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2022 March Matness Preview

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2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Welp, the season flew by fast, and we’re finally here at the pinnacle. The NCAA Wrestling tournament. These are my three favorite days of the year - hundreds of matches, eight mats, dream matchups finally coming to fruition. All in the name of climbing the podium for yourself and for your team. 330 of the best wrestlers in the country will flood to Detroit - 80 will leave as All-Americans, and 10 as National Champions. There is no greater illustration of the thrill & agony of sport than what you will witness at March Matness. Competition does not get more personal than wrestling and you can feel the weight of that at this tournament.

Pat Popolizio will look to cap his tenth season - which included a 13-1 dual record, an ACC Dual Championship, and his fourth straight ACC Tournament title - with another historic performance at NCAAs. The Pack was one of three teams in the entire country to qualify all ten of their wrestlers for the tournament, and are poised to bring home a team trophy, the 2nd in school history. There is little doubt that the title contenders are limited to Penn State, Iowa, & Michigan, but NC State is possibly the favorite at this point to snag that fourth and final spot on the team podium.

Brackets were released last week and as expected, some of the Pack’s top dogs are in power positions to make a deep run at their weight. Tariq Wilson, Ed Scott, and the Brothers of Destruction all earned top-5 seeds and will be counted on to deliver big points in the team race.

All of the Pack’s seeds are below:

  • 125: Camacho #14
  • 133: Orine #15
  • 141: Jack #18
  • 149: Tariq #2
  • 157: Scott #4
  • 165: Bullard #21
  • 174: H. Hidlay #4
  • 184: T. Hidlay #3
  • 197: Trumble #15
  • 285: Houghton #21

At 125, Camacho draws in as the 14-seed. Initial thoughts are that this is one dangerous 14-seed, but his path isn’t doing him any favors. He will start out with a tough and familiar opponent, #19 Joey Prata of Oklahoma. These two met a couple years ago when Prata was still at Virginia Tech. If Jakob can win that matchup again, he will be rewarded with #3 Pat Glory of Princeton, who is a title contender and also ducked Camacho during the Princeton dual. A win here would be huge, and put Jakob in a great position to finish on the podium. A loss puts him three additional wins away from All-American status, though I don’t hate his likely path of #20 Gutierrez, #11 Kaylor, and #8 McKee. As long as the bracket doesn’t blow up too badly, I think Jakob has what it takes to place, regardless of the Glory result. And if we have hopes of a top-4 finish as a team, we will need someone like Camacho to contribute alongside our Big 4.

Orine and Jack have both been put in similar situations in their brackets: the 15-18 matchup. Orine is the 15-seed at 133 & Jack the 18-seed at 141, and both will have Tarheel opponents that they just beat at ACCs. A win for either puts them in a Round 2 match with the 2-seed, which for Orine would mean returning NCAA runner-up Daton Fix, and for Jack returning NCAA runner-up Jaydin Eierman. Neither will be given much of a shot, though RJ did have that controversial match with Eierman in the Iowa dual earlier this year, and rumor has it the Hawkeye is battling through some pretty serious knee issues. This could be an opportunity for little brother Ryan to follow the Jack family tradition of placing at NCAAs as a freshman, established by older brother Kevin back in 2015. As for Orine, I actually think a first-round loss bodes better for his podium hopes. A loss in Round 2 would likely send him to a consolation path through the loser of the #4 Korbin Myers - #5 Austin Desanto quarterfinal. If he drops his first match, he would stand a much better chance against #9 Colaiocco and #6 Ragusin in my opinion.

At 149, Tariq’s undefeated season has earned him the 2-seed and most importantly, opposite side of the bracket as two-time NCAA Champ, #1 Yianni Diakomihalis. I actually love Tariq’s draw here. No doubt he will face stiff competition in #7 Josh Heil/#10 Ridge Lovett and #3 Austin Gomez, the Big Ten champ, but I see those as very winnable matches for The Freak. My two biggest concerns were #4 Sammy Sasso and the aforementioned Yianni D, and they both ended up on the other side. I think Tariq makes the finals where he will take on the Cornell superstar, and from there he will let it fly as he always does in March. Good things tend to happen for Tariq at this tournament - let’s see where it goes this time. But no doubt, he will be getting us big team points.

