How Pantherpitt Won December’s Title: Best and Worst Picks

Another exciting month of FFL came to a close Thursday night with the completion of the Powerade Tournament and Illinois Matmen Open. When the dust settled, I was fortunate enough to defend my monthly title and edge out some tough competition to win a flight to NCAAs in March. With the FFL monthly prizes ever improving, there is sure to be more and more wrestling fans registering to play. This is a unique game with a bit of a learning curve, so, in an effort to highlight some common mistakes and maybe provide some strategy tips, I’ll break down some of my best and worst picks from last month. 

Worst Picks:

Greg Kerkvliet 275, Penn State vs. Pennsylvania (3 December), Scratched–0 points

Bernie Truax 184, Cal Poly @ Cliff Keen Invitational (3-4 December), Scratched–0 points

P.J. Ogunsanya 149, Army vs. Rutgers (10 December), Scratched–0 points

I’m starting with the worst picks because, in this game, you can hurt yourself with a bad pick far more than you can help yourself with a great one. The most important piece of strategy advice I can give: avoid taking zeros! It is important to remember that the only way a wrestler does not earn points in this game is if he/she does not take the mat. Spencer Lee and Gable Steveson are obviously great picks anytime they compete, but if they happen not to wrestle, they earn you a zero. I learned this lesson the hard way when I first started playing FFL, and I now make a concerted effort to pick wrestlers I’m confident will compete. Even so, I still managed to make multiple picks that earned zero points this month. I try to monitor all available news leading up to a match/tournament, but sometimes that news doesn’t come until it is too late (or at all) and you end up picking a wrestler who scratches. This will inevitably happen to everyone–just try your best to avoid picking scratches when the news IS available. FFL made a recent upgrade that allows players to change their selections until games lock. This will be a huge help.

Sam Mitchell 197, Buffalo vs. Will Feldkamp, Clarion (23 December), LBF–5 points

Full disclosure–I was not very familiar with Sam Mitchell when I picked him, but I did know he wrestled Binghamton All-American Louie DePrez close (LBD 5-3) in early November and won a 5-1 decision over Edinboro’s super tough Cody Mulligan in early December. That was reason enough for me to roll the dice on him as a tier 5 pick. Unfortunately it didn’t work out well for me and he got pinned by Clarion’s Feldkamp. Obviously, this is never ideal, but my mistake was compounded by the fact that Buffalo 125-pounder Tristan Daughterty was an option in the same tier. He ended up defeating Clarion’s Joey Fischer 3-1 in OT, thus earning 15 FFL points. In hindsight, Daughterty should have been the clear pick, even if Fischer may have been slightly favored coming off of a strong performance the prior weekend at the Reno Tournament of Champions. It figured to be a tight match with the worst case scenario for Daughterty likely being a decision loss, which is worth 10 FFL points. With the way dual contests are structured (5 tiers: heavy favorites, favorites, toss-ups, underdogs, heavy underdogs), earning 10 points from tier 5 (heavy underdogs) is a win. I thought that Fischer would beat Daughterty, but I also thought it would be close. Instead of being greedy and chasing a longshot win based on some shoddy box score research, I should have taken the 10-15 points Daughtery was likely to earn. A significant part of this game is being able to recognize relative value, so anytime there are wrestlers in tier 5 in what you consider to be a toss-up matchup, pick them! 

Sam Latona 125, Virginia Tech vs. Noah Surtin, Missouri (4 December), LBF–5 points

Sometimes a bad pick is just a bad pick. The warning signs were there with early losses to Columbia’s Joe Manchio and Ohio State’s Malik Heinselman, but I couldn’t accept that this wasn’t the same version of Latona that took home All-American honors last March. Latona’s early season struggles are a good reminder of how slim the margin of error is in college wrestling and just how difficult it is to win when everything isn’t dialed in perfectly. I’m rooting hard for Latona to get back to the best version of himself and compete for another spot on the podium in March. The lesson here is to pay close attention to current form. When making picks, it is natural to gravitate towards name recognition and past accolades, but those shouldn’t be the only considerations. Watch as many matches as possible and pay close attention to recent results.

