Following Wisconsin’s somewhat surprising loss to Michigan State Sunday, I received an interesting reply on Twitter that got me thinking.
This person asserted that, as it pertains to the NCAA team race, Iowa and Penn State had solidified themselves as the top-2 teams and that positions 3-10 were a hot mess.
I agree with both of those stances. I also don’t see any of that as something new. By my estimation, that has been fact since the onset of the season.
But this person went on to say that Wisconsin is “falling apart.”
I spent the better part of a day reflecting on that statement. I even discussed it with a couple people who know a lot more about wrestling than I do.
And while I can to a certain degree understand where that thought comes from, the notion that UW’s season is coming off the rails in any significant way is simply not true.
Let’s put Sunday’s defeat into perspective.
First of all, there can be a large difference between a team’s aptitude as a tournament team versus its prowess as a dual meet team. This is especially true of Wisconsin.
Your best wrestlers don’t win duals often, but having a good number of them will help you place high at almost every tournament.
Duals are about depth, something the Badgers lack. That’s not surprising given we are only in Year 2 of the Bono Era. Nothing to be alarmed about, at this point.
When you examine the lineup Wisconsin put forth Sunday afternoon you’ll notice that everyone who was supposed to win, won. Nothing truly shocking or terribly concerning happened. It was death by a thousand paper cuts.
While the absence of No. 4 Tristan Moran at 141 pounds is, without question, a factor that played a role in UW’s demise, there were still plenty of ways Wisconsin could have emerged victorious.
Jared Krattiger doesn’t get pinned at 174? The Badgers probably win.
Pete Christensen beats a guy he already defeated this season at 197? The Badgers win.
You get more than a combined two bonus points from No. 1 Seth Gross and No. 4 Evan Wick? The Badgers, in all likelihood, win.
No. 5 Trent Hillger is able to get a pin in the final bout? The Badgers win.
Point being: there were several scenarios where UW gets the dual victory and we aren’t even having this conversation.
As we return to reality, where this loss actually did occur, the prospects for Wisconsin as a team at the NCAA Tournament have changed in recent weeks. But that movement is in a positive direction.
On Nov. 4, FloWrestling had Wisconsin tied with Oklahoma State for the No. 5 ranking nationally and projected the Badgers to score 43.5 points at the NCAA Tournament.
Jump ahead to Monday’s rankings and you find UW No. 4 nationally and projected to score 57 points. That’s an increase of 13.5 points and a mark that would have projected them to finish third at the NCAAs at the start of the season.
Oklahoma State, by contrast, currently sits at No. 14 and is projected to score just 30.5 team points — 13.5 fewer points than back in November.
And here’s a looked at the trajectories of the six ranked Wisconsin wrestlers since the beginning of the season:
No. 1 Seth Gross (Even)
No. 4 Tristan Moran (+7)
No. 15 Cole Martin (-2)
No. 4 Evan Wick (-1)
No. 22 Johnny Sebastian (NR)
No. 5 Trent Hillger (+2)
As of this moment, if everyone wrestled to their ranking at the national tournament in March, the Badgers would have a national champion (their first since 2010), three more All-Americans and a nice team trophy to bring back to Madison.
And none of that takes into account the emergence of Eric Barnett at 125, who seems to be on his way to a nice little seed at the Big Ten Tournament and a real shot to qualify for NCAAs.
Should he do that, Wisconsin would send seven of its 10 wrestlers to the national tournament.
This is, by and large, exactly the tournament team most thought the Badgers had at the beginning of the season. If anything, it’s slightly better. Almost nothing that happened Sunday changes that.
A word of caution, though: if there is a lesson to be taken from Sunday’s loss it’s a reminder that Wisconsin’s margin for error is pretty slim. It wouldn’t take a whole lot to free fall out of the top-5.
But to say that this Wisconsin wrestling team is “falling apart” is patently false.