This weekend will be a test for many members of the Rutgers wrestling team. The Big Ten Tournament takes place at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Pre-seeds have been released for all 10 weight classes. They are based on an aggregate poll of all 14 Big Ten coaches and on allocation numbers for the NCAA Tournament, beginning on March 21.
If there are eight or fewer automatic qualifying spots per weight class, the first eight are pre-seeded for Big Tens. If there are nine or more qualifying spots, all 14 in the weight class are awarded pre-seeds.
For the No. 18 Scarlet Knights (12-6, 5-4), there are obvious shoe-ins to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. They are No. 1 graduate student 149-pounder Anthony Ashnault and No. 4 junior 133-pounder Nick Suriano. Ashnault is the No. 1 seed while Suriano checks in at No. 3 for the conference tournament.
What this tournament will hinge on for Rutgers is the so-called “bubble wrestlers.” These are the guys that have a chance, but are not guaranteed to qualify for NCAAs.
“I think looking at the pre-seeds and the allocations that were given out, you think you can get 5 or 6 guys there,” said head coach Scott Goodale, at Tuesday's press conference. “And then the other guys, they’re really going to have to upset some people, and that’s a tough thing to do at this tournament.”
Other than Ashnault and Suriano, six wrestlers were awarded pre-seeds. The most notable ones being No. 9 junior 141-pounder Peter Lipari, No. 10 and two-time NCAA qualifier graduate student 157-pounder John Van Brill, No. 9 sophomore 174-pounder Joseph Grello and No. 9 graduate student 184-pounder Nick Gravina.
Gravina, a three-time NCAA Tournament qualifier, has been riddled with the injury bug all season. A pre-season top-20 ranked wrestler, he is just 4-2 this season.
“He’s as healthy as he’s going to be,” Goodale said of Gravina. “We’ve been smart with him. These two weeks (off) have been great for him, he’s trained every single day. He feels like he’s in a good spot and he’s a tough draw, no doubt about it. He can be dangerous.”
Another “bubble” wrestler is Van Brill. Last season, Van Brill qualified for the NCAA Tournament and made it all the way to the blood rounds where he lost in a heartbreaking fashion.
This season, he checks in ranked No. 15 in the country with a 17-11 record, but seeded No. 10 in the Big Ten Tournament.
“If he gets hot he’s dangerous. Last year he got hot,” Goodale said. “He’s capable. He’s ranked 15th in the country and seeded 10th in the Big Ten Tournament. So just goes to show you kind of where the weights at, it’s a pretty good weight but they are all guys that can beat each other."
Of course, there are some Knights who are striving to qualify for their first-ever NCAA Tournament come March 21 in Pittsburgh. There are three in particular who have a real shot, but must wrestle well in the Big Tens to make it .
These guys are Lipari, Grello and junior heavyweight Christian Colucci. Colucci was not awarded a pre-seed, as he fell outside of the top eight at heavyweight.
“Our Big Ten Tournament will depend on those guys,” Goodale said, before mentioning he didn’t mean to put any pressure on them. “If they wrestle out of their minds they can do some great things, place and move on to nationals. If they struggle, from a team score standpoint, we’ll probably struggle.”
If anything, this weekend is about one thing: Getting as many guys to Pittsburgh as possible. Goodale and Rutgers are poised to do just that.
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