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' Kyle Langenderfer (21-13) draws Iowa's Brandon Sorenson (34-4), the No. 4 seed, in the opening round.
[MORE: 2015 NCAA Division I Brackets]
Northwestern's Jason Tsirtsis is back to defend his title. Last year, Tsirtsis was the fifth seed as true freshman and beat Oklahoma State's Josh Kindig, seeded 11th, in his third straight overtime victory. Tsirtsis fell to Iowa's Brandon Sorenson, but would avenge that loss for his second straight Big Ten championship.
Kindig, who faces No. 3 seed David Habat of Edinboro in the opening round, was unable to compete at Big 12 because of injures. The loser of that opening round match gets the consolation pigtail match, and if they win gets the loser of the Ohio State's Hunter Stieber, a unseeded two-time All-American, and No. 14 Cody Ruggirello of Hofstra. Bananas.
Missouri's Drake Houdashelt is the No. 1 seed. Houdashelt was seeded No. 1 last year, but was upset by Tsirtsis in a 2-1 tiebreaker. Houdashelt only defeat came against Kindig in the Southern Scuffle final. He also holds a victory against Sorenson and won his third MAC championship a weekend ago.
Sorenson didn't grab the starting spot in the Hawkeyes lineup until after Midlands. He beat Tsirtsis and Kindig in the same week in January, then won 17 of 18 before falling to Tsirtsis at Big Tens. The one defeat in that 18-match span was a 2-1 loss to Houdashelt at the NWCA Duals.
Habat fell to Tsirtsis in the Midlands final, but rebounded with 13 straight wins to the EWL championship final, where he was upset by Rider's B.J. Clagon. Stieber sat out a portion of the season trying to healthy and appeared to re-injury himself in his match at Big Tens against Langenderfer.
Pac-12 champion, Arizona State's Christian Pagdilao could be an All-American and could even upset Tsirtsis in the quarterfinals. If not, he's got a shot to oust either Stieber or Kindig in consolations. Michigan's Alec Pantleo lost to Langerfer in the third place match at Big Tens, but has a good draw where he could meet one of the injured returning All-Americans in the quarterfinals.
How about Illinois' guy?
Langenderfer has turned it on at right time, winning seven of his last nine, including five straight at Big Tens to earn third place. He's a wrestler that wrestles better against top talent, which was evident with a 6-3 loss to Houdashelt at NWCA Duals and 4-2 loss to Tsirtsis in the opening round of Big Tens.
Langenderfer fell 13-7 to Sorenson in January and will again Thursday but it should be a much closer match. In the consolation bracket, he will likely face and beat Kent State's Michael Depalma. Langerfer will get the loser of the big 209 match, which will feature either Habat/Kindig or Stieber/Ruggirello. Unless it's Stieber; it's hard to see Langenderfer advancing from this point.
Illinois finish: 1-2.
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