Wrestling team prepares for the MAC tournament

Previewing the MAC tournament that takes place on Saturday and Sunday

wrestling

This weekend, Jake Gunning gets a chance to defend the MAC heavyweight title he won a year ago.

The Bulls wrestling team (5-12, 2-5 Mid-American Conference) heads to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan for the MAC wrestling championships. Gunning, a 285-pound junior, came away from last year’s event with a conference title and will be heading into this year’s event ranked no. 16 in the nation at his weight class. Buffalo has two other nationally ranked wrestlers going to the tournament in juniors, 125-pound Kyle Akins and 133-pound Bryan Lantry, who will both be looking to claim their first MAC titles.

“Expectations are always the same. You’re trying to get your three guys to earn bids to the national tournament: Akins, Lantry and Gunning,” said Bulls head coach John Stutzman. “For the other seven guys it’s about trying to steal a bid and earn your way back in and I feel good about a lot of the guys.”

The MAC has 25 automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. Missouri carried the most bids for the conference with eight, while Buffalo was fourth with three bids. Four schools only carried a single bid.

Stutzman said the MAC is a strong conference and that 25 bids for eight teams isn’t bad but they should have more. He said the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 34 bids and the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association’s 47 bids are an “inflated” number of bids.

He said they need to get wrestlers to the NCAAs so they can get on the podium at the tournament to earn the respect of the rest of the collegiate wrestling world.

All three nationally ranked wrestlers on Buffalo have an RPI ranking at least seven spots above their ranking in the coaches’ poll. The coaches’ poll is a subjective poll based on the opinions of each individual Division-I coach. The RPI is an objective ranking system using a formula based on wins and the quality of the opponents they beat.

The biggest discrepancy between the two polls is at heavyweight. Gunning ranks sixteenth in the RPI but twenty-fourth in the coaches’ poll. Gunning sits two spots behind Eastern Michigan redshirt sophomore Gabe Hutchinson in the coaches’ poll despite holding a 4-1 record over Hutchinson and an RPI ranking that is five spots higher.

“It’s all a bunch of crap. I beat him handily this year. I know I’m better than him,” Gunning said. “Coaches’ poll is obviously political so I’m not too worried about that. Hopefully I see him again this weekend and once again prove I’m the better guy.”

Gunning, who went undefeated in MAC duals, secured the No. 1 seed for the tournament with Hutchison behind him at No. 2. They will also be joined by two other wrestlers ranked in top-30 nationally in RPI. The top three heavyweights from the tournament will get automatic bids. Stutzman said that despite Gunning being the defending champ, the league doesn't see him as the top-dog heading in.

Regardless of seeding, Gunning said he has one thought in mind heading into the weekend.

“I’m hungry for another MAC title,” Gunning said. “Training has been great and I’m feeling really good about competing again. I feel really confident that me and a bunch of other guys can win and place high in the tournament to punch our tickets to the NCAA championships.”

Stutzman said that Gunning and Lantry will make it to the NCAAs despite what happens at the MAC championship, with both meeting what Stutzman referred to as “the gold standard.” The three categories to qualify for gold standard include a winning percentage over 70 percent, an RPI ranking in the top-25 and a selection to the coaches’ poll top-25.

Akins meets the “silver standard” which means he has two of the three requirements, with his coaches ranking being just outside the top-25 at no. 28. Stutzman said that means Akins will need to finish in the top-two to claim one of the two allocated 125-pounds spots for the national tournament.

The 133-pound weight class has the most bids of any weight in the MAC with four. It also has four nationally ranked wrestlers heading into the tournament. Lantry has the second highest ranking of the four, but will be the No. 3 seed in the tournament. Lantry has his sights set on the No. 1 seed Cameron Kelly from Ohio. Despite wrestling five close matches, Lantry has never been able to beat Kelly.

“They come down to the last second every match,” Lantry said. “He’s gotten the edge on me every time so far, but I'm not nervous to wrestle him, more excited. ”

Stutzman said the team’s schedule should have them prepared for the tournament. Over the course of the season they faced the first, third, fourth, tenth and fifteenth ranked teams in the country.

“It wasn’t the best season as far as wins and losses, but we wrestled everybody in the country,” Stutzman said. “We didn’t run from competition that’s for damn sure. So all that being said, I’m hoping our schedule prepared us for this and we’re going to find out on Saturday and Sunday.”

Daniel Petruccelli is the sports editor and can be reached at daniel.petruccelli@ubspectrum.com.

@DanP_Spectrum.