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BIG 10 PREVIEW: Iowa looks to repeat as champions in the deepest conference tournament in the country

by Mike Willis, USA Wrestling

Feature photo of Spencer Lee courtesy of Iowa Athletics.

The Big Ten is objectively the toughest conference in NCAA Div. 1 wrestling right now. With 76 NCAA berths on the line, and nine of the top 25 teams from the most recent NWCA Division 1 coaches poll competing in this weekend’s conference tournament, the Big Ten Championships are must-watch wrestling. The event kicks off this Saturday, March 6, at 10:00 a.m. EST and the finals take place on Sunday, March 7 at 4:00 p.m. EST. The tournament will be streamed live via the Big Ten Network and Big Ten Network+.

No. 1 ranked Iowa will look to repeat as conference champions, while No. 2 ranked Penn State, No. 4 ranked Michigan and No. 8 ranked Nebraska, who finished runner-up in 2020, will all look to knock the Hawkeyes off.

This season, Iowa and Penn State split the Big Ten Wrestling Dual Meet Championship after both finishing their seasons with unblemished records. The Hawkeyes went 5-0, while the Nittany Lions compiled a 6-0 record.

Other ranked teams in the Big Ten include No. 9 Minnesota, No. 11 Illinois, No. 12 Ohio State, No. 18 Purdue and No. 23 Michigan State.

Below let’s take a look at the individual brackets:

125 (8 allocations)
Iowa’s two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee is the tournament’s biggest favorite regardless of weight class. Lee is 4-0 this season with four pins, including one over the No. 2 pre-seed Liam Cronin of Nebraska. Last year, Lee earned the No. 1 seed at the NCAA tournament with a sterling 18-0 record.

Cronin, who was an NCAA qualifier last season for Indiana, is 7-1 this season with victories over No. 4 pre-seed Patrick McKee of Minnesota and No. 5 pre-seed Rayvon Foley of Michigan State, a 2019 All-American. Two-time NCAA qualifier Malik Heinselman of Ohio State garnered the No. 3 pre-seed with a 7-1 record. His only loss this season came at the hands of No. 7 pre-seed Devin Schroder of Purdue. Schroder is a 2020 NWCA First Team All-American and Big Ten runner-up. This season, he is 6-3 with losses to Foley, McKee and No. 6 pre-seed Eric Barnett of Wisconsin.

Others to watch in this deep bracket include No. 8 pre-seed Michael DeAugustino of Northwestern, a 2020 NWCA First Team All-American, true-freshman Dylan Ragusin of Michigan, a 2020 Senior Nationals runner-up, and true-freshman Robert Howard of Penn State, a Youth Olympic Games champion and three-time Cadet World Team member.

133 (8 allocations)
The 133 pound bracket will see a shakeup as Rutgers’s Sammy Alvarez, who earned the No. 3 pre-seed, will no longer be competing. Rutgers will instead enter Shane Metzler, who is 1-1 on the season. The clea-cut top-two pre-seeds are Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young and Iowa’s Austin DeSanto. Both wrestlers were 2019 NCAA All-Americans, finishing eighth and fifth respectively, and 2020 NWCA First Team All-Americans. The pair have wrestled four times in their careers, with DeSanto winning both of their matches in the 2019 season and Roman Bravo-Young claiming two victories during the 2020 season, including in the Big Ten semifinals.

Redshirt freshmen Lucas Byrd of Illinois and Chris Cannon of Northwestern claimed the No. 4 and No. 5 pre-seeds. Byrd is 7-1 on the season with his only loss coming to DeSanto, and Cannon is 5-0 this year with his best win coming over No. 7 pre-seed Boo Dryden of Minnesota. Michigan’s Jack Medley, a 2020 NCAA qualifier at 125 pounds, earned the No. 6 pre-seed. Medley split time between 133 pounds and 125 pounds this season.

141 (8 allocations)
141 pounds is absolutely stacked in the Big Ten with four of the top-five ranked wrestlers from the most recent coaches poll. Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman received the No. 1 pre-seed at the weight class. He was a three-time NCAA All-American for Missouri, and this will be his first Big Ten Tournament. Penn State’s Nick Lee comes in as the No. 2 Pre-Seed. Lee was the Big Ten runner-up last season. He is a two-time NCAA All-American and a 2020 NWCA First Team All-American.

Sebastian Rivera will attempt to win his third Big Ten title at his third different weight class and his first representing Rutgers. A graduate transfer, Rivera claimed the 2019 title at 133 pounds and the 2018 title at 125 pounds for Northwestern. Rivera is a two-time NCAA All-American and a 2020 NWCA First Team All-American. The No. 4 pre-seed is Nebraska’s Chad Red, who is also a two-time NCAA All-American and 2020 NWCA First Team All-American. Three-time NCAA qualifier Dylan Duncan of Illinois received the No. 5 pre-seed.

