On the heels of Mizzou having finished their non-conference slate this past weekend, and with the four conference duals which will be used to determine Big XII Tournament seeding coming up, I figured it was time to take a look back at the season to date to see how we got where we are...which is now top 10 in the country. From this point forward, every match a Mizzou wrestler participates in will have a significant impact on the rest of his season. Dual matches in conference dictate conference seeds. Conference seeds can help dictate Big XII tourney placement, which can make or break whether or not you can get to the NCAA's. The MU team is very young this season, with only one senior starter on the starting roster. Let's break it down weight by weight to see how the team has been doing, but let's start by looking at how the team has done since the start of the season.
Unlike other sports, dual wins and losses don't mean EVERYTHING when it comes to a team's ranking in wrestling. Also, more and more polls of late have come to rank how they believe teams would finish at the NCAA's based on individual finishes, rather than ranking the actual team itself Mizzou started off the season ranked somewhere in the 15-20 range, and after a tough loss to Illinois, they went to the CMU tournament and returned with 10 individual champions, which is impressive even if the competition is not the highest (as it is at the CMU tournament). From there, the Tigers went on to score some solid wins, including one against Lehigh. They suffered a tight, road loss to Purdue, and in the case of both that match and the Illinois match, the Tigers not being at full strength likely cost them a win. Missing 197 pounder Brent Haynes due to academic issues perhaps kept the Tigers from a perfect record.
Sitting at 8-3, the Tigers started the high-profile portion of their schedule by heading to Chicago for the Midlands Tournament. And though they did not get anyone to the Championship round, the depth they had proved to be huge, as they amassed enough points to win the tournament over the likes of Wisconsin, Iowa and others. This was done by each Mizzou wrestler coming up with at least two wins, and a surprise four wins from Tyler Perry, who was a last-second replacement for highly ranked HWY Dom Bradley before the tourney started. While winning the Midlands Team title is not as big as having an individual champion, this gave the team great momentum headed to the National Duals, which is a wonderfully-formatted tournament where dual wins and losses move a team on in the tournament. Finishing 4-1 on the weekend gave the #8 seeded Tigers a 5th place finish, and included wins over top-5 opponents Boise State and Oklahoma State, with a tight loss to #1 Cornell as their only loss. This past weekend, the Beauty and the Beast meet gave the Tigers two, easy wins over UT-C and SIU-E (a shutout at 48-0), and they now sit at 14-4, and will likely keep their ranking, which is as high as #7 in one of the polls.
125 - True freshman Alan Waters has been everything the Tigers could have hoped for at the top of the lineup, and probably even more. He currently sits at 34-2 overall, with his only losses coming to the #6 and #8 wrestlers, and he came back to beat the #6 wrestler for third at the Midlands. According to Intermat Wrestle, Waters is currently ranked 9th in the country. He's beaten some big wrestlers as the season has started and should be right there for the Big XII title, as he currently makes up a trio of conference wrestlers ranked 7-9. He should definitely receive a seed at the NCAA's come March, and while I think it is a lot to expect a true freshmen to place in the top eight (and earn an All-American distinction), I think Waters has a tremendous chance. Either way, he should certainly be expected to continue to rack up the wins.
133 - Sophomore Nathan McCormick is the third (and I believe final) McCormick brother who will wrestle for the Tigers. Brothers Chris and All-American Tyler left pretty high expectations for McCormick, and he has met them... occasionally. Currently at 17-11, McCormick has a couple of OK wins on the season, but faced some REALLY tough competition at both the Midlands (3-2) and the National Duals (1-4). At the duals, he wrestled the #1 and #2 wrestlers at 133, while missing another top-5 guy due to injury. McCormick can certainly win some matches, and 133 is pretty open in conference, as only two other conference foes are ranked (albeit one of them at #1). Can McCormick catch a little fire and will the weak conference weight still give the Big XII three slots at the NCAA's? We shall see.
141 - The lone senior on the squad, Todd Schavrien is the hottest wrestler at Mizzou currently, sitting #12 in the country and 22-4 on the year. He had a great Midlands showing, finishing 5th. While losing to two, ranked opponents, he was a scoring menace, which certainly helped propel Mizzou to their team title. At the National Duals, he went 5-0 and scored important bonus points in three of the matches. 141 is stacked pretty good in conference, but Schavrien is likely #2 in it behind Bailey of OU. Schavrien should be expected to finish strong and if he keeps this streak going, could become someone who might sneak out an All-American spot before all is said and done.
149 - I am not sure anyone has faced a tougher road than RS Freshman Kyle Bradley has this season in getting to an 11-11 record. I believe he has faced seven wrestlers currently in the top 15 nationally. Bradley served an important role at the National Duals, in that while he was not necessarily expected to win some big matches, he was expected to control the outcome and not give up bonus points by losing big. Bradley was able to do this, as he lost three such matches by a combined total of 12 points. As we turn to the conference season, only one Big XII grappler is currently ranked (Parks of OSU). Bradley will have a pretty good opportunity in the coming weeks to grab a good seed for the Big XII's, and maybe be able to parlay that into an NCAA appearance. Once there, all you can ask from him is to win a match or two before all is said and done to give the team every point possible.
157 - The season started with UVA-transfer junior Danny Gonsor holding down the starting spot. Gonsor, an NCAA qualifier from last year struggled out of the gate, and eventually gave way to sophomore Giorgio "Nick" Gregoris. Gregoris, needing to cut down from higher weights, took some time to get his feet under him. He went 2-2 at the Midlands, and was expected (like Kyle Bradley) to control any loss he might have at the National Duals. He did just that, almost coming back to beat #10 DJ Meagher of Cornell in a decision which kept Mizzou in the hunt for a huge upset. He did it again against #2 Hall of Boise State, losing 9-7 before finally breaking through against #16 Neil Erisman of Okie State with a surprise pin which was huge in the Tigers beating the Pokes. Only Erisman and Nelson (#8) of OU are ranked at 157, so it is possible a rapidly improving Gregoris, who is currently 15-8, to continue to get acclimated to life at 157 and perhaps continue to surprise.
