Ohio State NCAA Wrestling Math

The biggest reason why Ohio State was able to claim a share of its first Big Ten wrestling title in 64 years was the ascension of 125 pounder Nathan Tomasello. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the biggest opportunity for OSU to win an NCAA title this week in St. Louis also belongs to Nathan Tomasello. Let’s look at the math bracketology of wrestling to break this down.

Eight place wrestling tournaments award points based on the following placements:
1st place: 16 team points
2nd place: 12 team points
3rd place: 10 team points
4th place: 9 team points
5th place: 7 team points
6th place: 6 team points
7th place: 5 team points
8th place: 3 team points

A full point is also awarded for each advancement in the championship bracket and a half point is awarded for advancement in the consolation bracket. Two “bonus” points are added for each fall or forfeit, 1.5 is awarded for a 15 point tech fall with back points, and 1 point is added for an 8 or more major decision or a tech fall with no back points.


Ignoring advancement and bonus points, if you add up the placement points that were projected based on the seeding of each wrestler, Iowa was projected to earn 99 points in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State was projected to earn 96 and Minnesota was projected to earn 82. Ohio State and Iowa tied at 120, a number which included advancement and bonus points. But if you look just at the placement points you find that while Ohio State fell six short of its projected 96 points, Iowa fell a whopping fourteen points short of projection. It was those eight extra points off the Iowa board that kept them from claiming the outright title.

There are many different changes back and forth between projected and actual, but the most dramatic in terms of the team standings was at 125. By beating number one Thomas Gilman of Iowa, third seeded Tomasello added four team points from the twelve he would have earned for second (which came after his dramatic semi-final win against two time NCAA champ Jesse Delgado of Illinois) and dropped the four extra from Iowa that Gilman was projected to earn. That eight point swing total was exactly the difference that accounted for the team tie.

From the Iowa perspective, it also hurt that they won none of their three projected number one finishes, including at 125. That cost them a total of twelve team points. While Ohio State managed to win only one of its three number one projected finishes, they picked up a title from the third seeded Tomasello. When you take away the difference in points for the two projected winners who finished second (Jordan and Snyder at 165 and 197) but add the difference between the third place Tomasello was projected to earn and the first place points he actually did earn, Ohio State only lost two points in the consideration of projected vs actual first place points.

Two other Ohio State wrestlers scored critical points necessary to pull off the team title. At 157, Josh Demas was seeded sixth but upped his game to finish fourth, losing twice to tough but enigmatic James Green of Nebraska. At 174, Mark Martin bested his sixth place seed and scored the last meet tying point by hitting a dramatic sudden victory overtime takedown to claim fifth place points.

Kenny Courts was seeded fifth but finished eighth—a disappointing finish for sure, but the handful of total points he earned were obviously needed for the team win.

And then of course there was Hunter Stieber. He was assigned a charitable third seed out of respect for a former third place NCAA finisher and Big Ten Champion. With two badly injured elbows it was pretty miraculous he made it to the semifinals, but nothing short of heroic that he even attempted to wrestle in the consolation semis. He was pinned by a mediocre wrestler who gave a super bowl winning exalt over beating the courageous Stieber, but Hunter’s eventual sixth place points were unexpected gold at 149 pounds.


In looking at the NCAA seeds, and taking into account the championship bracket placement points the seeding projects, you find that Missouri, without regard to bonus or consolation advancement points, would be the NCAA team champion with 86 projected points. Iowa projects second at 77 points and Ohio State projects three points behind Iowa. It should be noted that Ohio State has all ten wrestlers going whereas Iowa and Missouri have only eight each. And those two extra wrestlers have the potential to rack up points that could close the gap. More on that below.

But once again, the biggest difference is at 125 where Nathan Tomasello is seeded fourth and Alan Waters of Missouri is seeded first. If all goes according to plan, those two would meet in the semifinals. Ah, but will things go according to plan? To get there, Tomasello would have to beat unseeded Joe DeAngelo, North Carolina State, and the winner of unseeded Ethan LIzak, Minnesota and thirteenth seed Ben Willeford. He would then likely meet up with fifth seed Sean Boyle of Chattanooga. Nothing is easy in wrestling, but that would seem manageable.