149 (7 allocations)
Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso, the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the coaches poll, leads the way at 149 pounds. Iowa’s Max Murin, currently No. 5 in the coaches poll, earned the No. 2 pre-seed. Murin’s only loss this season came by fall to Sasso when they met in the dual meet. Purdue’s Griffin Parriott is the No. 3 pre-seed. He has not taken a loss this season and registered wins over No. 8 pre-seed Mike VanBrill of Rutgers, No. 9 pre-seed Graham Rooks of Indiana and No. 10 pre-seed Peyton Omania of Michigan State, a 2019 Greco-Roman Junior World bronze medalist.

2019 Junior World Team member and 2020 NCAA qualifier Yahya Thomas of Northwestern earned the No. 4 pre-seed. Michigan’s two-time NCAA qualifier Kanen Storr is the No. 5 pre-seed, while 2020 NCAA qualifiers Michael Blockhus of Minnesota and Ridge Lovett of Nebraska are pre-seeded sixth and seventh. Lovett, who competed at 133 pounds last season, is 5-0 on the year. Another wrestler to look out for is true freshman Beau Bartlett of Penn State. Bartlett, the No. 11 pre-seed, split time between 141 and 149, compiling a 7-1 record with his only loss coming to Sasso, 5-3.

157 (8 allocations)
Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin received the top pre-seed at 157 pounds. Currently No. 2 on the Men’s Freestyle National Team at 70 kg, Deakin is a 2019 NCAA All-American and a 2020 NWCA First Team All-American. He was seeded No. 1 going into last year’s NCAA tournament with a perfect, 21-0, record. Iowa’s Kaleb Young, a 2019 NCAA All-American and 2020 NWCA First Team All-American is the No.2 pre-seed. Young and Deakin have wrestled three times in their collegiate careers, with Young holding a 2-1 lead in the series. However, the last time the pair wrestled was at the 2019 NCAA tournament.

2020 NWCA First Team All-Americans Brayton Lee of Minnesota and Kendall Coleman of Purdue earned the third and fourth pre-seeds respectively. Penn State’s Brady Berge, a 2019 NCAA qualifier and 2018 Junior World bronze medalist, is pre-seeded fifth. 2017 Cadet World champion Will Lewan of Michigan, a 2020 NWCA Second Team All-American is pre-seeded sixth.

165 (8 allocations)
Two-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli of Iowa will look to claim his third-straight title at 165 pounds. Marinelli is a two-time NCAA All-American and 2020 NWCA All-American. Danny Braunagel of Illinois earned the No. 2 pre-seed. Braunagel, a 2020 NWCA Honorable Mention All-American, is 6-0 this season with wins over No. 3 pre-seed Ethan Smith of Ohio State (a 2020 NWCA Second Team All-American) and No. 7 pre-seed Peyton Robb of Nebraska (a 2020 NWCA Honorable Mention All-American).

Michigan redshirt freshman Cameron Amine earned the No. 4 pre-seed, and true-freshman Andrew Sparks of Minnesota earned the No. 5 pre-seed. Sparks is 8-1 this season with his only loss coming to Marinelli.

174 (8 allocations)
174 pounds is another outrageously deep weight class featuring five of the top-six ranked coaches poll wrestlers. Leading the way is Iowa’s Michael Kemerer, a two-time NCAA All-American and 2020 NWCA All-American. Kemerer finished runner-up at last year’s Big Ten Tournament. Nebraska’s Michael Labriola, a 2019 NCAA All-American and a 2020 NWCA Second-Team All-American is the No. 2 pre-seed. Labriola is 8-0 this season.

The No. 3 pre-seed is Penn State redshirt freshman Carter Starocci. He is 6-1 on the season with wins over No. 4 pre-seed Logan Massa of Michigan and No. 6 pre-seed Kaleb Romero of Ohio State. His lone loss came to Indiana’s redshirt freshman Donnell Washington, who earned the No. 5 pre-seed.

184 (8 allocations)
Penn State’s Aaron Brooks will look to repeat as conference champion after claiming his first title last season as a freshman. Brooks, a 2017 Cadet World champion and a 2018 Junior World silver medalist, was a First Team NWCA All-American . The only man to hand Brooks a loss last season is No. 6 pre-seed Taylor Venz of Nebraska. Venz is a 2018 NCAA All-American and 2020 NWCA First-Team All-American.

Seeding the 184 pound bracket outside of Brooks must have been tough, as many wrestlers have won and lost matches against each other.