165 - Losing Nick Marable from last season was a blow which was going to be softened by the starting of RS Frosh Zach Toal this season. Toal has had a solid season, currently sitting #12 in the nation with a 18-7 record. Toal had a really nice finish at the Midlands, coming in 4th place. The only knock from that tournament could be the way he lost his two matches (shutout major decisions), but that was against the #2 and #4 wrestlers respectively. At the National Duals, Toal has only one loss (to #3 Kerber of Cornell), and that did include a big win over #13 Bailey of Okie State. This weight class in the Big XII is LOADED, and I expect the NCAA to give the conference five berths, meaning I believe Toal has made the NCAA's already. The current rankings of Big XII wrestlers are #1, #4, #12 (Toal), #13 and #16. Toal will not beat Burroughs (#1) of NU, but no one will. This means Toal is likely fighting for 2nd in the Big XII, and with a good draw at the NCAA's, he could possibly see the podium.
174 - Strange weight class for the Tigers this season, as two people have basically split time here. Coach Smith was not afraid to go with the hot hand to this point in the season, which resulted in a lot of time for junior Patrick Wright, who was able to take advantage and parlayed it into a surprise 8th place finish at the Midlands. The baton was passed back to junior Dorian Henderson at the National Duals after Wright lost a major decision to #3 Lewnes of Cornell. Henderson, who most believed would be the starter all season, overcame a tough loss to #5 Bennett of Central Michigan before winning his last two. The major decision against Boise State was big to pace the Tigers, and the medical default he received vs. Okie State basically turned the dual (especially, and as it should be noted, since Henderson was losing the match at the time). Currently sitting at 18-6, he still ranks #20 in the country based somewhat on potential, as Henderson is a physical freak who just does not have a ton of history in wrestling. Looking forward to the conference season, Henderson only has Benefiel of Okie State ranked in front of him at #10. Many in the country believe Henderson has what it takes to see the platform as an All-American, but he is going to need to get hot to make that happen. He should still be expected to win some matches at the NCAA's however.
184 - The other transfer in MU's lineup came by way of Cal-Bakersfield in sophomore Mike Larson, and where Gonsor has been a disappointment perhaps, Larson has achieved very well. Currently ranked #15 in the nation with a 20-8 record, Larson had a great 4th place finish at the Midlands (losing only to the #5 wrestler, albeit twice). At the National Duals, Larson had a really tough road, going 1-3, with all three losses to top 14 wrestlers. Nonetheless, Larson now turns to the conference season, and he will once again have a tough road in a pretty stacked conference, which feature four inside the national top 17. Larson had a tight, 3-2 loss to Perry of Okie State, but I see Larson getting to the NCAA's, where hopefully he can do what Mizzou wrestlers seem to do best at tournaments, and that is win matches before they eventually get knocked out.
197 - As mentioned above, Haynes missed the first semester due to some academic issues. It has taken the sophomore a little time to get it going, but at #12 in the nation and 24-5 overall, Haynes will still be a big player at this weight. (A note on his record...wrestlers can participate unattached in tournaments when ineligible, and the wins/losses are still "counted" in their record). Haynes' first real outing of the season did come at the Midlands, and he was solid in finishing 4th, though he did lose to an unranked Johnson of Nebraska early on. At the Midlands, Haynes was 4-0 going into a big matchup against #3 Foster of Okie State which he would lose 12-3. The weight class in the conference is decent, as Haynes is one of three ranked wrestlers (Ward of ISU at #17). Haynes should look forward to a rematch with Foster for the title, and could certainly be someone who wins matches in bunches at the NCAA's before all is said and done.
HWY - With the graduation of National Champion and two-time All American Mark Ellis, Tiger fans still felt good as junior World Champion Dom Bradley was finally going to get his own time on the mat. The season has had some ups and downs for Bradley, who currently sits #6 in the nation with a 19-3 record. Those three losses all came on one tough day for Bradley at the Northeast Duals, where he lost three matches by 6 points to the #1, #3 and #5 wrestlers. Since then, the only thing Bradley seems to have lost was a chance to impress at the Midlands, where he was a last-second scratch. At the National Duals, Bradley missed a chance to wrestle #2 Trice of Central Michigan, as the dual was already well in hand and Tyler Perry got the chance (2-0 loss). Bradley is still the class of a decent conference group, which features four wrestlers in the top 17. Bradley should win that and move on to a national seed at the NCAA's. Anything less than an All-American spot will likely be a disappointment for him.
So what does it all mean?
The Tigers are very young, with only three senior OR JUNIOR starters. However, they certainly have some very talented youngsters littering the lineup at 125, 165, 184 and 197. If you take a look at the new-fangled team rankings Intermat puts out, the Tigers are currently 20th. This means Intermat believes the Tigers would finish 20th at the NCAA's based on the individual finishes. I think this is a pretty fair ranking, considering I could only strongly predict one wrestler to place as an All-American. However, I do believe the Tigers are looking at seven who will make the NCAA's, with maybe McCormick making it eight (Bradley and Gregoris being the ones who would miss). If you have that many get there, and they can repeat their performance as a team like they did at the Midlands, the points can add up. Send eight wrestlers, maybe put two or three on the podium (Waters, Schavrien, Toal, Haynes and Bradley could all do it), and I think you will see a young team with a very solid top-15 finish. Even better, they'd have a lot to be excited about coming back in 2011-2012.