The big dance is finally upon us. All season, as Mizzou has rolled up dual wins and strong tournament performances, we’ve kept half an eye on this week’s NCAA tournament and speculated how the realtime results would impact this one wonderful and crazy weekend of grappling. Today we will break down the lower five weight classes in depth and discuss the outlook for each wrestler and potential important matches. For those at home who wish to follow along, a link to the brackets can be found here.
Alan Waters (30-0 for the year) had, for my money, the best season of any Mizzou wrestler in 2014-15. With all due respect to J’Den Cox, Waters went out and went 8-0 against guys who were seeded in the top 16 at the national tournament. He also picked up 6 more wins against guys who were unseeded (including 2x defending champ Jesse Delgado). If Missouri is to be a player at the top of the team race it will be in large part to the effort of Waters who very deservedly comes in as the tournament’s #1 seed at the 125 pound weight class. His first round opponent is a familiar one in Brandon Jeske who he already holds a 5-2 victory against in the dual meet way back in November. Look for Waters to blow by Jeske and hopefully pick up bonus points in the process. I would look for much the same on Thursday night as Waters faces the winner of Petrov/Youtsey. Petrov is the #16 seed in the bracket but Youtsey is ranked 14th in the final Intermat rankings
Looming as a potential quarterfinal opponent is the aforementioned defending champion. Delgado has battled injuries in a big way all year and has only been wrestling for a little over 6 weeks since coming back. He picked up four wins against lesser competition before running into Waters at the National Duals and dropping a 6-2 decision. Delgado continues to heal up and if this tournament was another month later he might be a bigger threat than he is, but it’s not and despite the quality he brings to the table when healthy I’m not so sure he even makes it to the quarterfinals to pose a problem for Waters in the first place. In the end I look for Waters to make the semifinals with relative ease, picking up bonus points in at least 2 of his first 3 matches. I also forsee Waters winning his semifinal bout, which could be a very big head to head matchup with Ohio State’s Nate Tomasello. I won’t go so far as to predict that Waters will win the title in the end, but he has to be considered the easy favorite at 125.
Zach Synon (29-11 overall), on the heels of his strong MAC Championship performance, slides into the bracket as an unseeded wrestler at 133. This is no surprise at all and as the brackets came out last week we were all hoping the random luck of the draw would be kind. In my opinion Synon’s draw is probably as kind as he could hope for in that he drew a winnable first round matchup against #11 seed Danny Sabatello. Despite being seeded 11th Sabatello is only ranked 17th by Intermat after a 1-2 performance at the Big 10 tournament. Before painting too rosy of a picture though it must be pointed out that Synon is a combined 0-7 against the 133 field, so projecting any sort of win against a seeded wrestler is probably based a little more on hope than actual hard facts available.
That being said, upsets happen all the time and an 11 seed going down early would surely not be the biggest shocker of the first round. Synon has hung pretty tough at times against quality wrestlers and the hope here is that maybe he can pick up one win in the championship bracket before (likely) falling to Iowa State’s Earl Hall in the second round. Where Synon has the ability to do any damage he might do will be in the early rounds of the wrestleback bracket. I wouldn’t look for Synon to go much farther than Friday morning’s session, but he could pick up a couple of valuable team points in the process
Lavion Mayes (33-2 on the season) was awarded the #3 seed in the 141 pound bracket and I have to admit I was a little surprised at that. I always stray toward optimism and I was hoping he would be #6. The important part for Mayes though is that he is on the complete opposite side of the backet as #1 seed (and likely Hodge winner) Logan Stieber. Drawing opposite of Steiber gives Mayes a clearer path to the final if he comes out and wrestles with conviction for three straight days. When I looked at Mayes’ season it became a little more clear why he might have been given that #3 seed as he is 8-2 against the top 16 seeded wrestlers and 14-2 overall against the field. Mayes is largely untested against the top tier of his weight class though and it will be very interesting to see him in a potential quarterfinal matchup with #6 seed Nick Dardanes. First, though, Mayes will have to get through Joseph Spisak of UVA and the winner of Jesse Thielke and #14 Dean Heil.
I feel pretty confident in Mayes getting by those two matches and making the quarterfinals where a lot will depend on who is waiting for him there. It’s easy to say that Dardanes will cruise to the quarters, but to get there he will probably have to go through a tough #11 seed by the name of Chris Mecate. Regardless of who makes it to the quarterfinals, if Mayes does get by his first two opponents like he should it will be a big test for him. I’m not sure Mayes has it in him to break through to be the sacrificial lamb to Stieber in the finals unless #2 seed Mitchell Port gets upset along the way, but in the end I do see a very solid All-American performance for the Tigers at this weight class. I think we’ll see a top 6, possibly top-4 finish here
Drake Houdashelt (32-1) is the second Tiger to earn a #1 seed in this tournament and I have to admit I was a little surprised at this one as well. I pegged Drake for the #2 seed as defending national champion Jason Tsirtis went out and did what he needed to do and won the Big 10 championship. Alas, the committee opted to give Houda the top seed for the second year in a row and hopefully Drake can come through. As is the case when you earn such a high seed Houdashelt should have the opportunity to pick up critical bonus points in his early matches. His first round opponent will have already wrestled in the pigtail match so it would be almost disappointing to see anything less than a major decision there. Houdashelt beat potential second round opponent #16 Mike Racciato 11-7 at the Southern Scuffle and did not face Racciato’s opponent Bradon Nelson.
Waiting in the quarterfinals could be another Mizzou/Old Dominion matchup and #8 seed Alexander Richardson. If this happens it would be the SEVENTH time these two have squared off in the last two years. Houdashelt is 6-0 in those matches but count me as one who doesn’t want to roll the dice there a 7th time if possible. On Houdashelt’s side of the bracket is #4 seed Branden Sorensen who you may recall lost to Drake 2-1 in the Natioinal Duals finals on a dominant riding performance. All in all I think the road is relatively clear for Houdashelt to pick up bonus points early and wrestle himself into the final.
Joey LaVallee (22-11) ends our preview of the lower weights for Mizzou. LaVallee was awarded the #9 seed in this tournament which was a tough draw for him. He may have been a bit lucky to get that though as Joey only went 2-8 against the seeded 16 wrestlers in this weight class. Regardless, the best we as fans could probably hope for is for LaVallee to pick up two wins on the top half of the bracket before losing, probably big, to Isiah Martinez in the quarterfinals. Before he gets even that far though he’ll probably have to go through John Boyle who beat LaVallee 3-2 in a Dual just last month. Before he even gets to (potentially) Boyle though he has to knock off his first round opponent Nick Brascetta who is ranked 6th in the country by Intermat.
This brings up a very common theme through this tournament as a whole as Brascetta is a high quality wrestler who was hurt for much of the year. It seems that the committee who created the bracket really came down harsh on guys who were hurt for much of the year and as such did not have much resume to go off of. That’s why Delgado wasn’t seeded at 125 and it’s why Brascetta didn’t get a seed here. I’m not sure if it’s right, wrong, or indifferent but it is certainly a trend that was put out there this year.
Anyway, back to LaVallee. I do not see him picking up any team bonus points as long as he is wrestling in the championship bracket as he has a very tough road to hoe. I believe Beef said before the MAC tournament that LaVallee could be the biggest wildcard at nationals and looking over this bracket I believe that is exactly the case. Nothing from a first round loss and only a win or two in wrestlebacks to a mid All-American (5th/6th) finish would surprise me.