#2 Iowa (12-0, 6-0 B1G) vs #11 Nebraska (9-3, 3-3 B1G)
Date: Sunday, January 24, 2016
Time: 2 PM CT
Location: Devaney Sports Center (Lincoln, NE)
TV/Streaming: BTN Plus
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network (free); Hawkeye All-Access ($)
Twitter: @IowaWRLive, @IAWrestle
Finally, a dual meet against an opponent with a pulse! Illinois had enough good wrestlers to make things interesting at a handful of weights for Iowa, but it's been slim pickings for Iowa in terms of quality competition since then -- Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Purdue were all just speed bumps for Iowa. Enter: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are ranked 11th in the nation and while they're just 3-3 in the Big Ten, two of those losses came against Penn State and Ohio State (aka, the other top teams in the Big Ten). (The third loss came against Rutgers, so... yeah.) Most recent Iowa opponents have had 1-2 very good wrestlers, but little in the way of depth. Nebraska flips that script -- they don't have any elite wrestlers (their highest ranked wrestler is Jake Sueflohn at #5 at 149), but they have a wrestler ranked at every weight. That depth could help them make things interesting against an Iowa team that has good starpower at a handful of weights, but also has some clear holes at other weights.
Let's break things down...
125: #2 Thomas Gilman (JR, 16-0) vs. #9 Tim Lambert (JR, 18-4)
Gilman has been mowing through opponents of late (he's won his last four matches by fall or technical fall), but Lambert should provide far stiffer competition for Gilman, too. Lambert's four losses this year have all come against top guys -- 2x to #6 Ronnie Rios/Bresser (Oregon State), once each to #1 Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State) and #4 Nico Megaludis (Penn State). Rios pinned him in one of his wins and Tomasello put a 16-5 major decision thumping on him. Gilman and Lambert have a little head-to-head history -- Gilman eked out a 2-1 decision win over Lambert at a dual two years ago -- but both guys have improved since then. I think Gilman has improved more, but I'm not entirely convinced he's able to get a major decision here.
PREDICTION: Gilman via DEC (IOWA 3-0)
133: #3 Cory Clark (JR, 14-1) vs. #14 Eric Montoya (JR, 17-5)
Clark has looked much improved since his disappointing loss to #2 Zane Richards (Illinois), picking up bonus points in two his three wins since then and scoring a pretty comfortable decision win over #7 Ryan Taylor (Wisconsin). Montoya is solid, but he's come up short in pretty much all of his matches against Top 10 133ers this year -- I don't see that changing here. Clark and Montoya were actually set to face each other at Midlands, but Clark had to medically forfeit out of the match. I'm not sold on Clark getting bonus points here, though.
PREDICTION: Clark via DEC (IOWA 6-0)
141: UR Topher Carton (JR, 10-4) or UR Brody Grothus (SR, 2-2) vs. #20 Anthony Abidin (SR, 14-8)
Grothus got the nod against Purdue on Friday night (and earned a 6-0 win in his first match as Iowa's starter at 141), but after the dual Tom Brands indicated that Carton would get the start against Nebraska, likely to continue to allow Grothus to ease into things at his new weight. Abidin has had a very up and down season (reflected in that 14-8 record), but he did just score an impressive 10-6 win over #8 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota) a few weeks ago. I suspect he'll have a bit too much offense for Carton to handle.
PREDICTION: Abidin via DEC (IOWA 6-3)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen (SO, 18-0) vs. #5 Jake Sueflohn (SR, 21-3)
And here we reach the spotlight match of the dual and the only match featuring two Top 5 wrestlers. Sorensen recorded a 7-4 win over Sueflohn at Midlands last month, but Sueflohn has looked solid since then (aside from an 11-3 drubbing at the hands of #1 Zain Retherford (Penn State)) and Sorensen has looked a little sluggish in his last few matches. Sorensen is still the favorite here and I'd favor him to take a narrow decision, but a Sueflohn win would hardly be a huge shocker.
PREDICTION: Sorensen via DEC (IOWA 9-3)
157: #16 Edwin Cooper, Jr. (SR, 10-6) vs. #17 Tyler Berger (RS FR, 17-6)
This match is a good opportunity for Cooper to put some distance between himself and a fellow wrestler in that #15-20 range in the Top 20 rankings. It's also a chance for Cooper to improve his seed come the Big Ten Tournament, which could be beneficial. And, frankly, it's a chance for Cooper to keep his three-match winning streak going. Berger is solid, but he hasn't had much success against Top 20 opponents this year (2-5). This match is a good opportunity for Cooper to make a small statement for himself and I think he'll do just that.
