Commentary: Not enough upsets for Hawkeye wrestlers
ST. LOUIS — It's tempting to focus on Iowa's high-profile losses at the NCAA championships for an explanation of the Hawkeyes' third-place finish.
Tony Ramos suffered a painful 4-2 semifinal loss on March 16. Montell Marion and Derek St. John both lost close matches in the finals on March 17, leaving Iowa with just one individual champion.
But those three all finished at least as high as their tournament-opening seeds. What most separated the Hawkeyes from champion Penn State and runner-up Minnesota was Iowa's lack of surprise runs through the tournament.
The Nittany Lions had three top seeds, and all three cruised to titles. But Penn State also had a No. 10 seed and a No. 6 seed reach the finals, and a No. 7 seed earned third place.
The Gophers had three wrestlers finish dramatically higher than their seeding: No. 10 Chris Dardanes placed fourth, No. 7 Dylan Ness finished as a runner-up, and No. 10 Sonny Yohn took fifth.
The only Hawkeye to finish above his seed was the third-seeded Marion, who finished second.
Last season, Grant Gambrall won several upsets to finish in third. This season Gambrall entered the tournament without a seed, and didn't place. Heavyweight Bobby Telford reached the Big Ten finals as a sixth seed on March 17. He couldn't repeat that performance at NCAAs, finishing right where his No. 5 seed said he would.
But a pair of below-seed finishes hurt Iowa even more. Redshirt Mike Evans was a fifth seed, but didn't place after two uninspired early losses. Sophomore Ethen Lofthouse, another fifth seed, placed seventh.
Brands said Evans needed to do a better job responding mentally to his first upset loss rather than get discouraged and lose again.
As the final seconds on Lofthouse's seventh-place match victory ticked away, the sophomore glanced at the clock and backed away from his opponent. Brands glared at Lofthouse for a moment before leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. The sixth-year head coach stood up and walked away as Lofthouse had his hand raised in victory.
"You don't win that way," Brands said. "You don't look at the clock, you don't run. That's why you're seventh instead of where you want to be, maybe."
Iowa needed one of its lower-seeded wrestlers — Telford, Gambrall, Lofthouse, or Evans — to step up and win some unexpected matches. It didn't happen.
Penn State's Nico Megaludis scored a late takedown to secure an upset over Minnesota's Zach Sanders. Megaludis went on to face McDonough in the 125-pound finals. Quentin Wright upset the third- and second-ranked wrestlers at 184 pounds on his way to a finals appearance. Nittany Lion Dylan Alton lost in the quarterfinals, but he came back to win third.
The difference between the seeds of those three and where they finished was 24 team points for Penn State. Minnesota's trio of bracket-busters also gave 24 points to the Gophers.
Marion, St. John, and Ramos all could have found ways to come out on top in their respective losses. But Iowa's bigger problem was that its main competitors for the team title had low seeds sprinting through the tournament. And the Hawkeyes couldn't keep up.
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