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2018 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Preview: 285 Pounds

Nick Nevills, Kyle Snyder, Adam Coon

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: 125133141149157165174184, 197

285

Conference Champions

ACC – Jacob Kasper (Duke)

Big Ten – Kyle Snyder (Ohio State)

Big 12 – Derek White (Oklahoma State)

EIWA – Jordan Wood (Lehigh)

EWL – Billy Miller (Edinboro)

MAC – Matt Stencel (Central Michigan)

Pac-12 – Amar Dhesi (Oregon State)

SoCon – Jere Heino (Campbell)

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

1: 10 AAs, 7 finalists, 5 champions

2: 10 AAs, 8 finalists, 5 champions

3: 10 AAs, 1 finalist

4: 6 AAs, 1 finalist

5: 10 AAs, 2 finalists

6: 3 AAs, 1 finalist

7: 7 AAs

8: 5 AAs

9: 6 AAs

10: 4 AAs

11: 2 AAs

12: 0 AAs

13: 0 AAs

14: 0 AAs

15: 0 AAs

16: 0 AAs

US: 7 AAs

Returning All-Americans

Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) – Champion in 2017, Champion in 2016, 2nd at 197 in 2015

Tanner Hall (Arizona State) – 3rd in 2017

Nick Nevills (Penn State) – 5th in 2017

Jacob Kasper (Duke) – 6th in 2017

Adam Coon (Michigan) – 3rd in 2016, 2nd in 2015

Amar Dhesi (Oregon State) – 5th in 2016

Who can win?

The top two at heavyweight have split matches against each other and beaten everyone else this season. Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) and Adam Coon (Michigan), both seniors, seem destined to close out their careers on the Saturday night stage in the rubber match to their season series. The team title could be at stake depending on how the rest of the tournament shakes out. Coon will want to avoid being added to the conversation of best to never win an NCAA title after prior finishes of second and third. Snyder will be looking to become the first heavyweight to win three consecutive Division I titles since Carlton Haselrig (Pitt-Johnstown) won his sixth NCAA crown, three were in D2, in 1989. Kyle kept Nick Gwiazdowski (NC State) from accomplishing that feat when he beat the Wolfpack heavyweight in 2016. Prior to that, it was Gwiazdowski who stopped Tony Nelson’s (Minnesota) quest for a third straight championship in 2014. Now Coon will try to play the role of spoiler and keep the Heselrig Hex alive.

Those who expected Snyder to complete his college career with a third consecutive perfect season can be forgiven for counting on the man who has become known as Captain America. The Buckeye won his first world championship before he stood atop an NCAA podium and has continued to grow his legend ever since. Entering the Michigan dual, Snyder had added Olympic champion to his resume, beat who most considered the best wrestler, pound-for-pound, in the world in Abdulrashid Sadulaev (Russia) to stay world champion and deliver Team USA the men’s freestyle team title, in addition to having won all 35 of his matches as a college heavyweight. Then Coon, the mammoth aerospace engineer, chained together a beautiful sequence to score the only takedown of the match and stunned the two-time defending champion, 3-1. We had seen Snyder lose in international events here and there over the years, but even to a wrestler as good as the Wolverine, this was shocking. More than the takedown was the fact that Snyder, usually an offensive dynamo, didn’t score any of his own.

During the rematch in the Big Ten finals, Coon stretched his streak of not allowing Kyle a takedown to more than 16 minutes of clock time before finally conceding in sudden victory two, thanks to Snyder’s legs just being long enough to stay in bounds. These are the two best wrestlers in the weight and while anything can happen in a wrestling tournament, it seems impossible for both to falter. Barring some sort of fluke occurrence, one of them will win.

Upset special

Some of the best unseeded wrestlers at 285 got matched up with some of the toughest wrestlers in the weight, making a first-round devoid of anarchy possible. Shawn Streck (Purdue) is one exception and he could give EWL champion Billy Miller (Edinboro) a battle. Cory Gilliland-Daniel (North Carolina) seems to get better every time he takes the mat, has lost just two matches since leaving the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, both to 2017 All-Americans, and upended Michael Boykin (NC State) in the ACC tournament. I was ready to pick him to win in round one if he drew a double-digit seed. He did, number 10 Jordan Wood (Lehigh). However, Wood is also wrestling extremely well right now, beating Mike Hughes (Hofstra) to win the EIWA title and might just be the guy to survive the Tar Heel. If Cory does pull the upset, he could be set to make a big run.

Normally, I wouldn’t classify an 8/9 match as an upset, but Derek White (Oklahoma State) has a chance to establish himself as a bonafide All-American contender if he can knock off returning All-American Tanner Hall (Arizona State). White, a bulked up 197 who has put on a lot of quality weight, is 23-2, but he has yet to beat anyone seeded in front of him, getting only one chance, his 6-4 loss in sudden victory two against Sam Stoll (Iowa). The Cowboy seems capable of a podium finish, but he hasn’t proven it on the mat yet. Nick Nevills (Penn State) has shaken off a midseason malaise to earn the three seed. Unfortunately for Nittany Lion fans, he’ll face one of the wrestlers who beat him at the Southern Scuffle if both advance past round one. Michael Boykin (NC State) was the backup for the Wolfpack at that time, but his run to the finals helped him earn the starting job. I like Amar Dhesi’s (Oregon State) chances to do well here, but Mike Hughes (Hofstra) is tough to score on and excellent on top. While Dhesi has adapted to folkstyle well, his freestyle roots still see him win most matches in neutral. If Hughes can stay close, he could stun the Beaver with a ride out or tilt. Wood has a tough opener, then becomes the hunter in round two with a chance to knock off Nathan Butler (Stanford) in what should be an excellent scrap.

