NCAA Tournament Previews 165 pounds

By John Fuller | March 17, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
There will be some interesting matchups in the 165-pound bracket this year. Not only are last year's second and third placewinners returning, but a freshman has also taken this weight by storm. After the sixth or seventh slot, there appears to be a clear drop-off point between title contenders and All-American hopefuls. If the seeds hold true, there will be some challenging quarterfinal matches on the bottom side of the bracket. Top Contenders Matt Lackey (Illinois) - Lackey has been the immovable object this season. For the last two years, he has taken a lot of heat from fans and critics about his alleged lack of offense. This year, he has quieted all doubters with his attacking style. Lackey already had good defense coming into this year, but add to that a solid offense as well as deceiving quickness, and you have a perfect mix for a national title. Lackey was a finalist last year and lost a tight match. His lack of height compared to his opponents makes him difficult to score on. Lackey should not be faced with any matches that he will struggle with before the quarterfinals, and maybe even the semifinals. He has become a dominating wrestler, realizing that if you wrestle to keep matches close, sometimes you don't win the ones you should. Troy Letters (Lehigh) - Letters has been more than impressive as a freshman. His strength and explosiveness are what has set him apart from many others at this weight class. His only loss this season is to Lackey in the Midlands finals. The score was close, but Letters didn't seem to have enough experience to be able to go shot for shot with last year's NCAA finalist. Letters has a similar build to Lackey, which is why a final between those two would be very intriguing. Letters is a pinner, more so than Lackey and Lewis. He had the most falls in the least time at his conference tournament, and he could get a couple more in the NCAA Tournament as well. Wrestlers like Letters are good for the sport of wrestling. He has a flare about him, but at the same time is not cocky. This freshmen has a bright future, but fans will truly get to see what he is made of in this tournament. Tyrone Lewis (Oklahoma State) - Lewis received a big wake up call in the Big XII Championships with a first-round loss. Recently, Lewis has become complacent on his feet, waiting for his opponents to take shots instead of him forcing the action. Wrestling lazy won't win a national title, and that loss may have come at a perfect time for him. Lewis has a wicked ankle pick, and he needs to begin using it more. There isn't a wrestler in the nation with the quickness and mat senses to stop that move when Lewis executes it. Expect a lot of takedowns in Lewis' matches, especially in the early rounds. If he can gain his offensive groove back, not a counter-offensive one, then he will have a great chance to win the national title this year. If not, then Lewis could be wrestling in the consolation rounds. The Others Jacob Volkmann (Minnesota) - Volkmann is another wrestler who is back on track after a slow start to this season. He has been pinned twice this season, a rarity for such a highly-seeded wrestler. In the past month, he has gotten back on track by wrestling smarter matches. It's not a complicated formula, he just doesn't make the mistakes he was at the start of the year. His tight 5-3 match with Lackey in the Big Ten finals may be a telling sign of how dangerous he can be in this tournament. John Clark (Ohio State) - Clark may be the most dangerous wrestler at this weight class. He can roll around with the best of them. Sometimes it gets him in trouble, but he is very exciting. He is an offensive-minded wrestler, and the defense definitely takes a back seat. If he is on in this tournament, he could end up in the finals. It would be a sure bet that none of the top seeds want to end up on the same side of the bracket as Clark. High-Impact Freshmen Jacob Klein (Nebraska), Troy Letters (Lehigh), Matt Palmer (Columbia) NCAA Finals: Matt Lackey (Illinois) vs. Tyrone Lewis (Oklahoma State)'s Pick: Matt Lackey (Illinois)
All-American Dark Horse: Matt Palmer (Columbia)