Michigan boasts two top-seeded wrestlers heading into the NCAA championships. Becca Mahon/Daily. Buy this photo.

Forty-nine years.

That’s how long it’s been since the Michigan wrestling team sat atop the Big Ten, the most competitive conference in college wrestling. The Wolverines ended that drought two weeks ago with a Big Ten Tournament title.

Forty-nine years is a long time, but not quite as long as 91 years.

In the 91 years that the NCAA has held Division I wrestling championships, Michigan has never taken a title back to Ann Arbor.

That’s exactly what it hopes to change on Saturday.

The Wolverines proved themselves in the Big Ten Tournament, taking down No. 1 Penn State en route to capturing the elusive title. In a conference that has won the last 14 NCAA championships, that title is a big deal, and Michigan shattered expectations to get there. But repeating a performance like that will not be a walk in the park.

In order to take home the hardware in Detroit, the Wolverines will have to build on the strengths that facilitated their Big Ten championship. In particular, Nick Suriano and Myles Amine must replicate their domination, Michigan’s middle weights will have to serve as a backbone and the Wolverines must run up the numbers and control their losses.

The top seeds

Michigan enters the tournament with two wrestlers seeded at the top of their respective weight classes: graduate student Nick Suriano at 125 lbs and graduate student Myles Amine at 184 lbs. Both wrestlers earned individual Big Ten titles, propelling Michigan to its first Big Ten championship since 1973.

Suriano is no stranger to contending for championships. In his career at Rutgers, he earned NCAA runner-up honors at 125 lbs before capturing an NCAA title at 133 lbs in 2019 — a year in which he was also a Big Ten champion. 

Suriano’s success did not end when his days as a Scarlet Knight did. He was ranked No. 1 at 125 lbs after his first match in a Michigan singlet and has held that position ever since. Undefeated and fresh off of an utterly dominant performance in the Big Ten Tournament, Suriano is a heavy favorite for the 125 lb crown. His performance all season, and throughout most of his college wrestling career, has made it crystal clear that few — if any — wrestlers can keep up with him. Suriano’s dominance will be a key component if the Wolverines are to realistically contend for a championship. 

On the other end of Michigan’s lineup is Amine. The so-called “grandfather” of the team boasts a Tokyo 2020 bronze medal and a 17-1 record this season. His only defeat came at the hands of Penn State’s Aaron Brooks during their regular season matchup, which he avenged during their Big Ten championship bout through a 6-4 overtime victory. 

Brooks will most likely be the biggest obstacle in Amine’s pursuit of a championship. In both prior battles between the two wrestlers, Amine was just able to score a single takedown — one that secured his Big Ten title 13 seconds into the sudden victory period. He stepped up to the challenge when it mattered most in the Big Ten Tournament, when Michigan’s championship aspirations rested on his shoulders. He will need to step up again this weekend if the Wolverines want to finally add an NCAA title to the trophy case.

On Thursday morning to kick off their tournament campaigns, Suriano will either face Stanford’s No. 33 Logan Ashton or Virginia’s No. 32 seed Patrick McCormick, and Amine will either match up against Northwestern’s No. 33 seed Jack Jessen or Kent State’s No. 32 seed Colin McCracken. Looking toward the rest of the weekend, championship wins — or deep runs — at 125 lbs and 184 lbs will be crucial in Michigan’s quest for its first NCAA championship.

Middle weights

Suriano and Amine were the wrestlers who made headlines after their Big Ten Tournament wins, but Michigan would not have emerged victorious without strong middle weight performances. Three Wolverine middle weights placed second at Big Tens: redshirt junior Will Lewan at 157 lbs, redshirt sophomore Cam Amine at 165 lbs and graduate student Logan Massa at 174 lbs. Though none were able to secure titles, their performances were essential in putting Michigan on top.

Lewan, the No. 8 seed, enters the NCAA Tournament with a 17-5 record. He will face Missouri’s No. 25 seed Jarrett Jacques in the first round. Lewan will need to take his game to the next level in order to rack up points for the Wolverines. He has shown throughout the season that he can win tough, gritty matches, and that’s exactly what he’ll need to do in Detroit.

Amine has a similar hill to climb, coming in as the No. 6 seed with a 16-5 record. His Thursday morning matchup features Nebraska’s No. 27 Clayton Wilson. In a weight class where Stanford’s Shane Griffith, the defending national champion, is the No. 5 seed, Amine will need to wrestle at his best to compete effectively and earn points for Michigan.

No. 3 seed Massa, who is 16-2 on the season, will wrestle No. 30 seed Jacob Nolan of Binghamton in the first round. Massa suffered both of his prior losses to the Nittany Lions — against Brady Berge in the regular season and Carter Starocci in the Big Ten Championship, the latter of whom is the favorite going into NCAAs. Like Lewan and Amine, Massa has shown that he is capable of competing with the best of the best; he just needs to show up this weekend.

Despite the lack of individual Big Ten titles, Michigan’s middle weights played major roles in the team win; they will need to do the same on an even bigger scale in Detroit.

Running up numbers, controlling losses

In the NCAA Tournament, there are three ways that wrestlers can score points for their teams: placement points, advancement points and bonus points. 

Placement points and advancement points are rather straightforward: A wrestler earns a given number of points based on their final placement (from 16 points for first place to 3 points for eighth place), and they earn 1 point per advancement in the championship bracket and 0.5 point per advancement in the consolation bracket.

Bonus points, on the other hand, are a bit more complex. Wrestlers can earn points for each fall, forfeit, default, disqualification, tech fall (with and without near fall points) and major decision.

Bonus points can be the difference between a champion and a runner-up. If Michigan is to make a title run, it needs to run up these numbers by defeating opponents handily in the early rounds. Especially for wrestlers like Suriano and Amine, who will be facing significantly lower-seeded opponents, this will be a key area to put more points on the board.

On the flipside, the Wolverines need to control their losses, specifically when facing teams like Penn State, Iowa, Arizona State and Missouri — teams that are gunning for a championship alongside them. Preventing these teams from using bonus points to their advantage can help propel Michigan to greater success.

Final thoughts

The Wolverines will be competing in nine of ten weight classes — in addition to the aforementioned wrestlers, redshirt freshman No. 6 seed Dylan Ragusin will wrestle at 133 lbs, graduate student No. 12 seed Stevan Micic at 141 lbs, graduate student No. 4 seed Pat Brucki at 197 lbs and senior No. 5 seed Mason Parris at heavyweight. 

All four of these wrestlers have the opportunity to make runs and secure crucial points for the team. Michigan’s Big Ten championship was a product of a whole-team effort; taking the title by a mere 1.5 points, every wrestler contributed to the victory.

The Wolverines have a lot to be proud of this season, with the long-awaited Big Ten title as the cherry on top of a dominant regular season performance. 

But that doesn’t have to be the end.