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2015 NCAA Wrestling Wrestling Championships: 197-pound preview, picks

A weight-by-weight breakdown of the 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championships.

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 NCAA Championships begin Thursday and Illinois coach Jim Heffernan is taking his entire lineup to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. It's the first time since 2006 the Illini have sent a full 10-man lineup.

Illinois' Jeff Koepke (20-15) draws No. 16 Elliot Riddick (18-11) of Lehigh in the opening round.

[MORE: 2015 NCAA Division I Brackets]

Favorites

Missouri's J'den Cox stunned top-seed Nick Heflin of Ohio State as a true freshman last year to claim his first national title. Cox is undefeated this season, including five bouts at heavyweight. His most recent big win came in the NWCA duals final when he topped Iowa's Nathan Burak, 4-3.

Iowa State's two-time All-American Kyven Gadson posses the biggest threat on the opposite side. Gadson's only loss this season came against Nebraska's Spencer Johnson at the Souther Scuffle. The Cyclone wrestler went to claim the Las Vegas Invitational and his third Big 12 championship. He holds victories against Ohio State's freshman Kyle Synder and Minnesota's Scott Schiller this season.

Contenders

Penn State's Morgan McInstosh defeated Synder for his first Big Ten championship, but fell Synder in dual season. McInstosh won two matches against Minnesota's Scott Schiller and holds a win against Burak. Returning All-American and No. 10 Conner Hartmann of Duke posses the biggest threat to McInstosh making the semifinals.

Synder is the wild card amongst the veterans in this weight class with wins over McIntosh and Schiller this season. Schiller claimed third place at Big Tens, but has two top six finishes to his name at NCAAs.

How about Illinois' guy?

Koepke did not wrestle Riddick in the Illinois-Lehigh dual in November. Koepke started and ended his day at Big Tens with losses to Michigan's Max Huntley for sixth place, but continually has shown improvement. He's split two meetings with Wisconsin's Timmy McCall. Koepke feeds into Cox where he would be sent to the consolation round.

Pick: Gadson

Darkhorse: Hartmann

Illinois finish: 1-2. Koepke wins the opening round before falling to Cox and being knocked out of the tournament Virginia's Zach Nye.

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