We Must Break You is the weekly round-up of news regarding the Iowa wrestling program, a breakdown of the rankings, and a look ahead to the weekend's action. Feel free to send any links, tips, suggestions, complaints, or bribes to firstname.lastname@example.org
Programming note: The Iowa-Minnesota dual meet is airing on BTN on Sunday, however it's once again not airing live. It's not like anyone would be interested in watching a dual between the conference's only remaining unbeaten teams. But I digress. Perhaps this isn't the time or place to complain about the BTN's scheduling practices, like why none of the past three Iowa duals have been available, either on BTN proper or BTN.com. Or why Iowa, a team ranked in the top-ten all season and a program that has the largest and most passionate fanbase for wrestling in the country, has had one appearance on live TV in conference play, while Ohio State, a below-middling program with fans that are infinitely more interested in their title-contending teams in sports that involve balls, has had three appearances on live TV during the conference season. That makes a ton of sense. Just like it makes a lot of sense to not even provide a live stream of the first two sessions of the Big Ten Tournament. Sure am glad I'm paying that subscription fee for the Iowa streams on BTN.com.
And, look, I do realize that the coverage the BTN has provided has been excellent in comparison to the alternative; pre-BTN, as an out-of-state resident the only meet I could have seen would have been the Iowa-Okie State dual, which was televised on ESPNU. But it wouldn't take much for the BTN's coverage to go from "good" to "great." Not utilizing the live streams better is particularly galling. But anyway, the Iowa-Minnesota dual is on BTN on Sunday at 8:30pm CST. If you want to stay spoiler-free until the broadcast airs, I recommend avoiding BHGP for the afternoon. The dual meet itself begins at 2:00pm CST and we will be talking about it as it happens.
AH'M STILL UH CONTENDAH. On the heels of his first loss of the season and with still just a handful of matches under his belt, the Daily Iowan poses the question: is Montell Marion a legit contender at 141? It's a good thing the question is almost rhetorical because the answer is abundantly obvious. Yes, of course:
The Hawkeye had proved in his first three matches back in the Black and Gold that there wasn’t any rust to shake off, and he was ready to pick up where he left off in Omaha last March. It was a huge test for the Des Moines native — one that could cement him as a contender or prove it was too soon to bestow a top-three ranking on him.
It turns out that even in a loss, Marion cemented himself as a contender.
He's already beaten a very dangerous opponent (and another legitimate contender) in Penn State's Andrew Alton and as the article notes, he had Russell, the undefeated #1 guy at 141, on the ropes until the closing seconds of the match. There are a few things Marion needs to clean up, but overall he's already wrestling at a very high level, which is impressive considering his long lay-off. 141 is a nightmarishly tough division, both in the Big Ten and at the NCAA level, but don't bet against Marion finding himself atop a podium over the next month. He's a legitimate force to be reckoned with in that division.
Rankings like hey-oh.
TEAM: #3 (Intermat - tourney) / #2 (NWCA/USA Today - dual) / #2 (d1collegewrestling - ?) / #2 (TheOpenMat - ?)
INDIV (Intermat / TheOpenMat / d1collegewrestling / AWN)
125: Matt McDonough (#1 / #2 / #2 / #2)
133: Tony Ramos (#7 / #10 / #8 / #11)
141: Montell Marion (#3 / #5 / #4 / #5)
157: Derek St. John (#7 / #6 / #7 / #8)
165: Aaron Janssen (#13 / #10 / #13 / #16)
174: Ethen Lofthouse (#11 / #12 / #12 / #13)
184: Grant Gambrall (#11 / #10 / #11 / #11)
197: Luke Lofthouse (#8 / #7 / #8 / #9)
HWT: Blake Rasing (#15 / #16 / #17 / #17)
Very little movement on the rankings front this week, with Rasing's return to the rankings (after his impressive win over Apland) being the only significant news. Lofthouse the Elder dropped a notch or two to accommodate the return of Minnesota's Sonny Yohn and there was a little shuffling for Lofthouse the Younger and Gambrall, but that was pretty much the extent of it. Marion didn't drop for losing a razor-close decision to Russell.
Fuck Minnesota. Rivalries have always been a strange business where Iowa's concerned. Ask any group of Iowa fans who Iowa's biggest rival is and you're likely to get multiple responses -- even in a single sport. Things only get more confusing when you look at other sports. For good or ill, Iowa doesn't have that one big rival; there is no Auburn to our Alabama, no Ohio State to our Michigan. Even in wrestling, it's hard to pin down just one team as "the rival." Iowa State is important both because they're in-state and because they're usually very solid -- but they lack the history of success to be up there. Or at least recent history: they have the third-most team titles of any school (8), but they haven't won since 1987 (and before that, since 1977). Iowa's won, uh, a few more than that since then. Oklahoma State is up there, of course -- they're the one true historical rival (34 titles, including their Oklahoma A&M days), they've been their biggest rival since Gable took Iowa to prominence (7 titles in the 80s and 90s), and stylistically, they're the antithesis of Iowa, defensive and somewhat passive rather than aggressive and incredibly active. But whither Minnesota? They're not chopped liver in this discussion. They've won more titles than anyone besides Iowa and Oklahoma State over the the last thirty years (3 titles, all in the 00s) and emerged as Iowa's biggest conference rival. And there's that border state and "Who hates Iowa?" business, too.