For his first NCAA tournament, freshman Ed Scott has earned the 4-seed off the back of his ACC title. Similar to 149, I also love Ed’s draw. I think he has a very good shot at making the quarterfinals where he would see a guy he has already beaten this year in #5 Quincy Monday. A win there guarantees him AA status and puts him in the semis against defending NCAA Champ, #1 David Carr. Carr is a beast and certainly the favorite, but I’m curious to see how Ed Scott matches up with him. My gut is telling me, pretty well. Ed is strong, relentless, and in-your-face. Like Monday, Carr loves to attack and is a great athlete, but if Ed can slow him down, and pull him up out of his low attacks, we may see an upset. It would be sweet revenge on the guy who took out Hayden in the semis last year.

Thomas Bullard has his work cut out for him if he wants to match his brother Daniel’s All-American placement from last year. He has returning AA, #12 Zach Hartman in his opening match. If he wins, he will likely be rewarded with last year’s NCAA Champ, #5 Shane Griffith of Stanford. Much like Orine, I actually think a loss first round would result in a better path to the podium for Thomas than losing second round, but you can bet this hasn’t even crossed his mind. He is only looking to win every match he competes in, and he has the potential to make that happen, we just need to see him put it together. We haven’t really seen that All-American caliber from Bullard yet this year, but a guy who has career wins over guys like David McFadden, Ethan Smith, & Jake Wentzel clearly has the ability to make a run. A match with Griffith is actually interesting, as they both have similar strengths. If Bullard can win an important scramble or two, I could see an upset in the cards. I’m not counting on points from Thomas in his final ride, but if he could channel some of his 2020 self into this tournament, we could be in business.

At 174, Hayden Hidlay was given the 4-seed and possibly the toughest draw of all of our guys. His path to the finals would be #29 Nivison, #13 Finesilver, #5 Kemerer, and #1 Starocci. Right away in Round 2, Hayden sees a familiar and tough opponent in Duke’s Finesilver. If he makes it past him, he gets his high school nemesis Michael Kemerer, who is a returning NCAA finalist. Kemerer is without a doubt one of the toughest guys in this weight and he has never lost to Hayden, but with the status of KemDawg’s shoulder injury in question, we really don’t know what we’re gonna get. If the Mug Dog can make it past the Hawkeye, he will get #1 Carter Starocci of Penn State. Hayden will have secured his fifth All-American status by that point, but I actually think Hayden matches up against the defending champ better than anyone at the weight. A lot will have to go right and the margins are very small, but if there’s anyone I trust to get this done, it’s HH. I think stock is down on Hayden right now because of the Lautt and Mekhi losses. It’s so unusual to see any Hidlay rack up two losses in such quick succession, but considering the circumstances, I’m not flinching. Hayden can beat anyone in this bracket and I think he does.

Our second Brother of Destruction earned the 3-seed at 184, despite being the only undefeated conference champ at the weight. Unsurprisingly, the two Big Ten guys got the top-2 seeds. This puts Trent on the same side as his NCAA Finals opponent from last year, #2 Aaron Brooks. I don’t see anyone stopping Trent from making it to that semifinal showdown, though I could definitely see Hunter Bolen giving Brooks issues if they were to meet in Round 2. I think Trent bonuses his first three opponents and then takes out Brooks for revenge from the abysmal officiating in last year’s Final.

This would likely give us a Hidlay-Amine final, which you can sign me up for all day. The two have never met in college, but did have one match in freestyle at the RTC Cup in December 2020 where Trent won, 4-3. Since then, the Hoagie Boy has continually grown leaps and bounds and I just don’t see anyone outside of Brooks stopping him this year.

