Oklahoma City, OK (SportsNetwork.com) - Three hundred and thirty NCAA Division I wrestlers from around the nation will converge on the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City this week to determine who will be crowned champions in 10 weight classes.
Three time-defending NCAA Champion Penn State, led by three-time national finalist, David Taylor (165 lbs) and two-time defending National Champion Ed Ruth (184 lbs), will be favored to win its fourth straight team title.
The Nittany Lions will not go unchallenged in the Sooner State, and will be battled by historic favorites Iowa and Oklahoma State, each of which qualified all 10 of their wrestlers for the tournament.
Wrestling will begin on Thursday, March 19 and conclude on Saturday, March 22. The top eight finishers in each class will earn the honor of being named All- Americans.
The 2013 Championships, held in Des Moines, Iowa, showcased the grit and resolve of these tough athletes.
Individual champions were: 125 - Jessie Delgado from University of Illinois (returning as the number one seed), 133 - Logan Steiber from the Ohio State University (returning as the number two seed at 141), 141 - Kendric Maple from Oklahoma University (returning as the number four seed at 149), 149 - Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State, 157 - Derrick St. John from Iowa (returning as the number two seed), 165 - Kyle Dake from Cornell, 174 - Chris Perry of Oklahoma State (returning as the number one seed), 184 - Ed Ruth from Penn State (returning as the number two seed), 197 - Quentin Wright of Penn State and 285 - Tony Nelson from Minnesota (returning as the number one seed).
The brackets have been drawn and exciting matchups await the country's collegiate wrestling fans in 2014.
The following is a preview for each weight class with The Sports Network's favored picks and dark horses.
125 LBS - This weight class is nearly "too close to call." There are three favorites, Jessie Delgado (Illinois), Nico Megaludis (Penn State) and Nahshon Garrett (Cornell), who finished first, second and third at last year's tournament, respectively. Returning national champion Delgado has suffered two losses this year, both to the number three seed and two-time returning national runner-up Megaludis. Based on his two wins over Delgado, The Sports Network is picking Megaludis to break out of the bridesmaid role and win his first NCAA title.
DARK HORSE: Bradley (Ryan) Taylor of Wisconsin. The Badger redshirt freshman is coming off of a strong third-place finish at the Big Ten Tournament that included a dominating win over Iowa's highly regarded Cory Clark. A potential quarterfinal matchup against Garrett could produce one of the bigger upsets of the early sessions of the tournament.
133 LBS - The top two seeds in this weight class, Joe Colon (UNI) and A.J. Schopp (Edinboro) have a combined record of 61-2. Both Colon and Schopp own a win over last year's national finalist Tony Ramos (Iowa), the number three seed. Jon Morrison (Oklahoma State) and Tyler Graff (Wisconsin) round out the top five seeds. Each of these five grapplers has a legitimate shot at the title. The Sports Network sees Ramos avenging his two losses and giving the Iowa Hawkeyes a National Champion at this weight class.
DARK HORSE: Cashe Quiroga (Purdue). Quiroga was a national semi-finalist four years ago and appears to have regained his All-American form. The Boilermaker had a strong third-place showing at the Big Ten Tournament and Quiroga nearly upset Ramos in a tight semifinals.
141 LBS - In a season that has highlighted the parity in Division I wrestling, this weight class bucks the trend. Two-time returning National Champion, Logan Steiber (Ohio State) moves up one-weight class and, despite his number two seed, is the prohibitive favorite to win his third National Championship. Edinboro's undefeated returning national runner-up, Mitchell Port, who is 26-0 received the number one seed in the weight class, followed by Steiber, freshman Zain Retherford (Penn State) and Devin Carter (Virginia Tech), Retherford had a surprising win over Steiber earlier in the season, which Steiber subsequently avenged. The Sports Network expects Steiber's domination to continue and provide the Buckeyes with a 141-pound National Champion.
DARK HORSE: Danny Sabatello (Purdue). Throughout the season, Sabatello has shown a strong ability to wrestle close matches against higher ranked opponents. His draw looks favorable, making a podium appearance for this Stevenson High School-based Boilermaker not out of the question.
149 LBS - As opposed to 141 pounds, this weight class supports the parity in Division I wrestling and has no clear favorite Drake Houdasheldt (Missouri) has earned the top spot with a 34-1 record. However, the bracket also contains top contenders, including the returning 141-pound National Champion Kendrick Maple (Oklahoma), past All-American Nick Dardanes (Minnesota) and Chris Villalonga (Cornell), each of whom could reach the top of the podium. Based upon his recent run, including an EIWA championship, The Sports Network is picking the Big Red's Villalonga to bring home a NCAA title.
DARK HORSE: Eric Grajales (Michigan). Grajales was one of the highest-ranked recruits coming out of high school, but has yet to reach the podium. The Sports Network believes Grajales, who is in his senior season, will finally break through and ultimately find himself as an All-American for the Wolverines.
