Iowa coach Tom Brands reacts to the Hawkeyes' first Big Ten tournament title since 2015. Hawk Central
I was supposed to write this mailbag in Minneapolis. I planned on driving up early to see friends and work on a few things in the days before the NCAA Division I Championships. I was also excited, of course. You were, too. This week was going to be special.
Now, I'm writing this in my apartment while practicing social distancing. The vibe outside my window feels apocalyptic, even though the sun is shining and there are no clouds. There are no live sports to look forward to, including what was supposed to be the biggest celebration of wrestling ever, and there may not be for a while.
This is the new normal for now in the hopes that it'll pay dividends down the road. It's remarkable that, in a way, sports helped everybody realize the seriousness of this thing. I'd venture to guess that if not for Rudy Gobert's positive test for COVID-19, all live sports would've continued with limited fans or no fans last weekend.
Gobert hit the warp speed button on all of this. The NBA suspended its season within minutes. Every major sports league has followed in some capacity. The NCAA canceled all remaining winter and sports championships, shattering hearts everywhere.
It was the right thing to do. I'll admit to not taking this very seriously at first. This was maybe back in late February, after the state wrestling tournament. It never crossed my mind that we'd even get to this point, not even after the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago.
Heck, even one week ago, my biggest worry was rescheduling my flight back from New Jersey (delays) so that I could get home and then figuring out how many hours of sleep I'd get before getting up Tuesday. The Gobert news hit the next day, and sports, as well as life, stopped dead in its tracks.
We're all sad now, of course, but I'll be much more sad if this nasty virus takes someone close to me. I've been thinking of my grandma a lot. She'll turn 80 in December, healthy by virtually every measure. But she's also smoked for as long as I can remember, and if COVID-19, a respiratory disease … well, I don't want to think about that.
So here we are, navigating this new world. Sports will come back, I think, but I wonder how much different we'll view them whenever they do return. They'd be a beautiful distraction from all of this. But without them, we'll find new ways to spend our time.
For me, there's a stack of books on my desk that I need to start pecking away at. It's full of Malcolm Gladwell and John Branch and Donald Miller and even Dan Gable's "A Wrestling Life 2" written with Kyle Klingman. After I get to your questions, I think that's where I'll start.
Now, then. Onto the wrestling mailbag, the last one of the year, unfortunately. We may circle back and try one or two more around the U.S. Olympic Trials, whenever those get rescheduled. We'll play it by ear.
Please give me a follow on Twitter (@codygoodwin) and I’ll keep you guys up to date on all things wrestling in Iowa. Thanks so much for your help here, and for reading — not just today, but all season. I sincerely appreciate it.
I'll be honest, I don't know their immediate reactions. Iowa coach Tom Brands put out a statement last week. Iowa State coach Kevin Dresser told me his guys were sad and shed tears. Northern Iowa coach Doug Schwab has expressed looking at the bigger picture.
From following some of the guys on social media, it appears that most of Iowa's wrestlers went to the beach, perhaps in an attempt to get away from everything and recover from the grind that is the Division I college wrestling season. I imagine most of us would take something similar as a distraction.
But you make a good point about being gutted and this being Iowa's best chance at a title in a decade. They would've walked into this week as the prohibitive favorites to win for the first time since 2010.
This was such a special season for Iowa, you guys, and that shouldn't be forgotten. It is incredibly hard to go wire-to-wire and dominate the way the Hawkeyes did this season.
They went 13-0 in duals, winning by an average of 26.5 team points. They won 108 of 130 dual matches and scored bonus in 45, a 42% bonus rate. They shattered attendance records, with at least 10,000 fans at every home dual. They set a new team scoring record at the Midlands Championships without the full use of two stars. They won the Big Ten Championships by 25.5 points and qualified all 10 for the big dance.
Consider: Penn State only ran the table like that twice during its run of eight NCAA team titles in nine years, in 2015-16 and then 2018-19. The Nittany Lions occasionally dropped a dual and twice lost the Big Ten tournament to Ohio State.
