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2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Preview: 197 Pounds

Ben Darmstadt, Kollin Moore, Jared Haught

Middle and right 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: 125133141149157165174, 184, 285

197

Conference Champions

ACC – Jared Haught (Virginia Tech)

Big Ten – Kollin Moore (Ohio State)

Big 12 – Nate Rotert (South Dakota State)

EIWA – Ben Darmstadt (Cornell)

EWL – Dustin Conti (Clarion)

MAC – Willie Miklus (Missouri)

Pac-12 – Corey Griego (Oregon State)

SoCon – Scottie Boykin (Chattanooga)

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

1: 10 AAs, 7 finalists, 4 champions

2: 10 AAs, 9 finalists, 4 champions

3: 9 AAs, 1 finalist, 1 champion

4: 9 AAs, 3 finalists, 1 champion

5: 8 AAs

6: 7 AAs

7: 4 AAs

8: 4 AAs

9: 2 AAs

10: 5 AAs

11: 3 AAs

12: 2 AAs

13: 0 AAs

14: 1 AA

15: 0 AAs

16: 0 AAs

US: 6 AAs

Returning All-Americans

Kollin Moore (Ohio State) – 3rd in 2017

Jared Haught (Virginia Tech) – 4th in 2017, 6th in 2016

Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State) – 6th in 2017

Willie Miklus (Missouri) – 6th at 184 in 2016, 7th at 184 in 2015

Who can win?

As this season began, Kollin Moore (Ohio State) was a heavy favorite after finishing third in 2017 only dropping matches to the two seniors who wrestled in the NCAA finals. Then, as so often happens, some crazy stuff went down, the 197 rankings became an impossible mess of conflicting results, and the title race opened up to include a wide array of hopefuls. However, after beating Shakur Rasheed (Penn State) for the Big Ten title, Moore finds himself right back where we all expected he would be in Cleveland, on the top line. His two late-season losses, first to Anthony Cassar (Penn State), who will not wrestle here, then to Michael Macchiavello (NC State) seemed to be confirmation of what the eye test had shown all season, that the Buckeye wasn’t quite right. Whether due to nagging injuries or the weight cut, Moore has not had his usual gas tank as often this season, which is an issue when you set the sort of crushing pace he does. The sophomore is still very good, but he has opened the door instead of lapping the field.

Moore’s seed was not without controversy as Ben Darmstadt (Cornell) went 31-1, avenged his November loss to Frank Mattiace (Penn) with two major decisions late in the season, owns a 9-0 win over Willie Miklus (Missouri), and a win over Rasheed as well. Many thought the Big Red freshman should have been the one, but it appears Moore’s tougher schedule eventually carried the day. Still, the two seed is wrestling as well as anyone and can win matches many different ways, a skill that can come in handy at this tournament. Darmstadt has proven capable of riding and turning tough opponents and his assassin can end a bout at any given moment. We haven’t seen Ben against Moore or Jared Haught (Virginia Tech) yet. If we do, all eyes will be on that one. Darmstadt should see Haught in the semis if the seeds hold.

While those two may well make the finals, the chaos that enveloped this weight class during the regular season suggests it might not be that simple. Macchiavello has two close losses to Haught over the last month and fell to Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State) this year as well. However, if he beats Rasheed and Moore handles Weigel in the quarters, he’ll have a semi where, even though he is the underdog, he’ll have the last win over his opponent. With Haught on the other side and having to deal with his own roadblocks, the Wolfpack senior could win a title without having to avenge any of his losses this season. Haught lost by fall to Miklus early in the season but was winning the match comfortably and attacking in search of bonus points when the Tiger put him on his back. The Hokie has lost by fall to Moore the last two times they’ve wrestled, but it is no guaranty that, should he reach the final, the Buckeye will be in his way.

Rasheed has been an incredible story this season, starting out third-string, then doing so well that he forced his way into the lineup over a guy who beat Moore and had few losses himself. His cradle is dangerous, giving him a chance against anyone. After wrestling last year at 174, Rasheed isn’t cutting much, if any, weight which is something to consider in the quarter-final round when he is slated to face Macchiavello. I don’t know how the story ends for the Penn State junior, but a storybook title isn’t out of the question.

