The Big Ten received 71 automatic qualifying bids for the 2015-2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships, down from 86 just a year ago. Last season, the Big Ten's 86 AQ bids represented one-third of the allocations for the entire country. This season, however, the Big Ten is down to just one-quarter of all AQ bids. That is still easily the lion's share as the next closest conference is the EIWA with 51 bids.
One of the big reasons for the decline in bids for the Big Ten this season is the rise of the ACC as a conference. No. 2 North Carolina State has beaten powerhouses Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma State this season. Wolfpack head coach Pat Popolizio should be a shoo-in for National Coach of the Year. Virginia Tech is ranked No. 3, North Carolina finished the season at No. 14 and Duke upset No. 13 UNC and No. 23 Purdue despite forfeiting at 133 pounds.
The Big Ten remains the premier wrestling conference in the country. The conference has won the last nine national titles in a row and has won 20 of the last 25 national championships. Penn State is favored to make it 10 straight national championships for the Big Ten.
Here's the breakdown of the conference qualifier allocations and how the remaining at-large wrestlers will be selected:
|Atlantic Coast Conference||4||3||4||2||3||5||2||3||5||3||34|
|Big 12 Conference||6||4||3||3||3||3||4||3||4||3||36|
|Big Ten Conference||7||9||7||6||7||6||9||7||6||7||71|
|Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association||3||3||6||5||6||4||7||7||4||6||51|
|Eastern Wrestling League||1||1||1||3||2||2||1||1||3||2||17|
"After all of the qualifying events have concluded, the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee will meet in-person to select the remaining 46 at-large qualifiers, which will be announced on March 9. All weight classes will consist of 33 wrestlers. The at-large selections will be made based on the following criteria: head-to-head competition; quality wins; coaches ranking; results against common opponents; RPI; qualifying event placement; and winning percentage."
What it means for Maryland
The Terrapins have a smaller margin for error because many of them will have to finish in the top eight in order to automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships. For most of the team, if they don't finish in the top eight or nine in their weight class, their season will be over.
Geoffrey Alexander is in great position. He'll have a high seed in the tournament and he's ranked 13th in the coaches rankings. He has a number of quality wins that will easily allow him to make the tournament as an at-large qualifier, even if he doesn't finish in the top nine at 133 pounds. Let me be clear. He absolutely should earn an AQ bid. If he doesn't, he'll still get into the tournament.
Lou Mascola should be fine. Mascola is 26th in both the coaches rankings and RPI and has some Big Ten wins under his belt. Because he is in the top 33 in both the coaches rankings and RPI, he will be given serious consideration for one of the final four at-large spots if he doesn't place in the top seven at 157 pounds. He has a legitimate shot to finish in the top seven since he beat Nebraska's Tyler Berger earlier this season and nearly beat Michigan's Brian Murphy in College Park. The big problem for Mascola will be if he doesn't finish in the top seven AND two or three nationally ranked wrestlers don't automatically qualify in their respective conference tournaments. Those guys will take some of the four at-large spots away from Mascola, leaving his tournament fate to chance.
Dawson Peck is also in good position. He's ranked 23rd in the coaches rankings and 26th in RPI. He's in a slightly better position than Mascola, but the objective is still the same. If he finishes in the top seven, he's in. He should be one of the first at-large bids selected if he doesn't finish in the top seven at heavyweight, but that's not a position he'll want to be in.
Maryland has a chance to get an NCAA qualifier at 174 pounds, but it'll be difficult. Whomever Maryland sends out, whether it is Derrick Evanovich or Josh Snook, they will have to probably win at least two or three matches in order to finish in the top nine and get that coveted automatic qualifying bid.
With only six AQ bids each at 149, 165 and 197, it is fair to say that Maryland won't be sending those three weight classes to the NCAA Championships. Maryland is going to have a very hard time qualifying at 125 and 141 as well. I don't expect Michael Beck to place in the top seven and either Bannister or Rappo will face a grueling path to qualify at 141 pounds.
Less automatic qualifying bids means less chances for Maryland to get its wrestlers into the NCAA Championships. The Terrapins will have to have one of their best performances of the season this weekend in order to avoid sending just three of their 10 wrestlers to Madison Square Garden.