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Article:College Wrestling: Big 12 Tournament Preview

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With 38 bids, the five-team Big 12 Conference will qualify 76 percent of its participants to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis on March 20-22. But while 22 wrestlers will be left home, the question is who?

Someone ranked will likely be left home, since the Big 12 has 39 wrestlers ranked in the Top 20 in the most recent InterMat/NWMA/NWCA Division I Individual Rankings.

No weight has all five wrestlers ranked currently, but a few have had all five ranked at once during the course of the year.

Six weights have at least four wrestlers ranked in the Top 20, while three weights have three. The only weight that doesn’t have at least three ranked is at 174 pounds.

Team-wise, the race is expected to be close as all five teams are ranked in the Top 15 and four of the five are ranked in the Top 12 -- third-ranked Iowa State, fourth-ranked Nebraska, fifth-ranked Oklahoma State and #12 Missouri.

Oklahoma’s ranked 14th.

125 pounds According to the pre-seeding list released by the conference, votes for the top seed were split between returning NCAA champion Paul Donahoe of Nebraska and Oklahoma’s Joey Fio. Donahoe was a shoe-in for the top seed until his upset loss to the Sooner freshman. It’s also a bit confusing when you consider when Fio beat Oklahoma State’s Tyler Shinn but fell to Iowa State’s Tyler Clark. Iowa State coach Cael Sanderson pulled Clark out of redshirt at mid-season and he’s been solid with a major decision over Fio and a win over Arizona State’s Anthony Robles, but losses to Donahoe and Tyler Shinn. Speaking of Shinn, the confusion continues as he beat teammate Coleman Scott up a weight at 133 pounds during the open tournament portion of the schedule, but is 7-5 since returning to the starting lineup at 125 pounds. All of those losses are to ranked wrestlers. Missouri’s Johnny Olanowski is the entry for the Tigers, stepping back into the starting lineup after Tony Pescaglia was lost for the year with an injury. Expect the top four to qualify as Olanowski hasn’t seen any success within the Big 12.

133 pounds Unanimous placement among the coaches votes make this one an easy one to project. Three-time All-American and returning NCAA runner-up Coleman Scott of Oklahoma State is the top seed, followed by Iowa State’s Nick Fanthorpe, Nebraska’s Kenny Jordan, Missouri’s Tyler McCormick and Oklahoma’s Brian Shelton. Scott is the favorite and comes in ranked #1 in the nation, but his semifinal draw is against McCormick, a two-time All-American who missed much of the season due to injury and limps into the Big 12 tournament with a 4-7 record. Fanthorpe has been a blessing for Sanderson since moving up to 133 pounds this season. The Illinois native comes in 26-4, but lost his only meeting of the season to Scott 6-2 in late January. Las Vegas Invitational champion Kenny Jordan returned to Nebraska after winning an NJCAA title last year and will come in as the third seed. Fanthorpe’s favored in that semi after winning in their only meeting of the year, 6-4 on Feb. 24. McCormick at the four will have Oklahoma’s Brian Shelton leading off. Both are on the bubble in terms of qualifying, since the Big 12 has been known to leave returning All-Americans home … and Missouri knows the feeling all too well. Three are locks and the fourth-place finisher has an argument, especially if it’s a two-time All-American.

141 pounds Three wrestlers are ranked at the weight with the top seed coming in the form of two-time All-American Nathan Morgan of Oklahoma State. This weight also went undisputed in the pre-seeds, with Iowa State’s Nick Gallick, Nebraska’s Mike Rowe, Oklahoma’s Zack Bailey and Missouri’s Marcus Hoehn filling in seeds 2-5. Hoehn is the only wrestler in the conference that wasn’t ranked this season (InterMat), but has been in contention with the conference front-runners. Morgan, ranked third in the nation, has wrestled the conference close. Of Morgan’s Big 12 wins, he has one-pointers over Hoehn and Bailey, a two-pointer over Gallick and didn’t wrestle Rowe during the season. Bailey started the season strong, but has been on a slide since mid-January. He’s lost seven out of his last eight and three of those in conference. This weight should finish as it’s seeded.

149 pounds The seeds will vary slightly from the national rankings here, mainly because of one individual result, but Nebraska’s Jordan Burroughs is the favorite. Burroughs had a resounding win over second-seeded Josh Wagner during the dual season. Iowa State’s Mitch Mueller will come in as the third seed despite being unranked, while Will Rowe of Oklahoma, down from 157 last year, is the fourth seed. Ryan Freeman has been a pleasant surprise for Oklahoma State since being inserted into the lineup in the second semester. He might be the odd man out though, as other weights might dictate more qualifiers. This is the first of three straight weights that doesn’t have a returning All-American, which is rare for the Big 12. Four qualifiers might be a safe bet, five might be pushing it.

