Can Anthony Cassar Win A National Title?

By Rob Dougherty on March 12, 2019 at 11:40 am
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Following Anthony Cassar's 4-3 win over the nation's No. 1 heavyweight Gable Steveson (Minnesota) for the Big Ten Title, a weight class that seemed to have a fair amount of clarity is now unclear. Steveson entered Big Tens as the best heavyweight in the country and undefeated. Even though Steveson had not wrestled Cassar, he beat Derek White 8-2 in a fairly comfortable decision. However, Cassar's late takedown and ride out over Steveson has Penn State looking at possibly their first heavyweight champion under Cael Sanderson. 

Here is how heavyweights have performed at NCAAs under Sanderson: 

Penn State Heavyweight Performance
Season Wrestler and Record NCAA Result
2009-10 Cameron Wade (23-11) 2-2, DNP
2010-11 Cameron Wade (31-8) 2-2, DNP
2011-12 Cameron Wade (27-7) 2-2, DNP
2012-13 Jimmy Lawson (27-9) 1-2, DNP
2013-14 Jon Gingrich (23-10) 1-2, DNP
2014-15 Jimmy Lawson (21-6) 4-3, 6th
2015-16 Nick Nevills (6-3) DNQ
2016-17 Nick Nevills (25-5) 5-2, 5th
2017-18 Nick Nevills (31-7) 4-2, 7th

There has been an uptick in recent years thanks to Nick Nevills, but the heavyweight position is one of the toughest to recruit for high-end talent since there are so few elite heavyweights out there. The same can be said for 125 pound wrestlers, the pool for high end talent or coachable talent just does not exist. Conversely, there tons of talent in the middleweights where Sanderson has had a lot of success. 

However, Cassar looks to be a wrestler who can buck that trend and reach a national final. He's a dominant wrestler on his feet, and is a very strong rider, even if he does not notch that many near fall points. In four matches at the Big Ten Tournament, Cassar secured 11 takedowns and racked up nearly 9:32 in riding time. Thanks to Twitter user @LemonsAndPie for the statistical data, which he has tracked all season and made his data public for review.

Even if Cassar isn't able to turn many heavyweights, his riding ability can shorten his matches, and he forces heavyweights to exert a lot of energy to get back to neutral, where Cassar is at his strongest. This gives Cassar a major advantage over a lot of heavyweights who are generally just looking to push guys around. Cassar's able to shoot from space and get to legs before many can even react. 

Seeding Conundrum at 285 Pounds

Cassar's win over Steveson has thrown a major wrench into heavyweight seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Prior to the Big Ten final, heavyweight seeding looked fairly secure with these two results:

  1. Derek White (Oklahoma State) beat Cassar 3-2 at the Southern Scuffle
  2. Gable Steveson beat White 8-2 in a November dual

Steveson has been viewed as a big favorite at heavyweight all season, and the big win he had over White was one of the main reasons. Cassar seemed poised to snatch the 3-seed given his performances this year. However, the seeding criteria for NCAAs is going to create an issue for the top three seeds of this weight. Here is the seeding criteria:

  • Head-to-head competition — 25%
  • Quality wins — 20%
  • Coaches Poll Ranking — 15%
  • Results against common opponents — 10%
  • RPI — 10%
  • Qualifying event placement (i.e. conference tournament) — 10%
  • Win Percentage — 10%

This is looking pretty favorable for current Intermat No. 3 White. His win over Cassar plus his Big 12 Tournament championship has him looking potentially favorably for the No. 1 overall seed. The reason this is big is it would force Cassar and Steveson to the bottom side of the bracket and a potential NCAA semifinal rematch. Now, Cassar should easily have more quality wins, (after taking down Steveson, he has wins against seven of the top 10) and Cassar could easily jump White in the coaches poll and RPI ranking for the No. 1 spot. 

My prediction is that the committee will seed the top three as 1 - White, 2- Cassar, 3 - Steveson. This would obviously complicate Cassar's potential road to an NCAA Title, even if he should be a heavy favorite to place no worse than third considering how well he has wrestled against the top 10 this season. However, a roadblock like Steveson in the NCAA semifinal would be quite difficult, and Cassar's good enough to overcome it but it is notably more challenging. 

So ultimately, Cassar is positioned much better than any heavyweight entering NCAAs under Cael Sanderson, regardless if he gets the one or two-seed. He has the ability to be atop the podium on Saturday night, and he has the sweetest double leg at the weight. However, it would be no surprise if Cassar has to beat Steveson and White to win an NCAA title. 

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