The No. 2 pre-seed went to Wisconsin’s Christopher Weiler, previously a two-time NCAA qualifier and 2020 NWCA Honorable Mention All-American for Lehigh. Weiler is 4-2 this season with victories over the aforementioned Venz, No. 7 pre-seed Max Lyon of Purdue and No. 8 pre-seed Zach Braunagel of Illinois. His losses were to Brooks and No. 10 pre-seed Rocky Jordan of Ohio State.

Michigan State’s Lane Malczewski came in as the No. 3 pre-seed. A 2020 NCAA qualifier, Malczewski’s only loss this season came to Max Lyon, while he recorded victories over No. 4 pre-seed Owen Webster and Rocky Jordan. Rutgers’s freshman Jon Poznanski is the No. 5 pre-seed. Poznanski suffered a loss to Owen Webster but claimed wins over Max Lyon and Rocky Jordan.

197 (6 allocations)
Nebraska’s Eric Schultz, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll, earned the top pre-seed. Schultz finished runner-up at the 2020 Big Ten Tournament and was a 2020 NCWA First-Team All-American. He is a three-time NCAA qualifier.

Three-time NCAA All-American Myles Amine of Michigan is pre-seeded second. Amine finished fifth at the 2019 World Championships and will represent San Marino at 86 kg at the Tokyo Olympic Games. This season, he is 3-0 with wins over No. 4 pre-seed Cam Caffey of Michigan, last year’s Big Ten runner-up at 184 pounds and a NWCA First-Team All-American, No. 7 pre-seed Michael Beard of Penn State and No. 9 pre-seed Gavin Hoffman of Ohio State.

Iowa’s Jacob Warner, a 2019 NCAA All-American and 2020 NWCA First Team All-America is pre-seeded third. His only loss this season came at the hands of Schultz, and he has notched wins over No. 6 pre-seed Thomas Penola of Purdue and No. 8 pre-seed Matt Wroblewski of Illinois. 2020 NCAA qualifier Lucas Davison of Northwestern is pre-seeded No. 5. His only loss this year was to Schultz.

285 (7 allocations)
The top-three ranked wrestlers in the coaches poll are pre-seeded 1, 2 and 3 at the Big Ten Championships. Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, currently No. 2 on the Men’s Freestyle National Team at 125 kg, is the returning Big Ten Champion and No. 1 pre-seed. He is a 2019 NCAA All-American and a 2020 NWCA First Team All-American. The No. 2 pre- seed is Michigan’s Mason Parris. Steveson defeated Parris in last year’s Big Ten finals, 8-6. It was Parris’s only loss on the season. Steveson is a two-time Cadet World champion and a 2017 Junior World Champion, while Parris is a 2019 Junior World champion.

Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi, a 2020 NWCA First-Team All-American and third-place Big Ten finisher, is the No. 3 pre-seed. Since assuming his role as Iowa’s starter at heavyweight last season, Parris and Steveson are the only two wrestlers to defeat Cassioppi during the college season. Illinois’s Luke Luffman is the No. 4 pre-seed, after completing a strong regular season with wins over No. 6 pre-seed Trent Hillger of Wisconsin, a 2019 NCAA All-American and a 2020 First Team NWCA All-American, No. 5 pre-seed Christian Lance of Nebraska and No. 8 pre-seed Tate Orndorff of Ohio State. Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet comes in as the No. 7 seed with a 2-0 record. Kerkvliet is a 2017 Cadet World champion and a 2018 Cadet World silver medalist.

Big Ten pre-seeds

125 LBS
1. Spencer Lee, Iowa
2. Liam Cronin, Nebraska
3. Malik Heinselman, Ohio State
4. Patrick McKee, Minnesota
5. Rayvon Foley, Michigan State
6. Eric Barnett, Wisconsin
7. Devin Schroder, Purdue
8. Michael DeAugustino, Northwestern
9. Dylan Ragusin, Michigan
10. Justin Cardani, Illinois
11. Robert Howard, Penn State
12. Jacob Moran, Indiana
13. Dylan Shawver, Rutgers
14. Zach Spence, Maryland

133 LBS
1. Roman Bravo-Young, Penn State
2. Austin DeSanto, Iowa
3. Sammy Alvarez, Rutgers
4. Lucas Byrd, Illinois
5. Chris Cannon, Northwestern
6. Jack Medley, Michigan
7. Boo Dryden, Minnesota
8. Jordan Decatur, Ohio State
9. Jacob Rundell, Purdue
10. Kyle Burwick, Wisconsin
11. Tucker Sjomeling, Nebraska
12. Jordan Hamdan, Michigan State
13. Kyle Luigs, Indiana
14. Jackson Cockrell, Maryland