157 pounds Missouri’s Michael Chandler is finally looking for that breakthrough that puts him on the podium. Chandler didn’t wrestle third-seeded Chad Terry during the dual season, but did pick up solid wins over Iowa State’s Cyler Sanderson, Oklahoma State’s Newly McSpadden and Nebraska’s Chris Oliver. Sanderson’s a solid second seed and has an 8-3 win over Terry this season. Terry lost to McSpadden in the first Bedlam match but beat Neil Erisman in the second. McSpadden does appear to be the entry for the Cowboys, although there was some question about who would get the nod in the weeks prior as Erisman saw some dual action down the line. Oliver started off the year strong but has been outright dismal recently. Starting at the National Duals in January, Oliver has dropped eight of his last ten, including five in a row and ugly losses to Hofstra’s Jon Bonilla-Bowman and Rider’s Rob Morrison. He’ll have to reach the top three or four to merit a berth, because there’s no way five are going here. It might be as few as three.

165 pounds Just a great weight overall and one where all five wrestlers will have legit arguments. Someone’s going to get a bid in this conference after not winning a bout in the tournament, but 165 is a weight, which at one time, had all five wrestlers ranked and four ranked in the Top 8. Missouri sophomore Nick Marable hasn’t been a surprise, since he showed flashes of brilliance last year while filling in for All-American Matt Pell. Coming into the Big 12, he’s ranked second in the nation with losses to returning national champion Mark Perry, three-time All-American Eric Tannenbaum and returning finalist at 174, Keith Gavin. The scores might be deceptively close, but Marable is just tough. Giving chase will be fifth-ranked Jake Dieffenbach of Oklahoma State. A two-time NAIA champion at Lindenwood, Dieffenbach’s impact on Division I this season was a surprise to many, including his victory over Perry in the January dual. Rounding out the top four seeds are seventh-ranked Stephen Dwyer of Nebraska and eighth-ranked Jon Reader of Iowa State. Max Dean of Oklahoma has experience at the NCAAs after qualifying previous years at Indiana. This might be the weight were five do go.

174 pounds The worst weight in the conference in terms of depth. Returning All-American Brandon Mason of Oklahoma State is the second seed behind Nebraska’s Brandon Browne. Iowa State’s Aron Scott has been a leader for the Cyclones in the room during his tenure and looks for his first berth to the NCAAs, but is 10-10 on the year. Oklahoma lost Jeff James for the season and has been trying to figure out who to enter. Maryland native Chris DeVilbiss saw time, but don’t be entirely surprised if Pat Flynn finds his way into the lineup. The Lehigh transfer was one of the most sought-after recruits in the Class of 2006. Missouri has either James Williamson, a veteran, or graduate student and recent Penn transfer Brock Wittmeyer to choose from. Three qualifying wouldn’t normally be prudent for this weight when looking at the individual records this season.

184 pounds Four definite qualifiers and four definite All-American contenders will be coming out of the Big 12. Returning NCAA finalist Jake Varner is ranked #1 in the nation has powered through the season undefeated. His top competition comes in the form of second seeded and fifth-ranked Raymond Jordan. The North Carolina native is looking to stand on the podium for the first time and comes in 21-2 with his only losses coming to Varner and Ohio State’s Mike Pucillo. Oklahoma’s Josh Weitzel struggled at last year’s Big 12 tournament and is behind Varner and Jordan, but has wins over Vince Jones of Nebraska and Jack Jensen of Oklahoma State. Jensen could be the odd man out at the weight, but it might be hard to leave a wrestler home that has a win over NCAA runner-up Roger Kish of Minnesota, no matter the condition he was wrestling might have been. Jensen’s going to have to pick someone off to assure himself a slot.

197 pounds Returning Big 12 Champion Max Askren of Missouri started the year off sluggish, losing to Hofstra’s Joe Rovelli and getting pinned in the Vegas finals, but since then, Askren’s been on fire (figuratively speaking). He’s won 10 in a row since Vegas and swept through the Big 12. His closest battle was a wild 13-11 victory in Lincoln over Craig Brester of Nebraska. Coaches picks are close here, with Oklahoma’s Joel Flaggert, Brester and Iowa State’s David Bertolino picking up second-place votes, but it’s likely Brester will be the second seed. Four to five could qualify, depending on the performance of Bertolino and Oklahoma State’s Clayton Foster, who was pulled from redshirt earlier this season. If things get funky at other weights, five qualifying here would be a stretch.

285 pounds Four ranked, four will probably qualify as fifth-seeded Nathan Fernandez of Oklahoma, on paper, is the straggler here. Fernandez is capable of beating anyone in the conference, but will need to pull the upset to earn a trip to St. Louis. Top-seeded David Zabriskie of Iowa State comes in ranked fifth in the country, two spots ahead of second-seeded Jared Rosholt. Nebraska’s Jon May and Missouri’s Mark Ellis are equal in ability but May did pick up the overtime win in the dual meet during the season.

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