The toughest part of this special story was not getting a chance to see how the final chapter unfolded. This week was supposed to be Iowa's coronation, the payoff for years of building and recruiting and retooling to finally get back on top. Instead, the season was cut short by two weeks.
Nobody should forget the 2019-20 Hawkeyes. They were dominant, clearly the best team in Division I wrestling. I don't think anybody will, in part because of their success, but also because of the way the season ended.
So because this weekend and Monday opened up for me, I had quite a bit of time on my hands and filled out all 10 brackets for the upcoming NCAA Championships to completely fulfill my predictions. I tweeted my 10 champs Monday morning to try and generate a little discussion and create a distraction for people who are still bumming.
Surely there are better ways to use my time. Don't judge.
But filling out all 10 brackets gave me a small project, of sorts. So I crunched all the numbers and these was the rough team scores I came up with:
- Iowa, 120-130
- Penn State, 90-100
- Nebraska, 70-80
- Ohio State, 60-70
- Oklahoma State, 60-70
I made the team scores approximate because I didn't always factor in bonus points and different paths in the bracket lead to different team-point totals and to be honest I probably butchered a few weights in terms of my predictions.
Because remember, I went five for 10 on my championship picks pre-tournament last year and also predicted that Abe Assad would stay in redshirt.
But I saw the NCAA Championships playing out much the same way the Big Ten Championships did: Iowa would set itself up with a solid first day, put in enough work to grab the tournament by throat on Friday, then mathematically clinch it sometime Saturday. The combination of depth and firepower was just too much for anybody else.
I think Nebraska and Ohio State would have taken a small step back in terms of points because of the other teams and individuals. I think Oklahoma State would've scored enough to contend for a trophy. I think six through 12 would've been some combination of Purdue, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Arizona State, Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Northwestern.
The beauty of the NCAA Championships is that all of our predictions don't mean a dang thing once the tournament begins during Thursday's first session. It's a mass of chaos that spans six sessions over three days under one roof. And this year was going to be in a football stadium for the first time ever.
It was going to be so special. Now we're left wondering what could've been.
Things can get tricky with this because there are a lot of variables at play here, namely scholarship funds and roster sizes and potential transfers and some seniors may not want to take the extra year for personal reasons, among other things.
But you asked, so here we go.
Here's what Iowa's lineup might look like if all NCAA qualifiers get a year back:
- 125: Spencer Lee, jr.
- 133: Austin DeSanto, jr.
- 141: Jaydin Eierman, sr.
- 149: Pat Lugo, sr.
- 157: Kaleb Young, jr.
- 165: Alex Marinelli, jr.
- 174: Michael Kemerer, jr.
- 184: Abe Assad, fr.
- 197: Jacob Warner, soph.
- 285: Tony Cassioppi, RS fr.
Goodness, that's a salty lineup. That could be 10 All-Americans. That could be a team that threatens the all-time scoring record if everybody is on their A-game.
Here's what Iowa's lineup might look like if they NCAA qualifiers do not get a year back:
- 125: Spencer Lee, sr.
- 133: Austin DeSanto, sr.
- 141: Jaydin Eierman, sr.
- 149: Max Murin, jr./Carter Happel, sr./Zach Axmear, jr.
- 157: Kaleb Young, sr.
- 165: Alex Marinelli, sr.
- 174: Michael Kemerer, sr.
- 184: Abe Assad, soph.
- 197: Jacob Warner, jr.
- 285: Tony Cassioppi, soph.
Still a very salty lineup, and likely one the top contenders for the NCAA team title, but 149 might be a question mark at the beginning of the season.
You can see why a bunch of Iowa fans are hoping that the NCAA grants an extra year back to those who qualified for the NCAA Championships.
For the heck of it, let's do Iowa State and Northern Iowa, too.
Iowa State, with NCAA qualifiers getting an extra year:
- 125: Alex Mackall, jr.
- 133: Austin Gomez, soph./Todd Small, jr.
- 141: Ian Parker, jr.
- 149: Jarrett Degen, jr.
- 157: David Carr, RS fr.
- 165: Chase Straw, sr.
- 174: Sam Colbray, jr.
- 184: Marcus Coleman, soph.
- 197: Joel Shapiro, soph.
