Photos via Bill Carter.
In just one of the many "finals" of the academic year in the Big XII, the final version of the Big XII Championships as they exist in their current version will take place on Saturday. MUTigers should have great coverage, including a live blog which I have enjoyed at many times during the year. In the meantime, let's go weight by weight (as we sometimes do) to let you know what you might expect as the Tigers attempt to win their first Big XII title before Nebraska heads off to the LOADED Big 10 (from a wrestling standpoint).
Before we get to the breakdown, a note about next year. At one time, there was a rumor that the University of Northern Iowa would join the Big XII as a wrestling-only partner. This is actually somewhat common in wrestling, the Pac 10 is all the proof you need. At any rate, this was the rumor which would allow the conference to stay at 5, but it seems nothing has come of that. As it stands, each team will wrestle a dual match against the other three schools both home and away, which will be nice for MU wrestling fans. Beyond that, it is tough to say how the conference tournament will be affected, and then how the NCAA feed-in will change as well.
Speaking of which, the NCAA will invite 320 wrestlers to the Championships (this year in Philly). With 32 people in each of the 10 weight classes, the NCAA pre-determines how many wrestlers from each conference (and each weight class) will go. For the the Big XII this year, based on conference RPI (and probably some other things), the conference will send 33 wrestlers. However, there will also be 49 additional at-large berths which will be awarded after all the conferences have their tournaments, so the likelihood is the Big XII will send around 36 wrestlers, or almost four per weight class. Considering there are only 50 Big XII Wrestlers, that is not a bad percentage.
So who goes from MU? Let's get to it! (all rankings via Intermat)
125 (3 automatic berths) - #9 Alan Waters, FR, 36-4
It has been a tremendous first campaign for the Tiger freshman, as his four losses have come against only three wrestlers (fittingly, the #6, #7 and #8 wrestlers). Waters fell at The Midlands to #6 Ryan Mango before beating him later. He lost twice to #7 Morrison of Okie State by the same 3-1 score, and then lost 3-2 to #8 Patterson of OU. He will actually start the tourney as the #3 seed, and will face #2 Jarrod Patterson of OU in the semi-finals. If Waters wins that match, he will automatically move on to the finals and the NCAA's, as the worst he can finish is 2nd. If he does lose, he will need to wrestle back to earn third place and the automatic berth. If for whatever reason he cannot do that, I could see the NCAA making sure a top 15 wrestler is included via the at-large. At any rate, Waters has been tough all year, and he has lost to Patterson and Morrison in three matches by a total of 5 points. However, offense has been a problem for him against these two, and he will certainly need at least one takedown at some point to make sure he does move on. Morrison is a frosh and Patterson is a sophomore, so experience is not an issue. I expect Waters to earn an automatic berth here, and I believe he will win his first match, but lose the second as he and Morrison just start what should be a great rivalry.
133 (4 automatic berths) - Nathan McCormick, SO, 19-13
I will be very honest in that was I quite surprised to see this number of auto bids considering the conference only sports one wrestler in the top 20. Granted, that wrestler is #1 Jordan Oliver of Okie State, but still. McCormick was up and down a bit this year, but did finish well with two conference wins, good enough for the #3 seed. He will take on the #2, who will either be Kiley of NU (who McCormick lost to 4-0) or Keller of OU (who McCormick lost to in OT at The Midlands, but who he beat 3-2 in conference). The young man from Iowa State is not very strong at this weight (McCormick defeated him 10-2), so I believe McCormick is a safe bet to move on. I believe his ranking will hold at #3.
