Going into Saturday's Big 12 Tournament and NCAA qualifier, the Missouri wrestling team seems primed for a postseason run.
"I challenged this team with a lot of tough dual meets and tournaments," coach Brian Smith said. "The best thing about the team this year is the way that they've responded to tough situations, so I feel very confident heading into Big 12's."
One of the most exciting brackets to watch in Saturday's tournament will be at 197 pounds, which features No. 1 Jake Varner of Iowa State, No. 2 Craig Brester of Nebraska and No. 4 junior Max Askren of Missouri. Askren lost to both Varner and Brester earlier this season.
"It's going to be fun," Askren said. "It's what you look forward to. I wouldn't say this is about redemption. It's just another place to test my abilities and do it against good opponents, and that's the fun part about it."
Senior Michael Chandler said he will look to make his final trip to the Big 12 Tournament "a dream come true." Chandler will wrestle Iowa State's Cyler Sanderson in the first round. If Chandler defeats Sanderson, he will wrestle Nebraska's Jordan Burroughs, ranked No. 1 in the nation, for the Big 12 Championship.
"I'm definitely not overlooking (Sanderson) but I know it's a match that if I wrestle my style, I will come out on top 99 percent of the time," Chandler said. "We've gone over a lot of film and individual drills on Burroughs, so I'm excited. There's no doubt in my mind that I'm going to go out there and win a Big 12 Championship."
This year, the NCAA is attempting a new qualifying system for the NCAA Tournament. Each conference weight class is ranked and given a certain number of spots at the NCAA Tournament in hopes of getting the best and most qualified wrestlers in the country.
For the Big 12, that means that all five wrestlers in the 165, 197 and heavyweight classes have already earned a bid, which means that juniors Nick Marable, Askren and Mark Ellis have all already earned their spot at NCAA's. At a weight class such as 149 pounds, only two spots have been reserved for the Big 12. Through the 10 weight classes, 37 spots have been allocated for the Big 12. For those who are unable to qualify through the Big 12 Tournament, the NCAA Committee will announce 52 wildcard spots for wrestlers across the nation March 11.
"It would be a great step for the program to win the Big 12's," Smith said. "I don't think there's ever been a male program to win an outright Big 12 title, so that's a goal of our program every year. But if I had the choice of winning the Big 12 title and getting all 10 guys to nationals, I'm taking 10 guys to nationals because my ultimate goal is to win a national title."