PREDICTION: Cooper via DEC (IOWA 12-3)
165: UR Burke Paddock (RS FR, 9-5) or UR Patrick Rhoads (SR, 7-7) vs. #14 Austin Wilson (SR, 17-4)
Paddock got the nod against Purdue on Friday night, so it stands to reason that Rhoads could get the call to start against Nebraska on Sunday. Wilson earned a 4-2 win over Rhoads at Midlands last month and while Rhoads has looked scrappy in many of his recent matches, I haven't seen enough to suggest that he'll be able to overturn that earlier loss to Wilson.
PREDICTION: Wilson via DEC (IOWA 12-6)
174: #12 Alex Meyer (JR, 16-2) vs. #16 Micah Barnes (JR, 15-4)
Things have been rocky for a while with Meyer, but this match is a chance for him to put some separation between himself and a fellow fringe All American contender at 174 lbs. Meyer and Barnes were supposed to face off at Midlands, but Barnes had to medically forfeit out of the match instead. His only other losses on the year have been pretty credible, though -- #1 Bo Nickal (Penn State), #7 Brian Realbuto (Cornell), #13 Jonathan Schleifer (Princeton), and #15 Myles Martin (Ohio State). Meyer is definitely in the same category as those latter two guys and if he's on form, he should be able to get a win here. But with the way he's been wrestling lately, a loss just seems slightly more likely.
PREDICTION: Barnes via DEC (IOWA 12-9)
184: #7 Sammy Brooks (JR, 17-1) vs. #11 T.J. Dudley (JR, 13-3)
Outside of 149, this is probably the spotlight match of the dual -- Dudley was ranked in the Top 10 until recently, so this is a battle between two Top 10-caliber wrestlers and two guys who figure to be vying for a Big Ten Championship at this weight a few weeks from now. Dudley and Brooks have a bit of history -- they faced off in 2014, when both were redshirt freshmen; Brooks won 6-4 in sudden victory. Outside of a hiccup against #6 Hayden Zillmer (North Dakota State) (and a loss to David Taylor that isn't reflected on his record because it came against a non-Division I opponent), Brooks has been very solid this year, although he's endured some rough patches in the matches that he's won. Dudley lost a narrow decision to #10 Matt McCutcheon (Penn State), but rebounded to beat #13 Kenny Courts (Ohio State). This looks like a pretty even matchup, but I think Brooks comes out focused and uses his superior offensive skills to take a decision here.
PREDICTION: Brooks via DEC (IOWA 15-9)
197: #3 Nathan Burak (SR, 16-0) vs. #15 Aaron Studebaker (JR, 15-5) or UR Derek White (RS FR, 8-3)
Burak has been probably Iowa's second-best wrestler this season (behind Thomas Gilman at 125), especially with Brandon Sorensen's recent mild struggles at 149. Burak has been ripping through all comers this season and scoring more bonus points than he ever has before (he's earned bonus points in 62.5% of his wins this year; last year he did the same in just 22.6% of his wins). He also has a win over Studebaker already this season, 4-2 at Midlands. Studebaker is a solid opponent that can be difficult to move, but Burak is wrestling too well right now to pick against him. I think he'll take this Studebaker for a nice Sunday drive around the mat.
PREDICTION: Burak via DEC (IOWA 18-9)
285: #7 Sam Stoll (RS FR, 16-2) vs. #18 Colin Jensen (JR, 16-9)
Finally, we reach the big boys. Jensen has eaten a lot of losses at 285 this year, some to high-quality opponents and some to... not so high-quality opponents. Stoll isn't quite a top-tier heavyweight yet, but his success so far this year has firmly established himself on that second tier of heavyweights. It is heavyweight so one move could make all the difference, but Stoll has looked very good against all but the top guys at this weight, so I favor him to avoid any takedowns from Jensen and score the decisive takedown himself.
PREDICTION: Stoll via DEC (IOWA 21-9)
This prediction favors Iowa and I do think they're the favorites in this dual, but Nebraska has a real chance to win the dual -- and it wouldn't require divine intervention or anything particularly crazy to happen. Iowa looks like a solid favorite at 125 and 133, but Nebraska has a realistic shot to take any or all of the remaining eight matches. But Iowa has equally good (or better) chances to win six of those weights (all but 141 and 165) and I just don't see them losing all (or most) of the toss-up matches. I'm not seeing a lot of bonus points in this dual -- there are a lot of fairly even match-ups as well as several Nebraska wrestlers that should be good at slowing down some of Iowa's biggest point scorers -- but any bonus points could obviously swing the balance of the dual. In any event, this dual should be far more intriguing than Iowa's recent duals, where the only intrigue (outside of a match or two) was how many pins or technical falls Iowa could rack up.
The dual is on BTN Plus, but I'll be watching and posting results and feedback in the comments; feel free to join in.
The usual rules apply.