Apologies for the delay, folks. I was busy yesterday and when I wasn't busy, it seemed like the site was down. I think we're all systems go again. So on with the show...
1) So is this kinda-sorta the premier match of the dual? 165 and 184 also have two highly-ranked guys going head to head, but despite the high rankings, those aren't really considered terrible equal match-ups. It would be a minor upset if Nick Moore and Ethen Lofthouse can prevent David Taylor and Ed Ruth from getting bonus points in those matches. But 125 feels a little more evenly matched, although that's kind of a disservice to Nico Megaludis, who is a two-time NCAA runner-up. But anyway.
ROSS: I think it is, yeah. Although it's a much more important match for Clark than it is Nico, in the grand scheme of things. This is Clark's first big-time match of the year and also his first big-time match under the bright lights of a big crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena -- how will he handle the pressure? How will he handle the obvious talent and experience that Nico brings to the table? Clark had a brilliant redshirt season a year ago, but now we'll get to see how he performs under intense scrutiny -- I'm pretty excited to see. Nico is a proven commodity, both this year (he's already wrestled #2-ranked 125er Nahshon Garrett of Cornell) and in his career (again, two-time NCAA runner-up).
This is also a huge match for Iowa's hopes of winning the dual. Given the blue-and-white edge we're going to see at the heavy weights, Iowa needs to make hay in the lower weights. That isn't going to be easy, since they figure to be underdogs in three of those five matches. This match would be one of those underdog matches. If the dual starts at 125, a win here for Clark could really push the CHA crowd into a frenzy and get the night started on a great foot for Iowa.
BEN: It'd be cool if the dual started at, oh I don't know, 165 for example. But I don't think Brands or Sanderson would have it any other way than starting at 125. Something tells me they both think using an alternate starting weight is for pussies.
And you're absolutely right - if Clark takes it to OT or pulls an upset, guh. Carver will be going nuts, Ramos will be eating nails, and I'll be punching walls, because the absolute last thing I want to see is a repeat of last year in the first 3 weights.
2) Who ya got?
ROSS: I'm gonna blow my homer pick right off the bat and take Clark to pull an upset here. I think he rides the emotion of the night to a very tight decision win.
BEN: If Clark knocks off Nico, then I better stay away from the innernets. And though I fully believe Clark is a future stud, I'm sticking with Nico (and the innernets), and taking my guy by a 2 - 4 point margin. Nico is bigger and stronger this season (he actually wrestles freestyle at 121 lbs / 55kg), and he's made improvement in his neutral offense. Plus, he's my personal favorite PSU wrestler, because he's a no-flash, high-pace grinder. But it's gonna be fun start.
1) This is a match where Iowa has to not just win but get bonus points, right?
ROSS: Right. Bonus points have seemed pretty big in the Iowa-Penn State series lately. Iowa's series with Minnesota and Oklahoma State have tended to be pretty tight, cagey affairs lately -- lots of close decisions at several weights and pretty close overall scores. That hasn't quite been the case with Penn State. Part of that is probably down to the roster balance for those squads; Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma State have been a bit more evenly matched from top to bottom, while Iowa has tended to be much stronger at the lower weights than Penn State, while the Nittany Lions have tended to be much stronger at the upper weights than Iowa. (Although, strangely, this year Iowa has more wrestlers ranked in the top-6 from 165-285 -- 4 of 5 -- than they do from 125-157 -- 3 of 5.)
Do the numbers back me up here?
2013: 22-16 Iowa (5 matches w/ BP)
2012: 22-12 PSU (1 match w/ BP)
2011: 22-13 Iowa (3 matches w/ BP)
2010: 29-6 Iowa (3 matches w/ BP)
Um... sort of? The main dual with a lot of bonus point was last year's dual, so maybe I'm just letting the recency effect cloud my thinking. Still, I do think bonus points will be available in this meet and it will be vital that Iowa scores as many as they can because they're going to need them to off-set Penn State at several weights.
TL; DR -- Iowa needs bonus points to win this dual and this match represents their best shot of getting them by far.
BEN: There are ways for the Hawks to win without getting bonus at 133. But they involve Mike Kelly, David Taylor, and a Dengue Fever outbreak at 184. And I agree, this is your best shot at getting bonus.
2) Who ya got?
ROSS: Gulibon is a promising young talent, but he's also proof positive that not every top recruit is a prodigy straight out of the gate. He's 4-5 on the season and he enters this match on a 4-game losing streak. That includes losses to some good wrestlers, like Lehigh's Mason Beckman and Ohio State's Johnni DiJulius, but it's still not a very great track record to this point. Now he gets to head into CHA to face a tenacious Tony Ramos. Uh oh.
Tony has pinned his PSU opponent in his last two dual meets against Penn State and I think he has a shot of making it three in a row here, even though Gulibon is a talented kid. Tony feeds off the crowd like few other wrestlers and we're sure to have a loud, boisterous crowd by the time this match gets underway. I''ll take Tony by a comfortable major decision, although it would definitely not stun me if he grabbed a pin here.
