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Mizzou Wrestling: So What DID Happen in Vegas?

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The Tigers headed west last weekend for the annual Cliff Keen tourney, which always features a stacked, national field of teams. How would they do in their first big test of the season?

J'Den was one of two Tiger champions on the weekend
J'Den was one of two Tiger champions on the weekend
The Beef

The Beef - Two Champions, seven total placers (of ten) and a team win in a bit of a run-away against some solid teams and talent.  Just the weekend we expected, no?

Shaffe - Not just 7 place-winners, but 7 guys finishing in the top 4. That is incredible. As to what we expected, thankfully the internet is forever and I can go right back to our most recent piece.

"Can Mizzou win this tournament? I don't think it's all that likely they can topple the Buckeyes with Ohio State's quality among their depth, but they can certainly challenge for a top 3 podium finish as a collective."

Ohio State ended up scratching two of their starters and I think a third (Johnny DiJulius) ended up medical forfeiting out fairly early in the tournament. So while Ohio State wasn't operating at maximum power, it's still rather impressive to not only win the tournament but to win it by the margin they did.

BST - To say this went past my expectations is a massive understatement. I was hoping for 5 top 4 placers. Brian Smith has his guys wrestling well and staying active on the offensive end for sure.

Shaffe - Is this the part where I beat BST to the punch in raving about the weekend Daniel Lewis had?

BST - Go right ahead. I'll just sit over here, nodding my head knowingly.

Shaffe - I wouldn't dream of derailing the Daniel Lewis hype train you have so skillfully conducted up to this point.

The Beef - Alright…let’s start to put THIS train back on the tracks and get to reviewing the action and results, leading off at the top with the 4th place finisher at 125.  McGhee had a very solid two days, though capped by a disappointing and late loss to Rios from Oregon State.  However, the weekend saw him knock off 3 ranked wrestlers (topping off with Terao of American at #6) and also an OT loss to current #3 Joey Dance of Va Tech.  Have to say the weekend is a success for Barlow, no?

BST - Barlow had one heck of a weekend. Looking at his match by match results, I think the biggest thing for me is that he had some tight matches against top ranked opponents and came out on top more often than not. Pinning Terao was just awesome. The 3rd place match loss was a tad disappointing but if you'd have said coming in that he would finish 4th in this tournament, I'd have taken that result all day long.

Shaffe - 125 was a pretty strong field in this tournament so I’m quite happy to see McGhee find his way to the third place match. To illustrate the strength of this weight class last weekend McGhee faced, in succession, the (then) #10, #3, #18, #6, and #17 ranked wrestlers in the nation before falling to Rios in the third place match. His only loss in that stretch was to Joey Dance, who will be very much in the conversation for a national title this year.

Speaking of loaded weight classes, 133 was pretty stacked as well. Zach Synon started out well with a major decision but then dropped two straight to bow out perhaps a little earlier than we had hoped. Any idea what might have happened here?

BST - Final match he dropped was in SV to DeShazer of Nebraska Kearney. As you said Shaffe, not what Synon would have liked, but not sure that I expected all that much more from him going into the weekend.

The Beef - I expected a little more out of Synon. Certainly not a win against Dijulius, but I would have figured I’d see some wins out of the bottom half.  In the end, he’s the one I am probably most down about for the weekend, so that still ain't bad, but I would have expected more than just the one win.

So let’s roll it on over to Matt Manley. What sort of statement did he make with his work at 141?

Shaffe - It’s all good as long as he’s not facing Tommy Thorn? 141 wasn’t nearly as stacked as 125 and 133 were, but it was nice to see Manley still go out and perform well against competition around his level. His pin against nationally ranked Solomon Chisko was rather surprising to see considering he was down I think 8-4 at the time. Unfortunately he dropped both of his matches against the aforementioned Thorn, who is ranked in the top 10 nationally at this weight class.

BST - I'd say Manley exceeded expectations. He showed he is probably a top 20 guy nationally who still has plenty to improve on, but Smith shouldn't be too concerned about keeping the red shirt on the 2 frosh. This weekend did a lot to calm my fears about 125-141 and I'm very happy where we are now.

The Beef - So if Manley is top-20 (and I would agree with that assessment), what did the performance of Mayes this weekend do to where you think he is within 149 nationally?

BST - I feel like I was maybe a bit harsh to Mayes at first glance over the weekend. He win Pin, MD, MD, 6-5 decision over #14 Jeffries, and then 8-6 win over unranked Short in the finals. Lots of early team points in dominant victories and then he got the wins he needed in the semis and finals. We've talked time and again about how we'd like to see more aggressiveness by Mayes, and he may have been able to in the 2 Saturday matches. I'm good with his performance, he was the top seed and he won the tournament. I'll take it.

