Hello, everyone! Welcome to the second wrestling mailbag of the season. I will also write another before the NCAA Championships. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions.
Pick an unlikely Big 12 winner — Operation Excellence on Twitter @Jeffhill86
This is a fun one. There is a lot of talent in the Big 12, particularly in the upper weights, but this unlikely winner is a 125-pounder. He’s an Old Dominion transfer who was a MAC runner-up a year ago. As of now, he holds a 7-3 record. Cardinale was beaten by Kent State’s Jake Ferri and No. 2 ACC champion Sam Latona. Oklahoma’s Mason Naifeh’s lone win was over Cardinale on Jan. 17. Since then, Naifeh is 0-7. After seeing the final brackets, I predict Cardinale will place fourth, automatically qualifying for the national championships. Look out for Iowa State freshman Kysen Terukina as well. I was impressed with his performance against Trevor Mastrogiovanni earlier in the season.
What are your Big 12 placements for each Cowboy? – Operation Excellence on Twitter @Jeffhill86
Trevor Mastrogiovanni: Finalist
I predict a Brody Teske of Northern Iowa vs. Mastrogiovanni final. Teske beat Mastrogiovanni 6-0 in late January. Teske received a favorable draw as well. No. 2 seed Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley is on No. 3 Mastrogiovanni’s side of the bracket.
Daton Fix: Champion… We all know the skill level of Fix. He’s the No.1 ranked 133-pounder and even with a shortened season, I expect him to win with no issue.
Earlier in the week, Cowboy fans learned that the 2019 149-pound Big 12 champion will be wrestling at 141 in Tulsa. Gfeller will wrestle No. 3 seed Clay Carlson of South Dakota State. I have Carlson winning, but Gfeller will climb out of the consolation bracket with a third place finish.
Boo Lewallen: Champion
No. 1 seed Boo Lewallen is the favorite to repeat at 149 pounds, and 2021 will be no different.
157 pounds is a really tough draw for OSU and the Big 12 this weekend. Only the top three seeds earn automatic bids to nationals. No. 2 Sheets will battle Nick Knutson of Northern Colorado in the first round with North Dakota State’s Jared Franek awaiting the winner. I have Sheets penciled in as a semifinalist against Oklahoma’s Justin Thomas. Thomas has had his way with Sheets, and this time will be no different. David Carr of Iowa State will repeat.
Any Cowboy fan has noticed Wittlake’s dominance on the mat. Wittlake also received a favorable draw with the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds on the opposite side of the bracket. I expect Wittlake to repeat as champion this weekend.
It’s always tough to predict a true freshman’s performance. Plott earned a respectable No. 3 seed, and I think he will wrestle to that. I predict Plott to lose to Wyoming’s Hayden Hastings in the semifinal but claim third place en route to an NCAA qualification. The 174-pound final of the Cowboy Challenge Tournament featuring Hastings and Plott was a battle. Hastings was able to top Plott 8-7 and I see a similar result in Tulsa.
Geer enters the tournament as a No. 3 seed with No. 1 seed Parker Keckeisen of UNI on the other side.
I believe Geer will wrestle his best and win the title over Keckeisen.
Let’s be honest. This 197-pound bracket is so loaded and any of the top five seeds could win. If you’re Ferrari, you have to be thrilled about your draw with No. 2 seed Stephen Buchanan of Wyoming and No. 3 Noah Adams of West Virginia on the opposite side. I predict a Ferrari vs. Adams final with the older Adams repeating as champion. Adams is the only wrestler that has taken down Ferrari. Adams topped Ferrari 3-2 in a Cowboy Challenge Tournament semifinal.
Harris has been an unpredictable wrestler this season. He began the season with a 5-0 record, tying his win total from last season. Since then, he’s 3-4. Harris failed to qualify for nationals last season, and I think he won’t qualify this year either. I have him finishing sixth.
