After NCAA brackets are released, the first thing that anyone does is look at their wrestlers' path to a potential final or title. Penn State is taking nine wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament, and the Nittany Lions are the overwhelming favorites to win their fourth consecutive NCAA title. Last season's title race came down to the wire, but there is a sense of inevitability this year.
Penn State is just that far ahead this year, and it's due to the insane strength they have throughout the lineup. No. 12 Brady Berge and No. 10 Roman Bravo-Young are the only two Nittany Lions that are seeded outside of the top three seeds. It's astounding for a team to carry this much firepower into March, and Penn State is arguably carrying their strongest team ever to the mat.
Tournament Scoring at NCAA Tournament
Here are the placement points a team gets for the top eight finishes:
- 1st place - 16 points
- 2nd place - 12 points
- 3rd place - 10 points
- 4th place - 9 points
- 5th place - 7 points
- 6th place - 6 points
- 7th place - 4 points
- 8th place - 3 points
This is pretty straightforward, the higher a wrestler places, the more placement points they get. Now, the more complicated part of the scoring, with advancement points and bonus points. To make this easier, I have separated this into two categories, championship bracket and consolation bracket:
|Advancement Point - Win in Championship Bracket||1|
|Bye followed by Win in Championship Bracket||1|
|Advancement Point - Win in Consolation Bracket||.5|
|Bye followed by Win in Consolation Bracket||.5|
|Win by Fall, DQ, Forfeit or Default||2|
|Win by Tech Fall with Near Fall Points||1.5|
|Win by Tech Fall without Near Fall Points||1|
|Win by Major Decision||1|
What has typically separated Cael Sanderson's teams from the pack has been their affinity for bonus points, and they can add up very quickly. In last year's NCAA Tournament, Penn State's five finalists (Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal) scored a combined 112.5 team points amongst them. Considering the Nittany Lions had 141.5 team points overall, it's clear to see how valuable finalists and bonus point scorers can be.
No. 10 Roman Bravo-Young - 133 pounds
- First Round - No. 23 Mario Guillen (Ohio)
- Second Round - No. 7 Austin Desanto (Iowa)
- Quarterfinals - No. 2 Stevan Micic (Michigan)
- Semifinals - No. 3 Nick Suriano (Rutgers)
- Finals - No. 1 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State)
The true freshman standout is going to have to navigate a very difficult bracket, as pretty much everyone at 133 pounds will need to do. As promising as Bravo-Young has been, it would be no shame if he does not place in by far the deepest and toughest weight in the country this year. Mario Guillen (Ohio) is not the most difficult first round match, but he's been able to keep matches close against Luke Pletcher and Austin Gomez, so it may be no walk in the park.
A Round of 16 rematch with No. 7 Austin Desanto (Iowa) awaits, and even though Bravo-Young's confidence grew as the match went on, he still ended up losing 12-8. A win in a rematch is plausible, but a showdown with Stevan Micic (Michigan) could easily send Bravo-Young to the consolation bracket. Micic's injury default out of the Big Ten Tournament could make him more vulnerable, but he's going to be a difficult match either way. A tasty semifinal with former Nittany Lion Nick Suriano would likely be in the semifinals, and he'd have to win that just to get to the finals and a potential showdown with Daton Fix.
His consolation bracket draw is not very kind either. If he loses to Desanto, he's likely going to have to beat either No. 5 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) or No. 4 Mickey Philippi (Pittsburgh) in the Round of 12 to earn All-American status. He also could see a rematch with No. 15 Ben Thornton (Purdue), a match he lost and got injured in earlier this season. If he manages to beat Desanto and loses to Micic, he would have to beat potentially No. 12 Montorie Bridges (Wyoming), or No. 13 Austin Gomez (Iowa State). Keep in mind, if he wins these matches, he'd likely have a match with either No. 6 Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) or maybe even the aforementioned Suriano to get a chance to place higher than seventh.
Prediction - Seventh place, 7.5 team points contributed, and a win over Austin Desanto in the rematch between the two.
No. 3 Nick Lee - 141 pounds
- First Round - No. 30 Nate Limmex (Purdue)
- Second Round - No. 14 Jamel Morris (North Carolina State) or No. 19 Sa'Derian Perry (Old Dominion)
- Quarterfinals - No. 6 Mike Carr (Illinois) or No. 11 Tristan Moran (Wisconsin)
- Semifinals - No. 2 Joey McKenna (Ohio State)
- Finals - No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell)
Nick Lee is coming off of a very impressive sophomore season that has seen him beat the No. 2 seed Joey McKenna and win a Southern Scuffle title. A third place finish at Big Tens puts Lee deservedly at the three seed. His path to a rematch with McKenna is filled with familiar foes. Lee is 3-0 against his first round opponent Nate Limmex with three major decisions. In the second round, he would have a match against Jamel Morris or last year's bracket buster Sa'Derian Perry. Lee beat Perry at last year's NCAA Tournament by major decision, and he would be a comfortable favorite to defeat Morris.
