NCAA Wrestling Tournament Preview: Penn State Sends Nine to Dance

By Rob Dougherty on March 17, 2021 at 8:00 am
Robert Howard will look to earn All-American honors at his first NCAA Tournament.
Heather Weikel-USA TODAY Sports
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Penn State is fresh off a second place finish at the Big Ten Tournament, and is raring to go for the NCAA Tournament beginning Thursday. The first session will begin at 11:00 a.m. EST on Thursday, and will broadcast on ESPNU. Here are the seeds the Nittany Lion wrestlers earned for the tournament: 

Weight Wrestler
125 No. 23 Robert Howard
133 No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young
141 No. 2 Nick Lee
157 No. 12 Brady Berge
165 No. 23 Joe Lee
174 No. 3 Carter Starocci
184 No. 1 Aaron Brooks
197 No. 15 Michael Beard
285 No. 9 Greg Kerkvliet

125 Pounds - No. 23 Robert Howard

Howard was drawn against No. 10 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State), whom he is 0-2 against this year (both losses were 5-2 decisions). I think Howard can contend with almost anyone in his section of the bracket, though he probably cannot go further than No. 2 Sam Latona (Virginia Tech) in the quarters. He does not have a great consolation draw if he loses to Heinselman as he would potentially face the loser of No. 8 Rayvon Foley (Michigan State) and No. 9 Devin Schroder in the second consolation round, both of whom outplaced Howard at Big Tens.

Prediction - Howard goes 1-2 with a win in the first consolation round, netting PSU 0.5 points.

133 Pounds - No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young

No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites at his weight. RBY was given a fairly straightforward draw until the quarters. No. 7 Lucas Byrd (Illinois) could be a problem, but Bravo-Young should get through. No. 3 Korbin Myers (Virginia Tech) is very experienced, but I think Bravo-Young has enough to win. It all comes down to the showdown with Oklahoma State's Daton Fix.

Prediction2nd with a close loss to Fix in the final, netting 18 team points.

141 Pounds - No. 2 Nick Lee

Lee is entering the NCAA Tournament as the Big Ten runner-up for the second straight year. I do not anticipate Lee struggling much with his draw and should have an easy enough time getting through to the quarterfinals. No. 7 Ian Parker (Iowa State) is not a slouch and should not be underestimated, but Lee should win. The showdown with No. 3 Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) seems inevitable in the semifinals, and that match could have any result. If Lee gets through Rivera, he would see No. 1 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa) almost certainly, though No. 4 Tariq Wilson (North Carolina State) does have some upset potential. 

Prediction - 3rd, loses the Rivera rematch but gets plenty of bonus early, netting 16 team points.

157 Pounds - No. 12 Brady Berge

Brady Berge enters his second NCAA Tournament, and he's wrestling well at the moment. The top three seeds at this weight are better than everyone else, but Berge got a pretty favorable draw here. He could have an early influence on the team title race in the second round against No. 5 Kaleb Young (Iowa). I genuinely believe he could get to the quarters or even the semifinals, but beating Young will not be easy. 

Prediction - 3-2, loss to Young in second round, and ends up losing in a tight bloodround match, netting 2 team points.

165 Pounds - No. 23 Joe Lee 

Joe Lee has not been wrestling well over the last month, and that's reflected in his seed and eighth place finish at the Big Ten Tournament. Lee gets No. 10 Travis Wittlake (Oklahoma State) in round one, then No. 7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State) in the second round. Lee lost to Wittlake last season in his redshirt year, and Smith earlier this season. The potential consolation draws are not that favorable for either. He is likely looking at facing No. 9 Luke Weber (North Dakota State) in the second consolation round. 

Prediction - 1-2, losing to Wittlake in the first round, and getting a win in the consolation round, netting 0.5 team points.

174 Pounds - No. 3 Carter Starocci

Carter Starocci has had such a promising season as a freshman starter at 174 pounds. He has picked up some signature wins, most notably over No. 4 Michael Labriola (Nebraska). Starocci has not necessarily been a prolific scoring wrestler, but his defense, gamesmanship and toughness makes him really tough to beat. He wrestled well against No. 1 Michael Kemerer (Iowa) in the Big Ten final, but Kemerer was just too savvy and experienced for him at this point.

Prediction - 2nd place, loses to Kemerer in the final, netting 16 team points. 

184 Pounds - No. 1 Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is entering this NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, and looks set to win his first NCAA title. Brooks is undefeated this year, and his toughest test was against No. 8 Taylor Venz (Nebraska) in the Big Ten final, a match he won 11-5. No. 5 Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech) would provide a test in the semifinal. No. 2 Trent Hidlay (North Carolina State) will probably await in the final, but this weight class is one that could bring quite a few upsets. 

Prediction - 1st with three bonus point wins along the way, netting 24 team points.

197 Pounds - No. 15 Michael Beard

Michael Beard has had a good season, but he has not gotten a signature win yet. An unlucky slip cost him in a close matchup against No. 1 Myles Amine (Michigan). Beard's draw is tough with No. 2 Eric Schultz (Nebraska) in the second round. He could also end up seeing No. 10 Cameron Caffey (Michigan State) if he got past Schultz. His consolation draw could be tough because a potential Round of 16 match against either No. 7 Rocky Elam (Missouri) or Caffey could be quite tricky. 

Prediction - 2-2, one win in the championship side, one in the consolation, netting 1.5 team points.

285 Pounds - No. 9 Greg Kerkvliet

Greg Kerkvliet had an up and down Big Ten Tournament, he dominated No. 14 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin), but really struggled on bottom against No. 2 Mason Parris (Michigan) and No. 5 Anthony Cassioppi (Iowa). His draw is not too terrible, though No. 8 Jordan Wood (Lehigh) could be quite a challenge if Wood can get on top. If Kerkvliet can keep his matches in neutral, he should be able to get to the quarterfinal against No. 1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota), though Steveson is simply just too much for anyone at this weight. If Kerkvliet can get to the quarterfinals, his bloodround match does not look too bad, but if he falls to Wood it becomes a bit more uncertain.

Prediction - 5th, 2 wins in the championship side, one by bonus, netting 11 team points.

Team Prediction - 89.5 points

Penn State has more potential than this, but a lot will depend how some of their young guns fare at their first NCAA Championships. I simply think the draws have been unkind for the Nittany Lions at a number of key weights, but do not be surprised if Penn State overperforms my prediction and gets into the 100s.

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