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2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Preview: 133 Pounds

Luke Pletcher, Seth Gross, Stevan Micic

Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we’ve got brackets!  The 2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships is rapidly approaching and we now know what everyone’s path to the title looks like.  Before we head for Cleveland, we’re breaking down every weight class in depth.  We’ll start with some facts for reference, break down who can win the weight, who will contend for All-American honors, who needs to be on upset alert in the first two rounds, how this weight will affect the team race, and end with a little analysis for those of you participating in fantasy wrestling contests.  Enjoy and check back later for much more!

Other weights: 125141149157165174, 184197, 285

133

Conference Champions

ACC – Dennis Gustafson (Virginia Tech)

Big Ten – Stevan Micic (Michigan)

Big 12 – Seth Gross (South Dakota State)

EIWA – Scott Parker (Lehigh)

EWL – Korbin Myers (Edinboro)

MAC – John Erneste (Missouri)

Pac-12 – Ali Naser (Arizona State)

SoCon – John Muldoon (SIUE)

Performance by Seed, Last 10 Years (13-16 seed started in 2014)

1: 10 AAs, 6 finalists, 5 champions

2: 10 AAs, 7 finalists, 1 champion

3: 10 AAs, 3 finalists, 2 champions

4: 8 AAs, 2 finalists, 1 champion

5: 8 AAs, 1 finalist

6: 5 AAs

7: 6 AAs

8: 9 AAs

9: 3 AAs

10: 2 AAs

11: 3 AAs

12: 2 AAs

13: 2 AAs, 1 finalist, 1 champion

14: 1 AA

15: 0 AAs

16: 0 AAs

US: 1 AA

Returning All-Americans

Seth Gross (South Dakota State) – 2nd in 2017

Stevan Micic (Michigan) – 4th in 2017

Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State) – 5th in 2017

Scott Parker (Lehigh) – 8th in 2017

Jack Mueller (Virginia) – 6th at 125 in 2017

Who can win?

For many, this list may begin and end with Seth Gross (South Dakota State), the consensus number one all year long who was runner-up to Cory Clark (Iowa) in 2017. Gross has just one loss on the season, but it wasn’t at 133. The junior bumped up with the express purpose of taking on Bryce Meredith (Wyoming), the top-ranked wrestler in the 141-pound weight class after the two had split matches when Gross wrestled the higher class regularly as a freshman. While he didn’t win there, it was a competitive match, something Gross hasn’t seen much of this season. The top seed has just three wins by decision and had not seen a match decided by fewer than five points until his Big 12 finals win over Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State), 8-5. While he has not faced Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) yet, Gross handled Stevan Micic (Michigan) at the All-Star Classic back in November, winning a 7-1 match. He has also beaten Brock, his projected semifinal opponent four consecutive times.

If you’re looking for anyone to upend the favorite, Micic is the man to hitch your wagon to. After losing to Pletcher at the Cliff Keen in December, then suffering a hangover loss to Austin DeSanto (Drexel) in his next bout, Micic has been flawless. The 2017 fourth-place finisher has avenged that loss to Pletcher twice and looks like a different wrestler late in the season. It seems likely that he has narrowed the gap on Gross, but will it be enough? The Wolverine will fave a stiff test in the quarters, likely against either DeSanto or Jack Mueller (Virginia), then a fourth showdown with Pletcher looms in the semis. If he rolls into the finals with ease, an epic battle with Gross could be coming.

Upset special

Chaz Tucker (Cornell) nipped DeSanto at the EIWA tournament and drives opponents crazy with his ability to shutdown neutral offense. He hasn’t yielded a takedown to the prolific Drexel freshman through two meetings and pushed Scott Parker (Lehigh) into the second set of tie-breakers before falling 2-1. Dennis Gustafson (Virginia Tech) is coming off an ACC title and is in fine form, but that is a dangerous round one match. If Tucker pulls the upset, he’ll be in the same situation in round two, likely against Montorie Bridges. John Erneste (Missouri) will face an equally long foe in Tariq Wilson (NC State) which should make for an intriguing bout visually and stylistically. Jason Renteria (Nebraska) has a shot against Bryan Lantry (Buffalo) and Scott Delvecchio (Rutgers) is good enough to take down Korbin Myers (Edinboro).

In round two, Josh Terao (American) will present a completely different look for Erneste if the Tiger survives round one. We’ve seen a Terao make a big run at nationals before and I wouldn’t rule that out here either. Dom Forys (Pitt) is wrestling well right now which makes his scrap with Parker in round two a potential upset special. Mueller over DeSanto would be an upset in seed only as the Virginia man shut him out twice in Vegas before a good battle at the Scuffle was cut short by a DeSanto injury.

