The time is here ? the madness that is March. Basketball fans are trying to figure out who this year?s bracket busters will be, and wrestling fans are doing the same.
The first chance for fans to fill in their brackets is this weekend, as the seventh-ranked University of Wisconsin wrestling team heads off to Minneapolis to take part in the Big Ten wrestling tournament.
While no Badger will know his opponent until after Friday morning’s coaches meeting, pre-seeds were released Tuesday. Sophomore Kyle Ruschell earned the highest pre-seed of any grappler, garnering a two-seed at the 141-pound weight class.
Junior heavyweight Kyle Massey ? the reigning Big Ten wrestler of the week after knocking off previously top-ranked and undefeated Dustin Fox of Northwestern ? earned a three-seed at his weight class.
All in all, eight of the 10 wrestlers competing this weekend garnered pre-seeds, but Massey knows that once the competition starts, pre-seeds don’t mean a thing.
“In the Big Ten tournament it?s different,” Massey said. “You can look at your pre-seeds, and you’re almost guaranteed to wrestle someone that’s ranked in the first round anyways. So you have to just be ready right away. You’re going to be facing good wrestlers the entire tournament.?
One weight class that many consider to be the toughest in the conference is 157. Reigning national runner-up and two-time All-American Craig Henning received a mere five-seed. Looking at who is seeded ahead, however, two have defeated him, while the other two he did not face in the dual season.
“I think it’s a fair seed right now,” head coach Barry Davis said of Henning. “He could maybe be a three, four or five. He’s had some tough competition in the Big Ten, and he’s got a chance to redeem some of his losses.”
As far as the team picture looks, Wisconsin has as good a chance as any team to come out with the team title. Ending the season on a three-match win streak ? in which they defeated then fourth-ranked Minnesota on their home mat ? Davis knows his team is up for the challenge.
“Our goal is to get 10 guys through to day two,? Davis said. ?It?s going to be tough to do, and we know that already. We as a staff think that if we can get all 10 guys through, the rest will take care of itself.?
Wisconsin finished the Big Ten dual season at 5-3, in a four-way tie for third place with Illinois, Penn State and Minnesota. Looking at the teams who defeated the Badgers ? dual meet champ Iowa, second place Ohio State and the Illini ? there are high hopes the cardinal and white can better their performance of last year?s tournament.
Entering with an identical 5-3 record and standing in third place last year, UW rode the back of Big Ten runner-up Kyle Ruschell along with third place finishers Dallas Herbst and Craig Henning to finish second at last year?s championships.
This year, many consider Iowa as the favorite. Keep in mind, Iowa did defeat UW at the Field House earlier this season, but it was Iowa?s closet match of the season with a final score of 22-20. With that in mind, the Badgers are approaching this weekend as any man?s game.
?We?ve known all year what we?re capable of doing,? Massey said. ?We know we can go up there, and if we wrestle our best tournament then we can bring home the team trophy. It?s ours for the taking right now.?