If you just go by the seeding, you would think Waters would face either the 16th seed or Conor Youtsey of Michigan in his second match, and either a very tough Dylan Peters of Northern Iowa (ninth seed) or eighth seed Tyler Cox of Wyoming. But wait a second—hiding there unseeded is two time defending national champion Jesse Delgado who would face the eight and nine seeds before possibly getting to Waters. True, Delgado has been hurt much of the year, but he has been back six weeks. He looked pretty good against Tomasello. Although he finished fourth in the Big Ten (in a third place match he probably did not care much about), he will have had two extra weeks to get ready.

What I am suggesting is that it is very possible Waters will go against a two time defending champ in his match to get to Tomasello. Waters will have his hands full.

But assuming it does work out for Waters and he gets to Tomasello, if Tomasello can pull the upset, even if Waters goes on to finish third and Tomasello finishes second, Ohio State and Missouri would be tied at 78 points. The two wrestlers met in December. Tomasello had a bad habit then of beating on his higher ranked opponents but getting caught for back points. This was true against Waters and Joey Dance of Virginia Tech. He even was pinned after mauling Dylan Peters for most of the match. But still, Tomasello came storming back against Waters to make it a nailbiter.

Both wrestlers have advanced quite a bit since then, but it is easy to see a Tomasello upset. If Tomasello cannot make the difference, another key Missouri / Ohio State one vs four matchup awaits.

Kyle Snyder ended up with a four seed at 197 thanks to his being mildly upset in the Big Ten finals. Assuming he can get past a very tough five seed Scott Schiller of Minnesota, Kyle would meet defending NCAA champ J’Den Cox, of Missouri. It’s a tall order for Snyder to beat Cox, but it is definitely possible—the top handful of guys in this class are all within 2 points of each other. The two have been on apparent collision courses twice this year but the meet-ups never happened. Obviously, this potential head to head is also key for the team race. If Tomasello and Snyder both deliver the upsets, a few other things can go wrong and the Buckeyes could still win the title. But it seems likely the Buckeyes need a win in one of these two matches—if they happen.

What else to watch for from the Buckeyes? At 133 in the Big Ten, Johnni DiJulius held serve with a fourth place finish from his fourth seed. He is also seed fourth at the NCAA. From the beginning of the year, Johnni has been my dark horse candidate to sprint into the NCAA finals. It is an uphill battle. Johnni is on the cusp of breaking through but this is a closely matched weight class. While Johnni could make it to the finals, he could also get knocked out completely. Buckeye fans really need him to finish close to or above his seeding.

As noted, Josh Demas wrestled very well at the Big Ten, losing only to a very good James Green. If Josh wrestles with his late blossoming fury (he has had a long journey back from injury), he should make it to the quarterfinal match against Dylan Ness. Ness is a really tough and explosive wrestler. Although Ness generally bests Green, Demas actually matches up better with Ness. I call it a long shot, but Josh can punch through here—and if he does, I think he is a candidate to make it to the finals. If that happens, all bets are off—this is the kind of gold the Buckeyes can only dream of, but if Josh wrestles like his hair is on fire, this is possible.

Mark Martin goes in as a ten seed, but Mark also wrestled very well in the Big Ten. He had a pretty mediocre season but his fifth place win at the Big Ten revealed an anger and resentment for the lack of respect he has earned. He really had the fierce Logan Storley on the ropes. That would be signature win unraveled with late match carelessness, but the Big Ten leaves you thinking Martin may have found some late season fire.

Kenny Courts is the enigma of the team. His talent at 184 is undeniable but he clearly has an execution and focus problem. He just seems to get lost. He has an incredible ankle pick from neutral. In high school all he had to do was reel in those ankles, but that really isn’t classic technique. To avoid a cross face and pancake, wrestlers are taught to get a leg and then get perpendicular. Kenny gets in like no one else, but then routinely loses the takedown as guys just muscle out of his parallel hold. He has a granby roll that is beautiful to watch but he always seems lost about what to do next. It is a shame. Nice kid, great technique, but it just seems he is overmatched (relative to his ability–he has won 22 matches after all) in the college game. But as only one of three Ohio State non-seeds, if he could somehow rise to his talent, he could also add points that the seeds don’t project.