157 LBS - Despite the presence of reigning National Champion Derek St. John (Iowa), The Sports Network pick at 157 lbs is Nebraska's James Green. Green, who trains with Olympic Gold Medalist and two-time World Champion Jordan Burroughs, has dominated most of his opponents this year, including two wins over St. John. Others who are in the mix for top honors include Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State), Ian Miller (Kent State) and Wisconsin's Isaac Jordan (the only wrestler to defeat Green this year).
DARK HORSE: Nestor Taffur (Boston University). This senior from Bound Brook, New Jersey, who is 35-2 on the season, attempts to become an All-American for BU in what may be the last year for the Terriers' program, which is slated to be cut at the end of the season.
165 LBS - The gap between Penn State's David Taylor and the rest of the field is huge. Taylor, who is arguably the most exciting and dominating wrestler in the tournament, is the prohibitive favorite at this weight class. The three- time national finalist has made easy work of each of the 29 opponents that he faced during the season, and is unlikely to be challenged at this year's tournament. This former Hodge Trophy winner (wrestling's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy) is The Sports Network's choice to win the title.
DARK HORSE: The field. We do not see anybody beating Taylor. A dark horse to receive All-American honors however, is fifteenth-seed Daniel Zilverberg (Minnesota). The Golden Gopher senior is wrestling the best of his career as of late and has a realistic chance to see a top-eight finish.
174 LBS - The parity continues at 174 where there are six wrestlers who have received All-American honors, including past National Champions Chris Perry (Oklahoma State) and Andrew Howe (Oklahoma). The remaining top seeds include National Runner-Up Matt Brown (Penn State), and returning All-Americans Robert Kokesh (Nebraska), Mike Evans (Iowa) and Logan Storely (Minnesota). Despite Perry's recent controversial victory over Howe in the Big 12 Tournament, the Sports Network predicts Howe will earn his second NCAA Championship for the hometown Sooners.
DARK HORSE: 10th-seeded Mike Ottinger (Central Michigan) has a number of strong wins over tough opponents this season. The Pennsylvania-based Chippewa, has a difficult potential quarterfinal matchup with Howe, but could find his way onto the podium in Oklahoma City.
184 LBS - Despite suffering his first loss in three seasons earlier this year, two-time defending NCAA Champion Ed Ruth (Penn State), is The Sports Network's pick to win it all. Ruth has been dominant this year, scoring bonus points in the vast majority of his matches, a run which is expected to continue at this week's tournament. The one possible hiccup for Ruth, is that Cornell freshman Gabe Dean, who unexpectedly defeated Ruth this season (despite being pinned by Ruth in a prior match) is on the same side of the bracket and is expected to meet Ruth in the semifinals. The Sports Network anticipates that Ruth will avenge his loss to Dean, and dispatch undefeated number-one seed Jimmy Sheptock (Maryland) in the finals en route to this third consecutive NCAA Championship.
DARK HORSE: Brown's Ophir Bernstein. The Texas-based Ivy-League grappler, who wrestled at the World Championships for Israel this past summer, has all of the talent needed to finish his junior-year with a high All-American honor.
197 LBS - This is another weight class without a clear favorite. In an interesting seeding choice, the consensus number one ranked wrestler at the conclusion of the regular season, Kyven Gadson (Iowa State) earned only a number five seed. Despite his seed, Gadson, who was an All-American at this weight last year, is The Sports Network pick to bring home the title in Oklahoma City. Gadson will be challenged by number-one seed Nick Hefflin (Ohio State), second-seeded J'Den Cox (Missouri), third-seeded Morgan McIntosh (Penn State) and fourth-seeded Scott Schiller (Minnesota).
DARK HORSE: Richard Perry's (Bloomsburg) impressive 31-1 record was good enough to earn him only a six seed. We think this Husky, who owns a quality win over Oklahoma's seventh-seeded Travis Rutt, has a legitimate chance to bring a 197-pound title to Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.
285 LBS - Two-time reigning NCAA champion Anthony Nelson (Minnesota) is the top seed at heavyweight despite having four losses on the season. In a weight class that contains multiple All-Americans, The Sports Network's choice at 285 pounds is not Nelson, but returning national runner-up and two-time All- American, Michael McMullen (Northwestern). The sixth-seeded McMullen has a win over Nelson this season and has shown the ability to beat each of the high-quality opponents in this incredibly balanced weight class.
DARK HORSE: Connor Medberry (Wisconsin). The Badger sophomore had an impressive 24 wins, while wrestling in the incredibly tough Big Ten Conference that produced eight of the sixteen seeded wrestlers in the weight class. The battle-tested Medberry is capable of upsetting any wrestler in the bracket and should have a fine showing in this week's tournament.