Breaking down 2023 NCAA wrestling brackets for Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa wrestlers

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

The roads that lead to an NCAA title became official on Wednesday.

The NCAA released the brackets for the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships, set for March 16-18 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. A combined 25 wrestlers from Iowa, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa — plus 6 Iowa natives competing for out-of-state programs — now know their respective paths to becoming an All-American.

Iowa is sending all 10 starters to Tulsa. Two of them, Spencer Lee (125) and Real Woods (141), were seeded first at their weights. In all, five of the 10 Hawkeye wrestlers competing next week were seeded in the top-eight at their respective weights.

Iowa State qualified 8 wrestlers, and four are seeded eighth or better, led by David Carr, the No. 1 seed at 165 pounds. Northern Iowa is sending 7 to the national tournament, and Parker Keckeisen earned the No. 1 seed at 184 pounds.

Here, we have weight-by-weight takeaways from all 10 brackets. It includes each local wrestler that qualified, their paths in their respective bracket, and other thoughts and observations from each bracket.

Click here for the Trackwrestling page for the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships. Click here for printable brackets.

Wrestling Mailbag:Recapping the Big Ten and Big 12 tournaments, Spencer Lee, stalling, NCAA women, more

Spencer Lee is the title favorite at 125 pounds

  • Spencer Lee, Iowa: #1 seed, will face pigtail winner, #32 Tanner Jordan (SDSU)/#33 Tucker Owens (AF)
  • Jack Wagner, North Carolina (Bettendorf alum): #26 seed, vs. #7 Brandon Kaylor (Ore. St.)

Reaction: If all the seeds hold, Spencer Lee's path to a fourth NCAA title will be South Dakota State's Tanner Jordan, Michigan's Jack Medley, Lock Haven's Anthony Noto, Purdue's Matt Ramos, and Princeton's Pat Glory. It's an interesting path because Lee's wrestled three of those five guys: Medley, the 16-seed, four times; Ramos, the 4-seed, once; and Glory, the 2-seed, twice — both those two Glory matches were during the 2018-19 season.

Lee's side of the bracket, the top-half, also includes Wisconsin's Eric Barnett, a two-time All-American who is the 9-seed, and Northwestern's Michael DeAugustino, another returning All-American who is the 12-seed and will face Wyoming's Jore Volk, a U20 freestyle world champ in the first round.

Jack Wagner, in his first trip to the NCAA Championships, got a tough draw as the 26-seed, with returning All-American Brandon Kaylor right away. Wagner's seed projects he'll go 0-2. The path forward isn't easy. A win means he'll likely see Arizona State's Brandon Courtney, a past NCAA finalist who is the 10-seed. A loss means Kent State's Jake Ferri. Win there, he could see Barnett or DeAugustino first thing Friday morning.

The bottom half has Nebraska's Liam Cronin, the 3-seed, as well as Minnesota's Pat McKee, a two-time All-American who dropped to the 11-seed, and Northern Colorado's Stevo Poulin, the Big 12 champ who is the 6-seed. McKee and Poulin could hit in the second round, and the winner could see Cronin in the quarterfinals.

Mar 5, 2023; Ann Arbor, MI, USA;  Iowa Hawkeyes wrestler Spencer Lee wrestles Nebraska Cornhuskers wrestler Liam Cronin during the Big Ten Championship at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Tough paths for Teske, Biscoglia, Redding at 133 pounds

  • Zach Redding, Iowa State — #15 seed, vs. #18 Brayden Palmer (CHATT)
  • Kyle Biscoglia, Northern Iowa — #16 seed, vs. #17 Joe Heilmann (RUT)
  • Brody Teske, Iowa — #24 seed, vs. Micky Phillipi (PITT)
  • McGwire Midkiff, N. Dakota St. (C.B. Thomas Jefferson alum) — #33 seed, vs. #32 Jack Maida (AMER)

Reaction: McGwire Midkiff's first trip to the NCAA Championships is as the final seed. If he beats American's Jack Maida first thing next Thursday, he'll advance to wrestle Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young, a two-time national champ and the 1-seed at 133. Welcome to the show, man.

The three in-state school representatives all have pretty tough paths in front of them. If Biscoglia takes care of Heilmann in round one, he could also see Bravo-Young, in the second round. RBY pinned Biscoglia the only time they've wrestled, which was last year. The road to an All-American finish likely goes through the wrestlebacks.

