It's that time of year! The time when we separate the NCAA Qualifiers from the non NCAA Qualifiers. The time when we discuss matches that may, or may not, actually take place. The time when we can watch dreams be made, and crushed, at the same time. This weekend, March 3rd and 4th, in Mount Pleasant Michigan, the Mid American Conference will hold it's Conference Championship Tournament. What you are about to read, is a brief preview of that tournament. Let's begin by first establishing that the MAC was screwed this year as it relates to automatic bids per weight. Albeit, losing Northern Iowa from the conference should result in a loss of bids, but losing 11 bids is completely insane. Losing more than 1 per weight class when one team leaves? I just don't follow that logic. Anyway, let's look positively at this and hope it enhances the competition.
125 - 2 bids to the NCAA Championships
This will be an interesting weight. Currently, none of the wrestlers are ranked in Intermat's top 20, and most of these guys have split wins against one another. The top seed, Michael McGee of Old Dominion, along with Kyle Akins of Buffalo, have been the two most consistent wrestlers at this weight for the year. However, below those two you have tough competitors in Hildebrand or Central Michigan, Barlow McGee, who competed in the NWCA All Star Classic a year ago, as well as Tomas Gutierez of EMU, who has had some big wins on the year. I wouldn't be shocked to see a Hildebrand or a McGee in the finals against Akins, but I think Akins has an easier path to the finals. Prediction - Akins over Hildebrand, 5-2.
133 - 4 bids
This has been a very competitive weight in the MAC for the year. 4 of the guys are ranked top 20, and in the respective order that they are Seeded. First through fourth is John Erneste (Missouri, ranked 7th), Cam Kelly (Ohio, ranked 11th), Bryan Lantry (Buffalo, ranked 14th), and Anthony Tutolo (Kent State, 19th). I predict Erneste and Kelly in the finals, but watch out for Noah Gonser of EMU to make his way into the top 4 by knocking out Tutolo in the quarters, and giving Erneste one hell of a match in the Semi's. Prediction - Kelly over Erneste, 7-6. Lantry over Gonser for 3rd and 4th.
141 - 3 bids
I can't wait to watch 141. We've got two Team Claunchinator fantasy wrestling studs in Mason Smith of CMU and Jaydin Eierman. We've got lots of young talent below that in Madrigal of Old Dominion, and Perry of EMU. It'll be interesting to see who the third person to make it out of this weight will be. Prediction - Eierman over Smith - 17-16. Perry of EMU takes third.
149 - 2 bids? Really? That seems stupid. Who made this decision?
2 bids? I had to check this several times. Grant Leeth of Missouri is ranked 3rd in the country, and Justin Oliver of CMU is ranked 4th in the country. Remember how Zain Retherford, the Hodge Trophy winner from last year, and Brandon Sorensen, future 4x All American and NCAA finalist are ranked 1 and 2? This has the same number of allocations as 125? Sorry Kade, Kyle, and Keenan. You guys better upset someone or hope for an at will bid. Rounding it out, are Nolan, Nick and Nick. I just loved that you have the three K names followed by the three N names for the seeds. Prediction - Oliver over Leeth, 7-3.
157 - 3 bids
Another weight class that was straight up shorted on bids. You've got Joey Lavallee from Missouri who was last years NCAA Finalist, and ranked 4th currently (dude could win the title with Nolf being hurt, so there's that piece). You've got Colin Heffernan, who was ranked mid teens for most of the year, but had a shoulder injury he's recently coming back from, oh, and he just beat Pantaleo who was ranked 6th at the time. So Heffernan is seeded 4th behind Larry Early, who is a stud for Old Dominion, and Casey Sparkman, who has been solid for Kent State as well. Heffernan and Lavallee will meet in the semi's, with the loser of the only two ranked 157's having to win to qualify for NCAA's on the back end. Sounds good! Prediction, Lavallee over Early, 10-2. Heffernan takes third.
165 - 1 bid
This is just a slap in the face. How in the hell does the Big 12 have 20 more allocations than the MAC? Did you see their brackets? Anyway, we've got Connor Flynn of Missouri currently ranked 17th, and seeded first in this bracket. However, you've got extremely tough competitors in Zac Carson and Logan Parks, from Eastern and Central Michigan respectively, looking to meet him in the finals. Flynn, don't screw up and lose in the semi's to one of these other cats. Prediction - Carson over Flynn, 3-2.
174 - 3 bids
So we've got Daniel Lewis of Missouri, currently ranked 3rd in the country and seeded first here. Second seed is Senior, CJ Brucki of CMU, ranked 14th on Intermat, and looking to get on the podium in Cleveland. After those two, Wright of Old Dominion and McNally of Eastern are seeded 3rd and 4th respectively, and both are tough competitors looking to get that invite as well. Brucki and Lewis look to be the clear favorites for the finals though. Prediction, Lewis over Brucki, 8-3. Seldon Wright takes third.
184 - 2 bids
This is a two horse race between Marriott from Missouri and Ellingwood for CMU. These two met earlier in the year with Marriott getting the 9-1 win. I watched the match, and having watched Ellingwood for his excellent career at CMU, I think he underestimated how that was going to go. I have him getting the win, and winning his second career MAC title (spoiler alert). Prediction, Ellingwood over Marriott, 6-5.
197 - 2 bids
I'm tired of this 2 bids nonsense. Either way, it's a good weight. Willie Miklus from Missouri is the 1 seed, being ranked 5th in the country will do that. Second is Atienza from CMU (noticing a trend?) who has had a strong season. He has bumped up from last starting for CMU at 165, so he's kind of Shakur Rasheed light (or Lite if you are a Miller fan). He's had a strong season, recently knocking off Michigan's Kevin Beazley, who placed 8th at 197 last year. Admittedly, the weight class thins out a bit after these two, but it's the conference tournament, so anything can happen. Watch out for Kent Stat's Kyle Conel, who is 5'4" and 197 pounds, and has made the NCAA tournament in the past, you know, before we got screwed with allocations. Prediction, Miklus over Atienza, 12-5.
285 - 3 bids
These guys got kind of screwed. There is currently only one heavyweight ranked in the top 20, that being Jake Gunning from Buffalo, but several times throughout the season, we've had the likes of Gage Hutchinson, the two seed from Eastern Michigan, and Jack Parker, three seed from Ohio, in and out of the top 20. These guys are all really good, but it's kind of the opposite of the Big Ten affect. If guys in the Big Ten beat each other, they just stay ranked because it's assumed they are all good. The MAC, didn't get the same respect. These guys all beat each other, so they must all be awful. Stencel from CMU, the 5 seed, has pinned Hutchinson, but he lost to the 4 seed, Suglio, from Kent State. It's a mess, but I expect to see him avenge that loss, to make the semis, before knocking off Gunning to make the finals? Why? Because I'm a homer and the tournament is taking place in Mount Pleasant. Prediction, Stencel over Hutchinson, 4-1. Gunning places third to make NCAA's.
Point being, this will be an entertaining tournament with a TON of competition for these allocations. I'm hoping some of these guys can get some of the at large bids, because the MAC has a strong history of making waves at NCAA's, and I'm expecting them to do the same this year. Get to Mount Pleasant if you can, or watch on ESPN3.