141 LBS.
1. Jaydin Eierman, Iowa
2. Nick Lee, Penn State
3. Sebastian Rivera, Rutgers
4. Chad Red, Nebraska
5. Dylan Duncan, Illinois
6. Marcos Polanco, Minnesota
7. Dylan D’Emilio, Ohio State
8. Drew Mattin, Michigan
9. Parker Filius, Purdue
10. Cayden Rooks, Indiana
11. Danny Bertoni, Maryland
12. Matt Santos, Michigan State
13. Colin Valdiviez, Northwestern
14. Dominic Dentino, Wisconsin

149 LBS.
1. Sammy Sasso, Ohio State
2. Max Murin, Iowa
3. Griffin Parriott, Purdue
4. Yahya Thomas, Northwestern
5. Kanen Storr, Michigan
6. Michael Blockhus, Minnesota
7. Ridge Lovett, Nebraska
8. Mike VanBrill, Rutgers
9. Graham Rooks, Indiana
10. Peyton Omania, Michigan State
11. Beau Bartlett, Penn State
12. Drew Scharenbrock, Wisconsin
13. Christian Kanzler, Illinois
14. Michael North, Maryland

157 LBS.
1. Ryan Deakin, Northwestern
2. Kaleb Young, Iowa
3. Brayton Lee, Minnesota
4. Kendall Coleman, Purdue
5. Brady Berge, Penn State
6. Will Lewan, Michigan
7. Chase Saldate, Michigan State
8. Garrett Model, Wisconsin
9. Elijah Cleary, Ohio State
10. Caleb Licking, Nebraska
11. Michael Doetsch, Maryland
12. Johnny Mologousis, Illinois
13. Luke Baughman, Indiana

165 LBS.
1. Alex Marinelli, Iowa
2. Dan Braunagel, Illinois
3. Ethan Smith, Ohio State
4. Cameron Amine, Michigan
5. Andrew Sparks, Minnesota
6. Joe Lee, Penn State
7. Peyton Robb, Nebraska
8. Jake Tucker, Michigan State
9. Nick South, Indiana
10. Gerrit Nijenhuis, Purdue
11. Jonathan Spadafora, Maryland
12. David Ferrante, Northwestern
13. Brett Donner, Rutgers
14. Josh Otto, Wisconsin

174 LBS.
1. Michael Kemerer, Iowa
2. Mikey Labriola, Nebraska
3. Carter Starocci, Penn State
4. Logan Massa, Michigan
5. Donnell Washington, Indiana
6. Kaleb Romero, Ohio State
7. Jackson Turley, Rutgers
8. Jared Krattiger, Wisconsin
9. Jake Allar, Minnesota
10. Drew Hughes, Michigan State
11. DJ Shannon, Illinois
12. Emil Soehnlen, Purdue
13. Troy Fisher, Northwestern
14. Philip Spadafora, Maryland

184 LBS.
1. Aaron Brooks, Penn State
2. Christopher Weiler, Wisconsin
3. Layne Malczewski, Michigan State
4. Owen Webster, Minnesota
5. John Poznanski, Rutgers
6. Taylor Venz, Nebraska
7. Max Lyon, Purdue
8. Zach Braunagel, Illinois
9. Nelson Brands, Iowa
10. Rocky Jordan, Ohio State
11. Kyle Cochran, Maryland
12. Jaden Bullock, Michigan
13. Jon Halvorsen, Northwestern
14. Santos Cantu III, Indiana

197 LBS.
1. Eric Schultz, Nebraska
2. Myles Amine, Michigan
3. Jacob Warner, Iowa
4. Cam Caffey, Michigan State
5. Lucas Davison, Northwestern
6. Thomas Penola, Purdue
7. Michael Beard, Penn State
8. Matt Wroblewski, Illinois
9. Gavin Hoffman, Ohio State
10. Billy Janzer, Rutgers
11. Garrett Joles, Minnesota
12. Jaron Smith, Maryland
13. Nick Willham, Indiana
14. Andrew Salemme, Wisconsin

285 LBS.
1. Gable Steveson, Minnesota
2. Mason Parris, Michigan
3. Tony Cassioppi Iowa
4. Luke Luffman, Illinois
5. Christian Lance, Nebraska
6. Trent Hillger, Wisconsin
7. Greg Kerkvliet, Penn State
8. Tate Orndorff, Ohio State
9. Christian Rebottaro Michigan State
10. Jack Heyob, Northwestern
11. Christian Colucci, Rutgers
12. Dorian Keys, Purdue
13. Rudy Streck, Indiana
14. Garrett Kappes, Maryland

2020 Big Ten Championship results
1. Iowa 157.5
2. Nebraska 132
3. Ohio State 112
4. Penn State 107
5. Purdue 83
6. Northwestern 79.5
7. Michigan 73
8. Minnesota 63.5
9. Wisconsin 62.5
10. Michigan State 57
11. Illinois 49
12. Rutgers 25.5
13. Indiana 14.5
14. Maryland

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