Redding is in a similar spot. If he beats Palmer first, he'll get Oklahoma State's Daton Fix, a three-time NCAA finalist, in a rematch of the Big 12 finals — which Fix won, 10-2. Teske has Pittsburgh's Micky Phillippi, a three-time bloodround participant. A win means he'll likely see Minnesota's Aaron Nagao, the Big Ten runner-up, but a loss means he'd likely see Oklahoma's Wyatt Henson, who transferred from Iowa, in the wrestlebacks.

Iowa State Cyclones Zach Redding goes for a pinned Oklahoma Sooners Wyatt Henson during their 133-pound wrestling in a dual meet at Hilton Coliseum Sunday, Jan. 27, 2023 in Ames, Iowa. Redding won the match by fall. Photo by Ames Tribune-USA TODAY Network.

Can Real Woods win an NCAA title at 141 pounds?

  • Real Woods, Iowa — #1 seed, will face pigtail winner, #32 Kal Miller (MD)/#33 Josh Mason (BLOO)
  • Cael Happel, Northern Iowa — #14 seed, vs. #19 Matt Kazmir (COL)
  • Casey Swiderski, Iowa State — #24 seed, vs. #9 Mosha Schwartz (OU)

Reaction: Woods snags the 1-seed over Northern Colorado's Andrew Alirez, the Big 12 champ who is the 2-seed. Being the 1-seed gives you the easiest path, but Woods must navigate some landmines to reach the finals, like Oklahoma's Mosha Schwartz, the 9-seeed; NC State's Ryan Jack, the 5-seed; and Nebraska's Brock Hardy, the 4-seed, who Woods beat twice this year, but they've been close matches. Would be a heck of a semifinal match.

More:55 Iowa wrestlers have won at least one NCAA title. Here's a look at the complete list

Happel earned an at-large bid and landed on Alirez's side of the bracket. If he beats Kazmir, he'd get Pittsburgh's Cole Matthews, the 3-seed. He hasn't wrestled either guy. Maybe that means he could sneak into the quarters. Swiderski, even with a fourth-place Big 12 finish, is the 24-seed, with Schwartz up first. Schwartz won the regular-season meeting, 3-2. Swiderski is the double-digit seed who could make a run here.

Mar 5, 2023; Ann Arbor, MI, USA;  Iowa Hawkeyes wrestler Real Woods wrestles Nebraska Cornhuskers wrestler Brock Hardy during the Big Ten Championship at Crisler Center. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of All-American contenders at 149 pounds

  • Paniro Johnson, Iowa State — #5 seed, vs. #28 Jarod Verkleeren (UVA)
  • Max Murin, Iowa — #8 seed, vs. #25 Ryan Burgos (EDIN)
  • Michael Blockhus, Minnesota (Crestwood/New Hampton alum) — #11 seed, vs. #22 Ethen Miller (MD)
  • Colin Realbuto, Northern Iowa — #16 seed, vs. #17 Jackson Arrington (NCST)

Reaction: A lot of intriguing potential matchups at this weight. Start with Johnson, who climbed to the 5-seed after winning the Big 12 title. He gets Jarod Verkleeren, a one-time Iowa State signee before Kevin Dresser was hired, in the first round. Johnson will likely see Penn's Doug Zapf in the second round, then Virginia Tech's Caleb Henson, in what would be an all-freshman quarterfinal if it happens.

Murin gets Edinboro's Ryan Burgos first, but could see Appalachian State's Jonathan Millner, the 9-seed, in round two. Millner, a two-time All-American, beat Murin last year in the bloodround, so that's big. The winner would likely see Cornell's three-time national champ Yianni Diakomihalis in the quarterfinals. Along the way, Diakomihalis might have to beat Northern Iowa's Colin Realbuto in the second round. Crammed top side.

More:Has Northern Iowa won an NCAA wrestling championship? A look at UNI's championship history

Blockhus is the only one of the four on the bottom half of the bracket. He gets Big Ten foe Ethen Miller first, then could see Missouri's Brock Mauller, the 6-seed, in round two. Winner likely gets Arizona State's two-time All-American Kyle Parco, the 3-seed, in the quarters. Ohio State's Sammy Sasso, the Big Ten champ, is the 2-seed here. He could see Northwestern's Yahya Thomas, the 7-seed, in the quarters. Hopefully Thomas is healthy after defaulting from the Big Ten tournament through concussion protocol during his match against Murin.