Not to mention the fact that Minnesota has "family" ties to Iowa -- the godfather of Minnesota wrestling, J. Robinson, was a celebrated member of the Iowa coaching staff under Dan Gable in the late 70s and early 80s. In fact, there's more than a few parallels between that situation and another famous Iowa coach with an impressive coaching tree. Like Gable, Hayden Fry resurrected a program (football) at Iowa and took it to impressive heights. Like Gable, he had a key assistant (Barry Alvarez) leave the nest to take over a struggling program at a border rival. Like Robinson, Alvarez took the Wisconsin football program to incredible new heights. Hell, like Robinson, Alvarez also had his team adopt a similar philosophy to his former team (in the football sense, that meant building a hard-nosed defense and developing a punishing running game [although, yes, I know Hayden liked to throw the rock around a lot, too]; in the wrestling sense, that meant imitating Iowa's aggressive, attack-friendly style). Of course, it's easier to respect Wisconsin because, well, fuck Minnesota.
You don't have to tell the Iowa wrestlers that this is a big dual, either. Says McD and Brands in The Daily Iowan:
"There’s a lot at stake," Brands said. "This is important to them. They’re going to have their team ready. This isn’t going to be an ambush."
McDonough agreed, and said the Hawkeyes have to be at their best against a good opponent that wants badly to beat them.
"There’s no love lost," he said of the rivalry. "It’s two teams consistently in the hunt to be Big Ten champs. We’re going to have to leave everything we have out there."
So, yeah, this is a big dual meet. The winner claims the regular season Big Ten crown -- and bragging rights. There's also the little matter of Iowa's 76-meet unbeaten streak. It's not as important as winning more titles, but still: it's pretty cool. And it would be really annoying to have it end at the hands of the fucking Gophers. The dual is also significant in terms of seeding purposes: wins here could go a long way in getting Iowa wrestlers slightly more favorable seeds in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
So how's it gonna go? Intermat has a nice preview here that highlights five key points for each team and The Open Mat goes weight-by-weight here, ultimately going with another round of sister-kissing, an 16-16 tie. That would be the third tie this year between two elite teams (following Iowa's tie with Oklahoma State and Minnesota's tie with Penn State last week), which would be kind of fitting in a year where parity has dominated the discussion. In Iowa's first two big duals of the season (Oklahoma State and Penn State), I set my homer glasses aside and picked Iowa losses, mainly because Iowa had so many untested guys (and because they'd gagged so badly at Midlands). They forced me to eat some (delicious) crow, grinding out a tie with Oklahoma State and cruising past Penn State. So am I going to keep my reverse jinx streak alive and pick against them here or have I learned my lesson to stop doubting Brands & Co.?
#2 Iowa (14-0-1) vs. #5 Minnesota (15-3-1)
LIKELY MATCHUPS (Iowa wrestlers listed first; rankings from Intermat)
125: #1 Matt McDonough (SO, 19-1) vs. #5 Zach Sanders (JR, 24-2)
133: #7 Tony Ramos (RS FR, 17-3) vs. #20 David Thorn (RS FR, 12-8)
141: #3 Montell Marion (JR, 6-1) vs. #2 Mike Thorn (SR, 32-2)
149: Mark Ballweg (RS FR, 16-5/1-2 at 149) vs. Danny Zilverberg (RS FR, 16-10)
157: #7 Derek St. John (RS FR, 15-3) vs. Matt Mincey (SO, 10-7) or Joe Grygelko (JR, 3-9)
165: #13 Aaron Janssen (SR, 22-5) vs. #12 Cody Yohn (SO, 24-9)
174: #11 Ethen Lofthouse (RS FR, 15-6) vs. #15 Scott Glasser (SR, 25-9)
184: #11 Grant Gambrall (SO, 17-4) vs. #8 Kevin Steinhaus (RS FR, 27-8)
197: #8 Luke Lofthouse (SR, 16-4) vs. #4 Sonny Yohn (JR, 11-2) or Joe Nord (SR, 8-11)
HWT: #15 Blake Rasing (JR, 13-5) vs. #8 Tony Nelson (RS FR, 26-4) or Ben Berhow (SR, 11-3)
125: McD MAJ DEC Sanders (Iowa, 4-0)
133: Ramos DEC Thorn (Iowa, 7-0)
141: Marion DEC Thorn (Iowa, 10-0)
149: Zilverberg DEC Ballweg (Iowa, 10-3)
157: DSJ MAJ DEC Mincey (Iowa, 14-3)
165: Janssen DEC Yohn (Iowa, 17-3)
174: Lofthouse DEC Glasser (Iowa, 20-3)
184: Steinhaus DEC Gambrall (Iowa, 20-6)
197: Yohn DEC Lofthouse (Iowa, 20-9)
HWT: Nelson DEC Rasing (Iowa, 20-12)
This is a really close dual. Iowa's a favorite at 125, 133, and 157, and Minnesota's a solid favorite at HWT, but every other weight is basically a toss-up. If Iowa picks up bonus points where they're favored and holds their own in the toss-up matches, they'll win. If they suffer a few upsets, though, or lose most of the toss-ups, things could go south.
