Iowa coach Tom Brands reacts to the Hawkeyes' first Big Ten tournament title since 2015. Hawk Central
Two weeks remain in the Division I wrestling season, and all the goals and expectations that each of the state's three programs began the season with are still within reach with one tournament remaining.
For the Hawkeyes, a national team championship is not only the goal, but the expectation heading into next week's NCAA Championships in Minneapolis. All 10 Iowa wrestlers are headed there after the at-large bids included Kaleb Young, and each of them will have an integral role in the team's pursuit of its first title in a decade.
For the Cyclones, a top-10 finish is within reach, with nine total qualifiers — and that's after a bumpy year full of injuries and some tough losses.
For the Panthers, a top-10 finish is also within reach, with seven total qualifiers. Northern Iowa has shown great potential in tournament settings, and the mix of senior experience and young talent make them a team full of landmines heading into the national tournament.
The most important time of the season has arrived. The entirety of the season ultimately defines these teams, but their performance on the biggest stage in March is how they'll be remembered.
So giddy-up. Next week will be here before we know it.
Now, onto the wrestling mailbag. I've been to Minneapolis before, but I'm still open to any bar and food recommendations, or anything else you guys think we should see while we're up there.
Please give me a follow on Twitter (@codygoodwin) and I’ll keep you updated on all things wrestling in Iowa. Thanks for your help and for reading.
Honestly, and I mean no disrespect to Nebraska, but it's Penn State's firepower that presents the biggest threat.
The Huskers had a tremendous Big Ten Conference tournament. By my math, they went 36-16 with 15 bonus-point wins. More importantly, perhaps, they had six wrestlers finish above their seeds, which anchored a lot of their second-place finish.
I wonder, though, how much they can replicate that on a national stage.
For example, Alex Thomsen — shoutout to Underwood — went from the 10-seed who didn't earn an automatic bid during the regular season to finishing sixth and stealing one. Those were points people weren't counting on Nebraska getting. He'd need to finish on the podium in Minneapolis for a similar impact — which, to be fair, is possible.
Guys like Collin Purinton (149) and Peyton Robb (157) are in a similar boat, going from 7-seeds to third-place. They're plenty talented enough to make a run nationally if they can do it at the Big Ten tournament, but will they?
Questions like that are what I think of when it comes to Nebraska contending at the top in Minneapolis. If they can answer those, then watch out, because they'll absolutely make some noise.
Penn State, meanwhile, may not have the depth — Nebraska is taking all 10; the Nittany Lions are taking seven — but could easily have five in the finals: Roman Bravo-Young (133), Nick Lee (141), Vincenzo Joseph (165), Mark Hall (174) and Aaron Brooks (184).
That's 80 team points before their finals results and bonus points are factored in.
Now, the thing about Penn State is that they need to literally bat 1.000 in order to run down Iowa in Minneapolis. The Hawkeyes' overall depth and balance allows for that advantage. That's one thing the Big Ten tournament taught us, because Penn State had the most finalists of any team and Iowa still beat them by 50.5 points.
Nebraska's depth allowed them to overtake not just Penn State but also Ohio State in Piscataway. I'm very curious to see if those guys can replicate that performance nationally.
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First off, thank you. I love this sport and the stories I get to tell. I hope that comes through in the writing and the tweets. Wrestling fans are a passionate bunch and I try to match that excitement during the sport's biggest moments.
But this is an excellent question in tandem with the last one, because that's the other thing about the NCAA Championships — more top-tier teams and individuals will be in the mix that some Big Ten teams haven't seen all year, which will make this whole thing more interesting.
The Big Ten will likely carry a lot of the weight, just because of the overall talent from the conference, but don't count out teams like Oklahoma State, North Carolina State, Arizona State, Lehigh and even Princeton from making noise the first couple of days.
Each weight probably varies. The Big Ten has a stranglehold on a few of them, like 133, 174 and 285. But the rest will see plenty of other wrestlers from other conferences make an impact in those brackets.
At 125, for example, the next three guys behind Iowa's Spencer Lee are all from outside the Big Ten: Princeton's Pat Glory, Virginia's Jack Mueller and Oklahoma State's Nick Piccininni. At 141, you have to include guys like Stanford's Real Woods, Iowa State's Ian Parker and Oklahoma's Dom Demas.
There's weights like 149, 157 and 197 that have an incredible mix of Big Ten and non-Big Ten guys at the top. At 184, it's mostly non-Big Ten at the top, with Northern Iowa's Taylor Lujan, Virginia Tech's Hunter Bolen, NC State's Trent Hidlay, Binghamton's Lou Deprez and Pittsburgh's Nino Bonaccorsi.
That's the beauty of the NCAA Championships. You get the best from all over the country under one roof for three straight days. We're fortunate here in Big Ten country to see a lot of the best guys all season, but there are so many other talented wrestlers and teams around the country that we don't get to see regularly unless we schedule it into our lives. Some of us do, but a lot of us don't.
That's part of what'll make next week so much fun.
I have a really hard time critiquing officials because it's a hard job made harder by the stage and magnitude of March. Most officials, you will notice if you pay close enough attention, do a wonderful job, and they should be commended for that. That's just the facts.
