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Maryland wrestling faces steep challenge at the Big Ten Championships this weekend

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The Terrapins will look to improve on their last-place finish in 2015.

Maryland wrestling head coach Kerry McCoy and the Terps head to the Big Ten Championships this weekend in Iowa City
Maryland wrestling head coach Kerry McCoy and the Terps head to the Big Ten Championships this weekend in Iowa City
Noah Niederhoffer

To say that Maryland wrestling performed poorly at the Big Ten Championships last season is a little like saying that the Grand Canyon is really long and really wide. Maryland went 0-10 in the first championship round and finished Day One with a 5-23 record. Half the team was eliminated by the time the second round even started. On Day Two, Maryland went 1-3.

The Terrapins finished in last place with 10.5 points at last year's Big Ten Championships. To put that in context, 10.5 points was the third-worst final score at the Big Ten Championships in the last 30 years.

This season, Maryland wrestling was able to get its first-ever Big Ten conference win, albeit against a weak Michigan State team. Throughout the season, the Terps showed both improvement and inconsistency. Head Coach Kerry McCoy was never able to put his best lineup on the mat due to injuries and other issues. It would seem that based on last year's performance, Maryland wrestling has nowhere to go but up. However, the Big Ten is equal parts meat grinder and tournament. You have to be as strong mentally as you are talented in order to advance.

Maryland's chances do not look very good for this year's Big Ten Championships this weekend in Iowa City. Here is why:

CONFERENCE 125 133 141 149 157 165 174 184 197 285 TOTAL
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
Mid-American Conference 4 6 4 5 5 4 3 4 5 1 41
Pacific-12 Conference 2 1 3 3 1 3 2 2 1 3 21
Southern Conference 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 3 13
TOTAL QUALIFIERS 28 28 29 28 29 28 29 28 29 28 284

Per NCAA.com:

The bold numbers are the amount of automatic qualifying bids given out in each Big Ten weight class. For instance, the wrestlers who place in the top seven at 125 pounds will automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships. If a wrestler fails to finish high enough to receive an automatic qualifying bid, they're still able to make the tournament as an at-large selection. At-large selections are determined primarily based on where wrestlers stand in the coaches rankings and RPI. If a wrestler isn't in the top 33 in both the rankings and RPI, they have almost no shot of making the tournament without an automatic bid.

The goal of the Big Ten Championships is not just to win the tournament itself, but to qualify as many of the team's 10 wrestlers as possible for the NCAA Championships. That brings us back to the Terps.

The Bracket

Maryland wrestling won't win the Big Ten Championship this season, and this program might never win it. That is simply the reality of wrestling in the Big Ten. The biggest issue that Maryland will have to overcome at Big Tens this year is getting its wrestlers qualified. Here is a breakdown of the Big Ten bracket.

125 - Michael Beck

Beck will start his tournament against the fourth-seed, No. 10 Tim Lambert of Nebraska. Lambert teched Maryland's Jhared Simmons earlier this season. I don't like Beck's chances in his opening match. If Beck drops his match against Lambert, he'll likely have to wrestle Minnesota's Steven Polakowski, whom he lost to, 7-1, back in January, to stay alive in the tournament.

133 - Geoffrey Alexander

Alexander is the fourth seed at 133 and he'll wrestle Indiana's Alonzo Shepherd in his first match. Alexander majored Shepherd, 9-0, when they met up in Bloomington. If Alexander wins, his most likely opponent would be Nebraska's Eric Montoya, whom he beat, 6-2, earlier this season as well. Two wins would put Alexander in the semis and give him an automatic bid to NCAA's.

141 - Alfred Bannister

Bannister will take on Northwestern's Jameson Oster in his first match. Oster qualified for NCAA's last year and beat Shyheim Brown when Maryland traveled to Northwestern last season. Oster had some injury problems this season, but is still a dangerous, high-scoring wrestler. Bannister has a real shot to beat him since he has wrestled close matches with some of the best guys at this weight class. A win would probably set up a rematch with Michigan State's Javier Gasca III. Bannister lost a 7-4 decision to him earlier this season.

