even put “Receiving Votes” because I am sure he is just outside the top 20 at this point. Primus has a great future in front of him, and I believe he is likely capable of beating most in this group.

Nathan Morgan is a previous Big XII champ at 133 pounds last year, and did just as well in his new class this season. However, Moyer earned a 3-1 win earlier in the season over Morgan when NU and OSU met. I think the senior will use that experience to gain a win in this loaded group. Personally, I also believe that Primus will make his debut in Detroit in two weeks as he will also come out of this class one way or another.

(author edit: So...seems that Kyle Perry was able to knock off not one, but TWO top 10 wrestlers this past week from Hofstra and Michigan State and parlayed that into Big XII Wrestler of the Week

Needless to say....that rises his stock, though potentially not in this group. I believe he will still be the #5 going in, but he will be someone to be reckoned with, without a doubt. Perhaps another case where the Big XII would do well by sending all five from the same class.)

149 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Matt Storniolo – Sophomore/OU (#2)
Cyler Sanderson – Freshman/ISU (#13)
Josh Wagner – Sophomore/MU (#14)
Robert Sanders – Sophomore/NU (NR)
B.J. Jackson – Junior/OSU (NR)

Josh Wagner is the first of the Wisconsin Four that we will cover. Who are the Wisconsin Four? Wagner, Matt Pell, Ben and Max Askren. Wagner is rated the lowest at #14 of the group. Wisconsin as a school is ranked #8 in the country. What do you think they would do this year had they kept all four of these talents in state? Yeah….they’d be THAT good.

At any rate, Wagner is another up and comer for Mizzou who had a terrific season, rising all the way to #7 in one poll before a tight loss to Sanderson of Iowa State. However, he had a huge win on the year, knocking off Matt Storniolo and finishing 6-1 against Big XII wrestlers on the season. (Remember, Mizzou wrestled four conference matches, but wrestlers could have met in individual or team tournaments). Wagner comes into this tournament with as much of a chance to win this class as anyone there. The only question will be how he handles the pressure.

Storniolo had some injuries during the season, but seems to be back healthy now. He has a second place finish from a year ago, with Sanders of NU actually coming in third. If you look at the team title, the key is for either Wagner to win here (best case), or Storniolo to win, since OU is not expected to be close to contending. I believe the latter will unfortunately be the case, but the semi final match in this class between Wagner and Sanderson should be one of the best of the entire day.

157 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Trent Paulson – Senior/ISU (#2)
Chris Oliver – Sophomore/NU (#10)
Will Rowe – Sophomore/OU (#11)
Michael Chandler – Junior/MU (#15) or Nick Marable – RS Freshman
Newly McSpadden – Sophomore/OSU (NR)

Mike Chandler has also been bitten by the injury/illness bug this season, but Nick Marable has also been ranked on the season, so I don’t entirely know how that works. Marable has some big wins under his belt this season, I don’t know if the bracket here allows for that. Assuming it does not (though for the Big XII’s sake, I wish it did and you could totally argue that five from this class should go); we will work with both wrestlers here. Chandler went 2-1 in the Big XII this year, but has not wrestled in about a month and a half, and lost a close decision to Oliver from Nebraska. Marable actually holds wins over McSpadden and Rowe on the year, so really, as I write this, I have no idea what is going to come from here.

Having watched Trent Paulson take on and absolutely destroy Nick Marable two weeks ago, there is little doubt who is going to come out of this class. However, what happens from there is anyone’s guess. Can MU send two to the mat? All I know is that Newly McSpadden has the best name of the tournament, but will likely do absolutely nothing in this class against this dominant lineup of wrestlers.

(By the way, two wrestlers from the same team did place back in 1997 with two HWY wrestlers from NU coming in 1st and 3rd. I do not know if the Big XII has changed that rule, but it appears that it has happened before)

165 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Johny Hendricks – Senior/OSU (#1)
Travis Paulson – Senior/ISU (#3)
Matt Pell – Senior/MU (#7)
Shane Siebert – Senior/OU (#18)
Stephen Dwyer – Freshman/NU (NR)

What a strange trip it has been for Matt Pell. A natural 174 pounder, Pell made the jump up to 184 pounds for his first two years. That paid off with a 2nd and 4th place finish in the Big XII Tournament, and his reaching All-American status at the class. Last year, Pell dropped through 174 (where Ben Askren obviously has been the entire time) to 165, and it paid off with another 2nd place finish, this time to eventual national champion Johny Hendricks 2-1. Pell then went on to miss making All-American at the NCAA’s after a close loss to Travis Paulson. See the history in this weight class? On the season, Coach Smith has done his best to rest Pell as much as possible so he can peak right about now.

Clearly, this is another class where the Big XII will send four wrestlers. Pell lost tough matches this season to Hendricks and Paulson, and obviously would like nothing more than to finish his Hearnes Center career with the conference title that has eluded him thus far. That is a tough call to make however; as his semi-final match is going to be right up there as the best 2-3 match of the day. I believe Pell will be able to use the home mat advantage to carry him to a win there, but will fall again to the 2-time defending national champion in the end.

174 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Ben Askren – Senior/MU (#1)

And though it does not matter….

Josh Weitzel – Junior/OU (#8)
Brandon Mason – Sophomore/OSU (#15)
Grant Turner – Senior/ISU (#19)
Marc Harwood – Senior/NU (NR)

Honestly, as I typed this, I did not realize how decently deep this weight class was this year. But really, does it matter? Askren is 9-0 on the season against Big XII opponents, 32-0 on the season against any opponents and 142-2 against anyone not named Chris Pendleton from Oklahoma State. Askren will be almost certain to win his 3rd Big XII title (his one win over Pendleton came as a freshman in the Big XII Championships). Beyond that, Askren is odds on favorite to not only repeat as national champion, but as Wrestler of the Year. In the end, Askren should be able to push his career win total over 150, probably out of the reach of most if not all future MU wrestlers.

