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Q & A: Blatnick offers perspective on NCAA Championships



1984 Olympic gold medalist Jeff Blatnick has been a fixture at the NCAA Championships as a broadcaster for 20 years. He will do color commentary of the finals on ESPN again this year. Blatnick was an All-American for Springfield (Mass.) College and also has provided commentary on wrestling at the last five Olympic Games. He offers his thoughts on this year's NCAA tournament.

TheMat.com: What's so special about the NCAA tournament?

Blatnick: The Division I tournament is the ultimate for a college athlete, and it was a thrill for me to compete in it and be able to become an All-American. What I love are all the upsets and the excitement this tournament generates. There is no sure thing when you compete in this event. Just look at this year's tournament. There are seven champions in the field, including six defending champions from last year, and none of them are No. 1 seeds. Experience doesn't seem to count as much anymore with so many young guys doing so well now. You see a lot of surprises and that's what makes this tournament so much fun to watch.

TheMat.com: How do you see this tournament unfolding in terms of the team race?

Blatnick: It's very early, and it is kind of funny to see Hofstra in second place after the first session. We are praying as TV people that the team race comes down to a Mocco-Konrad match to decide it in the last match of the tournament. In the end, Oklahoma State has a fabulous team with four national champions in their lineup. They're the top team until someone rises up and knocks them out of the saddle.

TheMat.com: How intriguing would it be to see a potential heavyweight finals match between Steve Mocco of Oklahoma State and Cole Konrad of Minnesota decide who wins the team title?

Blatnick: If that happens, you will have all 16,000 fans in the arena going absolutely crazy. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see that? It would be a perfect way to finish the tournament. It will be a real test of Mocco's resolve to see how he responds to losing a few times to Konrad this season. But Konrad has really stepped up. He's looking very good right now.

TheMat.com: Any wrestlers who stand out and impress you more than any others in this tournament?

Blatnick: If there's one wrestler I would bet on in this tournament it would be (Missouri's) Ben Askren. He's scored bonus points in almost every match this season. He wrestles wide-open and doesn't try to hang on. I love offensive wrestlers. I know risk-taking sometimes has its consequences, but he just keeps coming at you. He has tremendous balance and has an exciting style that is fun to watch. His matches are entertaining.

TheMat.com: The Iowa Hawkeyes, a team that was so dominant in this tournament in the 1980s and 1990s, enters this year's meet struggling by their standards after placing sixth in the Big Ten. What is your take on what is going on with the Hawkeyes?

Blatnick: It's a real tough call. Jimmy Zalesky has led them to three national titles as a coach, and has done some real good things with that program. I think the biggest part of coaching is recruiting, and right now the people that are winning the recruiting wars are Minnesota and Oklahoma State. That may be contributing to the reason of what's going on at Iowa right now. The Hawkeyes have a rich tradition. I don't think any program can forever stay on top. There are a lot of rumors floating around about what might happen there, but I really don't have any idea what's going to happen.
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