It's almost here! It's time to hit the Garden in the Big Apple and have a blast watching 330 awesome athletes. Here are my top story lines to keep in mind as the best tournament hits here.
1) Catching Cael
- I don't think it's appreciated that Cael Sanderson, the greatest college wrestler of all time, won an Olympic Gold and then decided to coach. Can you imagine Tom Brady retiring in a couple years and then just coaching USC in a few years to 5 titles in 6 years? After a year of reloading & redshirting, they appear unstoppable with no signs of slowing down any time soon.
I do think Iowa has a chance. Their top 5 guys have the talent and draws to all finish in the top four. If a couple or more finish in the finals, a poor Penn State tournament could lead to the Hawkeyes being right there. Penn State is probably a 87% favorite, but don't say it's a done deal.
2) The Hodge
- Nick Gwiazdowski (NC State) has a chance to become the first 3-time NCAA Heavyweight champion in recent memory. To do that, he may have to beat the guy he beat in the 2015 NCAA Finals, Adam Coon (Michigan), and then beat the 2015 97 kg Freestyle World Champion Kyle Snyder (Ohio State). Of course, that could be Marsden (Oklahoma State) & Walz (Virginia Tech) to be fair. That road to his title should, in my opinion (many disagree), net him his first Hodge trophy.
That though, would mean Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) would finish his 2nd straight undefeated season to gain his 3rd National Championship without winning the Hodge. This would make him perhaps the best wrestler to not win the Hodge.
Of course, it's tough to ignore the sheer dominance of Zain Retherford (Penn State). He has basically controlled every match this year. The Hodge is not supposed to be a career award, but having Zain get his first title as a sophomore will not encourage voters to leap him in front of the Seniors getting their 3rd. If you were truly only looking at this season, Zain would definitely be in the mix.
- Ohio State thought they had a chance to repeat as team champs (they technically still do and I think they will score more points this weekend then a lot of people expect) so they pulled all the stops they could. Bionic arms for Hunter Steiber was not in the cards, but having 97 kg (senior level) World Champion Kyle Snyder come out at heavyweight instead of continuing the Olympic redshirt was shocking. The Big Ten final with him and Adam Coon (Michigan) was one of the more interesting matches I've ever seen. Winning this bracket is far from a layup for Snyder to get his first NCAA title. Ty Walz (Virginia Tech) is not the slow lumbering heavy that Snyder can just out quick, and that's just to get in to the finals. In the finals, Gwiazdowski, the man who is on pace to be known as one of the greatest college heavyweights of all time will probably be there. It's incredible!
4) The ACC
- NC State & Virginia Tech are 2 of the top teams in the land this year. In the National Duals, they went to Iowa & Michigan respectively and defeated the Big Ten powers. The ACC has had a hell of a year as North Carolina and Duke also have guys to throw in to the mix. There's one last tournament to show off the newly found firepower and it will be interesting to see how big the splash will be. The ACC conference has NEVER earned a team trophy at the NCAA Championships with 5th place being their best ever finish. This looks like it should be the year to end the drought.
5) The Pushout
- While eyes were on Tomasello & Megaludis during the Big Ten 125 finals, as a Michigan fan I was being distracted by various stall calls from Youtsey (Michigan) being called for stalling when they went out of bounds. There was also a terrible "pushout" call in the aforementioned 1st place match. A couple matches later a wrestler fighting to work back in was pushed out of bounds and the pusher, not the pushee, was called for stalling (which is actually how the rule reads). The rule wants the out of bounds to not be an area of retreat when things aren't in your favor. While a good idea in spirit, the enforcement of officials this season to make the stall calls (or action) every time wrestlers go out of bounds has led to even more inconsistency. This poorly written rule came from a good intention, but many wrestling fans are holding their breath to see it decide a match in a very unfortunate way on the biggest stage.
6) The Upset
- Last year it was Kevin Jack (North Carolina State) and Zeke Moisey (West Virginia) being unseeded guys stealing the show. I picked a lot of favorites to win but I do know the upsets are not a question of "if" it's a question of "where". They will happen. I did a bracket buster article. It's always something to keep an eye on especially if multiple inflict damage on the team race, like they did to Iowa & Minnesota last season.