Not much to predict in this class. Askren has not lost a match in almost two years, and is not likely to lose one now, as long as the flu is not a factor. Assuming it is not, the only thing left to question is whether or not he will pin everyone in the tournament, and if those pins give us any extra points towards our team total. Honestly, the final total might be so close that it could come down to something like that.

184 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Raymond Jordan – Sophomore/MU (#5)
Jake Varner – Freshman/ISU (#6)
Jack Jensen – Junior/OSU (NR)
Levi Wofford – RS Freshman/NU (NR)
Josh Hinton – RS Freshman/OU (NR)

Very quietly, Raymond Jordan has had a tremendous season and risen to #5 in the country in what is a very young weight class, both nationally and in the conference. Jordan only lost four times on the season, and went undefeated in conference play with a 5-0 record. The last win was the most impressive and important, a 6-4 win over Jake Varner from Iowa State. That win was important because it gave Jordan the #1 seed in the tournament and a first round match against a lesser opponent. Jordan fell 3-2 last year in the finals to Kurt Backes of Iowa State (now at 197, more on him in a moment) and will look to add a title to his already impressive resume.

As for this class on the whole, this is one of the weakest of the groups. With only two ranked wrestlers, it should almost certainly be a Jordan/Varner final. Both will obviously move on to Detroit to hopefully defend the honor of the Big XII. I only say that because the Big 10 has EIGHT ranked wrestlers in this weight class….8 of 19!! Anyway, I believe Jordan will take what he learned against Varner and replicate that success to bring home his first Big XII title.

197 pounds…..the wrestlers:

Max Askren – Freshman/MU (#2)
Joel Flaggert – Junior/OU (#5)
Kurt Backes – Senior/ISU (#7)
Craig Bester – Freshman/NU (#11)
Jared Shelton – Sophomore/OSU (NR)

You think Max Askren has something to prove on Saturday? 26-1, with the one loss coming in the biggest home match of the season against Iowa State and Kurt Backes. Backes was up 6-4 with some pending back points when Askren and Backes scrambled and rolled through. All of a sudden, the match was over as Backes was given a pin over Askren, ending his 26 match winning streak and knocking him off of his #1 in the country pedestal. The good news is that Askren should still be the #1 seed, with win over everyone else in the conference and Backes sporting two losses on the season (Flaggert and Bester). I believe Max is going to be fired up to prove the loss was a fluke and product of sloppy wrestling.

With four wrestlers in the top 11 in the country, this weight class is the crown jewel of the Big XII on a national level. The semifinal matchup of Flaggert and Backes will be another dandy worthy of the NCAA semifinals, not Big XII. Askren did defeat Flaggert in a tough match early in the season in the finals of the Missouri Open, but did not wrestle him again in OU a month or so ago. I believe these two are destined to meet again in the finals, and I think Askren will be a man on a mission to win what will hopefully be MU’s third Big XII title in a row.

Heavyweight……the wrestlers:

David Zabriskie – Freshman/ISU (#15)
Jared Rosholt – Freshman/OSU (#16)
Mark Ellis – RS Freshman/MU (#20)
Cameron Browne – Freshman/NU (NR) or Jon May Junior/NU
Brad Farmer – Sophomore/OU (NR)

Two years ago, Coach Smith had an interesting problem on his hands. He had two freshman heavyweight wrestlers on his hands. Smith chose to go with Sean Connole last season, and the undersized freshman did not produce much while Mark Ellis redshirted in an attempt to grow bigger. Ellis came on this season, and has done well, but not been spectacular. His season took a downturn with an injury mid-year and never really recovered. Against ISU, and freshly off of the air being sucked out of building from Askren’s upset loss, Ellis lost a tough match to David Zabriskie of Iowa State. That match all more than likely puts Ellis in the #3 seed, a tough draw to be sure. This also may be his first and last appearance in the Big XII tournament, with MU having the #1 High School heavyweight in the country coming from Kansas City next season.

As far as this class goes, this one really could decide the tournament, and how exciting will that be? Zabrskie defeated Rosholt twice on the season (both by 4-3 scores) and has to be considered the favorite and #1 seed. Ellis of Mizzou should come in 3rd and move on to the NCAA tournament as well. I think Zabriskie will beat Rosholt in the finals, but will it be enough to push Iowa State to their first Big XII wrestling title?

Final Analysis

First off, I cannot believe this has been 2700+ words to this point.

Totaling up the champions by school, we have three for Mizzou (Askren, Jordan, Askren), three for OSU (Scott, Morgan, Hendricks), two for OU (Hazewinkle and Storniolo) and two for ISU (Paulson and Zabriskie). OU is not deep enough to be considered a candidate for the team title. That leaves OSU, ISU and MU. In four matches this season, OSU was 0-4 against ISU and MU, so I think that says they are not deep enough either. That leaves MU and ISU. Last time out, ISU defeated MU in a match that was much closer than the score would tell you. Tyler McCormick did not wrestle and Max Askren was not only upset, but was pinned. Turning those matches around, and giving decisions to both wrestlers would have made the final score 18-17 in favor of Mizzou. Will it be that close on Saturday? Only time and perhaps MU’s ability to recover from the flu bug will tell.

My only true prediction will be that MU will send a school record NINE wrestlers to the NCAA tournament in Detroit in two weeks, with the 125 pound class being the only one in which we will not have a representative.