Today marks the beginning of the 2011 NCAA Wrestling Championships, to be held at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The tournament will run from today, March 17th to Saturday, March 19th. The location of Philadelphia is not by coincidence. Rather than hold the tournament somewhere in the midwest, where it's sure to appeal to a dedicated audience, the NCAA is trying to expand the presence of collegiate wrestling with an East Coast city of higher population density. It seems regrettable that the premier event in college wrestling cannot be separated from the struggles the sport faces, but as college programs were axed just this week, the attention one gets cannot be appreciated in a vacuum.
There's a lot to unpack here: divisions, returning champs, who was seeded where and which teams hold the strongest upset potential. I won't overload you with details, but I've got you covered in terms of all of the information you could possibly need. Here goes.
Just in case you need some predictions, InterMat's staff has their collection of predictions for the event. Other journalists covering the event offer their predictions as well courtesy TheMat.com.
Thursday, March 17
Session 1 – First Round
Live on ESPN3.com – 11 a.m.
Session 2 – Second Round and Consolation Rounds
Live on ESPN3.com – 6:30 p.m.
Friday, March 18
Session 3 – Quarterfinals and Consolation Rounds
Live on ESPNU HD/ESPN3.com – 10:30 a.m.
Session 4 – Semifinals
Live on ESPNU HD – 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 19
Session 5 – Medal Rounds
Live on ESPNU HD – 11 a.m.
Session 6 – Finals
Live on ESPN HD/ESPN3.com (simulcast) – 7:30 p.m.
There are lots of wrestlers, divisions and teams to keep track of. Let's start with divisions. You can start with this awesome YouTube playlist from the folks at USA Wrestling to help you get started. It's got videos of the press conferences for athletes and coaches, interviews with key wrestlers and more. Absolutely worth a look.
The divisions are deep and the seeding always controversial, so make sure to use these division-by-division breakdowns. The FloWrestling people have kind enough to offer video breakdowns while Mark Palmer explains the top seeding from this year and compares it to last year for each division:
- 125lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 133lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 141lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 149lbs- FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 157lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 165lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 174lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 184lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 197lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
- 285lbs - FloWrestling breakdown - Mark Palmer breakdown
Some of the more notable number one seeds to look out for:
Cam Simaz - the 197lbs beast, although his field is incredibly tough. This Cornell wrestler leads a strong squad, but has his work cut out for him as the other top four seeds in his division are all All-Americans and individual conference champs.
Anthony Robles - an inspiring story, he's the one-legged wrestler who can't be told no. Robles was born with one leg, but hasn't let physical impairment get in his way. His seeding at number one comes with some controversy, but he nevertheless had an unfefeated season at Arizona State University and is something akin to the people's champ.
Jordan Burroughs - just a monster out of Nebraska. He already won the 165lbs national championship in 2009, but had to sit out most of 2010 with a knee injury. He's undefeated this season and is the Big 12 champion. I expect a repeat from him.
Kellen Moore - he's the current Big Ten champion and went undefeated this season at 33-0. His only real threat is Mike Thorn of Minnesota, but he lost to Moore in the Big Ten championship. Moore is the prohibitive favorite here.
I'm also going to keep an eye out for Kyle Dake of Cornell, who had a breakout performance at the national tournament last year taking the 141lbs title as a freshman. He's since moved up to 149lbs and is only seeded fourth (something else that's caused some controversy), but has strong upset potential.
The entire 184lbs division is stacked and the partity at the top is crazy. I won't repeat what the experts I've linked before have stated, but it's worth checking out their analysis about how this entire division could be turned upside down.
Teams to look out for:
Cornell is a deep and well coached squad with Rob Koll at the helm, Tom Brands from Iowa is perennially reliable, Boise State - who is sending ten wrestlers to the tournamet this year - led by Adam Hall at 157lbs and Oklahoma State, with Clayton Foster at 197lbs and Jordan Oliver at 133lbs.
For my money, though, I've got my eye on former NCAA Division I national champion and Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson as he takes his young Penn State team to the big show. They don't have any number one seeds, but that talent is deep. They've also got homefield advantage. The squad lacks experienced in field of many return players, but is incredibly talented and stacks up well across several divisions:
Like Oklahoma State, Penn State brings a high-flying group of youngsters to Philadelphia. Three of head coach Cael Sanderson’s top dogs are rookies but those first-year starters helped PSU to a 17-1-1 dual record.
David Taylor, a Dave Schultz Excellence Award winner as a high school senior in Ohio, has turned in a fabulous first season, going 34-0 at 157 pounds. He’s the three seed behind two undefeated All-Americans.
Redshirt-freshman Ed Ruth (32-1) is the No. 2 seed at 174 pounds. He owns a win against Lewnes. A third rookie, true freshman Andrew Alton (28-8), is the six seed at 141 pounds. Like Taylor, who has 32 bonus-point victories, Alton has been a bonus-point machine with 17 pins and 21 wins by at least major decision.
Two have been there before: 149-pounder Frank Molinaro (28-2) and 133-pounder Andrew Long (15-1). Molinaro, a No. 2 seed, is a two-time All-American at 141 pounds. Long, a transfer from Iowa State, lost in the 125-pound NCAA finals in 2010.
Sanderson also has Quentin Wright (16-6), the Big Ten champ at 184 pounds and All-American two seasons ago, and heavyweight Cameron Wade (28-6), who is seeded ninth.
That's it for now. You can follow me on Twitter for more: @MMANation. We'll be updating this stream with results and analysis from each day. If you've got good insight, videos, photos or something of note to share, please do so.