At 197, Isaac Trumble gets the 15-seed. In his first match, he will face the true Princeton starter, #18 Luke Stout. Trumble did not see Stout in the dual, but rather his backup Aidan Conner, who he lost to and is probably responsible for Trumble’s low seed. A win there puts him in a second-round match against #2 Stephen Buchanan of Wyoming, which I think we are all salivating over. This is a very winnable 2-15 matchup and a good opportunity for Trumble to steal that favorable path from Buchanan. If he can’t capitalize that will leave him with a tough backside run through some familiar ACC opponents like Aiello and Bonaccorsi to place. We all know Isaac’s strengths at this point, and I think wrestling new opponents who haven’t already gotten the feel will be a huge advantage for him. He is so tough to takedown and a hammer on top - those are ingredients for a dangerous March opponent.

Heavyweight is one of the deepest weight classes in this tournament, so Tyrie Houghton will have a real challenge ahead of him as the 21-seed. His first-round match against #12 Lance is winnable, but not one I’m favoring him in. Even so, if he wins his next opponent is undefeated 5-seed Wyatt Hendrickson of Air Force, who won the Big 12 title two weeks ago. It’s looking like a consolation run is what it’ll take for Houghton to sneak onto the podium, and his path isn’t too bad - all winnable matches with the scariest likely being #9 Davison of Northwestern in the Blood Round. Now if Tyrie places at this insane weight I will be mightily impressed, but we’ve seen crazier things happen. Realistically, however, I would be very happy with a nice 2-2 showing out of the NC native. We are certainly not counting on the big fella for many points, so whatever he gets us is gravy.

In all, I think this team has a very real shot at a team trophy. But for that to happen, we will need one of two things: 1) our big dogs (Tariq, Ed, Hayden, Trent) must hold their seeds and we need at least two in the Finals or 2) we will need some All-American help from an unexpected source (Camacho, Orine, Jack, Bullard, Trumble). If we get neither, we have no shot at a team trophy. If we get both, we will certainly be top-4 and could make a push for 3rd.

I love that we have all ten of our guys qualified, it keeps our options open. We have a high degree of variance but I think it is mainly upside, and based on our ACC performance it looks like we’re peaking for the right time of the season.

My Champion & Finals picks are below. Comment yours!

  • 125: Vito Arujau (Cornell) over Nick Suriano (Michigan)
  • 133: Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) over Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State)
  • 141: Sebastian Rivera (Rutgers) over Nick Lee (Penn State)
  • 149: Yianni Diakomihalis (Cornell) over Tariq Wilson (NC State)
  • 157: Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) over David Carr (Iowa State)
  • 165: Keegan O’Toole (Missouri) over Evan Wick (Cal Poly)
  • 174: Hayden Hidlay (NC State) over Mekhi Lewis (Virginia Tech)
  • 184: Trent Hidlay (NC State) over Myles Amine (Michigan)
  • 197: Max Dean (Penn State) over Eric Schultz (Nebraska)
  • 285: Gable Steveson (Minnesota) over Mason Parris (Michigan)

Hidlaymania is sweeping Detroit! The Brothers of Destruction will go back-to-back at 174 & 184 to become the story of the tournament. They will have to take out their biggest competition - the Penn State National Champion duo, Starocci and Brooks - in their semifinal matches, but I fully believe they are going to get it done. One last laugh for the PA boys who never got an offer from Cael Sanderson and instead blessed us with their talents in Raleigh.

This, along with Tariq making the finals and AA contenders in Camacho, Scott, and Trumble, should be more than enough for a team trophy, which would be just the third in ACC history.

Action begins on Thursday morning at 12PM and will run through the Finals at 7PM on Saturday. All mat streams will be available on ESPN and the PackWrestle Twitter is usually very good about tweeting out mat assignments.

I will be posting updates when I can on the Open Thread, but the best way to make sure you don’t miss anything is just to take the days off of work and plant yourself in front of three TVs with the mat streams like me - there is no guarantee that our guys will be shown on the main ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU broadcasts.

I hope you all at least tune-in for the Finals on Saturday night, where we’ll hopefully have a few guys to cheer on. Go Pack!

Poll

How many All-Americans will NC State get?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    1-2
    (3 votes)
  • 47%
    3-4
    (29 votes)
  • 31%
    5-6
    (19 votes)
  • 16%
    7+
    (10 votes)
61 votes total Vote Now