Iowa State's Paniro Johnson celebrates after defeating Missouri's Brock Mauller during the championship round of the Big 12 Wrestling Championships at the BOK Center on Sunday, March 5, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla.

Cobe Siebrecht is a darkhorse threat at 157 pounds

  • Cobe Siebrecht, Iowa — #14 seed, vs. #19 Garrett Model (WISC)
  • Derek Holschlag, Northern Iowa — #22, vs. #11 Chase Saldate (MSU)
  • Jason Kraisser, Iowa State — #25 seed, vs. #8 Ed Scott (NCST)

Reaction: No easy path here for any of these guys. Siebrecht opens with Model, who he beat 3-2 in their regular-season meeting. Win, and he'll likely see Nebraska's Peyton Robb, the 3-seed. Robb was the presumptive 1-seed here until his loss to Penn State's Levi Haines in the Big Ten finals, a win that gave Haines the 2-seed. If Siebrecht loses to Robb, his podium path goes through the wrestlebacks and could include a rematch with Saldate, who beat Siebrecht, 10-2, in the Big Ten quarterfinals last week.

Holschlag will get his hands on Saldate first, which will be a tough assignment. If Holschlag can weather the storm early, he could keep it close and give himself a chance late in the match. If he loses, he'll likely see Columbia's Casar Alvan, the 27-seed, in his first consolation match.

Kraisser landed on the top side of the bracket and gets Scott first. Scott made the bloodround last year and has looked All-American-caliber all year. Kraisser may need to funk his way to an upset. The 1-seed here is North Carolina's Austin O'Connor while North Dakota State's Jared Franek drew the 4-seed.

Northern Iowa's Derek Holschlag lifts and returns Iowa State's Jason Kraisser during their match on Friday night at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls. Holschlag won, 4-1.

David Carr is the No. 1 seed at 165 pounds

  • David Carr, Iowa State — #1 seed, will face pigtail winner, #32 Cole Moody (WYO)/#33 Josh Kim (HARV)
  • Patrick Kennedy, Iowa — #6 seed, vs. #27 Will Formato (APPST)
  • Austin Yant, Northern Iowa — #17 seed, vs. #16 Josh Ogunsanya (COL)

Reaction: This has the chance to be the best individual weight in the entire tournament — there are three past NCAA champs, another returning NCAA finalist, plus five more returning All-Americans (including three who landed double-digit seeds), a U23 national champ, and a two-time age-level world medalist. On top of that, all three in-state schools are represented here, too.

But David Carr is the heavy favorite after a sensational regular season where he went 22-0 and beat Missouri's Keegan O'Toole, the 2-seed (twice); Wisconsin's Dean Hamiti, the 3-seed; and Cornell's Julian Ramirez, the 4-seed. He also beat Princeton's Quincy Monday, the 5-seed, at the NWCA All-Star Classic in November, but that didn't count toward their in-season records.

More:How many NCAA wrestling championships have Iowa State wrestlers won?

Nevertheless, this is Carr's weight to lose. His path to the finals could include Moody (Carr beat him earlier this season), Yant (beat him twice), Oregon State's Matthew Olguin (beat him, too), and either Ramirez or Monday. Pretty wild. Yant must first get through Ogunsanya to meet Carr in the second round. He lost 21-6 to Carr in the Big 12 quarterfinals last weekend. Tough sport.

Kennedy is on the opposite side of the bracket, with Hamiti and O'Toole. Kennedy could hit Hamiti in the quarters, but he'll first have to beat Formato, who beat Kennedy 6-4 at the Southern Scuffle last season, and then possibly Michigan's Cam Amine, the 11-seed, in a rematch of the Big Ten semifinals that Kennedy won, 3-2.

A quarterfinal matchup against Hamiti would be a Big Ten finals rematch. Win, he's an All-American. Lose, he drops to the bloodround, where he could see … Stanford's Shane Griffith?

This weight is nuts.

Iowa State's David Carr attempts to take down Missouri's Keegan O'Toole during the championship round of the Big 12 Wrestling Championships at the BOK Center on Sunday, March 5, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla.