Upset special

The 16-seed falling isn’t much of an upset, but Patrick Brucki (Princeton) is a tough draw for Christian Brunner (Purdue) right off the bat Dan Chaid (North Carolina) will have Stephen Loiseau’s (Drexel) undivided attention as well. Cash Wilcke (Iowa) has gone from ranked too high due to circumstance to being too low and underrated. Still, Eric Schultz (Nebraska) is exactly the sort of guy that no one wants to face in Cleveland. The Cornhusker is extremely difficult to score on and has stayed tight with some of the best in the weight. He and the Hawkeye have not met, but if Wilcke’s confidence is a little dented, he could fall early. Willie Miklus (Missouri) seems capable of dumping a match at any time, though he has a strong history of performing at the NCAA tournament. He beat his first-round opponent, Jacob Holschlag (Northern Iowa), 8-4, last month, but keep an eye on that match early. Chris Weiler (Lehigh) has won several big matches this season and wrestled an 11-8 classic against Scottie Boykin (Chattanooga) at the Scuffle. Look for the rematch to be similarly competitive.

With as much anarchy as this weight has seen, there might not be much in the way of round two upsets. The 8/9 doesn’t count, though I like Weigel there. Miklus will again be one to watch as he squares off with the Pac-12 champ Corey Griego (Oregon State). Miklus could control that match or he could get upset. Griego is solid and has earned his 11 seed. He has also won 10 matches in a row heading to Cleveland. Beyond that, the Weiler/Boykin winner should push Mattiace, though I like the Penn rep to reach the quarters.

The race for the top eight

There may be some Missouri fans offended that I didn’t include Miklus in the who can win section. While I think he can wrestle with anyone in this weight, I don’t think he can win three consecutive matches against the highest level of competition. Even assuming he reaches the quarters safely, it is hard to envision Willie beating Haught, Darmstadt, then Moore, Macchiavello, or Rasheed in succession. Throughout his entire career, Miklus has been vulnerable to taking weird losses. While his history at this tournament is good, his finishes were sixth and seventh, which means he took five losses overall. He was unseeded and number 14 respectively which leads to his reputation. Why was he seeded so poorly? Weird losses.

Mattiace lost a heartbreaker to Wilcke in the consolations a year ago during which he gave up an escape off a restart in tie-breakers to keep the match going, then was penalized for a third false start during the second sudden victory to lose the match. This was out of character for the Penn 197 who is typically tough to get away from and excels in close matches. If he beats the Boykin/Weiler winner and loses to Darmstadt, who he beat in November, but hasn’t been close to since, Frank should see Loiseau, Jeric Kasunic (American), or Jacob Holschlag (Northern Iowa) in the round of 12. That match may again come down to the small details which Mattiace will be anxious to prove he can get right this time around.

The loser of the 7/10 match will once again have a difficult road to becoming an All-American. They’ll likely be tested by the Kyle Conel (Kent State)/Hunter Ritter (Wisconsin) winner, then face Matt Williams (CSU Bakersfield) or the Brunner/Brucki loser. That is all to earn a shot at what should be the Macchiavello/Rasheed loser. I can’t see that ending well. If Miklus holds serve early, the 8/9 match will be important as well. The winner projects to see the Griego/Wilcke winner in the round of 12, especially useful to Weigel as he handled the Hawkeye earlier this season. The loser will probably have to battle Jake Smith (West Virginia), who just beat the Cowboy at Big 12s, Brucki or Brunner just to get a look at the Haught/Miklus loser in the blood round. Some fans dismiss the importance of those closely seeded matches early in the tournament feeling that it will all be settled in the consolations. While upsets can drastically alter each path, if seeds hold, winning in the round of 16 can make all the difference.

As mentioned, Brucki and Weiler have bracket buster potential, though the Princeton freshman’s proximity to Moore hurts. As wild as 197 has been at the top, the first six seeds seem to have separated themselves which makes anyone coming from way back difficult to envision. However, if one of the big six falls unexpectedly, it could open up that section of the bracket.

