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Big Ten Wrestling Championships: Ashnault a champ but Rutgers wanted more

The Knights will send 6 automatic qualifying wrestlers to St. Louis, but the results in Bloomington were not what they wanted

Roy DeBoer with permission

It was a mixed bag of results for Rutgers at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships at Assembly Hall on the Indiana campus. The Knights finished tied for eighth place and six RU wrestlers have automatically qualified for the NCAA tournament. But it could have been better.

Anthony Ashnault defended his 141-pound title in solid fashion, and will be one of the six Rutgers grapplers who definitely will go to the NCAAs in St. Louis from March 16-18

There is still a chance that RU will have more than six when the NCAA Selection Committee awards at large bids on Wednesday at 6 pm; it can be seen live here. It’s that process that may be the salvation for Jordan Pagano and Razhonn Gross. Both wrestlers finished outside the Big Ten's allocation at their weight.

Rutgers finished tied for eighth place with Wisconsin with 67.5 points. Last year, RU finished fifth with 106.5 points. There was a bit of a Rutgers comeback after a tough and disappointing first day. “I thought we really bounced back,” said head coach Scott Goodale. “We didn’t wrestle great yesterday (Saturday) but we had a really good night round which allowed us to get some guys though. It’s the Big Ten Tournament. Today there were some ups and downs. We won some I didn’t think we’d win and we lost some I thought we would win. That’s the ebb and flow of the Big Ten Tournament. Overall, we got six guys through. There’s a good chance we get seven.

“And good for Anthony Ashnault – dominating performance. He’s wrestling really well right now. We’ve got one more big weekend left and we’ll see where it will take us.”

Team Scoring

In a bit of an upset, Ohio State took the team title, ousting defending champion Penn State in the process.

Big Ten Wrestling Championships Team Scoring

1. Ohio State 139.5 Pts

2. Penn State 130

3. Iowa 112.5

4. Nebraska 102.5

5. Minnesota 93

6. Illinois 88.5

7. Michigan 83

8T. Rutgers 67.5

8T. Wisconsin 67.5

10. Michigan State 38.5

11. Maryland 32

12. Purdue 26

13. Indiana 24.5

14. Northwestern 18

In no small indication of why they won, OSU had four individual champions to PSU’s two. Iowa also had two champions, while Rutgers and Illinois had one apiece.

Big Ten Wrestling Championships Individual Awards

Wrestler of the Year: Jason Nolf, Penn State

Freshman of the Year: Kollin Moore, Ohio State

Coach of the Year: Tom Ryan, Ohio State

Outstanding Wrestler of the Championships: Zain Retherford, Penn State

Flowrestling Tournament Ranking

FloWrestling does rankings for both dual match competition and tournament competition. Based on its ranking for Rutgers, the Knights “should” have come in ninth; they were pretty much on the mark. This FloWrestling’s ranking is extrapolated for the Big Ten; the team’s actual tournament finish is in parentheses.

  1. Penn State (2)
  2. Ohio State (1)
  3. Iowa (3)
  4. Nebraska (4)
  5. Illinois (6)
  6. Minnesota (5)
  7. Wisconsin (T-8)
  8. Michigan (7)
  9. Rutgers (T-8)

Strength and depth

If there’s one major difference between Rutgers and the Big Ten elite, its depth. Rutgers had one No. 1 seed, and after that, the best RU seeded wrestler was at No. 5.

By comparison, Penn State had six wrestlers seeded 1 or 2; Ohio State had 4, and Iowa had 4. Each of those wrestlers - like Ashnault - had a first round bye and that’s a great advantage.

Team finish in a wrestling tournament certainly relies on athletes getting to the finals and hopefully wining championships. But more often than people realize, titles can be won or lost by how your “other” wrestlers do in the wrestleback consolations. In team scoring, winning the championship at a weight class earns your team 16 points. Second place earns 12 points and third place earns the team 10 points; it goes down through eighth place. No RU wrestler finished higher than fifth place (seven points). And just as in a dual match, additional points are earned for falls (two points), tech falls (1.5 points with NF points or 1 without)), and majors (one point). There are also advancement points for moving ahead. In winning his title, Anthony Ashnault earned an additional five bonus points plus the 16 for winning. Theobold, in taking fifth, earned 15 team points; it included two major decisions plus a fall. That translates to this: more than half of RU’s scoring was done by only two wrestlers. It’s hard to win titles with that result.

The Buckeyes had six wrestlers in the finals, more than anyone. Iowa had four, with two champs. But while RU’s best finish, aside from Ashnault, was fifth, Penn State had four third place finishers; that’s 30 points, almost as many as Ashnault and Theobold.

The First Day of Competition

By the end of Day One, Rutgers had qualified five wrestlers for the national tournament. But the rest of the Knights either ended their season or continued into wrestleback consolation rounds looking for a qualifying win. At that point, Goodale commented how that hurt their chances. "We lose two of our better guys at 174 (Pagano) and 184 (Gravina) and they’ve got to work their tails off to get back in this thing and give themselves a chance to get to the national tournament. We just didn’t wrestle good (on Saturday) and this tournament can do that to you,” Goodale said. “There are so many good guys, a ton of upsets, you’ve seen it. We stayed the course just like we did last year and we had a really good team meeting in the hotel room and we got refocused. It was about getting back to what we do and we won some close matches and got on a roll.”

About our predictions

I never said I was all knowing! Our first Big Ten Tournament preview post had me prognosticating - not perfect, but not too bad, either.

Team champion

Prediction: Penn State Actual champion: Ohio State

Rutgers finish

Prediction: 6th place Actual: T - 8th

Rutgers champions

Prediction: Anthony Ashnault Actual: Anthony Ashnault

Rutgers place winners (1st - 8th)

Prediction: Seven - Scott DelVecchio, Anthony Ashnault, Ken Theobold, John Van Brill, Jordan Pagano, Nick Gravina, Matt Correnti

Actual: Six - Ashnault (Champion), Scott DelVecchio (seventh), Ken Theobold (fifth), John Van Brill (seventh), Nicholas Gravina (ninth) and Matthew Correnti (sixth).

NCAA Qualifiers:

Prediction: Six - DelVecchio, Ashnault, Theobold, Van Brill, Pagano, Gravina

Actual: Six - DelVecchio, Ashnault, Theobold, Van Brill, Gravina, Correnti - five right (could be more depending on at-large selections)