Penn State wrestling has officially made it past the toughest part of its dual season.
The Nittany Lions have three duals left before the postseason. They shouldn’t have any problems finishing off their fourth straight undefeated campaign to boost their dual win streak to 59 straight overall and 36 consecutive in the Big Ten.
It was no surprise that this week’s mailbag was full of questions about the postseason.
At this point in the season, which Penn State wrestlers do you think have a realistic shot at reaching the NCAA finals? Please list in order of confidence.
At the beginning of the season, Lauren Muthler, Josh Moyer and I made predictions on how Penn State’s season would go. I said the Nittany Lions would be 14-0 while earning the the Big Ten and NCAA championships.
I also said there would be three national champions out of eight All-Americans. The three wrestlers I chose to win it all were Jason Nolf, Mark Hall and Bo Nickal. I’m still confident in saying those three will win it all, and based off what I’ve seen this year, I’m going to amend my original answer. I now have to add Vincenzo Joseph.
I could see Penn State having six finalists. Of course, it all depends on draws and seeds. Other than the previously mentioned four, I think Shakur Rasheed and Anthony Cassar can get to the finals too.
If I have to put them in order, here’s how I can see it.
1) Nolf, Nickal and Hall: I can’t justify trying to split these three up. I feel equally confident in all of them. The reason? They are each going to be the No. 1 seed in their respective weight classes. I don’t see how any of them get upset at all unless they get injured. Nolf and Nickal should have no problem winning their third titles. Nickal just made the No. 2 wrestler in the country in Kollin Moore look like a rookie.
2) Joseph: I only put Joseph here and not with the others because I didn’t pick him in the beginning of the year. I felt he could reach the finals but thought he may try to go to that infamous inside trip again and might lose. He’s going to be the No. 1 seed in his weight class just like the three I predicted to win. However, after seeing what Joseph has done this year, I can see him winning his third NCAA title. He will have a shot at becoming the Nittany Lions’ first four-time champion.
3) Cassar: If I had to take a guess at where Cassar is going to be seeded, I’d have to say No. 3. This means he’d be on the opposite side of the bracket as Gable Steveson. This will be the case for the Big Ten Championship too. Depending on how Cassar does at those Big Ten championships could make me put him up with Joseph. If Cassar gets matched up with Iowa’s Sam Stoll at the Big Tens and Cassar lifts him up, that seals the deal for me.
4) Rasheed: I have him here just because of the injury worries. Rasheed looked all right in his match against Michigan’s Jelani Embree. He was physically exhausted. Was it because of the injury, or was he out of wrestling shape after not competing since Jan. 13? If Rasheed is able to get healthy and be at least 95 percent, he should be able to make the finals.
If this all comes to fruition, the night of March 23rd in Pittsburgh is going to be a crazy scene for Penn State fans. It would also mean that the Nittany Lions have already locked up their eighth national title in nine years.
If no one else gets injured, do you think PSU will be at 100 percent in time for Big Tens? In time for nationals?
It is possible the Nittany Lions could be at 100 percent for both the Big Tens and NCAA championships. Their final dual is Feb. 24 against Buffalo, which is also Senior Day. Rasheed and Roman Bravo-Young are the only starters that are dealing with a significant injury.
Penn State doesn’t need either of them to compete in that dual to win it. The Big Ten championships are not until March 9-10. This would give Rasheed and Bravo-Young three weeks to heal up their knees for the Big Ten championships. Now the question is, could they make it out of the Big Ten championships healthy?
Rasheed should be able to. Bravo-Young is another story. The 133-pound weight class in the nation is probably the toughest. The Big Ten 133-pound weight class is unreal. There are eight Big Ten wrestlers ranked in Intermat’s top 20.
Where do you think RBY’s ceiling and floor is at nationals this year?
The easiest answer to Bravo-Young’s floor is that he won’t be an All-American. He could lose his first two bouts and be eliminated. However, Bravo-Young is better than that and proved that he can compete in a two-day tournament during the Southern Scuffle. He finished third in that tournament.
The NCAA championships will have a much deeper field than the Southern Scuffle. If I had to take a guess on where Bravo-Young finishes, I’m going to say between fourth and eighth place.
I predicted that the Nittany Lions would have eight All-Americans out of the 10 wrestlers they’d get to Pittsburgh. I had Bravo-Young as one of those eight All-Americans.
How many points do you think Penn State will score at the national tournament?
Based on my answers earlier in the mailbag, the Nittany Lions could have a shot at breaking the team points record, which is 158 points set by Iowa at the 1986 NCAA championships.
The Hawkeyes had five champions and six finalists that year. They also had eight All-Americans in that same year.
Two years ago in St. Louis, Penn State had the memorable 5-for-5 night in the finals. The Nittany Lions only finished with six All-Americans that season. They scored just 146.5 points.
It will be an interesting sight to behold in Pittsburgh come March.
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