What chance do you give a team like Iowa State or Wyoming to win the Big 12? – Matthew Keith on Twitter @TheMatthewKeith
This is an intriguing question. Before I explain further, I believe Iowa State has the best shot to win outside of Oklahoma State. Of course, it’s March so seeds don’t really matter, but ISU owns three No. 1 seeds in this tournament (Ian Parker at 141, David Carr at 157 and heavyweight Gannon Gremmel). I think Carr’s situation is similar to that of Daton Fix. Carr shouldn’t have an issue repeating. I haven’t watched him in person, but I couldn’t believe how quick he is based off the ESPN+ feed against OSU’s Wyatt Sheets. He can thank his dad, Nate, a three-time NCAA champion and 1988 Olympic Bronze medalist for passing along those genetics. However, the Cyclones at 141 and heavyweight will have a much tougher path to a title.
Last season, ISU and OSU put four guys in the finals. Only two Cyclones claimed titles while three Cowboys were victorious. That was the big difference between the two teams. It was a relatively close battle.
The 2021 edition of the Wyoming Cowboys is one of Mark Branch’s strongest in recent years.
For Wyoming to beat its best finish at the tournament (fourth in 2018), a strong overall performance with several finalists is needed.
Heavyweight Brian Andrews seeks to defend his heavyweight title as the No.2 seed. 174-pounder Hayden Hastings has a great chance to win his division as well. Hastings’ single loss was to No. 1 seed Demetrius Romero of Utah Valley 5-3 in late January. UW also has a contender at 184 in junior Tate Samuelson. Samuelson escaped Stillwater on Valentine’s Day with a Cowboy Challenge Tournament title over OSU’s Dakota Geer. Samuelson is a solid two-time NCAA qualifier. A top-four finish would guarantee a third NCAA qualification.
OSU is the clear favorite, and I think a ninth consecutive title is in order, but all other 11 Big 12 squads will be locked in.
Which favorite will be upset? – Operational Excellence on Twitter @Jeffhill86
197-pound No. 1 seed Tanner Sloan of South Dakota State. The entire 197-pound division in the Big 12 is loaded. The top five seeds in this bracket are all ranked within the top 15 in the NCAA coaches’ poll. Any one of those five could beat each other on a good day. Sloan earned the No. 1 seed as the only undefeated wrestler in the weight, but his highest ranked bout was a 6-1 decision over No. 5 seed and national No. 15 Jake Woodley of OU. Sloan was a 2020 Big 12 finalist but was beaten by WVU’s Noah Adams 5-1. I don’t see Sloan heading back to Brookings, South Dakota with a title.
With the NCAA’s upcoming, how will the Big 12 tournament play in regarding the NCAA allotments? – Sports Fanatic on Twitter @ryan_the_great
Good question. Each conference champion earns an automatic bid to the national tournament. The other spots vary depending on the weight. For example, 125 pounds has five spots for nationals. The top five placers will travel to St. Louis. 157 has three automatic bids, the conference’s lowest.
Could Stillwater High beat a college team? Operational Excellence on Twitter @Jeffhill86
Jeff, I love this question. For those that don’t know, Stillwater won the Oklahoma 6A Wrestling Championship this past weekend in Oklahoma City with 159 points.
Four Pioneers — Sam Smith (yes, that’s his son), JJ McComas, Cael Hughes, Carter Young, Teague Travis and Anthony Ferrari won individual titles. Six state champions. Yeah, that’s pretty darn good. Smith and McComas are freshmen. Young is a Northwestern signee while Travis and Ferrari are signed to OSU. Ethan Kyle, former Wyoming assistant coach, has so much talent to work with. When at five wrestlers will likely wrestle at the DI level, it’s hard not to compare them to a college team. However, college sports are at a completely different level than high school. That’s why Kyle is so important to the team. He assisted Wyoming for 11 years and knows how to coach at a high level. Personally, I have not watched Stillwater in person, so my opinion is slightly skewed. The only true way to find out the answer to this question would be for Stillwater to wrestle a college team but that would never happen. They might be able to beat a solid DIII team, but what do I know?