Penn State has been off since Dec. 17, when it opened up its Big Ten slate with a 44-3 win over Indiana. However, the Nittany Lions get back underway a week from Monday in the illustrious Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Let’s open up this week’s mailbag with a question about the Scuffle.
Does Penn State break the team point record at the Southern Scuffle? — @dunkej01, Twitter
The Nittany Lions make a return to the tournament they won six straight years after scheduling conflicts kept them out last year. With Penn State missing, Oklahoma State put a thumping on the field by racking up a tournament-record 198 team points and besting second-place finisher Missouri by 72 points.
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So let’s not dance around the answer: I don’t believe Penn State will be able to break the record. If you are unfamiliar with tournament scoring, teams receive placement points and receive bonus points like in duals for how their wrestlers finish. Now, because bonus points aren’t as high as they are in a dual, placement points are bigger. Here is the breakdown for placement points: first is 16 points; second is 12 points; third is 10 points; fourth is nine points; fifth is seven points — and you get the idea.
The closest the Nittany Lions have gotten to the record was in 2012 when they had 191.5 team points. They had 11 wrestlers place, much like Oklahoma State did last year, but Penn State only earned 121 placement points. The Cowboys ended with 133. The Nittany Lions have enough high-caliber guys to earn those bonus-point wins and place 11 or more wrestlers. However, they face a much tougher field than Oklahoma State did. The Cowboys are back again, but there are two other top-5 teams (Ohio State, N.C. State) in the field. Also, competing are Lehigh (No. 6), Michigan (No. 9) and Virginia Tech (No. 10), so that makes seven of the top-10 teams in the country converging in Tennessee. Last year, Oklahoma State only had to square off with three top-10 squads.
Who will replace the legendary Zain Retherford? No. 1 high school 145-pound recruit Jarod Verkleeren or Pottsville standout Luke Gardner? — @jsk163, Twitter
It is obviously still too early to tell what will happen here. But, based on what I’ve seen at this very early point, if I had to pick, I’d say Verkleeren. I got to see him wrestle up close and personal at last year’s PIAA championships when Verkleeren took on Bellefonte’s Brock Port in the 145-pound finals.
I saw something I’ve never seen before, and that was Port looking as if he was out of his league. He suffered his lone loss of the year that day. Now, Verkleeren is a world champion, but he looked like a man in the finals by earning a 15-6 major decision over Port. Verkleeren recorded seven takedowns in the bout, mimicking what his predecessor Retherford does in his matches with a relentless attack.
If Mark Hall and (Zahid) Valencia both finish undefeated, who gets ranked No. 1 at NCAAs? — @dunkej01, Twitter
If I were to answer this question based strictly on how they’ve wrestled so far, I belive I’d have to go with Valencia. Yes, I know Hall beat Valencia in the NCAA championships last year. However, the duo squared off in the preseason NWCA All-Start Classic and Valencia topped Hall by a 3-2 score. Now, the match wasn’t supposed to mean anything as it didn’t count against records, but Valencia took over the top spot at 174 pounds in individual rankings the next week after they wrestled.
When it comes to actual seeding for the NCAA championships, they take into account the rating percentage index (RPI) for wrestlers. So, don’t be surprised if Hall does get the No. 1 spot since he will go up against tougher competition in the Big Ten than Valencia will in the Pac-12.
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