Only ten matches remain in this year's NCAA Wrestling Championships: the gold medal finals. After this morning's third to eighth place matches, Minnesota enjoys a narrow lead over second place Penn State, and tonight's finals will determine the team champions.
Minnesota leads Penn State in team points 104 to 101.5, and both teams feature two wrestlers in tonight's finals. All four of these finalist compete in different weight classes, but even with only four relevant matches left to determine the team champions, the number of potential outcomes remain too vast to list here.
Suffice it to say that the theme of tonight's matches will be bonus points. Pins, tech falls (15 point margin of victory) and major decisions (8 point margin of victory) earn teams additional points on top of those received for just winning. The presence or absence of bonus points in tonight's finals will determine the team champion.
As it so happens, All four of Penn State's and Minnesota's finalist possess the potential to earn bonus points. Minnesota's Dylan Ness at 157 pounds is one of the nation's most prolific pinners, and Anthony Nelson at 285 pounds had shown the ability to put high-level opponents on their backs. Meanwhile, Penn State's David Taylor at 165 and Ed Ruth at 184 pounds are perhaps the highest scoring duo in NCAA wrestling history.
In order to keep the finals as interesting as possible, Taylor's finals will take place last, and it will probably be for all the marbles. Taylor's opponent, Oklahoma State's Tyler Caldwell is a fantastic wrestler and should challenge the Penn State senior. Caldwell's Oklahoma State Cowboy wrestling team, like Minnesota and Penn State, remains mathematically alive for the team national title, but the series of events needed to give them the necessary points are highly unlikely to occur.
Below appear the finals matchups in the order they will occur.
Chris Perry (Oklahoma St.) vs Andrew Howe (Oklahoma)
The finals start off with a rare meeting of past national champions. Howe likes to physically punish his opponents on the feet, and what little offense takes place in this match should come from him. Perry is the ultimate grinder, who usually wins through crafty defense, savvy strategy and superb mat wrestling skills. This will be a tense, low-scoring affair. The two wrestlers split matches this year.
Jimmy Sheptock (Maryland) vs Ed Ruth (Penn State)
Sheptock comes in as the top seed, but Ruth remains a heavy favorite in his quest for a third national title. The Penn State senior sometimes coasts through matches, but he should come out tonight very active and motivated, as his team could badly use the bonus points from a pin or major decision.
Nick Heflin (Ohio State) vs J'den Cox (Missouri)
Even though Heflin is currently a fifth year senior, and Cox only a true freshman, expect the Missouri wrestler to have the greater size and strength, and to exploit it to his advantage. This matchup seems to favor Cox, but Heflin has made a career out of defying expectations.
Tony Nelson (Minnesota) vs Nick Gwiazdowski (North Carolina State)
Nelson looks to win a third straight title with his controlled and methodical approach. Gwiazdowski has wrestled Nelson close in the past, but never can seem to score the crucial points he needs on the massive and powerful Minnesota heavyweight. The NC State wrestler enters this match as a very live underdog, and can pull it off if he can finally manage to finish a takedown on Nelson.
Jesse Delgado (Illinois) vs Nahshon Garrett (Cornell)
Delgado comes in as the defending national champ at this weight, and beat Garrett early in the season in a close decision. The Cornell sophomore has not lost since then, however, and has dominated his competition. Garrett has gone 2-0 against Penn State's Nico Megaludis this year, while Delgado split matches with him. In this match expect many contorted scrambles which lead to only a few points
Tyler Graff (Wisconsin) 31-4 vs Tony Ramos (Iowa)
This match features two heavily decorated, battle-tested veterans. Ramos has met Graff on multiple occasions, and in the last two years has always edged him out by a narrow margin. Unfortunately, this bout probably won't generate much in terms of scoring with two opponents so familiar with each other.
Devin Carter (Virginia Tech) vs Logan Stieber (Ohio St.)
Carter achieved the miraculous this year, returning from a totally torn hamstring early in the year, and becoming his school's first ever national finalist. Sadly, his amazing run will probably end tonight. Stieber has never lost to Carter, and in three years has yet to lose in the NCAA tournament. This match should serve as a milestone on Stieber's path to becoming the sport's fourth-ever four time national champ. Expect Stieber to score early and control the match through his amazing riding skills.
Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern) vs Joshua Kindig (Oklahoma St.)
The Big Ten champion, and redshirt freshman Tsirtsis has been on fire of late, and should be considered a narrow favorite over Kindig. The Oklahoma State junior knows he needs to win in order for his team to have a shot at the title, so he will likely adopt a fairly urgent approach to tonight's match.
Dylan Ness (Minnesota) vs Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma St.)
Once again Ness follows an inconsistent regular season with a deep run in the NCAA tournament. The Minnesota junior has the nation's most exciting style, and can pin from literally anywhere. Dieringer also possesses the ability to score big points, and continually attacks with alacrity. This should be the most exciting match of the night.
David Taylor (Penn State) vs Tyler Caldwell (Oklahoma St.)
The finals close with the showdown between David "The Magic Man" Taylor and Tyler Caldwell in a match that will likely determine the team national championship. Taylor comes in as a big favorite, and has beaten Caldwell on a number of occasions in the past couple years, but the Oklahoma State senior has continually narrowed the gap between him and the Penn State phenom. While taylor should prevail, Caldwell has the wrestling chops to make the match very interesting.
The 2014 All-Americans Not Appearing in the Finals
3rd Place - Nicholas Megaludis of Penn St.
4th Place - Joey Dance of Virginia Tech
5th Place - Cory Clark of Iowa
6th Place - Dylan Peters of UNI
7th Place - Darian Cruz of Lehigh
8th Place - Earl Hall of Iowa St.
3rd Place - Joe Colon of UNI
4th Place - Aaron (A.J.) Schopp of Edinboro
5th Place - David Thorn of Minnesota
6th Place - Mason Beckman of Lehigh
7th Place - Joe Roth of Central Mich.
8th Place - Cody Brewer of Oklahoma
3rd Place - Mitchell Port of Edinboro
4th Place - Evan Henderson of North Carolina
5th Place - Zain Retherford of Penn St.
6th Place - Joey Lazor of UNI
7th Place - Stephen Dutton III of Michigan
8th Place - Richard Durso of Frank. & Marsh.
3rd Place - Eric Grajales of Michigan
4th Place - David Habat of Edinboro
5th Place - Drake Houdashelt of Missouri
6th Place - Mitchell Minotti of Lehigh
7th Place - James English of Penn St.
8th Place - Kendric Maple of Oklahoma
3rd Place - James Green of Nebraska
4th Place - Ian Miller of Kent St.
5th Place - Derek St. John of Iowa
6th Place - Brian Realbuto of Cornell
7th Place - Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin
8th Place - Anthony Perrotti of Rutgers
3rd Place - Steven Monk of North Dakota St.
4th Place - Nicholas Sulzer of Virginia
5th Place - Michael Moreno of Iowa St.
6th Place - Turtogtokh Luvsandorj of Citadel
7th Place - Daniel Zilverberg of Minnesota
8th Place - Pierce Harger of Northwestern
3rd Place - Logan Storley of Minnesota
4th Place - Robert Kokesh of Nebraska
5th Place - Matt Brown of Penn St.
6th Place - Michael Evans of Iowa
7th Place - Tyler Wilps of Pittsburgh
8th Place - Bryce Hammond of CSU Bakersfield
3rd Place - Gabriel Dean of Cornell
4th Place - Jack Dechow of Old Dominion
5th Place - Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota
6th Place - Lawrence Thomas of Penn
7th Place - Jacob Swartz of Boise State
8th Place - Ophir Bernstein of Brown
3rd Place - Scott Schiller of Minnesota
4th Place - Kyven Gadson of Iowa St.
5th Place - Conner Hartmann of Duke
6th Place - Chris Penny of Virginia Tech
7th Place - Morgan McIntosh of Penn St.
8th Place - Nathan Burak of Iowa
3rd Place - Michael McMullan of Northwestern
4th Place - Bobby Telford of Iowa
5th Place - Mike McClure of Michigan St.
6th Place - Adam Chalfant of Indiana
7th Place - Jeremy Johnson of Ohio
8th Place - Austin Marsden of Oklahoma St.