The road to the NCAA Wrestling Championship in Minneapolis starts in Piscataway, New Jersey. That’s right folks. For the first time ever, the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament will be held at the RAC, beginning this Saturday and concluding on Sunday. Doors open at 9 a.m. on Saturday and tickets can be purchased here.
Wrestling fans from across the country will flock to New Jersey to take in one of the best tournaments the sport has to offer. The Big Ten Tournament is mostly important for wrestlers trying to qualify for a spot in the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis just two weeks later.
Qualifying for the tournament is a bit of a confusing explanation for most casual fans. For the easiest explanation, check out this article here.
Basically, each weight class in each conference has a certain number of allocated spots for the National tournament based on certain criteria. For example, 125 pounds has eight allocated spots in the Big Ten. That means if you place in the top eight in the tournament, you have qualified for the NCAA’s. There are also 47 at-large qualifiers that are selected by a committee after all of the conference tournaments have concluded and allocated spots given out.
With that in mind, I will try to give a break down of each weight at the Big Ten Tournament and each Rutgers wrestler’s outlook at qualifying for the NCAA’s in Minneapolis.
The brackets for the Big Tens can be found here.
125 - Nico Aguilar (8 seed)
First round match: vs. Eric Barnett (9) WISC
Outlook: Aguilar’s first match with Barnett should be a good one. Barnett is a talented true freshman who is 19-8 on the season and is 4-3 against common opponents of Aguilar’s. A first round win for Aguilar would put him up against number one seeded Spencer Lee of Iowa in the quarterfinals. Even with a first round win over Barnett, Aguilar would still have to win at least one more match in the consolation bracket to secure top eight. Interestingly enough, the way the consolation bracket is set up, if he loses the first round match, he has a BYE in the first round of wrestle-backs and will wind up in the same round if he were to win his first and then lose to Lee. Without making this too confusing, Aguilar is expected to qualify for the NCAA’s with a top eight finish.
Championship prediction: Spencer Lee (1) IOWA over Devin Schroder (2) PUR
133 - Sammy Alvarez (7 seed)
First round match: vs. Garrett Pepple (10) MSU
Outlook: In what I would consider the toughest weight in the entire conference, Alvarez was given the 7th seed with six absolute studs in front of him. His first round match against Pepple will be important for him to set the tone of how he’s going to take on this stacked field the rest of the way. Alvarez and Pepple have wrestled twice this season, with Pepple beating Alvarez 6-2 way back in November, and then Alvarez getting revenge with a 5-3 overtime win in January. I expect Sammy to take care of business in the first round with a convincing win, which would set him up with a quarterfinal match against the number two seed, Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State. The two wrestled a fantastic match back in the January dual, with RBY edging Alvarez in overtime. This time I predict Alvarez to earn revenge and advance to the semi-finals, securing a top-six finish and an automatic bid to the NCAA’s.
Championship prediction: Austin DeSanto (3) IOWA over Seth Gross (1) WISC
141 - JoJo Aragona (11 seed)
First round match: vs. Mitch McKee (6) MINN
Outlook: JoJo certainly has his work cut out for him. The 11 seed will have to outperform in this tournament to secure a bid, and his first match is not an easy one against McKee. Aragona is just 2-8 against common opponents of McKee, while McKee is 8-8 in that same stat. If Aragona loses to McKee, he will most likely have Hunter Baxter of Maryland in the consolation bracket who he has already beat 2-0. That will move him to face the loser of one of the quarterfinal matches, where he will likely need a big upset to advance and secure a top-eight finish. It can be done, but given the way this season has gone for Aragona, I expect he will need to cross his fingers and pray for an at-large bid to qualify for Minneapolis in his freshman campaign.