Two Iowa natives, Nelson Brands and Cade DeVos, at 174 pounds

  • Nelson Brands, Iowa — #11 seed, vs. #22 Alex Faison (NCST)
  • Cade DeVos, South Dakota St. (Southeast Polk alum) — #13 seed, vs. #20 Alex Cramer (CMU)

Reaction: Only two local entries here. If Brands brings the same grit he brought to the wrestlebacks at the Big Ten tournament, there's a chance he sneaks into the quarters, but that involves beating Faison, then, potentially, Ohio State's Ethan Smith, the 6-seed. Virginia Tech's Mekhi Lewis, a past NCAA champ and returning finalist, is the 3-seed here. Nebraska's Mikey Labriola, the Big Ten champ, is the 2-seed.

DeVos is on the top side of the bracket, and if he beats Cramer, he'll likely see Cornell's Chris Foca in round two. Tough assignment. Win, and it's likely Oklahoma State's Dustin Plott in the quarters. DeVos's seed suggests he should get to the bloodround, and if he does, he may have to beat Missouri's Peyton Mocco, a Big 12 finalist, to become an All-American. Penn State's Carter Starocci is the 1-seed.

Iowa's Nelson Brands has his hand raised after scoring a decision at 174 pounds during a NCAA Big Ten Conference wrestling dual against Michigan, Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Could we see 3 All-Americans at 184 pounds?

  • Parker Keckeisen, Northern Iowa — #1 seed, will face pigtail winner, #32 Jha'Quan Anderson (GW)/#33 Anthony Carman (WVU)
  • Marcus Coleman, Iowa State — #5 seed, vs. #28 Jacob Ferreira (HOF)
  • Abe Assad, Iowa — #12 seed, vs. #21 Giuseppe Hoose (BUFF)

Reaction: All three are on the top side of the bracket, and they may hit each other. If the seeds hold, Coleman and Assad would hit in round two. Coleman would then have to beat Oregon State's Trey Munoz, the 4-seed, to meet Keckeisen in the semifinals. Coleman beat Munoz in the bloodround last year but lost to him in December. Keckeisen will likely see Pittsburgh's Reece Heller and Michigan's Matt Finesilver after the pigtail winner.

N.C. State's Trent Hidlay, who traded wins with Keckeisen this season, is the 2-seed while Penn State's Aaron Brooks, who's only loss this year is to Coleman, is the 3-seed. Barring something unforeseen, they're likely to hit each other in the semifinals. But Brooks' loss to Coleman, along with Coleman's losses to Munoz and Keckeisen, is why Brooks, a two-time NCAA champ, is the 3-seed and not the 1-seed.

A Keckeisen-Brooks final? Perhaps. Brooks did beat Keckeisen at the NWCA All-Star Classic in December, but again, those matches didn't count toward the in-season records.

Northern Iowa's Parker Keckeisen, right, wrestled Penn State's Aaron Brooks at the 2022 NWCA All-Star Classic on Tuesday at the FloSports Event Center in Austin, Texas. Brooks won, 12-8.

Iowa's Jacob Warner seeks 4th All-American finish at 197 pounds

  • Tanner Sloan, South Dakota St. (Alburnett alum) — #7 seed, vs. #26 Gavin Hoffman (OHST)
  • Yonger Bastida, Iowa State — #13 seed, vs. #20 Evan Bockman (UVU)
  • Jacob Warner, Iowa — #14 seed, vs. #19 Cam Caffey (MSU)

Reaction: This weight is the counter to 165 as the best in the tournament. It's bonkers. Start with the fact that the returning NCAA finalists, Warner and Penn State's Max Dean, are seeded 14th and 9th, respectively. Or that Hoffman, Sloan's first-round matchup, is a returning All-American and now the 26-seed. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's Nino Bonaccorsi, a past NCAA finalist who lost in the bloodround last year, is the 1-seed. Go figure.

Let's get weirder. Bastida and Warner's first-round matchups are against guys they both wrestled twice at their respective conference tournaments. Warner went 2-0 against Caffey (one actual win, the a walkover by forfeit). Bastida went 1-1 against Bockman, winning in the quarters but losing in the fifth-place match. If Bastida can return the favor, he'll get Rider's Ethan Laird in round two while Warner would likely see Missouri's Rocky Elam.

Sloan, meanwhile, has a path littered with landmines. After Hoffman, he could see Cornell's Jacob Cardenas. They were both made the final at the U23 men's freestyle world championships for Team USA in October. Win there, and Cal Poly's two-time All-American Bernie Truax, the 2-seed, is likely waiting in the quarters. Not unreasonable to think Sloan could sneak into the semifinals if he brings his best stuff. We'll see.