141 (4 automatic berths) - #11 Todd Schavrien, SR, 24-6
The lone senior starter has had a wonderful final season, falling only to wrestlers in the current top 17. He has earned the #2 seed in the conference, as I believe #6 Bailey of OU is likely the top seed. Schavrien lost a tough, 9-6 match to Bailey, and also fell 8-3 to #17 Kindig of Okie State. Not too sure who the #3 and #4 seeds are, but this is a stacked group, with #15 Drouin (1-1 split with Schavrien) also in the mix. One win and he will be in, and I believe Schavrien will get it coming out of the shoot. Can he take down Bailey (likely) in the finals? I am going to say I dont believe he will, but he may have an outside chance at a top 8 seed come the NCAA's in a couple of weeks.
149 (1 automatic berth) - Kyle Bradley, RS FR, 13-13
If there is someone who might surprise, I believe it will be Kyle Bradley. 13-13 is not pretty, but it did earn Bradley a #3 seed. Only one automatic berth is strange to me here because the conference does boast two ranked wrestlers with #5 Parks of Okie State and #15 Lester of OU. At any rate, 8 of Bradley's 13 losses came against ranked wrestlers this year (and others against people who have certainly been ranked before). That is a lot of experience for Bradley. Will this be the time he turns it all on? Perhaps. I am guessing he faces Lester of OU in the semis, and he lost 4-2 recently against him. Will Bradley surprise to the tune of winning the lone berth? Not likely, but I could see him winning a match or two (if he does lose the first one) and at least holding his seed. In the end, I am guessing he is not likely to receive a wild-card berth for the NCAA's.
157 (1 automatic berth) - Nick Gregoris, SO, 16-11
Once again, a strange "ruling" here by the NCAA, as the conference sports two in the rankings (#11 Erisman of Okie State and #12 Nelson of OU), but will only send one automatically. Gregoris came out of nowhere this year, as he was not the initial starter, but supplanted transfer Danny Gonsor and had some nice results, including a first period pin of Erisman at the National Duals to help propel Mizzou in that match. Erisman did take some revenge in shutting out Gregoris in tech'ing him during the conference season, but Gregoris will likely be wrestling Nelson in the first match. He lost an 8-6 decision to Nelson, so a win is possible. Could be make it two surprises of three against Erisman then? Who knows....but I am guessing no and am guessing Gregoris is left behind when the Tigers travel to Philly. Certainly been a learning year for him though, and I think he will be right in the mix next year at this weight (though he may be pushed by redshirting frosh Drake Houdashelt)
165 (5 automatic berths) - #9 Zach Toal, RS FR, 19-10
The #9 wrestler in the country is 19-10? I guess so. It also makes Toal the highest ranked freshman in the country, just ahead of #10 frosh Bailey of Okie State, who Toal defeated 3-2. Interestingly, this was the only win for Toal on the season in the conference, but does speak to why the conference will send all their wrestlers to Philly. One half of the national top 10 comes from the Big XII, with #1 Burroughs from Nebraska (AMAZING to watch), #3 Caldwell of OU and #7 Sorenson of Iowa State. Toal was given the #4 seed, which means he will wrestle in the dreaded 4/5 match against #10 Bailey before becoming tech-fodder for #1 Burroughs. Toal lost to him 26-11, and dont let the 11 points fool you. That was very likely Toal being allowed to escape 11 times. At any rate, this is stacked as it gets for the conference, and I could see Toal finishing likely towards the bottom of the group. His time will come, but it just wont be this year.
174 (3 automatic berths) - Dorian Henderson, JR, 20-8
Honestly, I am surprised Henderson finished at 20-8 this year when I saw that. The junior did spend a decent amount of the season in the top 25, but never seemed to put it together, which unfortunately has become the common lament with Dorian. Tremendous athlete, but he may just be a little too green to the sport. To Henderson's credit, 5 of those losses were against ranked opponents (with one more against someone who I am surprised is not ranked), and he did earn the #3 seed in the tourney. The good news? This is Henderson's third Big XII Championship (tied with Schavrien for the most experience on the team). The bad news? Henderson has YET TO WIN A MATCH. I am guessing we see Henderson paired up with #11 Benefiel of Okie State, who Henderson lost a 9-7 OT match. Jon Reader of ISU is the #1 and may not have a loss on the year, so the champion is likely not in doubt. But a win for Henderson to start, or wins against people he already beat (3-1 against OU's James and 4-2 against NU's Kolb) could finally get him to the NCAA's. I really want to believe he finally breaks through this year.