 Best Picks:

Jordan Wood 275, Lehigh vs. Penn State (5 December), WBFFT–23 points

Everyone will make mistakes in this game, so the best thing you can do is learn from them as quickly as possible. I picked Greg Kerkvliet two days prior against Penn and got burned when PSU forfeited 275 with the match in hand. It was later revealed that PSU’s room had been hit by the flu bug, so it didn’t seem likely that the starters who missed the Penn match would be ready to go with such a quick turnaround. Already a solid pick at an underdog tier, Lehigh All-American Jordan Wood became automatic with it likely that he would either receive a forfeit, wrestle a backup, or face an under-the-weather Kerkvliet. PSU ended up forfeiting 275 again, and Wood maxed out with 23 FFL points. 

Jonathan Millner 149, Appalachian State vs. Matt Fields, NC State (12 December), WBMD–18 points

Originally slated to face NC State 2-time All-American Tariq Wilson, Millner faced off against NC State backup Matt Fields. This is a good example of how important it is to pay attention to available news, as it was clear ahead of time that Wilson was not going to compete. Give me the returning All-American versus a backup every single time. Having said that, this was not as automatic as it usually would be. NC State has to have the deepest roster in the country, as they are seemingly able to run out guy after guy just as good as the next. Still, Millner was the right pick, and it paid off nicely with him earning a major decision good for 18 FFL points. An added bonus was that Wilson was a popular pick in the same tier. So, while I earned 18 FFL points, a good portion of the competition did not earn any since Wilson did not compete.

Vito Arujau 125, Cornell vs. Jake Campbell, Penn State (20 December), WBF–20 points

Despite prevalent rumors that Cornell All-American Vito Arujau would eventually compete at 125lbs this season, he was projected for FFL purposes to wrestle Penn State returning National Champion Roman Bravo-Young at 133lbs, placing him in a lower tier as an underdog. Once news broke that Arujau weighed in at 125lbs for the Journeymen Collegiate Duals, he immediately became a huge favorite against whichever Penn State 125-pounder he’d face and a must-pick on FFL. He earned a quick fall worth 20 FFL points and was a tremendous value pick based on his original projection.

Gavin Hoffman 197, Ohio State vs. Nino Bonaccorsi, Pitt (12 December), LBD–10 points

Particularly at the lowest tier, you are often forced to pick from a group of wrestlers that just simply aren’t likely to win. Sometimes the best pick you can make is the wrestler that will lose by the least amount of points. Ohio State’s Gavin Hoffman is a really good wrestler and given the other options, I did not hesitate to pick him against returning NCAA finalist Nino Bonaccorsi even though I fully expected him to lose. Hoffman was able to narrowly avoid the major decision and earn 10 FFL points, which as I said previously, is a win for a tier 5 pick. The other lesson to learn from this–pick with your head and not your heart. Nino is my favorite college wrestler and not only did I pick against him here (even though I was confident he’d win), but I also did not pick him for the Illinois Matmen Open. I thought he’d win that event too, but in FFL it is always best to try to find the path of least resistance. I believed that the winner of Rutgers’ Greg Bulsak and Wisconsin’s Braxton Amos would pose a significant challenge to Nino, so I opted for Wisconsin’s Trent Hilger who seemed to have a better potential finals matchup against Rider’s Ethan Laird. Nino ended up dropping a tough match in the final to Bulsak, while Hilger edged out Laird to win the title. Congrats to Bulsak, who looks like a legitimate All-American contender, on a great win. I still believe Nino is a title contender, and should there be a rematch between these two, give me the wrestler who pushed the action and scored the only offensive points of the match.

Tate Samuelson 184, Wyoming vs. Dakota Geer, Oklahoma St (17 December), WBD–15 points

At the time of this matchup, Oklahoma State’s 2-time All American Dakota Geer was undefeated and ranked #7 in the country, while Wyoming’s Tate Samuelson had recently suffered two losses at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational finishing in 4th place. Geer is obviously a great wrestler and appeared to be the clear favorite on paper. However, that is ignoring the results of their previous meetings, as Samuelson defeated Geer both times they wrestled last season. I decided to ignore my own advice (pay attention to recent form) and went with Samuleson as a tier 4 underdog pick given his previous success against Geer. This match could have gone either way, but Samuelson eventually earned a hard-fought 3-1 OT victory good for 15 FFL points.

If you were able to make it through this entire long-winded, self-indulgent rant, hopefully you learned something about FFL that will help you make your picks. FFL is a great game, and I hope to see new players continue to sign up. To those who have been around a while, it is so much fun competing against everyone, and I look forward to seeing you at the top of the leaderboard. Best of luck in January!

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