#2 Iowa (13-0, 7-0 B1G) vs #23 Minnesota (7-6, 3-2 B1G)
Date: Friday, January 29, 2016
Time: 8 PM CT
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
TV/Streaming: BTN / BTN2Go
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network (free); Hawkeye All-Access ($)
Twitter: @IowaWRLive, @IAWrestle
Tickets: Hawkeye Sports
The Iowa-Minnesota rivalry has been one of the best in wrestling in recent years, with the teams splitting their last four meetings and engaging in a series of close, hard-fought wins. (Although last year Iowa beat the Gophers pretty comfortably, 23-12.) Iowa's held up their end of the bargain this year -- they're 13-0 and undefeated in league play (with the caveat that the unbalanced schedules this year have prevented Iowa from facing any of the Big Ten's other top teams: Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan) -- but the Gophers have not. They're 7-6 overall and just 3-2 in the Big Ten; they needed a semi-miraculous comeback last week to get a win over Purdue in a dual meet. This is not the Gopher team that was a threat to win Big Ten or NCAA titles over the last few seasons. Most of that team has graduated and the Gophers aren't reloading this year -- they're in a full-fledged rebuild. Not surprisingly, the results have been rough during that rebuild.
So on paper this projects to be an easy blowout for the Hawkeyes, despite Minnesota's history and pedigree. But this dual does have some intriguing matchups -- the Gophers will be favored at 141, no matter who the Hawkeyes send out at that weight, and Jake Short has kept things close against Brandon Sorensen in the past. 157 and 165 look like toss-up matches and the Gophers have their two strongest wrestlers at 197 (Brett Pfarr) and 285 (Michael Kroells), who seem capable of pulling off the upset against Iowa's own ranked wrestlers at those weights. That said, even if all (or most) of that breaks Minnesota's way, they look badly overmatched in the other weights and there could be bonus points aplenty for the Hawkeyes in the matches where they'll be favored (125, 133, 174, 184). So on the whole it's tough to see this result as anything but an Iowa win, with the only question being just how one-sided it gets.
One of the biggest matches of the night is at 285, where Minnesota expatriate Sam Stoll will be facing his home state school for the first time in his college career. Stoll, ranked #7 this week, faces Minnesota's Michael Kroells, ranked #9 this week. Stoll and Kroells have a bit of history from their Minnesota prep days; Kroells usually got the better of Stoll back in those days, but Sammy has improved quite a bit since then -- hopefully he can flip the script on their matchups tonight. Andy Hamilton wrote a nice story on Stoll's recruitment by Iowa and how he even managed to surprise the coaches a bit by choosing the Hawkeyes over the Gophers. Wise choice, Same. Wise choice.
To the breakdown:
125: #2 Thomas Gilman (JR, 17-0) vs. UR Skyle Petry (RS FR, 11-12) or UR Steve Polakowski (FR, 11-5)
It doesn't really matter who Minnesota sends out here -- Thomas Gilman is going to win and he's going to win big. I rarely predict pins, but I have a hunch that Gilman will be able to put whoever he faces on their back tonight.
PREDICTION: Gilman VIA FALL (IOWA 6-0)
133: #3 Cory Clark (JR, 15-1) vs. UR Sam Brancale (JR, 15-13) or UR Ben Morgan (JR, 4-2)
Brancale once pinned Thomas Gilman (two years ago in this very dual, in fact), a shock result that helped power Minnesota to an upset win in the dual. He's struggled this year up at 133, though, posting a record barely above .500 so far. Clark hasn't been an offensive dynamo for the last month, but he should have more than enough in the tank to get a win over Brancale. If there are bonus points to be had, they might be via pin -- Brancale has been stuck three times this year. Still, I think Clark may have to settle for an easy decision.
PREDICTION: Clark VIA DEC (IOWA 9-0)
141: UR Topher Carton (JR, 10-5) or UR Brody Grothus (SR, 2-2) vs. #7 Tommy Thorn (SR, 25-7)
This match will be an excellent test for Grothus if he gets the nod -- Thorn is a fringe All-America candidate so a win over him would help validate our hopes that Grothus might be able to end up an All-American himself this season. But Thorn has been very solid this year and I haven't seen enough from Grothus (or Carton) to pick an upset win here.
PREDICTION: Thorn via DEC (IOWA 9-3)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen (SO, 19-0) vs. #13 Jake Short (SO, 10-5)
Jake Short kept things close in two losses to Brandon Sorensen last year (he lost 4-0 and then had to take an injury default in the rematch, although the match was tight when he got hurt), but he never was all that close to beating Sorensen. For his part, Sorensen has improved upon last year's form although he's looked a bit sluggish in recent matches. I think a methodical, fairly low-scoring decision win for Sorensen is the order of the day here.