184 (4 automatic berths) - #15 Mike Larson, SO, 21-11
So you thought Kyle Bradley's road was tough? Mike Larson lost 11 times, and TEN of them were to wrestlers in the top 14 (currently). The bracket is pretty loaded, as only ISU's Shaffer is not ranked currently. Larson has a 4-2 win against him, and that is who he will face in the 4/5 match before moving on for a shot against #9 Chris Perry. Larson has wrestled Perry twice on the year, losing 3-1 and 3-2. Tight matches, so there could certainly be a surprise. I feel pretty confident in saying Larson will beat someone this weekend, which I think should be enough to move him along. Can he do more damage? Certainly, as his conference losses (4 total with the two matches to Perry) were by a combined 7 points). Tight group, so it should not BE a surprise if someone WAS to surprise.
197 (4 automatic berths) - #15 Brent Haynes, SO, 25-8
Let's start with a note. Haynes was not academically eligible the first semester, so while his record does reflect matches wrestled all season, the first half of the year was done as an unattached wrestler in smaller tournaments. That did give him 12 wins right out of the gate against what was likely some weaker competition. The pleasant surprise of last season did take a little while to round into shape, and his 7 losses were against wrestlers in the top 14. Unfortunately, five of those losses came against conference foes, with two matches lost to #3 Foster of Okie State, two matches lost to #13 Johnson of NU and one match lost to #14 Ward of ISU. As the fourth seed in the tourney, Haynes will start off against Hall of OU who he defeated this season, but only be a 3-2 score. Haynes will need to make sure he does not mess around here before moving on to Foster, who owned Haynes to the tune of two major decisions. If Haynes did lose, I could see the NCAA using an at-large on him, but I would hate to have to count on that. I see Haynes not messing around too much and getting an auto-bid.
(side note - Isn't it strange that three of the four MU wrestlers (Toal, Larson and Haynes) who received the dreaded 4th seed are all ranked? And Mizzou did not get a 5 seed this year...and they did get one top seed...which does bring us to)
HWY (4 automatic berths) - #5 Dom Bradley, JR, 23-3
Can you believe this will be Bradley's first Big XII tournament? After filling Mark Ellis' shadow for the past two seasons, Bradley finally arrives and looks to be Mizzou's best chance at a Big XII title this year. Bradley came into the season with very high hopes and had one bad day in late November to end up with three losses. Of course, those losses came against the current #4, #3 and #1 wrestler in the country. Since then, Bradley was perfect (though he did miss a good field at The Midlands) and swept his four conference opponents in earning the top seed. As for the field, I dont quite know what to make of it. Intermat lists Alan Gelogaev as their #8 ranked wrestler, but Okie State lists Blake Rosholt (8-6 on the season) as their HWY. Even more confusing, Bradley defeated Tyson Yoder (10-11) during the year, so who knows. #13 Tucker Lane of NU (5-4 win) and #14 Nathan Fernandez of OU (4-2 win) will be tough competition, and 23-8 Kyle Simonson (4-0 win) rounds out the field. Depending on who Okie State throws, it could be an interesting road for Bradley, but I like his chances of winning the whole thing and grabbing a strong national seed on his way to hopefully avenging those three loses.
So where does that leave us? I see one champ, but honestly, it would not surprise me if Bradley was the only Mizzou wrestler who reaches the finals. However, based on our strengths and the number of auto bids, Mizzou has a great chance of sending eight wrestlers to the NCAA's, which is a very solid number. Can Henderson break through? Can Waters hold up after 40 matches on the year? Can Toal, Larson and Haynes make any movement in loaded brackets? Can I finish this column with more questions than answers?