Penn State Wrestling: Re-Calibrating B1G Championship Expectations

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

The latest news, insight, and analysis of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, and Penn State Basketball, including schedules, game results, analysis of breaking news, rumors, speculation, and recruiting coverage of future Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home to the latest Penn State Nittany Lions news, updates, insight, and analysis, including in-depth coverage of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball, and much more

Penn State Wrestling: What Does a Successful 2024 Big Ten Championship Look Like for Nittany Lions?

Penn State Wrestling is getting ready to pile into the team van and make their trek down to College Park to take part in the 2024 Big Ten Wrestling Championships this weekend.

That’s right folks, just like that, make no mistake about it, it’s Big Ten Championship week!

And it’s time to fire up the multiple mat cams, grab a trash-bag sized portion of popcorn, and get ready to strap in to the action as all 14 Big Ten teams descend into the XFINITY Center. Session I is set to kick off at 10am EST on Saturday, and the non-stop wrestling will air nationally on the Big Ten Network as well as on B1G+.

For most teams and wrestlers, the Big Ten Championships represent the ability to fulfill life-long dreams and take home some coveted hardware. But Penn State Wrestling isn’t like most teams. And during Cael Sanderson‘s incredible run over the past decade plus, the Nittany Lions and their fans understand that while the Big Ten’s are important, they aren’t the ultimate prize.

Which got me thinking. What does a successful Big Ten Championships look like for this year’s squad?

So there you go Penn State faithful, a random thought that popped into my head is now an article on the internet. You’re welcome!

Setting Penn State Wrestling Expectations for Big Ten Championships

No. 1 Under-performances?

I have my eyes locked in on several areas as the Big Ten’s roar to life on Saturday morning. And first and foremost is how a couple of the guys ended the season and how they look from the opening whistle in Session I.

Both Braeden Davis and Aaron Nagao didn’t exactly set the world on fire with how then finished the Big Ten portion of the schedule. Yes, both of them completely destroyed their Edinboro counterpart in the final dual of the season, however prior to that they each lost two out of their last three Big Ten matches.

And my biggest concern for each guy is an under-performance at the Big Ten’s. Because recent history has not been kind to Nittany Lion grapplers who underperformed in the Big Ten’s and subsequently how they fared at NCAA’s.

Back in 2021, Joe Lee had a bit of an up and down regular season heading into that year’s Big Ten’s. But there were definitely flashes of brilliance and expectations were high he could make a deep run.

However that all crashed down to earth when he lost 7-5 in the first round to a guy he pinned two week earlier. Lee then won his next two matches before getting pinned in the wrestlebacks and then losing in the seventh place match.

Joe then promptly lost both of his matches in the 2021 NCAA Championships and his season was over.

Drew Hildebrandt suffered a similar fate, however he only had a single regular season loss leading into the 2022 Big Ten’s which earned him the No. 2 seed. But Drew was not himself at all as he dropped his first two matches before winning a match and then medically forfeiting in the ninth place bracket.

The NCAA seeding committee did no favors to Hildebrandt as he faced Lock Haven’s Anthony Noto in the opening round of the 2022 NCAA Championships. Drew lost that match before winning one match and then losing a second time in the consolation bracket. And just like that his season was also over.

Just last year Penn State fans got to see how good Alex Facundo could be. He put together a 16-2 regular season record which included several big wins over highly ranked guys.

Then in the 2023 Big Ten’s, Facundo won his opening round match before dropping a close 3-1 decision to Ohio State’s Carson Kharchla. Alex then went 2-1 in the consolation bracket to finish seventh. Which for most guys would be a great finish. But expectations were simply much higher for Facundo and a seventh place finish in the Big Ten’s was a bit worrisome.

And in the 2023 NCAA’s, Alex stunningly lost his opening round match and had to face Cornell’s Julian Ramirez in the wrestlebacks. Ramirez majored Facundo and his once promising season ended in the blink of an eye.