Then his bracket gets much more difficult. Lee is 0-2 in his career against Mike Carr and Tristan Moran. Carr is not coming into the NCAA Tournament in great form after an eighth place finish at Big Tens, but Moran is still a threat. Lee lost in overtime to Moran, and really struggled to deal with Carr's top game in his two losses. A win over either is not guaranteed, even if Lee will likely be the favorite. A loss would drop him into the Round of 12, and his most likely opponents would be No. 8 Kanen Storr (Michigan), No. 9 Dom Demas (Oklahoma) or No. 16 Chad Red (Nebraska). None of these matches would be particularly easy.
A win in the quarterfinals would make him a two-time All-American, and give him a rematch with Joey McKenna. Lee made a late charge to beat McKenna in the Big Ten semifinals, but fell 5-4. Lee and McKenna have been very evenly matched in their college careers, and either winning seems plausible. I would make McKenna a slight favorite, but picking against a Penn State wrestler in the semifinals is not exactly a good idea given recent history. The Nittany Lions haven't lost an NCAA semifinal since 2015. However, McKenna has the pedigree that picking him to win is not a slight on Lee at all.
A loss against McKenna would drop Lee into the consolation semifinals, where he could face any number of wrestlers. A potential third place match could end up being against someone like No. 4 Josh Alber (Northern Iowa), or No. 5 Jaydin Eierman (Missouri). Eierman's had a disappointing season by his standards, but he has the talent to outperform his seed and cause Lee some problems. Lee is 2-0 in his career against Alber, with a win over him in last year's consolation bracket.
A win against McKenna and Yianni Diakomihalis, an incredible wrestler, would be waiting for him in the final. A loss for Lee would probably be the most likely outcome, even if Diakomihalis has had his health questioned at times this year. He is a special talent, and is looking at a career with four national titles.
Prediction - Third place, 14.5 team points contributed with a loss to McKenna in the semifinals.
No. 12 Brady Berge - 149 pounds
- First Round - No. 21 Khristian Olivas (Fresno State)
- Second Round - No. 5 Matt Kolodzik (Princeton)
- Quarterfinals - No. 4 Brock Mauller (Missouri)
- Semifinals - No. 1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers)
- Finals - No. 2 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) or No. 3 Mitch Finesilver (Duke)
Welcome to the land of chaos and opportunity, where pretty much anything seems possible. 149 pounds is a combustable weight, and you could very well be tearing up your own personal bracket midway through session one. Brady Berge has had a very solid freshman campaign and is certainly a contender to earn a place on the podium. He's probably not a contender to be wrestling Saturday night, but this weight class is so open that he could not only place, but place high.
A first round match against Khristian Olivas is a solid opening round contest, and Berge will be a favorite, but Olivas is not a pushover. A potential second round match against Matt Kolodzik seems like a tall task, but he is not coming into the NCAA Tournament in his best form. He took second at EIWAs when he was a favorite, and he lost to No. 30 Parker Kropman (Drexel) in a dual. He also got majored by Anthony Ashnault. That said, he's still going to be favored against Berge.
If Berge manages to beat Kolodzik, really any of Brock Mauller, No. 13 Anthony Artalona (Pennsylvania), or No. 20 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota) could be waiting. Thorn was an All-American at 141 pounds last season, Artalona has had a promising freshman campaign and Mauller has been solid all year. The latter has few notable wins, but he's still very capable. It's probably safe to assume that any deep run for Berge likely would be over on the championship side by the quarterfinals. Even if Berge manages to get through this quarter, Ashnault will likely be waiting for him in the semis. It's tough to see Berge advancing if it comes to it.
A loss to Kolodzik would put Berge in what is expected to be a wild consolation bracket. His path could see him having to defeat either No. 7 Kaden Gfeller (Oklahoma State) or No. 10 Pat Lugo (Iowa) to earn All-American status. He very well could have to beat Artalona and Gfeller to get to the podium, an unenviable task to say the least. A win against Kolodzik but loss in the quarterfinals could see him having to defeat Lugo, Gfeller or even a No. 15 Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa).
Berge has wrestled a lot of close matches this year, and it's been noted by a few different outlets how difficult his weight cut is. He had a very promising offseason, earning a bronze medal at the junior world championships at 154 pounds. I think if Berge can manage his weight cut well, he could have a very good tournament and even make the semifinals. It will be interesting to see how he looks Thursday and Friday mornings, when he theoretically should be at his worst post-weight cut.
Prediction - 3-2 DNP, two team points contributed with a loss in the Round of 12.
Total Team Points through 149 pounds - 24 team points
Penn State would not be disappointed if these three weights can essentially net them another finalist given how strong the rest of their lineup is. If Bravo-Young can place, it will be a very strong true freshman season for him considering his tough weight class. A Lee win against McKenna could add four more points to this total, and he has some bonus point potential as well outside of the first round against Limmex. Berge has an opportunity to place, and if he does this group could earn over 30 points for Penn State. However, 24 team points seems to be a realistic, if not a slightly optimistic achievement.
You should check back tomorrow for part two of this preview when we go over Jason Nolf's, Vincenzo Joseph's and Mark Hall's paths to claiming another NCAA title. My prediction is it will lead to a lot of pain for their competition.