NCAA Tournament Preview: Will Mark Hall Reclaim the National Championship?

By Rob Dougherty on March 19, 2019 at 2:40 pm
Mark Hall is looking to win another NCAA title at 174 pounds.
Jeff Curry - 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. Today, we are looking at Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph and Mark Hall's projected NCAA Tournament matchups. Through 149 pounds, I have predicted Penn State to have 24 team points. Last year, Nolf, Joseph and Hall combined for 64.5 team points, can they add any more to this year's team total? 

No. 1 Mark Hall - 174 pounds

Potential Path

  • First Round - No. 32 Jake Covaciu (Indiana) or No. 33 Devin Kane (North Carolina)
  • Second Round - No. 16 Brandon Womack (Cornell)
  • Quarterfinals - No. 8 Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa) or No. 9 Devin Skatzka (Minnesota)
  • Semifinals - No. 4 Myles Amine (Michigan) or No. 5 Jordan Kutler (Lehigh)
  • Finals - No. 2 Daniel Lewis (Missouri) or No. 3 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)

Another dominant regular season for Mark Hall placed him in line for his first career 1-seed. He got revenge on Zahid Valencia in Rec Hall, and he has mostly coasted through this regular season. This is the best we have ever seen Hall look, and he just seems to constantly find subtle ways to improve his overall game. Valencia was unable to score on Hall in their matchup earlier this season, a real testament to Hall's overall defense and he won the match through his top game. 

As for Hall's draw, he will be favored against either Jake Covaciu or Devin Kane, and bonus points will likely be on the cards as well. Hall beat Covaciu by a major decision this season in a match that wasn't as close as the 12-4 scoreline suggests. Despite never wrestling Kane, it's fair to say Hall will be comfortably favored against the No. 33 seed. 

Brandon Womack would pose at least a semi-interesting test in the second round, but Hall is the clearly superior wrestler, and should find a way through. Womack has done fine this season, but he is 11-15 against common opponents with Hall.

In the quarterfinals, his bracket looks like it will have either Taylor Lujan or Devin Skatzka. Hall could get bonus points against either, but he will be favored to win regardless. Skatzka wrestled very well at the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis, but he is not on Hall's level. Lujan has had a very good career, but he's not elite and should not challenge Hall much. 

In his semifinal he could get two pesky opponents for him. Jordan Kutler and Myles Amine have kept matches close with Hall, but Hall always finds a way to beat them. Hall's only beaten Amine in one-point matches, and his biggest margin of victory over Kutler is 6-2. Do not be surprised to see a semifinal close late, but until Kutler or Amine can seal the deal against Hall you have to stick with the Nittany Lion. 

Then, the final, which has way more intrigue than it did before. All eyes are on a potential semifinal between Daniel Lewis and Zahid Valencia. Lewis pinned Valencia earlier this season and that's how he earned the 2-seed over Zahid. I'm going to pick Zahid to win because he's the better talent, and when he's at his best Zahid is just another animal. Which would obviously lead to another rematch and a potential Saturday night main event, and it means we could see more action like this:

Hall and Valencia are tied 2-2 in their overall series, and it's incredibly hard to just pick the result of one match. I'm going to take Hall because I think he's just a little bit better, but these two are capable of insane scrambles, and the national champion will be the one who can come out on top in them.

However, if you want to pick Valencia, you are being equally as reasonable as anyone picking Hall. Valencia pushed Kyle Dake in the Final X best of three series last season, and he demolished former three-time champion Alex Dieringer. When someone can do those sorts of things, they have to be respected, and a pick against Valencia is no disrespect. Hall has just been great all year, and if he can win a scramble or two, his top game can come into the mix and that may end up being the difference maker like it was in December. 

Prediction - 1st place, 22 team points contributed with a win over Zahid Valencia in the final

Total Team Points Through 174 Pounds - 92

I have picked Penn State to sweep 157 through 174, much like they did in 2017. This is obviously no guarantee considering how good the opponents are at 165 and 174. I ended up picking Nolf, Joseph, and Hall to contribute 68 team points, but this is not set in stone. The Nittany Lions are so strongly poised to have three finalists at these weights, and if they do not manage to have three finalists, I would be very surprised considering how good the trio has been this season.

Tomorrow, you should check back to see our previews for Shakur Rasheed, Bo Nickal and Anthony Cassar, along with more in-depth analysis of the team race.