The case for Kelly and Moore

BY CODY GOODWIN | MARCH 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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At the end of the Big Ten Tournament last weekend, eight Iowa wrestlers secured automatic qualifying spots for the NCAA championships, set for March 19-21. The two who did not — Michael Kelly (157) and Nick Moore (165) — went a combined 1-4 in their respective brackets.

As such, if their senior seasons are to continue, it will be because the NCAA grants them at-large bids to the national tournament. Both Kelly and Moore will learn their fates today; each weight’s qualifiers will be announced this afternoon, with the “NCAA Wrestling Selection Show” set to air 5 p.m. on NCAA.com, where the seeds and brackets will be unveiled.

It is fair, on numerous levels, for Iowa fans to be frustrated with both of their performances. Both Kelly and Moore needed to place among the top eight at their respective weight classes to qualify for the NCAAs — or, in simpler terms, each needed to win just one more match than they did to earn an automatic bid.

But there shouldn’t be any worry about today’s announcements, as both Kelly and Moore are in good position to receive at-large selections.

For starters, just 33 wrestlers qualify at each weight for the national tournament. Of those 33, anywhere from 24 to 28, depending on the weight, punched their ticket through their respective conference or qualifying tournaments.

To judge both Kelly’s and Moore’s odds at making the field of 33 at 157 and 165, we must first look at the NCAA RPI rankings, which were released Feb. 27. Kelly ranked fifth at 157, and Moore ranked 10th at 165.

At 157 pounds, 22 of the 33 ranked wrestlers earned automatic bids, and Kelly was the highest-ranked who did not automatically qualify. Further, Kelly has six wins over guys who are currently qualified and also has another win over Oklahoma State’s Anthony Collica, who ranks 15th.

At 165, just 17 of the 33 ranked wrestlers earned automatic bids, and Moore was the third-highest ranked to not qualify (the two ahead of him, Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer and Iowa State’s Michael Moreno, both competed at the Big 12 Tournament, which was not classified as a qualifying tournament; Dieringer and Moreno rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at the weight).

In the case of Moore, he has just two wins over wrestlers who have qualified, but he owns wins over three other 165-pounders who also failed to qualify, in Penn State’s Garett Hammond (ranked 15th), Minnesota’s Nick Wanzek (18th), and Cal State-Bakersfield’s AJ Fierro (21st).

It helps both of their causes, too, that they won out and placed ninth this weekend at the conference tournament. Though each weight only sent the top eight to the NCAAs, placing ninth means both Kelly and Moore will be the first considered from the Big Ten when the at-larges are divvied out.

The outlook, at the very least, is positive that both Kelly and Moore will receive at-large bids to nationals. It would have been much easier had they just qualified through the Big Ten Tournament — and, for what it’s worth, another win by either wrestler would’ve also broken the tie and given Iowa the outright conference tournament title over Ohio State.

That, of course, might be a telltale sign that Iowa will need all 10 wrestlers to score points if they are to leave the Scottrade Center with their first NCAA team title since 2010. Once today is over, coach Tom Brands should be able to make plans for both Kelly and Moore to join the other eight Hawkeyes in St. Louis.

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa wrestling team.

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