Shaffe - I think Mayes, for maybe the first time this year, started to show some dominant flashes against guys that should be overmatched against an all-American. He started the tournament off with a pin and two major decisions on Friday before wrestling a little closer to the vest on Saturday to take the tournament title. A championship is always nice to see, and moreover I saw him put up some really solid riding time which has been rare for Lavion in the past. As for where he stands nationally, I think there’s not much reason to move him up or down from his current #5 ranking until he gets some action against other top shelf opponents.

The Beef - And as both messages came in at the same time and said roughly the same thing, there is nothing with which I can disagree.  It was pretty workmanlike for him, and if anything, I am sad he did not get a chance to get a win over a ranked opponent as you would expect would come in a tourney like this one.

Alright, to 157 and Luke Fortuna, who appears to have earned the spot for now. Consider me mildly surprised and certainly pleased to see Fortuna come out of the weekend with a 2-2 record. Anyone else with anything else? I feel like BST is a kid on Christmas getting ready to explode in anticipation of being able to talk about Daniel Lewis

BST - 157 is not a black hole. That’s more than I expected and I'm happy with the youngster Fortuna showing what appears to be some improvement.

Shaffe - I continue to remain interested as to what the heck is going on at 157 as a whole. Joey Lavallee was at various points in the last week seeded in Las Vegas, then listed in the Nittany Lion open, then didn’t even wrestle there. If Joey could find his way past whatever is keeping him off the mat it would really help the team fill out all the way through the lineup. Until he does though Luke Fortuna is doing an admirable job holding down the fort and not being a total liability. That may be damning with faint praise, but it’s hard to expect a whole lot more out of the freshman at this point in his career.

The Beef - Alright, let’s move from faint praise to BST talking about Daniel Lewis…

Shaffe - /Jumps out of the way for the tsunami of platitudes

BST - Daniel Effing Lewis!!!!

Let’s roll down the list of Lewis' matches: Pin in 50 seconds, Pin in 2 minutes 42 seconds, 8-4 loss to #19 McFadden, Pin in 60 seconds, Pin in 41 seconds over #20 Fierro, Pin in 2 minutes 20 seconds, 8-2 win over #3 Moore, 4-2 win over #10 Pickett, and an 8-2 win over #8 Glass.

That’s 5 first period pins. 8 wins total. 4 wins over ranked opponents (#3, #8, #10, #20). 3rd place finish.

Those are just silly stats for anyone. Now add in that Lewis is just a redshirt frosh and I'm over the freaking moon. His tweets back and forth with Ben Askren about the Mizzou pins records make me giggle with each and every notch that Lewis adds to his belt. I don't know that Daniel can top Ben's record (91) but he’s halfway to a top 10 pins in a season for Mizzou.

Ok boys, anything else to add?

Shaffe - Something that I loved about Lewis was how he dominated Moore, Pickett, and Glass – showing that he’s got more than a pin in his arsenal. I don’t remember how many times as I watched Lewis in those last 3 matches he would take down his opponent and simply not let him up for the rest of the period. I know he did it twice against Moore and probably at least once against Glass. His relative freshness of avoiding over 20 minutes (!!!!) of wrestling probably had a little to do with it, but I’d say Mr. Lewis has shown that those results likely are no fluke.

The Beef - Agreed Shaffe. Honestly, out of all of this, I was most impressed with the match win over Moore.  If you are used to pinning people (and to that point, he had been), I could see where someone might get antsy when not able to turn their opponent.  Lewis just grinded it out over Moore with a hell of a top game.  Impressive to see in someone so young.  Will be interesting to see if he cracks the top-10 or not coming out of the weekend.

Alright, on to 174 and Blaise Butler, another top-4 finisher on the weekend. What did we learn?

BST - Butler had a solid weekend. 1 major, 1 tech, and 1 pin. I'd be willing to be he was a bit upset with the loss to #17 Hammond in the semis, but he came back and won the 3rd place match without much of a fit. I think Blaise is a good senior to have on this team. He’s been through big-time tourneys before and won a fair share. He knows how to win and keep a cool head. All this youth can certainly learn a thing or two from him.

Shaffe - Butler did about what we expected out of him, maybe short one round from what we had hoped going into the tournament. While we didn’t get that Butler/Realbuto matchup I’m still rather pleased at Blaise’s performance. Even his loss was a little positive in that he had a decent lead before running out of steam and giving up a big score at the buzzer. 174 should still continue to be a strength in the lineup for the rest of the year.