The race for the top eight

Behind the top two, there is a strong pack vying for third. Nevills looked like he might be struggling in the middle of the year, but has put whatever was bothering him in the rearview mirror. Jacob Kasper (Duke) is always fun to watch and the former 184 pounder isn’t afraid to square up with anyone. He has a tricky quarter against the much larger Stoll. That match could be fun for a lot of reasons. The Hawkeye’s Greco background means he is as willing to throw as Kasper typically is. The size difference will be a factor as well. Still, mostly due to injuries, has never been an All-American. That match could be his first chance to earn that honor. While Kasper was clear on his desire to face Snyder last year, when he got the chance it didn’t go so well. He’ll still relish another shot, though I expect the result to be similar. The loser of Kasper/Stoll can expect Wood in the round of 12, though Ryan Solomon (Pitt), who left the ACC tournament after going through concussion protocol, could make a run in that section if he is healthy.

That White/Hall match is crucial as the winner is likely up against Hughes or Boykin in the round of 12, while the loser can look for the Nevills/Dhesi loser if that quarterfinal happens. Neither of those matches is a lay-up by any means and White has lost to Hughes this year. Still, the winner will be in better shape without question. Butler and Wood face a similar predicament in their round of 16 battle. The loser is in the difficult position of facing what should be Stoll or Kasper coming off a loss. The 7/10 winner can expect Miller or Youssif Hemida (Maryland). Hall will be hoping that Dhesi beats Hughes because if the Oregon State man does fall victim to the upset, he could face the Sun Devil in the round of 12. Tanner is 1-3 against Dhesi in college, losing each of the last three meetings.

If Gilliland-Daniel does lose in round one, he’ll face the 8/9 loser in round two. However, if he pulls the upset there, he would probably face the 16-seed or an unseeded foe. The junior probably only needs one real upset, either Wood or that second match on the back side, to reach the round of 12. He’ll be a heavy underdog if he gets that far, but who knows? If Cory was able to make the top eight, he’d be the first unseeded 285 to place since 2013. In recent years, heavyweight has been predictable with no one outside the top-10 placing in the last three events and eight of the top nine being All-Americans the past two NCAA DI tournaments. I could see a repeat here as the top-10 looks strong once again. Chaos may be for the lighter guys in Cleveland.

Team race implications

Snyder will be expected to bonus his way into the finals and he could do exactly that. His match against Coon in the finals seems like a toss-up and with the team race expected to be incredibly close, that four points could be crucial. Obviously, anything less than a trip to the finals would be an incredible shock and really hurt the Buckeyes. Nevills is seeded at what seems to be his best case scenario. With his bonus potential limited, he needs to stay as close to third as possible to contribute the expected points. If he slips out of the top-six, Penn State will be in a hole team race wise. Even a loss to Dhesi in the quarters doesn’t rule out a top-four finish.

Michigan needs Coon in the finals and a title would obviously help. Stoll’s best win this season was over Hall in controversial circumstances at Midlands. He has never made it this far healthy so it is fair to question just where he’ll finish. Iowa needs him to be an All-American, but they probably need better than a seventh-place match appearance to challenge for third. If Stoll makes the bronze medal match, bonus for the Hawkeyes. White drawing Hall means we’ll find out about the Cowboy early. If he wins that match, he could be dangerous on the back. If he loses, he’ll have to surprise to earn a top-eight finish. Derek making the podium would be a small boost for Oklahoma State. A finish in the top-six would be a sizable one.

Fantasy analysis

Snyder being the one seed makes for a tough call at 285. Coon is probably 50/50 with the Buckeye now and if he isn’t, it is 51/49 or something similar. The Ohio State 285 will score more bonus, but it is closer than some might think and Coon could flip that if he gets an unexpected fall in the quarters or semis. In short, either guy is a great get in a draft and Coon makes a compelling argument to opt for the cheaper purchase in a salary cap game, even though I still like Snyder to find a way in the end. Nevills lack of bonus and no upside placement wise makes him tough to take. Kasper and Stoll will clash in a hard to predict quarter. If you feel strongly about the outcome you could grab one, but with their ceiling being third, I’d stay away. Dhesi is wrestling great and could well finish third which makes him an appetizing choice at six. Hall has had a lot of trouble with his Pac-12 rivals, Dhesi and Butler, but finished third here last year and has done well against everyone else. If everything goes according to seed, he won’t see one of the other western heavies until a medal match which should make him a decent value selection even with White looming in the second round. Derek is a decent value play as well, even though we don’t know as much about him at this level. He could surprise, but I don’t like the looks of his likely round of 12 draw win or lose against Hall. Wood is another 285 wrestling well and I like the way the bracket sets up for him if he can beat Butler in round two. He is as deep as I would go, though, even as much as I like Daniel. The recent history of heavyweight going mostly chalk isn’t something I’d ignore.

Predictions

1st – Kyle Snyder (Ohio State)

2nd – Adam Coon (Michigan)

3rd – Amar Dhesi (Oregon State)

4th – Nick Nevills (Penn State)

5th – Jacob Kasper (Duke)

6th – Sam Stoll (Iowa)

7th – Mike Hughes (Hofstra)

8th – Nathan Butler (Stanford)

Round of 12 – Jordan Wood (Lehigh), Tanner Hall (Arizona State), Youssif Hemida (Maryland), Derek White (Oklahoma State)

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