- 285: Gannon Gremmel, jr.
And Iowa State, without NCAA qualifiers getting an extra year:
- 125: Alex Mackall, sr.
- 133: Austin Gomez, soph./Todd Small, sr.
- 141: Ian Parker, sr.
- 149: Jarrett Degen, sr.
- 157: David Carr, soph./Grant Stotts, soph.
- 165: Carr/Isaac Judge, soph./Zane Mulder, RS soph./Logan Schumacher, RS soph.
- 174: Sam Colbray, sr.
- 184: Marcus Coleman, jr./Julien Broderson, RS fr.
- 197: Joel Shapiro, soph.
- 285: Gannon Gremmel, sr.
A few more questions there, especially regarding David Carr's potential bump in weight and who fills in at 157 if he does go up.
Now, Northern Iowa, with NCAA qualifiers getting an extra year:
- 125: Jacob Schwarm, sr.
- 133: Jack Skudlarczyk, soph.
- 141: Michael Blockhus, RS fr.
- 149: Max Thomsen, sr.
- 157: Paden Moore, sr./Keaton Geerts, RS fr.
- 165: Austin Yant, soph./Lance Runyon, RS fr.
- 174: Bryce Steiert, sr.
- 184: Taylor Lujan, sr./Parker Keckeisen, RS fr.
- 197: Jacob Holschlag, sr./Tyrell Gordon, RS soph.
- 285: Carter Isley, jr.
And Northern Iowa, without NCAA qualifiers getting an extra year:
- 125: Kyle Biscoglia, soph./Brody Teske, soph.
- 133: Jack Skudlarczyk, jr./Drew Bennett, soph.
- 141: Michael Blockhus, soph.
- 149: Gable Fox, soph./Triston Lara, jr./many other guys
- 157: Keaton Geerts, soph.
- 165: Austin Yant, jr./Lance Runyon, RS fr.
- 174: maybe Yant/Keegan Moore, sr./Noah Glaser, soph.
- 184: Parker Keckeisen, RS fr.
- 197: Jacob Holschlag, sr./Tyrell Gordon, RS soph.
- 285: Carter Isley, sr.
A little bit more fluid from one lineup to the next, considering Northern Iowa has four seniors in the lineup. I wonder if Schwab would plug any of the incoming true freshmen into starting roles, too.
We'll see what happens.
Regarding the Hodge Trophy — yes, Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine announced they will still award a Hodge Trophy for the 2019-20 season. Consider Spencer Lee the front-runner.
I believe, by default, that Thomas Gilman will be the 1-seed at 57 kilograms (125 pounds) the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, whenever they are rescheduled, after winning at the Pan-Am Olympic Qualifier event this past weekend in Canada. He was excellent this weekend, going 4-0 and outscoring his opponents a combined 24-3 to win.
I would think that also makes Spencer Lee the 2-seed, since he won the U.S. Senior men's freestyle national title at 57 kilos back in December — which means, if seeds hold, we'll see another all-Hawkeye final for a spot on the Olympic team.
We'll see how the rest of the bracket shakes out. This year's Olympic Trials were shaping up to be the greatest American wrestling tournament ever, just with the combination of talent and continued growth of women's freestyle and Greco-Roman and the different ages and styles clashing for spots on the Olympic team.
It still has the chance to be very special, I think, but it may lose some luster with the cancellation of not only the NCAA Championships but the NAIA national women's invitational. Champions from both automatically qualified for the Olympic Trials.
On top of everything, there's a chance it may not be at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. USA Wrestling announced last week that it's hoping to keep it there, but could move it if it needed. Moving it to a smaller venue might have an impact on the overall attendance, especially if that smaller venue is outside the heart of wrestling country.
We're going to be in this holding pattern for a while, so buckle up and practice patience in addition to social distancing.
Wrestling has taught me many things, including that you must always get up when you get taken down; that your response to certain outcomes determines where you go next; and that the ability to scramble, both on the mat and in real life, is a valuable asset that can help you come out ahead. Champions always adjust.
It also taught me to shake hands with my opponent, win or lose. Maybe we should hold off on that one for a little bit.
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal