March Madness isn’t just for basketball. It is for college wrestling, too. The NCAA meet starts at 11 a.m. today at Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena. Here are three things to look for, courtesy of N-G wrestling beat writer Bob Asmussen:
It won’t be easy, especially with B.J. Futrell sidelined by a neck injury, but Jim Heffernan’s team has a chance to do better than last year’s seventh-place finish. Why? Because the other three All-Americans from 2012 are back again. They have the experience to get through the early rounds and the motivation to better last year’s performances. It will have to be more than a three-man effort. Heffernan needs points from all seven competing wrestlers.
Less than two weeks after winning the Big Ten title at 125 pounds, Jesse Delgado goes for the big prize. After showing he can beat anybody in the field with his run against the Big Ten’s best, Delgado was rewarded with a No. 2 seed. He is confident and wrestling well. If he maintains his aggressiveness early in matches, Delgado wins his class and becomes the first Illini national champion since Matt Lackey in 2003. From 1994-2003, Illinois had seven NCAA champions.
Penn State is the two-time defending champion. Based on the way it qualified and performed at the Big Ten meet, it’s a good bet Cael Sanderson’s team wins a third consecutive title. It starts with the nation’s best wrestler, 184-pounder Ed Ruth, who enters the meet with a perfect record. While technically not perfect, Ruth dominates his opponents with superior strength and quickness. And he’s got all sorts of help in the team race, which will make it difficult for leading contenders Iowa, Minnesota and Oklahoma State.