125: It's hard to pick against a McD pin when he's had six in a row (as well as pins in all seven of his previous matches in Big Ten duals), but Sanders is a legit opponent and the toughest guy McD has faced since Brandon Precin a few weeks ago. Granted, he did manage to pin Precin and he's on such a tear right now that it's hard to bet against him... but I think Sanders is able to avoid getting stuck.
133: On paper, Ramos looks like a pretty big favorite, but Thorn is scrappy and a bit better than his record/ranking would indicate. He also has some good offense, so this could be a high-scoring match. I think Ramos wins, but Thorn gets too much offense in to give up a major.
141: For the second straight dual, this is the meet of the match. The only man to beat either Marion or Thorn is #1 Kellen Russell, who beat both last weekend (and tacked on another win over Thorn earlier in the season). These two also had a trio of wild matches last year, with Thorn winning two (a pin and a 12-3 major decision) and Marion winning the other (a 15-7 major decision). So this one could be pretty high-scoring, too. That said, both guys have upped their games this year and I don't see either getting blown out. Marion uses the last-second loss to Russell as motivation to pull out the win here.
149: The first of our toss-up bouts is also the only match that doesn't feature a ranked wrestler on either side. Zilverberg had his struggles earlier in the year, but he's three of his last four and took #3 Frank Molinaro to the wire. Ballweg's been struggling with the move up in weight (and got manhandled last week by Michigan's Grajales). I'm past expecting any wins from Iowa at this weight this year (any wins will just be a nice bonus), but Ballweg really needs to hold it to a decision.
157: Now this looks like Iowa's best shot at racking up bonus points in this dual. DSJ has steadily moved up the rankings and looked better and better since Midlands (aside from the match where he got humbled by PSU's David Taylor). Either Mincey or Gygelko will be sorely overmatched here and DSJ should have an excellent opportunity to get bonus points. A pin isn't even out of the question, frankly.
165: The second of the big toss-up meets in the dual. Rankings-wise, this one is razor-close and they've been similar in results, too: lots of wins, but few (if any) against the top at this weight class. Still, I like Janssen to pull off the (very slight) upset here because he's really been wrestling well of late. He's been more aggressive, which has been great to see.
174: In terms of rankings, 174 isn't as close as 141 or 165, but it's still basically a toss-up. Both Lofthouse and Glasser have run hot and cold in results this year, so it's hard to know who shows up here. Ethen had a rough loss to Purdue's Luke Manuel last week (which could be really damaging when it comes to seeding at Big Tens), but rebounded with a solid win over Michigan's Justin Zeerip. I like him to build off that small amount of momentum and edge one against Glasser here.
184: Steinhaus has two Big Ten losses this year, but they also came against two of the 184'ers that Gambrall hasn't faced this year (Purdue's AJ Kissel and Wisconsin's Travis Rutt), so Gambrall's 7-0 Big Ten record is a little misleading. More recently, Steinhaus has won three in a row, including a pair of major decisions over Michigan's Hunter Collins and Penn State's Quentin Wright, two guys Gambrall could only get decisions against. Gambrall has also been tough to figure out this year, often looking good for two periods before shutting it down in the third, leading to a lot of "closer than it should have been" wins (and a few losses, too). I think that finally bites him against Steinhaus.
197: At the start of the year, it would have been a shock to see this listed as a "toss-up," considering that Yohn was a Top 5 guy and Lofthouse was ranked in the teens and had a history of struggling to beat top-ranked guys. But then Yohn spent most of the year injured and Lofthouse finally broke through and starting beating those top-ranked guys rather than just losing close decisions to them. If he's fully healthy, Yohn is still a very difficult matchup for Lofthouse. But like so many Iowa wrestlers this year, Lofthouse has taken his game to another level in conference play and looked really impressive. Still, I'm not quite ready to pick him to get by Yohn -- though I dearly hope that Uncle Luke proves me wrong.
HWT: In terms of rankings and results, Minnesota is a deserved favorite, but as we've seen time and again this year, Rasing is largely capable of beating anyone he faces... he's just not consistently skilled enough to do it. The hope is that his big pinfall win over Michigan's Ben Apland last week serves as a springboard for him to reach new heights... but it's just so hard to have faith in Rasing. I can't do it -- yet.