The thing I look for most out of the officials, at any level of wrestling, is consistency. If you're going to call stalling for a specific situation, make sure you call it every time that specific situation occurs. If you blur the lines between what is and isn't stalling, that's mostly where I have an issue.
And the thing about the Big Ten Championships — or any tournament, like the state high school championships, the Midlands Championships and the upcoming NCAA Championships — is that you have a lot of officials with their own interpretation of the rules and calls. So you lend yourself to a natural level of inconsistency across the board.
Which is fine! Different officials call things differently. Some will let certain situations play out while others are quick to call stalemates. Some will call stalling while others won't. Some will communicate more with the wrestlers and others won't say word. You get a variety of different viewpoints with each official, and I think that's a good thing.
But that's also the thing people probably forget during these tournaments. There's a lot of different officials that call matches differently, so you're naturally going to get some distinctly different calls from match-to-match. That's just part of the deal, as weird and frustrating as it can be.
I have a natural tendency to look at calls in matches in a vacuum rather than looking at a bigger picture. Some calls are weird. Some make sense. I'm still not sure what the technical violation was for in the Michael Kemerer-Devin Skatzka match. I never got the chance to ask. Abe Assad was not awarded a takedown at the end of his match with Michigan State's Cam Caffey when it maybe looked like two to me.
But I thought the officiating was good overall. There weren't any egregious calls that were blatantly wrong that I can remember. There were some I disagreed with, sure, but reasonable minds can always disagree.
You guys will remember the calls that went against your favorite wrestlers because you're a fan. You'll forget about or agree with the calls that were in favor of your favorite wrestlers because, again, you're a fan. All I look for is consistency.
I alluded to this a little bit in the latest podcast — which you should totally listen, subscribe and rate, by the way — but the biggest thing I saw from Austin DeSanto was his inability to quickly finish his shots.
People are going to make a big deal about the lack of takedowns, and that's fine. He scored three in his first-round major decision over Ohio State's Jordan Decatur, then didn't score another until midway through the third period of his last match, which was the third-place bout against Wisconsin's Seth Gross (which he lost, 6-3).
That he didn't score is one thing, but it certainly wasn't for a lack of effort.
Against Roman Bravo-Young, for example, he was in on plenty of shots. He just didn't finish. Sometimes he got caught underneath, because Bravo-Young is good at that. Sometimes he would shoot in and stop, maybe because he was tentative, for whatever reason. Sometimes Bravo-Young, and the others, defended it well.
We saw that in his matches against Nebraska's Ridge Lovett and Illinois's Travis Piotrowski and early on against Gross. Guys are taking away that right-side inside tie, which is where a lot of DeSanto's neutral offense begins. That's how he gets to his dump, or that head-outside shot that he cuts across for a double, or anything else in his repertoire. The most extreme example was Bravo-Young putting his left arm on his back.
It's on DeSanto at this point to solve that. As the tournament progressed, he found different ways to set up his offense, but not a lot of success in finishing. He found some success with straight head snaps against Gross. But you could tell he was trying to solve the problem on the fly.
Perhaps that's why he struggled, but that's how guys are going to defend him the deeper he gets into the NCAA Championships. He's still going to score some points against the guys he should probably beat. He's still going to fire off attacks at an incredible rate.
But at this stage in the season, it's about finishing those opportunities. He didn't do a great job of that in Piscataway. He's become more versatile offensively this season, but it all starts out of that one tie. If that gets taken away, then what?
The answer to that question will lead to how he finishes in Minneapolis.
Hoo boy. This one is tough, because save for Kaleb Young, they all did quite well on the whole this past weekend.
But I think my answer is Kemerer, if only because he took second and I think he can win the whole thing.
The key, first, is navigating the bracket and getting to the finals, but then two, if he matches up against Hall again, getting to his offense first. He did that in the first match — first surviving Hall's killshot of a body-lock throw, then adding to it as the match went along — and that helped him find a rhythm as the match went along.
Among the others, I think Young can bounce back, but he's become a question mark after this past weekend. I think DeSanto is still a threat to make the finals, if only because there's so much parity at 133 this year. I also think Jacob Warner could make the finals with the right draw and mindset.
But give me Kemerer as the guy who will improve from second at the Big Ten tournament to first place at the national tournament.
I don't think 15 is too high at all. In fact, off the top of my head (this is subject to change once the brackets come out Wednesday), I think 15 is exactly the number.
I think Iowa ends up with eight: Lee, DeSanto, Pat Lugo, Alex Marinelli, Kemerer, Assad, Warner and Tony Cassioppi.
I think Iowa State gets four: Alex Mackall, Ian Parker, David Carr and Gannon Gremmel.
I think Northern Iowa gets three: Jacob Schwarm, Bryce Steiert and Taylor Lujan.
Others to watch: Max Murin, because he's right there with the other podium guys; Young, because he did it last year; Sam Colbray and Jarrett Degen, who are both hurt but talented enough; Todd Small, because he only ever wrestles weird matches and could string enough of them together; Max Thomsen, who's struggled with injuries but he's also done it before; and, finally, both Jack Skudlarczyk and Michael Blockhus, because my gut says don't count those dudes out.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
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