BIG TEN TOURNAMENT AT WILLIAMS ARENA
Saturday, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., preliminary matches, quarterfinals, semifinals and wrestlebacks. Sunday, noon, consolation semifinals and seventh-place matches; 3 p.m., championship, third-place and fifth-place matches.
Sunday’s finals will be televised live on BTN.
With five wrestlers topping the national rankings at their weights — including Mark Hall of Apple Valley — Penn State is the front-runner to win a sixth Big Ten team title. The Nittany Lions (14-0) are the only unbeaten team in the league and are ranked No. 1 in the latest coaches’ poll. Hall, the defending Big Ten champion at 174 pounds, is 23-0 this season and 6-1 in two previous Big Ten tournaments.
Four other wrestlers also will defend individual crowns: Michigan’s Stevan Micic (133 pounds) and Alec Pantaleo (157), and Ohio State’s Joey McKenna (141) and Kollin Moore (197). The Buckeyes, who have won the past two team titles, also are expected to be in the hunt again, along with Iowa and Michigan.
It’s been 12 years since the Gophers last won a Big Ten team title, and it’s been four years since 133-pounder Chris Dardanes became their last individual Big Ten champ. Coach Brandon Eggum said he would “love to be in the top five” this weekend, though he doesn’t want to set the bar too low.
The Gophers are among five teams to have a wrestler seeded at every weight. Their lineup includes Gable Steveson (No. 1, heavyweight); Sean Russell (No. 3, 125 pounds); Tommy Thorn (No. 4, 149); Devin Skatzka (No. 5, 174); Mitch McKee (No. 6, 141); Steve Bleise (No. 6, 157); Ethan Lizak (No. 6, 133); Dylan Anderson (No. 7, 197); Carson Brolsma (No. 8, 165); and Brandon Krone (No. 12, 184).
Lizak, who is 23-4 this season, and Russell, who is 22-3, both are ranked No. 6 in the nation.
“We have 10 guys that can go out and score points, and every match is big,” Eggum said. “Our guys seem ready. They’re excited. We’re healthy. I think we’re in a good spot.”
Gable goes for gold
Steveson enters the tournament 27-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Gophers’ freshman sensation from Apple Valley has adapted seamlessly to college wrestling, after finishing his prep career with a 210-3 record, four state titles and three world championships.
Nine of Steveson’s victories have come against opponents ranked in the top 20, including No. 2 Derek White of Oklahoma State and No. 9 Youssif Hemida of Maryland. The Big Ten tournament features six of the nation’s top nine heavyweights. Penn State senior Anthony Cassar, who is 21-1 and ranked No. 3, and Michigan freshman Mason Parris, with a 26-5 record and No. 6 national ranking, are among Steveson’s top challengers.
Though Steveson will be making his first Big Ten tournament appearance, Eggum doesn’t expect any jitters. “The bigger the moment, the more excited he is,” the coach said. “He’s a guy that can handle the pressure. I don’t think he feels it.”
Qualifiers for the NCAA tournament, which will be March 21-23 in Pittsburgh, also will be determined this weekend. The Big Ten has secured 78 automatic berths, the most of any conference.