Nine Illinois wrestlers have been awarded a pre-seed for the 2015 Big Ten Wrestling Championships held this weekend in Columbus, Ohio.
Jesse Delgado (125), Zane Richards (133), Steven Rodrigues (141), Isaiah Martinez (157), Jackson Morse (165), Zac Brunson (174), Nikko Reyes (184), Jeff Koepke (197) and Brooks Black (HWT) are all ranked.
It will be another highly contested battle with five of the top seven ranked teams in the country wrestling for the Big Ten crown. Iowa is ranked No. 2 nationally in WIN's tournament rankings. Minnesota is ranked third, Illinois fifth, Ohio State sixth and Penn State seventh, who have won the past four conference titles.
Iowa has won a record 34 tournament titles, including three straight from 2008-10 before Penn State began its run. Illinois is next in line with 17 championships titles.
Wisconsin is ranked 12th, Nebraska 13th, Northwestern 14th and Michigan 15th are also ranked. That's nine teams in the top 15 in the country. And people say football in the Southeastern Conference is tough, ha!
The tournament will feature 14 teams for the first time after Maryland and Rutgers joined this season.
Illinois placed sixth at the 2014 Big Ten Championships, totaling 78.5 points. Delgado, Morse, Richards, Reyes, Brunson return from last year's championships squad. It will be Kyle Langenderfer, Martinez, Koepke and Black's championships weekend debut.
The Illini senior has won the last two Big Ten titles and NCAA titles at 125. Although, he missed the majority of the season because of a shoulder injury he is still a favorite. Delgado was the top-ranked wrestler at 125 all season before he fell to Alan Waters of Missouri at the NWCA National Duals in Iowa City, Iowa. Delgado is seeded second behind Iowa's Thomas Gilman, who beat Delgado the last time they wrestled at the Midlands in 2013.
Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello is the No. 3 seed and has major decision victories over No. 5 seed Penn State's Jordan Conaway and No. 6 seed Michigan's Conor Youtsey. Tomasello has won 10 consecutive matches, earning bonus points in eight. His last lost was to Gilman, a 2-1 decision in January.
Richards is the No. 6 seed after posting a 23-4 overall record, including a 6-3 mark in Big Ten duals. 133 received 12 automatic qualifying bids to the NCAA Championships - one-third of the entire field. The top eight in the field have only lost a combined seven non-conference matches this season. Six of the top 10 wrestlers in the country are in his weight class.
Minnesota's Chris Darndanes, a two-time All-American, is back down to 133 as the top-ranked wrestler. Dardanes was able to comeback from a five-point, first-period deficit against Richards and force overtime before earning a decision in the extra session for the victory in the Illinois-Minnesota dual. The No. 2 seeded Ryan Taylor handled Richards with a technical fall. Taylor has not wrestled Dardanes, No. 4 Johnni DiJulius of Ohio State or No. 5 Cory Clark of Iowa this season.
Rodrigues is the No. 4 seed with a 14-8 record entering the tournament. He went 6-3 against Big Ten opponents, beating his final four conference foes. It won't be easy for Rodrigues, who will have top-seeded Logan Stieber of Ohio State to run into in the semifinals. Stieber is 20-0, including 17 bonus point wins this season. He has lost one match over the past three seasons. And never lost a postseason bout.
The No. 3 seed Nick Dardanes of Minnesota will look to avenge his one-point loss to Stieber earlier this season. Nick Dardanes brother Chris handed Steiber one of his three losses. Anthony Abidin of Nebraska is the No. 2 seed. In Abidin's last match against Stieber he fell 16-1 in 2:06.
Martinez enters the weekend as the top-ranked wrestler at 157. He is 27-0 this season, including a 9-0 mark in Big Ten duals. 20 of his 27 wins have come with bonus points, including a NCAA Division I leading nine technical falls. He has won 34 consecutive matches dating back to last season.
Minnesota senior Dylan Ness, a two-time NCAA runner-up, won a 2013 Big Ten title at 149. He's fallen short the past two seasons at 157 and is currently ranked No. 2 behind Martinez. The two were scheduled to wrestle in the Illinois-Minnesota dual, when Ness and the Golden Gophers each held the top-rank but Ness was unable to wrestle because of the flu. Ness' only loss this season came last weekend against Cornell's Brian Realbuto.
Martinez has beaten seven of the wrestlers in his bracket, including No. 3 seed James Green of Nebraska and No. 5 seed Doug Welch of Purdue. The only wrestlers in the top five he hasn't wrestled are Brian Murphy of Michigan (Glenbard North product) and Ness.
Morse is the No. 5 seed with a career-high 25-4 record, including a 6-3 mark in Big Ten action. Ohio State's Bo Jordan is the top-seeded wrestler, and ranked No. 3 nationally. No. 2 seed Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin defeated Morse by a 5-1 decision in the Big ten regular-season finale. The Jordans are first cousins.
Also in the field is No. 3 seed Taylor Walsh of Indiana, who Morse lost to in the Midlands Final and then two weeks later in the Illinois-Indiana dual. It was the lone loss for the Illini in the dual. Brunson also fell to No. 4 seeded Pierce Harger of Northwestern by a 3-1 decision in dual season.
Brunson is also the No. 5 seed. He boast a 23-4 record and was also 6-3 against Big Ten competition. Brunson is looking at the same bracket he saw last year with the top four seeds: Nebraska's Robert Kokesh, Penn State's Matt Brown, Iowa's Mike Evans and Minnesota's Logan Storley. Last year Kokesh beat Storley 3-2 before he beat Evans 6-4 for the Big Ten title.
Brunson is the only wrestler Kokesh has wrestled since he defeated Brown in the Southern Scuffle Final. Brown won the weight two years ago, when he was the No. 5 seed and Storley was the top-seed. Evans, then the No. 2 seed, beat Illinois' Jordan Blanton, who had upset No. 3 seed Kokesh to make the final. Hopefully, Blanton has given Brunson some pointers.
Reyes is the No. 7 seed after posting a 22-9 mark. He was 5-4 in Big Ten matches and has won three of his last four conference bouts. Reyes last conference loss came against No. 3 seed Rickey Robertson of Wisconsin, a 4-2 decision in sudden victory. He has fallen to top-seeded Sammy Brooks of Iowa (Dec 7-1), No. 4 seed Brett Pfarr of Minnesota (Dec 6-2) and No. 6 seed TJ Dudley of Nebraska (Dec 6-3).
Koepke is the No. 11 seed with a 17-12 record, including a win over then-No. 10 Timmy McCall of Wisconsin in the Big Ten finale at home. It's all about the big boys in this bracket with Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa represented in the top four seeds. Ohio State's freshman Kyle Snyder is the top seed, but he was defeated by No. 4 seed Nathan Burak.
Black is the No. 10 seed with a 15-11 record. He went 4-4 against Big Ten foes and recorded wins against three of his last four conference opponents. Black has lost to top-seeded Connor Medbery of Wisconsin (13-0 MD) and No. 4 seed Bobby Telford of Iowa, but did pull off an upset win against No. 7 seed Spencer Myers of Maryland.
Big Ten Conference Championships
March 7-8, St. John Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Saturday, March 7: 9 a.m. CT - Session I, 6 p.m. CT - Session II
Sunday, March 8: 1 p.m. CT - Session III, 3 p.m. CT - Championship finals
TV: Big Ten Network, Championships only
Live Stream: BTN 2 Go and BTN Plus