BEN: Gulibon is our Nick Moore. It's just going to take a little while to get adjusted. Unfortunately, there's no more time left for this week.
Ramos absolutely KILLS Penn State every. Freaking. Year. The two pins as you mentioned. And 3 years ago he upset Andrew Long. I won't be sorry to see Ramos graduate.
1) So... this Zain Retherford fella is pretty good, huh? One match does not a career make, but it does seems like he's on the fast track to be the next great Penn State wrestler after Taylor and Ruth graduate later this year. Is that accurate?
ROSS: I haven't seen him wrestle much this year, but I did see him take down Logan Stieber last weekend and that was damn impressive. I thought Stieber might cruise to an undefeated season and a third-straight national title; now there's some definite doubt in those predictions. Retherford put an unreal ride on Stieber -- he rode him as hard and as strong as Steiber usually rides his opponents. He looks like a definite beast-in-training, which is had news for the rest of the NCAA. That said, he's not a bonus point monster -- yet. Only six of his 11 wins this year have included bonus points; that's a good clip, but it's not the freakish level of dominance that we've seen from Taylor and Ruth.
BEN: He already has a nickname at BSD - zPain. You'd think a Cadet World Freestyle Champ would be best on his feet - and he's been solid there, notching the winning takedown against Stieber, as you noted. But Retherford's just plain scary on top. Not scary because of his turns and tilts, but because he's a freaking remorseless butcher. He is going to power half your shoulder until we all see your scapula explode through your skin, out the side of your body. And then you go over. I think we'll start seeing opponents choose neutral before too long.
But "next great"? Yeah, too early. Andrew Alton pinned something like 10 of his first 12 opponents, and lost to Kellen Russell on rideout at the Scuffle final as a true frosh - and he still hasn't made the podium. (although....Retherford is a freaking beast on the mat...)
2) Are you ready for a little Pennsylvania-on-Pennsylvania violence?
ROSS: Yes, although the last time Dziewa faced a notable Pennsylvanian (Mitchell Port of Edinboro), things did not go so well. That said, there was a whiff of flukiness to that match; it's not that Port didn't deserve to win (he did), but rather the pinfall itself -- Dziewa made a slight mistake and Port duly punished him for it. I don't know that we'd see that again if there was a rematch. I remain eager to see what Dziewa can do in seven minutes against the best guys at this weight -- because, honestly, it's still a bit of a mystery. Dziewa was a highly-touted member of Iowa's much-lauded 2010 recruiting class, but his Iowa career has been very quiet so far. In part, that was due to a logjam of talent at his weight -- Montell Marion was the starter when Dziewa arrived and Mark Ballweg manned the spot well last year -- but that's not an issue now; now it's time for Dziewa to shine. This match would be a great opportunity for him to break out.
BEN: I'm always ready for that. But I barely recognized Dziewa in the Mitchell Port loss. I could be completely full of ***t, but Dziewa in high school was not at all in the DSJ-beanpole mode. He was closer in height / stockiness to the Altons; against Port he looked more like Scotti Sentes than Brent Metcalf. So I wonder if a late growth spurt has kinda thrown him for a loop? Because I agree - I thought we'd have seen him do more than what he has so far. Even with Marion and Ballweg at 41, it's not like Metcalf's been manning 149 the last two years.
3) Who ya got?
ROSS: A few weeks ago, I thought this match would be more of a toss-up: two first-year starters lurking around the low teens in the national rankings. Then Retherford went and beat Logan freaking Stieber in a match last weekend and now he has to be a very solid favorite here. That's too bad, because this is another weight where Iowa could really stand to steal a win if they want to win the dual meet.
Unfortunately, I just can't do it. I used my homer card at 125, you know? And, seriously, the last time Dziewa faced a top-tier 141er, he got put on his back by Edinboro's Mitchell Port. That was embarrassing. It was also a bit unlucky -- he got up too high on Port while riding him and -- bam! -- one quick scramble later he was staring up at the lights. But Dziewa isn't afraid to put himself into some dangerous positions; I think Retherford scores a few points on him in those situations, unfortunately.
BEN: This is another test for Retherford. Dziewa is (now) a long, lean, funk-master - pretty much the opposite of himself. It's at Carver, and the crowd will be in full throat after watching Ramos...but Zain doesn't shrink from a challenge. Penn State goes back on top.
1) Iowa and Penn State combined to win four straight NCAA titles at this weight and make five straight appearances in the finals of the NCAA Tournament. What the hell has happened since then?
ROSS: Nothing good lasts forever? I mean, we've talked about the hideous curse that's afflicted Iowa at this weight since Brent Metcalf departed Iowa. It sucks. But it's nothing new. At this point, all Iowa fans can do is shrug and laugh at whatever miserable misfortune AI149HG throws at us.
BEN: "I TAKE DOWN!!!" That's what you want me to write, in explanation for the 5th appearance but finals loss, right? Freaking Kyle Dake. And last year it turns out Andrew Alton had a torn labrum, which sucked.