Championship prediction: Nick Lee (1) PSU over Luke Pletcher (2) OSU
149 - Gerard Angelo (11 seed)
First round match: vs. Cole Martin (6) WISC
Outlook: Lucky for Angelo, there are 10 allocations here and he is the 11th seed, so a first round win should lock that up for the redshirt freshman. His first round match won’t be easy, but should be a close one as both have wrestled common opponents in similar fashions. If he loses his first, a win in the consolation bracket puts him in good shape to try for a top-10 finish.
Championship prediction: Pat Lugo (2) IOWA over Sammy Sasso (1) OSU
157 - Mike VanBrill (9 seed)
First round match: vs. Eric Barone (8) ILL
Outlook: VanBrill comes into Big Tens having lost his last six matches. One of those matches includes a 2-1 loss to Barone, so this would be a great opportunity to snap the losing streak and earn some revenge. Much like Aragona, VanBrill has a difficult road to qualifying, and a first round win puts him against number one seed Ryan Deakin of Northwestern, who beat VanBrill by tech fall earlier in the year.
Championship prediction: Ryan Deakin (1) NW over Kaleb Young (2) IOWA
165 - Brett Donner (11 seed)
First round match: vs. Shayne Oster (6) NW
Outlook: I actually really like this spot for Donner. Oster beat Donner 2-0 in the dual a little under a month ago, so this is certainly a match that Donner could win. A win would put him into the pre-quarters against (most likely) Evan Wick of Wisconsin, the three seed. If Donner can win the first, this is his best possible path to the top eight. Even with a loss against Wick in pre-quarters, Donner would just need one more win in wrestle-backs to guarantee a top eight finish, so I give him a good chance to do just that.
Championship prediction: Vincenzo Joseph (1) PSU over Alex Marinelli (2) IOWA
174 - Willie Scott (10 seed)
First round match: vs. Joey Gunther (7) ILL
Outlook: With Scott entered here at 174, it confirms that regular starter Joe Grello will not return for the postseason after suffering a knee injury in January. It seems as if almost every Scarlet Knight wrestler has a first round match against someone who they narrowly lost to during the regular season. Back on February 7th, Scott dropped a 1-0 decision to Gunther in the dual meet against Illinois. With nine allocations up for grabs, Scott has a decent shot to nab a trip to Minneapolis.
Championship prediction: Mark Hall (2) PSU over Michael Kemerer (1) IOWA
184 - Billy Janzer (5 seed)
First round match: vs. Jack Jessen (12) NW
Outlook: Janzer earned a 10-2 major decision win over Jessen earlier this year. He should be a lock to move on, and will most likely wrestle Taylor Venz of Nebraska in the quarterfinals. That is a match Janzer can no doubt win if he brings it, which would propel him into the semifinals. Janzer is the Scarlet Knights highest ranked seed for a reason.
Championship prediction: Aaron Brooks (1) PSU over Abe Assad (3) IOWA
197 - Jordan Pagano (7 seed)
First round match: vs. Hunter Ritter (10) MINN
Outlook: Pagano has shown time and time again this season that he has what it takes to beat some of the top guys in the nation. He should win his first match, and that puts him in the quarterfinals against number two seed Eric Schultz of Nebraska. Look for Pagano to make a push for the semi-finals in front of the home crowd in his final Big Ten tournament.
Championship prediction: Kollin Moore (1) OSU over Jacob Warner (3) IOWA
HWT - Alex Esposito (10 seed)
First round match: vs. Seth Nevills (7) PSU
Outlook: A tough first round match for Esposito, who was pinned by Nevills earlier this year. Esposito will need to win at least one in the wrestle-backs to clinch a top seven spot and automatic bid to nationals.
Championship prediction: Gable Steveson (2) MINN over Mason Parris (1) MICH
Virtual locks: Sammy Alvarez (133), Billy Janzer (184)
Should be in: Nico Aguilar (125), Jordan Pagano (197)
Work to do: JoJo Aragona (141), Gerard Angelo (149), Mike VanBrill (157), Brett Donner (165), Willie Scott (174), Alex Esposito (HWT)
For more information on the entire tournament, visit here.