Pitt wrestling begins the first portion of the post-season on Saturday at the ACC tournament in Blacksburg, VA. The Panthers finished the regular season 13-3 and tied with Virginia Tech for 3rd in the ACC. It was only the fifth time in program history Pitt had 13 or more wins. All ten of the starters seek to qualify for NCAAs, but with uniquely high expectations for the seven ranked individuals. They are Micky Phillippi, LJ Bentley, Taleb Rahmani, Gregg Harvey, Nino Bonaccorsi, Kellan Stout, and Demetrius Thomas.
Watch the live stream: http://www.espn.com/watch/_/id/3489422/wrestling-championship–mat-1
Automatic qualifying bids for NCAAs vary conference to conference and weight class to weight class, based on numerous criteria. For instance, 174 received 27 automatic bids, while 133 got 29. Regarding conferences, the Big 10 received the most with 78. The ACC was allocated 37 – behind the Big 10, Big 12, and EIWA – but a good bit more than the MAC, PAC 12, EWL, and SoCon.
Each NCAA bracket will end up with 33 wrestlers, so the difference between 33 and that specific class’ number of automatic bids will receive “at-large bids,” which is generally 4-6 per weight. There are several Pitt wrestlers who may rely on an at-large to get in. This preview will focus on what they have to do to automatically qualify.
The number in parentheses denotes that weight’s automatic bids.
125 Brendon Fenton (2): Simply, Fenton will have to reach the finals to make NCAAs. He has no statistical chance of getting an at-large bid as he is not in the top 33 in either the coaches’ poll or RPI. In order to do that, he will need to beat Joe Heilmann from North Carolina in his first match, then Jack Mueller from Virginia. Mueller teched Fenton 19-2 at the dual.
133 Micky Phillippi (4): Micky has a bye to the semis as the No. 1 seed, which means he will have to win one match; either win, or lose then win. He will get the winner of Louie Hayes and Korbin Myers in the semis. Myers beat Micky in the Va Tech dual, although those two go back to high school. In fact in 2015, Micky beat Myers 1-0 in the state finals. If he emerges victorious, Micky is slated to face the two seed Tariq Wilson in the finals. Wilson did not wrestle in the Pitt-North Carolina State dual.
141 LJ Bentley (4): LJ got the No. 5 seed, and is matched up with Josh Finesilver of Duke in the first round. These two wrestled a very close bout when they met at the dual, and LJ was winning for a significant portion. Finesilver came away with the win after a late takedown, but LJ will be ready to reverse that result. “Absolutely,” he said. A win in that match would pit LJ against No. 1 seed Jamel Morris of NC State, whom LJ lost to 4-2 in overtime. Two minor adjustments, and he can be in the finals.
149 Dallas Bulsak (4): Robert Lee was the starter for the entire season, but after an injury sustained in the Duke match, Bulsak took over. That only allowed him one opportunity to start, thus he is the No. 6 seed with an 0-1 conference record (he also started in the Cal State Bakersfield dual). Dallas has Justin Oliver in the first round, who transferred from Central Michigan to NC State this year. He finished top 12 at last years NCAA tournament. A loss there would likely set up a match with Ryan Blees from Va Tech, who beat Lee 7-3. A win over Blees would qualify Dallas.
157 Taleb Rahmani (4): Taleb got the second seed and has a bye to the semis. He will most likely face BC LaPrade (Va Tech) in the semis, for a chance to automatically qualify. Taleb beat LaPrade 7-4 in the dual. He is looking to qualify for Nationals for the third straight year.
165 Tommy O’Brien (4): O’Brien is wrestling in his second straight ACC tournament, this time at 165. Replacing the injured Jake Wentzel, O’Brien comes in as the No. 6 seed. He will square off against Thomas Bullard of NC State in the first round, a rematch from the dual that saw Bullard win 6-1. A loss there will likely line him up against Zach Finesilver (Duke) in a must-win match in the consi-semis. Like Fenton and Bulsak, O’Brien cannot get an at-large bid.
174 Gregg Harvey (3): The difference between 3 and 4 bids is huge, as the cons-finals become life and death. Well, maybe not. If Harvey fails to place third or higher, he has a good chance of getting an at-large bid due to his top 33 coaches’ ranking (32) and RPI (25). 174 in the ACC is a tough weight class, and Harvey has his work cut out.
184 Nino Bonaccorsi (5): The deepest weight in the Atlantic Coast Conference, 184 was extremely close to automatically qualifying all six spots. Nino got the two seed, and will probably have Nick Reenan (NC State) in the semis. Nino majored him in the dual, but Reenan’s health was questionable. A trip to the finals would likely set up round three with Zack Zavatsky, whom Nino is 0-2 against. Their last meeting was close though.
197 Kellan Stout (4): Kellan got the No. 4 seed, which means he just has to live up to expectations. Easier said than done though, especially considering his first round opponent (Alec Schenk, Duke) beat him just a few weeks ago. Win or lose in the opening round, Kellan will need to beat some good guys to qualify. Like Bentley and Harvey, should Kellan fail to place top four, he is a lock to receive an at-large. He is ranked 22nd in the coaches’ poll and 12th in the RPI.
285 Demetrius Thomas (3): Meech has been quite the surprise for Pitt fans all year, and he will look to carry that positivity in to the post season. Meech got the No. 2 seed at ACCs, and is slated to face Cory Daniel (UNC) in the finals. They are 1-1 versus each other this year, so the finals could serve as a rubber match.
Pitt was so close to winning a share of the ACC dual season title. If they wrestle to their fullest potential, there is no reason they can’t win the tournament title.
March is the most wonderful time of the year for true wrestling fans. States, Conferences, NCAAs, the Classic… it should be fun.