The entire country knows that the Big Ten, led by No. 1 Penn State, is the top conference when it comes to wrestling. One must go back to 2006, when Oklahoma State won it all, to find a non-Big Ten national championship team. Traditionally, there have been some tremendous individual national champs over the last few years, but one Big Ten weight class has dominated their division nationally over the past few seasons. We are talking about the closers of the lineups: the 285-pound weight class. The last non-Big Ten heavyweight national champion was NC State’s Nick Gwiazdowski in 2015. This means that whichever competitor comes out of this weekend as the Big Ten champion at 285 pounds will become the favorite to win the national title in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in less than two weeks.
Taking a look at this year’s wrestlers, the conference tournament seeding is as follows:
- #1: Mason Parris (Michigan)
- #2: Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)
- #3: Tony Cassioppi (Iowa)
- #4: Lucas Davidson (Northwestern)
- #5 : Trent Hillger (Wisconsin)
- #6: Boone McDermott (Rutgers)
- #7: Tate Orndoff (Ohio State)
- #8: Jacob Bullock (Indiana)
- #9: Jaron Smith (Maryland)
- #10: Hayden Copass (Purdue)
- #11: Garrett Joles (Minnesota)
- #12: Ryan Vasbinder (Michigan State)
- #13: Matt Wroblewski (Illinois)
- #14: Austin Emerson (Nebraska)
The top four of Parris, Kerkvliet, Cassioppi and Davidson are also the top four nationally ranked heavyweights by InterMat. Parris has been on the warpath for his first conference title since main rival Gable Steveson graduated from Minnesota. Parris is 25-0 this season, with 10 wins being in conference. Parris’s closest matches were all two-point decisions against the other top seeds (3-1 over Kerkvliet, 9-7 over Cassioppi & 6-4 over Davidson). He’s escaped the regular season unbeaten, but just one takedown on Parris at the right time could tip this bracket on its head. Parris will also have enormous fan support. Michigan is hosting the tourney for the first time since 2010.
Looking at the other top seeds, Cassioppi and Davidson could have their best shot at a conference title. Both are in their fourth years. Both could return next season. They wrestled unattached in 2018-19, thus not starting the clock on their eligibility. Cassioppi has been a lifetime 285-pounder in his time at Iowa. Davidson is in his second season as the anchor for Northwestern’s lineup.
Kerkvliet is the youngest of the top four seeds. The Penn State wrestling junior holds a crucial distinction that no other heavyweight this weekend has: he owns a winning record against the top-seeded Parris. Kerkvliet beat Parris three times in 2022 by a combined score of 19-9, making it clear that there’s a man that can ruin Parris’s hometown party. Kerkvliet closed out his regular season with two technical falls and will be on the hunt to earn his first conference title.
Whatever happens, this weekend will be a showcase. As wrestling legend Kevin Nash said, “this is where the big boys play.”