The Beef - Yeah…it was a solid, but not spectacular weekend for Butler, who had a shot at scoring a big win in the early season, but did not have the bracket or his match break the way he needed.

Speaking of early season statement, what sort was made by Big Willie? Heck of a match against Dean, some other big wins, but capped with a bit of a tough loss. Thoughts?

Shaffe - I really liked how well Miklus showed against one of the best wrestlers in the country at any weight class. I'm also really looking forward to their possible rematch on the stage at Jesse Auditorium next month. Outside of that match Willie did his Willie Miklus thing and picked up bonus points in 3 of his other 5 matches, including against then #4 in the country Kenny Courts of Ohio State. That, combined with his win over #5 Hayden Zillmer made for one heck of a weekend for Miklus despite the somewhat sour finish of dropping a match to an unranked opponent in the consolation final.

BST - This tournament was classic Willie Miklus. He goes out and gets bonus points against Courts, beats Zillmer and then loses to the 3rd place match. At this point I'm willing to chalk it up to it being his 3rd match of the day and Miklus being a bit gassed. We talked about before the season that he just needs to work on his consistency and that of course remains the same. Dude can be top 4 at the NCAAs or not AA at all. His range is completely up to him.

The Beef - I feel like his possible range did expand a little higher this past weekend with his action against some of the top end guys. Yes the end was sour, but hopefully that is used as motivation going forward.

Alright, let's talk about what we saw from our other tournament champion.

Shaffe - We've been a bit hard on J'den this year for not looking "like he should" when facing guys we perceive to be not at his level, but this past weekend we finally saw a bit of killer instinct from him. Against a pretty decent field he went out and picked up bonus points where he should have and then put up strong performances against other guys ranked inside the top 10. All in all it was easily the most encouraging thing I've seen out of him this year.

BST - Very much agree with Shaffe here. J'Den had a heck of a weekend and it shouldn't be overshadowed just because it was "what we expected out of him". His Friday went Pin, Pin, Tech Fall. On Saturday he faced the #7, & #6 ranked wrestlers in the 197lb weight class and beat them 9-3, 4-1 respectively. Good, solid results against top tier competition and dominating the unranked guys. That’s what I hoped to see and he certainly delivered.

The Beef - I agree…was very pleased and excited to see the results from Friday.  Saturday’s results were strong as well, and this tournament is about what I had hoped to see from J’Den.  Coach Smith had mentioned he was starting to feel more comfortable on offense, and maybe this represents a bit of a turning point for him. Time will tell on that, but a very positive weekend for J’Den.

I guess we need to finish on something not as positive, so any thoughts on Romero at HWY before we wrap this all up?

BST - Yeah, woof. Romero was leading Suglio of Kent St before getting rolled and pinned. He followed that up by getting dropped 10-2 by Malacek of Air Force. Our HWT division is not looking good at all and I really have no silver lining to put there. I think it is the black hole we were afraid 157 might be without Lavallee. Romero seems to be getting most if not all of the varsity reps, so I have to assume Coach Smith knows what he’s doing and Wood Mancuso either isn't eligible or wouldn't be any better.

Shaffe - I really don’t want to pile on the kid, but it is what it is at this point - HWT is going to be a problem all year long. Hopefully these reps will serve Romero well in the end or maybe somebody breaks through in the near future.

The Beef - So let’s go ahead and put a bow on this before we start looking ahead towards the big dual against Ohio State this coming weekend (and to be covered in a separate preview).  How did last weekend change your expectations for this team on a national level?

BST - Shaffe and I went back and forth a bit about this on twitter. I think this team has 5 AA's (Cox, Mayes, Miklus, Butler, Lewis) and another 2-3 guys that can make it to the knockout round. Now, whether or not we get those 5 to actually AA and anyone else deep into the NCAAs is a different story. I do believe that we can make a run at a top 5 team finish at the NCAAs as well. This team is set up better for a tournament run than at a 2nd straight dual title as we just don't have nearly as complete a team with Lavallee out and not much of anything at HWT.

This is a higher ceiling than I expected before the season. I wasn't sure how Butler would fill in on this team, or how Lewis would step in as a RS Frosh. The unknowns at the lighter weights aren't nearly as concerning now as they were just a week or two ago, and Cox/Mayes/Miklus appear to be as good if not better than last season.

I'm excited for the rest of this season and the possibility of what I think could be Brian Smiths best coaching job at Mizzou.

Shaffe - I think BST hit the nail on the head here. Expectations were raised a bit for me on the grand scale, but I also don’t have a ton of confidence in Mizzou defending their National Duels title with the black hole at HWT and the uncertainty at 157. However, the emergence of McGhee and the solidification of Mayes/Manley has been super nice to see through this first month.