Here are my predictions for St. Louis…
125: This futile exercise began with me leaning toward taking Virginia Tech’s Joey Dance. Then I started doing some research (nothing too strenuous, I can guarantee you that). Lehigh’s Darian Cruz has been rolling since the Southern Scuffle to begin the 2017 calendar year, and one of his losses this year is to Penn State’s Nick Suriano, who withdrew from the national championships on Wednesday.
Cruz will have his work cut out for him, because Iowa’s Thomas Gilman is on the top half of the bracket with him. Gilman is last year’s runner-up at 125, and he’s 27-0 this season, but picking Cruz is just a hunch.
Dance could have the easiest route to the finals with Suriano being a medical scratch.
Finals prediction: Cruz beats Dance, 7-6.
133: On the surface, Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello looks like the easy choice. But Tomasello went to the Big 10 Championships and posted three narrow victories —all low-scoring wins by decision no more than two points. If that’s against Iowa’s Cory Clark, I can let that slide, but there’s no way Tomasello should only be beating Rutgers’ Scott DelVecchio 6-4.
Then there’s Seth Gross, sophomore at South Dakota State. His lone loss was a 2-0 sudden victory setback against Nebraska’s Eric Montoya in late December. He’s been lights out since with 17 of his last 19 wins by major decision, technical fall or by fall. The only two victories that didn’t include bonus points were both against Oklahoma State’s Kaid Brock — both victories by two points.
I will add, Gross was very impressive in the finals of the Big 12 Championships after he took the lead against Brock. Brock started down in the third period, and Gross would not let him off the mat to score an escape point and work toward a takedown.
That’s it, I’ve talked myself into it.
Finals prediction: Gross over Tomasello 6-4.
141: Hard to envision a scenario that doesn’t include Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil in the finals. So makes it to the finals out of the bottom half of the bracket?
Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith, last year’s runner-up to Heil in the 141 national finals, wasn’t overly impressive at the Big 12 Championships. Neither Stanford’s Joey McKenna nor North Carolina State’s Kevin Jack have posted that many impressive victories this season, but I’ll go with McKenna to make the finals.
Finals prediction: Heil over McKenna, 7-3.
149: Saw Penn State’s Zain Retherford and Ohio State’s Micah Jordan were in the same half of the bracket up top. Thought maybe those two have had some close showdowns this year…nope! Retherford has owned Jordan, including last two by technical fall.
Bottom half of the bracket looks like a march toward Oklahoma State’s Anthony Collica and Missouri’s Lavion Mayes in the semifinals. If that’s the case, I lean toward Mayes.
Finals prediction: Retherford over Mayes, 10-5.
157: Poor Michael Kemerer at Iowa. He has an impressive 27-2 record as the second-ranked wrestler at 157. Only problem is both losses have come to No. 1 Jason Nolf, and Nolf has won those matches rather easily.
OSU’s Joe Smith, the No. 5 seed, has his work cut out for him to make it past the semifinals with Nolf on his side of the bracket.
Finals prediction: Nolf over Kemerer, 12-3.
165: Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez is so good. He’s after his third championship in three years. There’s not much else to say.
The only drama at 165 could be all the solid matches that unfold in the bottom portion of the bracket. Michigan’s Logan Massa, Missouri’s Daniel Lewis and Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph are all candidates to be this year’s 165 runner-up.
Finals prediction: Martinez major decision over Massa, 14-5.
174: This weight is the definition of wide open. Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia is unbeaten at 33-0, but his list of solid opponents is pretty short. Could be an all-out free-for-all to the finish line.
OSU’s Kyle Crutchmer is making only his second trip the NCAA Championships, but 174 lacks a big favorite so that presents Crutchmer with a chance to make some noise.
Finals prediction: Cornell’s Brian Realbuto over Penn State’s Mark Hall, 4-3.
184: It’s been awhile since Cornell’s Gabe Dean has lost. OSU’s Nolan Boyd was the last to beat Dean, 14-9, on Feb. 7, 2016. Since then, nothing but having his arm raised after matches.
This season, Dean has beaten Boyd twice, and the top are in the top half of the 184 bracket.
Penn State’s Bo Nickal is the one to beat in the bottom half with Iowa’s Samuel Brooks and Ohio State’s Myles Martin adding some Big 10 punch.
Finals prediction: Dean over Martin, 10-4.
197: Like Martinez at 165, Missouri’s J’den Cox is the prohibitive favorite at 197.
Finals prediction: Cox over Ohio State’s Kollin Moore, 9-5.
285: It’s anybody’s guess when it comes to the big boys.
Finals prediction: Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder over Virginia Tech’s Ty Walz, 7-5.