PREDICTION: Sorensen via DEC (IOWA 12-3)
157: #18 Edwin Cooper, Jr. (SR, 11-6) vs. UR Brandon Kingsley (JR, 16-9) or UR Brad Dolezal (SR, 6-3)
Did you know that Edwin Cooper is riding a 4-match winning streak? Granted, none of those opponents have been top-notch opponents, but it's nice to see him building a winning streak and gaining some confidence. If Kingsley wrestles, this could be a tight match as he's a fringe Top 20 guy much like Cooper. If Dolezal wrestles, this should be a comfortable Cooper win. That said, I like Ed to keep the good mojo going with another win, no matter who he faces.
PREDICTION: Cooper via DEC (IOWA 15-3)
165: UR Patrick Rhoads (SR, 7-8) or UR Burke Paddock (RS FR, 10-5) vs. UR Brandon Krone (RS FR, 11-9) or UR Dylan Urbach (RS FR, 5-10)
Neither team really has a starter at this weight, so the possibilities are endless! Well, not quite endless, but there are several on the table. This match looks like a total coin flip, but I gave Iowa the edge in the last coin-flip match, so I'll go with the Gophers here (only if Krone wrestles, though -- I think either Iowa guy beats Urbach).
PREDICTION: Krone/Urbach via DEC (IOWA 15-6)
174: #12 Alex Meyer (JR, 17-2) vs. UR Nick Wanzek (SO, 13-8)
Moving up to 174 hasn't paid big dividends for Wanzek -- he's just 13-8 overall and he's been tech falled in his last two losses. That said, Meyer hasn't been scoring many points lately, so I don't really think bonus points are on the table here for Iowa. I'll take Meyer in another boring, low-scoring match.
PREDICTION: Meyer via DEC (IOWA 18-6)
184: #11 Sammy Brooks (JR, 14-2) vs. UR Chris Pfarr (SO, 9-14) or UR Will Balow (RS FR, 11-9)
Guess who's mad? Sammy Brooks is mad. He got caught and pinned by Nebraska's T.J. Dudley in a flash at last week's Iowa-Nebraska dual, so odds are he's still smarting about that. Whichever Minnesota guy gets tossed out against him is likely to be on the wrong end of that wrath. I'm taking Brooks via major, but a technical fall or pin wouldn't surprise me.
PREDICTION: Brooks via MAJOR DECISION (IOWA 22-6)
197: #3 Nathan Burak (SR, 17-0) vs. #4 Brett Pfarr (JR, 26-2)
And now we hit one of the two matches of the night and a rare Top 5 showdown. Burak has been in excellent form all season, racking up a 17-0 record and getting bonus points in 59% of his matches. But he also hasn't faced any opponents as good as Pfarr, who's 26-2 with bonus points in 64% of his matches. Pfarr's lone losses have been narrow decisions (3-2 and 4-1) to the top two guys at this weight, #1 Morgan McIntosh (Penn State) and #2 J'Den Cox (Missouri), respectively. In other words, this match will be a great test for Burak. I think this match comes down to one takedown, though, and I like Burak to get it with the way he's been wrestling this year. He's due a win over a Minnesota wrestler after his repeated woes with Scott Schiller, too.
PREDICTION: Burak via DECISION (IOWA 25-6)
285: #7 Sam Stoll (RS FR, 17-2) vs. #9 Michael Kroells (JR, 23-5)
And we close up with the other match of the night and a Top 10 showdown among shaved bears. As noted above, this is also a match-up between former Minnesota prep wrestlers who have some history with one another, which could add another layer of intrigue. Kroells and Stoll have both only lost to fairly highly-ranked heavyweights (although Kroells did just lose to Rutgers' Billy Smith, who Stoll is 2-0 against) and look evenly matched. Kroells has the experience edge, but Stoll has been coming on strong all season and looking better and better. I think he'll get a win over Kroells this year -- but it might not be until the Big Ten or NCAA Tournament. I think Kroells edges him in this dual.
PREDICTION: Kroells via DECISION (IOWA 25-9)
Again, if everything breaks right for Minnesota, they could win six weights (141, 149, 157, 165, 197, and 285), which would probably be enough to get them the dual meet win, even if Iowa picked up several bonus points in their wins. But it seems far-fetched to expect all six of those matches to break right for Minnesota, especially in Iowa City. I think Iowa wins enough of those matches to make this a comfortable dual meet victory and if they win most of them, this turns into an absolute rout.
The dual meet is on BTN at 8 PM CT, so it will be easier to watch than most -- feel free to tune in and add your comments below. I'll be posting results and updates there throughout the night as well.
The usual rules apply.