So this is precisely why I’m very curious to see how Davis and Nagao look.

With the No. 6 seed, Braeden will most likely draw Illinois’ Justin Cardani in the first round. Then he would possibly go up against Nebraska’s Eric Barnett in the quarterfinals. Based on what I saw and what Penn State fans saw from Davis this season, he looks like the real deal on the mat and I believe he has the ability to make a very deep run in the Big Ten’s and the NCAA’s. But if he drops an early match and falls out of the tourney early, it’s going to be a daunting task to compose himself and turn it on at the NCAA Championships.

Same goes for Aaron Nagao as his road isn’t going to be easy either.

Nagao is the No. 5 seed and his first two matches are going to be against Michigan State’s Andrew Hampton and then most likely Nebraska’s Jacob Van Dee.

Aaron can get penetration on pretty much every guy in the nation at 133 pounds, however his issue has been finishing his shots. I want to see him look confident, decisive, and strong right out of the gate. If he is, then I can see him going all of the way and winning a Big Ten title. If he isn’t, though? It could be a long March for Nagao.

So to me, a successful Big Ten tournament for Braeden and Aaron is a finish which matches or exceeds their seeding and hopefully no head scratching losses.

No. 2 Steel sharpens steel

For Beau Bartlett, Levi Haines, Mitchell Mesenbrink, Aaron Brooks, and Greg Kerkvliet the recipe is going to be pretty simple. Just continue to do what you’ve done all year.

Year after the year the Big Ten is loaded at pretty much every weight class. And the above guys can use the Big Ten’s as a tune up and advance scouting session against some of the best guys in the country.

However there are still some expectations for Penn State’s top seeds. Due to their first round byes these guys will each need to win two matches to advance to the finals. And if all five advance to the finals to square off against the other top seed in their bracket, then there could be some incredible matches.

You could see rematches between Bartlett/Mendez, Brooks/Smith, and Kerkvliet/Feldman. But even more enticing are the matchups that haven’t unfolded this year.

Haines/Blockhus at 157 and Mesenbrink/Hamiti at 165 could be electric matches.

Do I expect all five of these guys to bring home Big Ten titles? I mean it is hard betting against Cael Sanderson and his coaching staff, however I don’t expect it. The real tournament isn’t this weekend. It’s two weeks from now.

A successful Big Ten Championship for this group is for them to continue to wrestle at a high level and learn and get better after each match.

No. 3 The tale of a sixth year senior and a true freshman

For Bernie Truax and Tyler Kasak this is their first year wrestling for Penn State. But that’s just about where all of the similarities end.

Truax is a three-time All-American who’s competed in 108 career collegiate matches while this is Kasak’s first year on the mat in college. But a successful Big Ten Championship should look similar to both guys as they are coming off of solid regular seasons where each guy has hit a bump or two in the road.

My expectation for both Bernie and Tyler is similar to Davis and Nagao. A finish at or higher than their initial seed should be a good sign they are firing on all cylinders. However it would not shock me at all if Truax or Kasak make the finals.

Kasak would have to get through No. 1 seed Ridge Lovett in the semifinals and Truax would have to avenge a previous loss to Lenny Pinto to punch his way to the finals. And you know what? Anything is possible.

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No. 4 What will Penn State fans see from Carter Starocci?

The above question says it all.

And your guess is as good as mine as to what the Nittany Lion faithful will see from Starocci on Saturday.

But looking through the “what does a successful Big Ten look like” lens, Carter’s Big Ten tournament is very simple. Just do what you feel comfortable doing and do everything in your power to not re-injure your knee or have any other set backs.

The 2024 NCAA Championships are only two weeks away and Starocci’s road to winning an unprecedented fourth NCAA title for the Nittany Lions starts with his first match.

MORE: Projecting Penn State’s Path to Big Ten Championships in 125-157

Cheer on the Penn State Nittany Lions even in the chilliest of temperatures with this Wrestling Icon Pullover Hoodie from Champion. 

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Chris Snyder
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