It only seems like heavy Nick Tavanello hasn’t won since the Kennedy Administration. With a season messed up due to a knee injury, Nick received an at-large NCAA bid, most certainly because of his mad dash through the consolation bracket in last year’s NCAAs. I am guessing the OSU coaches successfully argued Nick is healthy and only needs more conditioning to get to where he was last year. I am sure Nick is tormented by a last second takedown by trip that cost him a place on the Big Ten podium and denied the outright conference crown to the Buckeyes. A run resembling anything like last year’s would also be found gold to the Buckeyes.

At this point, let me note something for the record. The Buckeyes have wrestled all year with the late Kosta Karageorge’s initials sewn into their singlets. It is entirely possible a healthy Karageorge would have wrestled in the Big Ten and this week. I’m not saying anything other than, with Nick’s injury Kosta would have competed, and it is anyone’s guess how that would have played out.

So what about the Big 3 remianing? Logan Stieber is a very big favorite to win his fourth NCAA title, but the journey has two interesting elements to it. Stieber has always delivered huge bonus points. This year should be no different, but it got a little tougher than it should have. Lavion Mayes of Missouri was somewhat inexplicably awarded a third seed—pushing him out of Stieber’s path to the finals, and pushing four seed Devin Carter of Virginia Tech into it. Stieber mauled Cater en route to a December major win in Las Vegas. But Carter is a returning NCAA finalist and is going to be no easy touch for Stieber. (Of course, if Mayes is overseeded, guys like Nick Dardanes potentially await. Thus, there is upset potential with an OSU opportunity to close the gap with MIzzou in the team race—watch that Dardanes match-up.)

No one gives Bo Jordan a chance to get to the finals at 165 but what does no one know, really? Jordan ended up with a fifth seed as fallout from his loss to cousin Jordan in the Big Ten finals. For him to make the NCAA finals he would have to beat four seed Nick Sulzer of Virginia and undefeated one seed Alex Dierenger of Oklahoma State. I’m not sure how you can rule Jordan out of any match. He has only lost once and that was by the narrowest of margins. I’m not sure I would call Sulzer a favorite and it would not shock me at all to see Jordan upend Dierenger. Here is a chance to raise the Buckeye ceiling.

Finally there is Hunter Stieber. After watching how helpless he was last week I don’t see how he can be competitive this week. Elbows take many months to heal. What I will say is he wrestled without tape in the match he lost—it is possible tape and rest could help. But in winning his first two matches in the Big Ten, he looked comfortable and confident. He did seem to tire at the end (though he manged a winning two point reversal at the very end of his quarterfinal match), but he had the smooth look of the champion he has been, not the rusty look you would have expected.

Hunter lands in a bracket against a fourteen seed. If he pulls that off somehow, he will get the winner of third seed David Habat of Edinboro or last year’s NCAA runner-up Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State. Kindig has been injured and did not wrestle in his conference tournament. Either way, if Hunter can cobble a competitive effort, this will be an early chance to strike paydirt. I just don’t think his elbows can handle the long grind of an early trip to the consolation bracket.

Bottom line: the Buckeyes need to hold serve on their seeds and have an upset by Tomasello or Snyder in the semis. If they get both, break out whatever college students are allowed to enjoy in celebration. If they fall short in both, the Buckeyes are going to need a couple of shockers like DiJulius and Demas reaching the finals. Anything they get from Courts, Tavanello and Hunter Stieber will relieve pressure, but they are going to need big things to happen at the top of some brackets, both in their favor and against Missouri. I have not forgotten about Iowa but if Ohio State takes care of these kind of things they should get past the Hawkeyes absent an epic run of their own.


  1. Not any mention at all of the Big Red grapplers . . . how sad . . .

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