More Tough in the Toughness

March 5, 2011

Big Ten Conference Tournament Brackets

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s tournament time and head coach Tom Brands notices more tough in the toughness from his University of Iowa team that is chasing a fourth consecutive Big Ten Conference championship this weekend in Evanston, Ill.

The Hawkeyes captured their fourth straight league dual title by finishing 15-0-1 overall, 8-0 against Big Ten foes. The stakes get higher beginning at 10 a.m. (CT) today with the first session of the Big Ten Championships.

“It’s about being tough in tough situations,” Brands says. “I’m not a prediction guy and you’re asking me to say great, glowing things about this team. They’ve done a good job, they ran the table in the Big Ten regular season. It’s a regular-season championship, but now it’s tournament time. Is the regular season important? You bet, every event is important. Now we’re to the tournament and that’s what we’re going after. We’ll get a lot of questions answered.”

In his fifth season as head coach, Brands has already led the Hawkeyes to three Big Ten and three NCAA championships. Iowa is pursuing its 35th conference tournament title.

“We’re a program that’s about winning championships,” Brands says. “It’s been that way at least when I was coached by (Dan) Gable; individuals worry about themselves — do what you set out to do and that’s to win championships. The team will take care of itself.”

According to pre-tournament seeds, the Hawkeyes should have four finalists: sophomore Matt McDonough at 125 pounds (seeded first), junior Montell Marion at 141 (second), freshman Derek St. John at 157 (second) and senior Luke Lofthouse at 197 (second).

“We’re very excited to compete and it’s time to go win championships,” Lofthouse says. “That’s what Iowa wrestling has been about for many years now and this team’s no different. We might be young and it might be a first for a lot of us to compete there, but we’re all excited and we all know how to compete. Our mentality is full steam ahead and we’re ready to go and compete.”

Only McDonough (20-1), Marion (7-1) and Lofthouse (17-4) have participated at a Big Ten Tournament. McDonough, the league’s 2010 Freshman of the Year, was runner-up a year ago, losing for the only time all season, 6-4, to Indiana’s Angel Escobedo. His main competition this weekend is Northwestern’s Brandon Precin. Precin defeated McDonough 3-1 in the finals at Midlands on Dec. 30 and led 3-0 in the dual Jan. 28 before McDonough finished a headlock and won by fall in 6:11.

“It’s a new year and there’s a whole new set of guys to beat,” McDonough says. “Going out there and wrestling to the 100th percentile is what I need to do.”

Hawkeye freshman Tony Ramos (18-3) was unscathed in eight Big Ten dual bouts at 133 pounds this season, yet finds himself with the No. 3 seed behind Andrew Long of Penn State and Tyler Graff of Wisconsin. Ramos defeated Long, 3-2, on Jan. 30 in State College, Pa., and has not faced Graff.

“I don’t care about seeds. It doesn’t mean anything,” Ramos says. “People are saying I deserve a (higher) spot, but you don’t deserve anything. I had three losses and they didn’t feel I earned it, so I’m going to have to go through Graff and then Long and I’m fine with that.”

Ramos has won 11 consecutive matches and the last person to defeat him was teammate Tyler Clark in the fifth-place bout at Midlands.

Penn State is seeded No. 1 at half the weight classes and Brands views the Nittany Lions as the team favorite.

“It doesn’t matter. They’ve been the favorite all year since the Southern Scuffle (Dec. 29-30 in Greensboro, N.C.),” Brands says. “We have our work cut out for us. It’s a two-day tournament and it’s four rounds and we have to be strong and solid all four rounds.”