On to the postseason for Iowa wrestling; who can win a Big Ten title?

BY J.T. BUGOS | FEBRUARY 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa wrestling team captured its fourth-straight Big Ten dual season title Sunday.

It’s a great achievement, but Tom Brands & Company have never been about regular season accomplishments.

No, Iowa wrestling is about postseason success. So two days after the win against Minnesota that secured their regular-season title, that title means nothing.

The Hawkeye grapplers are focused on Big Tens. Because no Iowa wrestler would be satisfied without an individual Big Ten title, the question is who can bring home a championship on March 6.

An obvious contender is Matt McDonough. Though he was runner-up last year at Big Ten’s, he’s the defending national champion and current No. 1. He might also be wrestling the best out of anyone in the country, with six of his last seven wins by pin.

If McDonough can keep his high-octane pace, there’s not a single person in the country who can beat him, but Northwestern’s Brandon Precin showed an adept ability at both the Midlands Championships (where Precin won by decision) and in dual meet competition (where McDonough won by pin) to slow the pace of the match. I still say McDonough will stand atop the podium.

Montell Marion is the next best bet, but he has to get through both Michigan’s top-ranked Kellen Russell and Minnesota’s Mike Thorn. Marion controlled the match against Russell when they faced off on Feb. 13 but couldn’t close the deal and lost in sudden victory. It was a match he should have won.

Marion did finish off Thorn, who was No. 2 at the time, on Sunday, winning 4-3 after an escape with three seconds left. But Marion’s overall record against Thorn the past two seasons is 2-2, and Thorn has pinned and major-decisioned the Hawkeye (Marion did also score a major decision win last season).

Marion will learn from the Russell and Thorn matches that he needs to be more offensive through the whole match, but he allowed a late-third-period takedown to each. That doesn’t bode well for someone who wants to win a national title.

I’m not quite ready to commit to him fully as a Big Ten champion, but I still see him in the finals and in a very close final match.

After McDonough and Marion comes a lot of unproven postseason commodities that are certainly capable of making a run to the finals.

Only Tyler Graff of Wisconsin (No. 3) is ranked ahead of Tony Ramos (No. 7) at 133 pounds in the Big Ten, but the two haven’t squared off this season. Ramos holds wins over No. 8 Andrew Long of Penn State and Northwestern’s No. 18 Levi Mele, but he also has a loss against Illinois’ No. 9 B.J. Futrell. Ramos is wrestling much better now, though, than he was at Midlands, where he lost to Futrell, but Graff has done exceptionally well this season and his only loss is to Boise State’s No. 2 Andrew Hochstrasser. I see a second-place finish for Ramos.

Luke Lofthouse is possibly the surprise of the season for Iowa, and he should find himself in the finals as well. Lofthouse has three-straight wins against ranked opponents — all from the Big Ten — and just upset then-No. 4 Sonny Yohn of Minnesota on Sunday, 7-4.

Lofthouse has yet to face Wisconsin’s Trevor Brandvold, the highest ranked Big Ten 197-pounder at No. 2, but the elder Lofthouse has proved he can handle highly ranked wrestlers this season.

The final Hawkeye who could and should find himself in the finals is Derek St. John. He is wrestling the best he has all season, and he holds wins over Indiana’s No. 8 Paul Young and Northwestern’s No. 10 Jason Welch. I can’t see him getting past Penn State’s No. 3 freshman phenom David Taylor, but St. John shouldn’t lose by major decision again.

Beyond those five, the Hawkeyes are capable of deep runs from Aaron Janssen, Ethen Lofthouse, Grant Gambrall, and Blake Rasing (Mark Ballweg remains a wild-card because of his weight class bump).

But McDonough, Marion, Ramos, Lofthouse, and St. John are wrestling at an elite level right now that makes it seem likely they will be in the finals of the Big Ten championships and maybe bring individual titles back to Iowa City.

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