149 - Wade Hodges

The bracket didn't do Hodges any favors. He has to wrestle Minnesota's No. 16 Jake Short in his first match. Short beat him, 6-2, earlier this season. If he loses, he 'll have a long road to get that automatic bid and he'll have to get through at least one or two wrestlers that have already beaten him this season.

157 - Lou Mascola

If eighth-seeded Mascola can get past feisty Brandon Kingsley of Minnesota in his first match (Mascola beat him, 3-2, earlier this season), he'll have to wrestle the No. 1 seed and top-ranked wrestler nationally at 157 pounds, Penn State's Jason Nolf. Nolf is undefeated this season and has already pinned last year's national champion at 157 pounds. I do not expect Mascola to compete with him. Nolf is simply wrestling on a different level than most of the country. Mascola can beat many of the wrestlers in this weight class. He's already beaten the fifth and seventh seeds this year and nearly beat the sixth seed. I expect Mascola to place in the top seven and get an automatic qualifying bid.

165 - Brendan Burnham

Burnham has to start the tournament by wrestling the third seed at 165, No. 5 Steven Rodrigues of Illinois. The fifth-ranked wrestler at 165 nationally is the third seed at this weight class. That tells you something. Burnham lost to Rodrigues, 13-8, earlier this season. If Burnham loses in his first match, he'll face a very steep climb to try and place in the top six.

174 - Josh Snook

Snook has some things going for and against him in this bracket. The good thing is that he only has to finish in the top nine as opposed to the top six or seven in order to qualify for NCAA's. The bad thing is that his first match will be against a guy who teched him earlier in the season. Indiana's Nate Jackson put on a clinic against Snook in Bloomington. On top of that, he'll almost definitely have to beat a nationally ranked wrestler to have a chance of qualifying.

184 - Mark Collabucci

I haven't seen enough of Collabucci to know what he can and can't do out on the mat because he has been injured for much of the year. He could finish in the top seven and qualify at 184 pounds, but I don't know how close he is to 100 percent health-wise. I do know that his conditioning base is not as good as the other guys that he'll be wrestling against.

197 - Garrett Wesneski

Nebraska's Aaron Studebaker has already beaten Garrett Wesneski twice this season. If Wesneski loses to Studebaker for a third time, it'll be incredibly hard for him to wrestle back into the top six.

Heavyweight - Youssif Hemida

Hemida will wrestle the third seed, No. 7 Sam Stoll of Iowa, in his first match. This is a very tough weight class and I don't see Hemida doing well in it.

The Bottom Line

Maryland might only be sending two wrestlers to the NCAA Championships at Madison Square Garden. Geoffrey Alexander and Lou Mascola have the best chance to qualify. Alexander is seeded fourth at 133 pounds and has a legitimate shot to win the Big Ten title. Mascola is seeded eighth. He has beaten two guys seeded above him this season and nearly beat a third. If he wrestles the way he is capable of, he should finish in the top seven.

Josh Snook has an outside chance at placing in the top nine and automatically qualifying, but if he doesn't, his season is over. McCoy made a bold choice in sending Youssif Hemida instead of Dawson Peck at heavyweight. Peck had a decent shot at finishing in the top seven and automatically qualifying for NCAA's. Peck was in the top 33 in both the coaches rankings and RPI. Hemida is not.

McCoy told me that he made this decision because it was the "best decision for the team." He would not elaborate. Peck is the better heavyweight, but Hemida has started a multitude of times this season over Peck because of various reasons like health and the effort that he gave in the room that week. I will not speculate as to why McCoy made a last-minute decision to send Hemida instead of Peck, but what I can tell you is that as a result of this change, the odds are heavily stacked against Maryland qualifying its heavyweight for NCAA's.

The Terps only qualified three wrestlers for the NCAA Championships last year. If Maryland only qualifies two of its wrestlers this season, the whole program is going to feel the heat. That is the bottom line.