NCAA Tournament Preview: Bo Nickal Looks To Secure a Third Title and the Hodge Trophy

By Rob Dougherty on March 20, 2019 at 1:30 pm
Penn State Wrestler Bo Nickal
Aaron Doster - USA Today Sports

For our NCAA Tournament preview series, we are analyzing the paths for all nine of Penn State's NCAA qualifiers. On Monday, we reviewed Roman Bravo-Young, Nick Lee and Brady Berge's NCAA Tournament paths. On Tuesday, we looked at Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall's projected NCAA Tournament matchups. Through 174 pounds, Penn State has 92 team points, and will be looking to score more than the 141.5 they scored in last year's NCAA Tournament. Can Shakur Rasheed, Bo Nickal, and Anthony Cassar get Penn State to break the 150 mark?

Yes, probably. 

Potential Path

  • First Round - No. 32 Ethan Laird (Rider) or No. 33 Rod Jones (Chattanooga)
  • Second Round - No. 16 Josh Hokit (Fresno State) or No. 17 Stephen Loiseau (Drexel)
  • Quarterfinals - No. 8 Nathan Traxler (Stanford) or No. 9 Benjamin Honis (Cornell)
  • Semifinals - No. 4 Patrick Brucki (Princeton)
  • Finals - No. 2 Kollin Moore (Ohio State)

Bo Nickal enters his final NCAA Tournament with a chance to become a four-time finalist and three-time champion. He's also the overwhelming favorite to do so. Nickal has beaten the No. 2 seed in this field by fall and a comfortable 10-3 decision, so to say he's an overwhelming favorite is hardly a tough sell. Nickal's had a dominant season, and has slightly separated himself from teammate Jason Nolf for the Hodge Trophy. Considering both of their storied careers, a co-Hodge might even be in order. That discussion is for another day though. 

Nickal's tournament is going to open up with the pigtail winner between Ethan Laird and Rod Jones. This match has a sense of inevitability about it, that inevitability is Nickal throwing one of them on their back to pin them. A fast fall is certainly on the cards here. In the second round, he could see either Josh Hokit or Stephen Loiseau. I'm going to pick him to face Loiseau, but it could go either way really. Nickal will get bonus points over either, and it could really be any of a major decision, tech fall or pin. The quarterfinals for Nickal are also somewhat of a formality at this point, but I'm going to pick him to face Ben Honis. Honis has been very solid this season for Cornell in his deputizing of Ben Darmstadt, but Honis will not be able to stay with Nickal.

Nickal's draw does not get the least bit intriguing until the semifinals against Patrick Brucki. Brucki is probably the worst seeded wrestler at this weight considering he should have been the No. 3 seed over Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State). Brucki has had a great season and Weigel wrestled part-time. Brucki's reward for going 29-1? Being top side with Bo Nickal and being the favorite to see him in the semifinals. Not a great reward, and another Nickal win here sets up a final with Kollin Moore. 

You could probably argue that Weigel could make the final, but I think Moore can take him and be much better on their feet. If Weigel can get an early takedown though, then watch out because his top game can be lethal. Anyway, what happened earlier this season when Moore faced Bo Nickal?

It seems harsh on Moore to talk about this match with Nickal almost like it's a coronation. Moore is a two-time All-American and was the Big Ten champion in 2018. However, this is an entirely different animal and beast to what Moore has faced in the past. Nickal's dangerousness and fluidity make him probably the scariest wrestler in college. Any match Nickal wrestles can end in the blink of an eye, and Moore saw that in Columbus. Moore also saw what happens if Nickal can't end a match quickly, it's just a slow bleeding process where hope is lost. 

I'm sure many Ohio State fans are going to be happy that this is the final time they may have to see Nickal wrestle. 

Prediction - 1st place, 26 team points contributed with a major decision in the finals

Total Team Points Through 197 Pounds - 137 

With only Anthony Cassar left, this team title race is pretty much already over. No one else is capable of this kind of firepower this season, and the Nittany Lions still have a Big Ten champion to go. The security blanket of Bo Nickal has been great for Cael Sanderson, and it will be a shame to see him go. However, gather around your televisions to watch one of the greatest wrestlers in Penn State history one final time.