2) Who's actually gonna wrestle at this weight on Saturday night?
ROSS: I'll chime in on the Iowa side of things... I think it's gotta be Mike Kelly. Grothus has seen action a few times this season, but any hopes that he's made a leap forward and become a solid enough option to capably man this weight for Iowa this year have been cast aside. He's the same old Grothus: unable to consistently score from neutral and still too prone to making costly mistakes and giving up big points. Kelly is the safer option and while safety doesn't often win the day when it comes to starting decisions for Iowa, it probably does here.
BEN: I'll also take the Iowa side, and select Brody Grothus.
No, not really. Penn State, I think, runs redshirt freshman Zach Beitz out there. (Pronunciation guide: "bites"; BSD Nickname: BEETS). BEETS is a Bryan Pearsall doppelganger, though BEETS already has a better shot (ankle pick), and scrambles better (in my opinion). You can get to his legs, but beware the funk roll. No takedown is easy.
The other contender to start is 6th year senior Jim English, but I think English's chances of getting the start at Iowa went out the door when he got pinned versus Pitt. Not pretty. #7 Andrew Alton is officially listed as "doubtful". Insert "so you're saying there's a chance" gif. Which is a freaking shame, because a healthy Alton is scoring 6 team points here.
3) Who ya got?
ROSS: It's Iowa at 149 lbs. -- what do YOU think? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three years running, well... Look, on paper does Iowa have a shot at this weight? Yes. Penn State lists three guys at this weight -- Andrew Alton, Zack Beitz, and James English -- and there's reason to believe that they're beatable. Beitz just scored a nice win over #19 Ian Paddock, but he also has 4 losses this season, including a few to some unassuming guys. English is 3-2, without any particularly notable wins. Alton has the most talent by far, but he also hasn't wrestled this season while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery -- and he wasn't exactly a cardio machine when he was healthy. Still, it's Iowa. It's 149. I expect very little here.
BEN: This being a dual at Carver Hawkeye, I need to prepare myself for the possibility that Herky has been sh**ting rainbows again, and this 149 matchup starts with Iowa having 12-0 lead over PSU. In such a scenario, I've most likely been arrested for a violent felony, and Mike Kelly gets his first nice win as a Hawkeye. Heck - I still think this is a true toss up, because I'm not as down on Mike Kelly as Hawk fans. I remember him shoving Frank Molinaro three years ago at Rec Hall. Kid has some fight. So - since I've taken PSU all the way so far, and that's not likely to happen, it's time to give away one we can, if not should, win. Iowa reclaims the lead in an epic, back-and-forth dual.
1) Like Andrew, Dylan Alton is officially listed as "doubtful" (side note: this is the first time I can recall seeing NFL-style injury reports for a wrestling dual. College wrestling welcomes Vegas?). If DSJ was a slight favorite over Alton, what do you make of his odds against Jim Vollrath? Could DSJ earn bonus?
BEN: I would have given DSJ 60/40 odds over Dylan. I give him 85/15 odds over Vollrath. Jim is a 5th year senior, and a Penn State legacy. He's probably a better athlete than Alton - dude is powerful and explosive. Vollrath is not a tomato can - he beat Okie State's Dieringer last year at the Southern Scuffle, placing 2nd (and, he placed 3rd the prior year). So - Vollrath could pull an upset here.
But I'm not giving it any great odds. When Jim hits his single leg cleanly, it's going to be a takedown. When he doesn't, well....he's not the best scrambler. And that scares the **** out of me against DSJ.
ROSS: "Doubtful" is a nice start on the way to the NFL-ization of the sport, but I'm waiting for the arrival of a nice "day-to-day" injury status. Anyway. DSJ is definitely a bigger favorite against Vollrath than Alton, but bonus points? Eh, I'm not so sure about that. I think the best bet for bonus points out of DSJ is if he manages to catch Vollrath on his back and score a pin. I don't think he'll get enough takedowns (or back points) to secure a major decision, let alone a technical fall. That just isn't typically the way DSJ operates and, even if it was, Vollrath has solid enough defense to keep things from getting too out of hand.
2) Who ya got?
ROSS: I feel less certain if Dylan Alton is indeed going to go at this weight for Penn State, but I'm still riding with DSJ here. St. John is the defending national champion, after all, and Alton hasn't wrestled a match all season (while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery -- just like his twin brother! That's creepy). St. John is better, he's sharper, and I think he knows how much Iowa needs him to win this match to have any hope of winning the dual. If Alton gets the nod, I think St. John wins by a narrow decision. If Vollrath gets the call instead, I think St. John wins by a more comfortable decision.
BEN: I agree with you. Although I think Dylan can eventually take DSJ this season, I wouldn't count on it happening in his first match back from surgery - not that I think Dylan wrestles anyhow. If Vollrath uses the same gameplan he used against Dieringer - which is basically DSJ's gameplan most matches - this could still be a close decision. But I'm thinking something more along the lines of a 4 - 6 point margin for DSJ.
GO READ PART TWO HERE