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NCAA Wrestling Tournament Preview: Can Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez capture third title?

Martinez would be the first three-time NCAA champion in school history.

2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships

Today marks the beginning of the NCAA Tournament.

No, not that one. The one Illinois is actually in.

Fighting Illini Wrestling finished the regular season with a 9-3 dual meet record (finishing 9th in the final InterMat Wrestling rankings) and managed a respectable sixth place finish at the Big Ten Tournament two weeks ago, with Isaiah Martinez capturing his third conference title in three years.

Illinois has seven wrestlers in the tournament out of the ten weight class, missing out on the 141, 197 and heavyweight classes. Brooks Black was expected to represent Illinois in the heavyweight division, but went 0-2 in the Big Ten Tournament, suffering a concussion in his first wrestleback match.

Of those seven wrestlers, four are seeded, including the 165lb division’s #1 seed, Isaiah Martinez. He carries a 27-0 record this year into the tournament in his third year and his first at 165. If Martinez can win a third title, he will be the first three-time national champion in Illinois wrestling history.

Zane Richards is the #8 seed at 133lb with a 24-5 record. He has a tough bracket, opening up with Michigan’s Stevan Micic and not too far from undefeated Nathan Tomasello of Big Ten champion Ohio State.

Zac Brunson is the 10 seed in a stacked 174lb bracket, entering the tournament at 28-8, while Emery Parker of the 184lb class carries the same record into his bracket as the 11 seed.

At 157lb, Kyle Langenderfer will look to improve on his 23-8 mark in a bracket that includes Penn State’s Jason Nolf, who dealt Isaiah Martinez his only collegiate loss last year.

Travis Piotrowski (18-13) in the 125lb bracket and Eric Barone (10-11) in the 149lb bracket round out the Illini squad for this year’s tournament. Penn State and Ohio State are the favorites for the overall team title.

If you haven’t watched Isaiah Martinez wrestle yet, do yourself a favor and find a way. Hopefully he makes it to the championship round, which will be on ESPN this weekend.