It's the most wonderful time of the year. With open arms we welcome the coming of the college postseason. Two weeks from now, Oklahoma City will host the 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships, but before a national tournament, we must have the conference tournaments.
One event stands alone as the big daddy of all conference tournaments: the Big Ten Wrestling Championships. The Big Ten claims a collection of nine of the best wrestling teams in the country, and even the weaker teams boast notable standouts (there's actually 12 teams in the Big Ten). The Big Ten Championships constitute possibly the second toughest event in the college wrestling season, and wins or losses here will play a big factor in the all-important seeding process at the national tournament in a couple weeks time.
If you have a Big Ten Digital Network subscription you can watch every match in the tournament, starting this very morning at the time of publication. If your cable provider carries Big Ten Network (it probably does) you can watch the finals tomorrow at 2 pm (eastern) on your television or your computer at BTN2GO.com.
Below appear the initial brackets and my picks for the championship. Updated results and brackets appear in real time here.
I think defending champ Jesse Delgado of Illinois simply knows how to get the job done when it really matters. I expect him to beat Iowa's Cory Clark in the semis, and then avenge a recent loss against Penn State's Nico Megaludis in the finals.
Iowa's Tony Ramos hasn't dominated at the level I expected this year, but he will still win this tournament, and will still enter NCAAs as my favorite. Look for Minnesota's David Thorn to upset Wisconsin's Tyler Graff in the semis on the bottom of the bracket.
Ohio State's two time defending national champ Logan Stieber has to take this, right? There's no way Penn State's true freshman wunderkind Zain Retherford will beat him twice in a row? Or is there?
Any of the top 5 at this weight could conceivably come away with the championship. Just for fun's sake, I'll pick Michigan's Eric Grajales, who could win a national championship or even fail to win a single match this week. Either possibility is equally likely.
What an absurdly stacked weight this is. Taylor Walsh of Indiana, hs led the nation in pins, placed second at Midlands, has only lost three times this season, and sits seeded sixth. I find it hard to ever bet against Iowa's Derek St. John; he's the defending national champ and should win this tournament from his spot as the fourth seed.
David Taylor, that will be all.
In another brutal weight, I don't see anyone beating Nebraska's Robert Kokesh, who, despite what the brackets say, is a junior and not a sophomore. Out of an extremely tough top-four wrestlers at 174, Kokesh has the most dynamic offense, and most technical precision.
Yes, Penn State's two-time defending national champ Ed Ruth has had a weird season, including an odd loss to a freshman and a run in with the law, but, no, he won't lose at this tournament. He will win every match, and he will do so easily.
I'm not completely sold on Penn State's Morgan McIntosh as the best 197 pounder in the Big Ten, but from his top-seeded position he should have no trouble making the finals. If Minnesota's Scott Schiller snaps out out of his recent funk, he should win the whole thing, but nobody should experience much surprise if Ohio State's Nick Heflin or Illinois's Mario Gonzalez emerge from the bottom half of the bracket.
Two time defending national champ Tony Nelson of Minnesota is a fifth seed? Wow, I'm not sure what to...wow!
The top seven wrestlers at this weight are all beasts, maybe the best seven wrestlers in the whole country, but based on the strength of their seasons, I have to pick Michigan true freshman Adam Coon. The kid is big, strong, aggressive and can just flat out wrestle.
Oh, I almost forgot, as far as a team champion, Penn State should take this without much drama.
Join Bloody Elbow tomorrow at 1 pm EST for a live discussion of the finals.