Iowa's Jacob Warner waves to fans as he is acknowledged on senior day after a NCAA college men's wrestling dual against Oklahoma State, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Tony Cassioppi and Sam Schuyler among NCAA heavyweight contenders

  • Tony Cassioppi, Iowa — #4 seed, vs. #29 Jaron Smith (MD)
  • Sam Schuyler, Iowa State — #8 seed, vs. #25 Michael Wolfgram (WVU)
  • Tyrell Gordon, Northern Iowa — #13 seed, vs. #20 Konner Doucet (OKST)
  • Boone McDermott, Rutgers (Dubuque Wahlert alum) — #24 seed, vs. #9 Lucas Davison (NW)

Reaction: All the heavyweights are on the top-half of the bracket. If Cassioppi and Gordon both win their first matches, they'll hit in round two. If McDermott can upset Davison, he'll likely see Schuyler in the second round. It gets crazier still. If Schuyler wins his first two, he likely sees Michigan's top-seeded Mason Parris in the quarters. If Cassioppi beats Gordon, he'll get Arizona State's Cohlton Schultz, the 5-seed and last year's NCAA finalist.

The bottom half is just as fun, but lacks local flavor. Air Force's Wyatt Hendrickson, who beat Schuyler in the Big 12 finals, earned the 2-seed. Penn State's Greg Kerkvliet, who beat Cassioppi in the Big Ten semifinals, is the 3-seed. Wisconsin's Trent Hillger, a two-time All-American, is the 11-seed and could hit Kerkvliet in the quarters. Missouri's Zach Elam, a past U20 world silver medalist, is the 10-seed and could see Hendrickson in the quarters.

Iowa's Tony Cassioppi has his hand raised after scoring a decision at 285 pounds during a NCAA college men's wrestling dual against Oklahoma State, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Projected Team Scores for the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships

To get an idea of what the team race could look like, we calculated projected team scores based on how each wrestler would advance through the bracket based on their seeds. We used a 16-12-10-9-7-6-4-3 scoring system and added 1 point for front-side advancement and 0.5 for wrestleback advancement.

Here are the top-12 projected teams, before bonus points, based on that math:

  1. Penn State, 97
  2. Iowa, 74.5
  3. Cornell, 68.5
  4. Nebraska, 62.5
  5. N.C. State, 58.5
  6. Missouri, 55
  7. Virginia Tech, 51
  8. Iowa State, 49
  9. Ohio State, 39.5
  10. Arizona State, 38
  11. Pittsburgh, 37.5
  12. Oklahoma State & Michigan, 34 (tie)

Analysis: Penn State is the heavy favorite, with all nine qualifiers scoring points, and six of them projected to finish on the podium. That also includes Aaron Brooks, a two-time champ, as a 3-seed, and Max Dean, a returning champ, as the 9-seed. Stands to reason the Nittany Lions may well outscore these projections.

But Iowa leads the pack for second, with five top-eight seeds and all 10 qualifiers projected to score points. There may be a path for the Hawkeyes to win the team title, but it likely involves Penn State underperforming — and there hasn't been a ton of evidence of that since Cael Sanderson became their head coach.

Still, it's reasonable to expect Iowa to outscore its projections, too. Jacob Warner, a three-time All-American, isn't currently projected to finish on the podium, as a 14-seed. Cobe Siebrecht, another 14-seed, is capable of scoring bonus points, and Nelson Brands, an 11-seed, could win enough close matches to potentially land on the podium. All of that will help the Hawkeyes stay firmly in second-place.

It's also reasonable to expect a wicked multi-team race for all four NCAA team trophies this year, especially for third- and fourth-place. Cornell, with five projected podium-finishers and seven total point-scorers, will be in the mix. So, too, will Nebraska, with five wrestlers seeded eighth or better. Behind them, N.C. State, Missouri, Virginia Tech, and Iowa State — yes, the Cyclones — could all be hunting for a trophy in Tulsa next week.

Of course, the safest expectation is to assume these projections won't hold exactly as we've figured them here. The NCAA Championships are a wonderful three-day mess of a wrestling tournament, with upsets and bonus points and so much more packed into it all. It'll be a roller-coaster of action that never disappoints.

Action begins next Thursday morning at the BOK Center. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.