Team race implications

This weight could decide the national team title. All season, Ohio State expected Moore to be a champion with a fair amount of bonus points. Despite his recent stumbles, that possibility is still there for the taking. The Nittany Lions have changed starters a few times but always expected big things from whoever ended up in the spot. I don’t see Rasheed as a true title contender, really, but then again I didn’t expect him to be where he is and he has consistently proven his doubters wrong. If Shakur ends up in the finals, not only will it be a boost for his team, it will mean Moore is not scoring top two points. Under those conditions, I have a hard time seeing anyone but Cael Sanderson accepting the championship team trophy after the tournament. If the proceedings go a little more according to seed and Rasheed ends up on the back, he could score an extra pin or two as he wrestles back. A top-four finish in that scenario would be a positive and as long as Shakur is in the top-six, Penn State will get what they need from this weight. If Moore falls out of the top three it will be shocking and damage the Buckeyes’ hopes.

This could be a key weight in the battle for third as well, though Kevin Beazley having to withdraw due to injury means the Wolverines won’t have a chance to score. This is one of the few weights where Missouri could far out-perform their seed because Miklus is capable of beating anyone. However, I just don’t see it happening. I also don’t expect him to miss the podium. If he is in the fifth-place match, the Tigers stay in the mix. Weigel and Wilcke could both over-perform, though if the early rounds go as I suspect they will, they’ll be on the same stretch of the consolation bracket, meaning only one can All-American. Weigel could, like Miklus, beat just about anyone in the field with his ability on top and much improved neutral game. Moore majored him last year in St. Louis, but neither man is quite the same. If the Cowboy shakes off some late-season struggles and goes off, John Smith might be collecting a team trophy Saturday night. If Wilcke wins one more match than he did last year, it will be a massive step forward for Iowa.

Fantasy analysis

Before the season, Moore looked like he might be a viable number one in any format, but something is wrong. He may still win the title and shouldn’t slip that far in draft formats, but I’d stay away in salary cap games. If Moore and Darmstadt make the finals with the Buckeye prevailing, Darmstadt could still outscore him the way he pins people. The Big Red freshman is a risk/reward pick as he is a little unproven, but that can go either way. His bonus rate makes him intriguing. Haught will be undervalued by a lot of people because he is kind of boring. However, as mentioned above, he was in control against Miklus until a big move and survived Macchiavello twice late in the year. He won’t get a lot of bonus, though. The NC State 197 has already done more than anyone expected after his 27-8 season at 184 last year ended in the round of 12. If you think he can beat Rasheed in the quarters, he might be worth a roll of the dice. You won’t find many four seeds who have beaten the top dog.

Rasheed is another pinner which means bonus could flow your way if he is your selection. That match against Macchiavello scares me a little, but a top-four finish seems likely so he won’t hurt you. Miklus we have discussed at length, but if the other five aren’t an option, he has plenty of upside and he has a lot more value in salary cap formats than Moore. If you’re looking to take a deep shot at 197, Weigel would be worth a look. His health is a bit of a risk, but is one of only three wrestlers in the field who were All-Americans in 2017, he can score bonus when he gets his tilts rolling, and has beaten Macchiavello this season. Not bad for a nine. If you’re playing in a weird format that rewards unseeded wrestlers, I like Brucki to cause some trouble. It is always difficult to call an unseeded guy to finish in the top eight, but he has one of the best chances I see in this tournament.

Predictions

1st – Kollin Moore (Ohio State)

2nd – Jared Haught (Virginia Tech)

3rd – Ben Darmstadt (Cornell)

4th – Shakur Rasheed (Penn State)

5th – Willie Miklus (Missouri)

6th – Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State)

7th – Michael Macchiavello (NC State)

8th – Frank Mattiace (Penn)

Round of 12 – Matt Williams (CSU Bakersfield), Cash Wilcke (Iowa), Jeric Kasunic (American), Nate Rotert (South Dakota State)

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