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March 8, 2013WHEN March 9-10
WHERE Penn State is on the campus of Illinois in Champaign this weekend. It's the second time in three seasons that Big Tens will be held in the Prairie State, and Northwestern's campus was awfully friendly to Penn State two years ago.
AT STAKE The official Big Ten team champion is crowned Sunday, and a host of individuals will vie for a qualifying bid to the NCAA Championships. Nine of the Nittany Lion wrestlers are all but assured a ticket to Des Moines, Iowa, already, and if 141-pound Bryan Pearsall finishes in the top six - he's currently a fourth pre-seed - at the conference tournament, he'll get a qualifying spot, too. If all 10 qualify, it'll be another notch on Cael Sanderson's coaching belt. Never have all 10 of his starters qualified for the national tournament, one of the few wrestling feats left to accomplish for Sanderson at Penn State.
LAST SEASON Penn State slipped in the semifinals, winning just three of its eight semifinal bouts in West Lafayette, Ind. It ended the first day of the tournament frustrated and in third place.
However, the Nittany Lion wrestlers woke up for day two of the tournament and dominated, outscoring second-place Minnesota 149-134 in the final standings. In all, The Lions crowned three individual champions. For the second straight season, David Taylor was named Wrestler of the Year and Sanderson nabbed Coach of the Year honors. 149-pound senior Frank Molinaro was named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler - the second consecutive season a Nittany Lion wrestler won the award.
BEST FINISH During the past two seasons Sanderson has lead Penn State to Big Ten tourney titles - the only two in program history. Before that, the Lions placed in the top three six times.
WORST FINISH In 2001, the Nittany Lions finished 10th with zero finalists. They followed it up with another zero-finalist performance in 2002.
FAVORITES For the entire season Penn State has sat atop Intermat's Tournament Power Index, a ranking system that employs a formula similar to the one used to determine the tournament's final standings. Many prognosticators are expecting a three-peat from the Nittany Lions.
But they aren't as heavily favored as the 2012 squad. Iowa and Minnesota are more of a threat than ever, and depending on the outcome of a few matchups, they have a chance at dethroning Penn State. Namely the outcome of the 125-, 149-, 157-, 174- and 285-pound brackets will play a crucial role in determining the team champ.
DARK HORSE Quentin Wright said to be aware of Ohio State. On paper, the Buckeyes should only have two finalists, but they also have the firepower to shake up a few weight classes and make the entire team race much more interesting. Wright said he's hoping that the Buckeye wrestlers beat up on some of the Gophers and Hawkeyes, but "take it light" on him and his teammates. He can only wish.
OW CANDIDATES Chances are that the Outstanding Wrestler will be wearing a Penn State blue and white singlet for the third consecutive year. 165-pound Taylor and 184-pound Ed Ruth are among the three favorites, but Ohio State's 133-pound Logan Stieber was the NCAA's most dominant Division I wrestler in the regular season. Penn State wrestlers (Molinaro and Wright) have been named OW at the past two Big Ten tourneys. If anyone is to halt Penn State's OW run, chances are it will be Stieber. That's unless Iowa's Tony Ramos can beat him in the final. Then Ramos would have to be considered, too.
PENN STATE'S OUTLOOK Penn State essentially is in charge of its own destiny. Taylor, Ruth and Wright are stamped with the top seed at their respective weight class, and 125-pound Nico Megaludis and 157-pound Dylan Alton are seeded among the top three of theirs. If the Lions wrestle to or better than their seeds, they should run away with the title for the third straight season. But a few slip-ups along the way could change the entire complexion of the tournament, and allow for the Gophers, Hawkeyes, Illinois or even the Buckeyes to steal the conference crown from the Nittany Lions.
Individual tournament seeds
125 Nico Megaludis, So., 21-2 - No. 2
133 Jordan Conaway, R-Fr., 14-6 - No. 4
141 Bryan Pearsall, Sr., 19-7 - No. 4
149 Andrew Alton, So., 22-2 - No. 5
157 Dylan Alton, So., 22-3 - No. 3
165 David Taylor, Jr., 23-1 - No. 1
174 Matt Brown, So., 21-4 - No. 5
184 Ed Ruth, Jr., 25-0 - No. 1
197 Quentin Wright, Sr., 24-0 - No. 1
285 Jimmy Lawson, So., 20-4 - No. 7
Penn State NEWS