The race for the top eight

The top three here have all been solid this season and should take care of business for the most part. Brock can be wild at times, we’ve seen him on his back giving up a six-point move in two of his three losses this season, which always opens the door for an upset, but he has not been beaten by anyone but Gross since mid-December. If the battle between Brock and Erneste in the quarters materializes, it will be a rematch of a crazy dual clash that saw Brock take an early lead, end up on his back in a spladle during the second-period, then battle back in the third to win it. The loser of that one could drop down to face the DeSanto/Mueller loser which means one of the four will almost certainly miss the podium. That makes DeSanto/Mueller even more crucial. Their match at the Scuffle was much more competitive than the ones in Vegas with DeSanto finally able to score and threaten the 2017 All-American at 125 pounds. Mueller hasn’t looked as good lately, but he stepped up big a year ago. Circle that one for Thursday evening.

This weight is incredibly deep when we’re talking about potential All-Americans so don’t be surprised if first-round upsets mess up the bracket and end up making some roads to the top eight much more difficult than others. Wilson is a tall 133 who isn’t afraid to go big and has a win over Mueller this season. He might be on the back side after the opening round, but if he gets going no one is going to want to drop down to face him. Renteria is a large 133 who didn’t make his season debut until January. The true freshman might suffer in the morning sessions, but if he survives to compete Friday night, he can go with just about anyone. Ali Naser (Arizona State) is incredibly good when he is on, but he is maddeningly inconsistent. Few 15 seeds have recent wins over both the number nine and 10 seeds, but Naser does. There is no question that he has the potential to destroy this bracket. He could also go 1-2 and exit without making much noise.

With all of the unseeded wrestlers that are strong enough to do some damage if they wrestle well, predicting who will get back through the consolations is tough. That makes it all the more important that anyone wanting to be an All-American stay top side for as long as possible. Making the quarters won’t be easy, but a loss in the first two rounds could see a competitor have to run a gauntlet of several wrestlers in a row capable of ending their tournament. That isn’t easy for anyone. Someone like DeSanto, with his high motor and incredible gas tank, is well prepared to make such a run if need be, but even for him, one slip up once you’re down there and its over.

Team race implications

Ohio State seems unlikely to get a finalist at 133, but Pletcher has only lost to Micic this season and is rock solid, making a top-four finish a safe bet. What the Buckeye won’t provide are bonus points as Luke hasn’t secured them against any national qualifier level competition this year. That means he needs to finish third, at a minimum, to push the Buckeyes forward. Penn State does have a representative here in Corey Keener. The unseeded senior opens with the 11-seed, Forys, then, if he doesn’t pull the upset, will face the winner of the pigtail between Cam Kelly (Ohio) and Cam Sykora (North Dakota State). 0-2 is a real possibility so any points Keener can contribute would be a bonus. If he makes an unexpected run, it would be a huge boost for Penn State.

Michigan will be counting on early bonus and a finals trip from Micic which seems highly probably considering the way he is wrestling. There are landmines in his quarter, but I like his chances to navigate them. Erneste as a five-seed give Missouri a chance to move up a bit if he can finish that high. He finished the year ninth in our rankings due to a soft schedule, but he is capable. An upset over Brock would be great for the Tigers, bad for the Cowboys. Kaid being on the same side of the bracket as Gross limits his upside, but save for one move, he controlled Erneste when they met last. Oklahoma State needs him in the third-place match and while he doesn’t score as much bonus as you might think, an extra point or two along the way would help. Iowa did not qualify at 133 pounds.

Fantasy analysis

In a draft format, Gross will go high as there are few safer bets to reach the finals and he will score a fair amount of bonus points along the way. Last season he had a tech fall and two major decisions en route to the finals. Even in salary cap games, Gross is a defensible pick because he is so consistent and I’d bet he gets a fall or two this time around. Micic is a much better choice than Pletcher regardless of the format because of the Buckeye’s limited bonus point potential. I really don’t like three through six at this weight because all of them could lose before they are seeded to and I don’t see a lot of upside potential that could warrant such risk. DeSanto is an intriguing choice sitting at seven as he will put up bonus points, he won’t quit if he gets dropped into the consolations and he bombarded Micic the last time they met, 22-10. I don’t expect that again and there is some concern that the true freshman is being figured out, but there are a limited number of wrestlers who can employ the Chaz Tucker game plan effectively.

Mueller is another risk/reward play sitting at 10. That is obscenely low for a returning All-Amercian who has the wins he does this season, but he hasn’t looked as good down the stretch, leading to some damaging losses. The potential exists for another top six finish. With Forys and Terao sitting outside the top 10, this weight gives you plenty of options to take a flyer if you can’t snag one of the top two.

Predictions

1st – Seth Gross (South Dakota State)

2nd – Stevan Micic (Michigan)

3rd – Luke Pletcher (Ohio State)

4th – Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State)

5th – Jack Mueller (Virginia)

6th – John Erneste (Missouri)

7th – Montorie Bridges (Wyoming)

8th – Scott Parker (Lehigh)

Round of 12 – Austin DeSanto (Drexel), Dom Forys (Pitt), Josh Terao (American), Dennis Gustafson (Virginia Tech)

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