#2 Iowa (15-0, 9-0 B1G) vs #4 North Carolina State (22-1, 4-1 ACC)
Date: Monday, February 22, 2016
Time: 7 PM CT
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
TV/Streaming: BTN Plus
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network (free); Hawkeye All-Access ($); Tune-In Radio
Twitter: @IowaWRLive, @IAWrestle
Tickets: Hawkeye Sports
We're very close to turning our attention fully to tournament time (the Big Ten Tournament is just under two weeks away and we're about a month out from the NCAA Tournament), but there's still one more dual meet to go for the Iowa Hawkeyes -- #4 North Carolina State, Iowa's opponent as part of the NWCA National Dual Championship Series. As we've already discussed, despite posting an undefeated record, Iowa isn't able to compete for a dual meet championship because... well... reasons. National Duals has replaced its traditional tournament format with a bowl game (or Big Ten-ACC Challenge)-type set-up this year and as a result Iowa gets to face the second-best team outside the Big Ten, North Carolina State. (Although like Iowa, the Wolfpack also beat Oklahoma State, who did get to wrestle for a dual meet championship because... hold on, this is giving me a headache.)
NC State has 22 wins so far this year, more than any other team in the nation, and they've put together arguably the finest year in the history of their program. Their lone loss on the season came just over a week ago against Virginia Tech, which cost them the ACC dual meet championship. NC State has four wrestlers ranked in the top-6 at their respective weights and two others ranked in the Top 20, so they have a very solid team. In terms of match-ups, I don't think they're the most compelling opponent for Iowa (we saw a lot of these match-ups already at Midlands a few months ago), but they're who the Hawkeyes have drawn, so that's who they'll face. If everything goes according to script, Iowa should win six of the ten matches here and take the dual meet fairly comfortably. The biggest potential swing match is at 184 and if the Wolfpack are able to get a win there, the dual meet could come down to bonus points.
Let's break things down...
125: #2 Thomas Gilman (JR, 20-0) vs. UR Sean Fausz (RS FR, 15-7)
Fausz has an unimpressive record, but most of those losses have been to Top 20 guys and he hasn't lost via bonus points yet this year. Of course, he also hasn't wrestled anyone as good as Thomas Gilman yet this year, either. He did wrestle #3 Joey Dance (Virginia Tech) last week -- and lost 7-1. Gilman wins, but the question is whether or not he can get to bonus points or not. I think he comes close but has to settle for something like a 10-3 decision win that just misses out on a major decision.
PREDICTION: Gilman via DEC (IOWA 3-0)
133: #3 Cory Clark (JR, 18-1) vs. UR Jamal Morris (RS FR, 12-6)
Like Fausz, Morris has an unimpressive record, but most of his losses have come against decent opponents. Unlike Fausz, he has given up bonus points a few times - he lost via major decision (13-5) to Virginia Tech's Dennis Gustafson last week and he got tech falled by Virginia's George DiCamillo (ranked #6). I think Iowa gets bonus points out of 125 or 133 in this dual (and maybe both), with Clark looking like the better bet to earn them.
PREDICTION: Clark via MAJ DEC (IOWA 7-0)
141: UR Topher Carton (JR, 10-5) or UR Brody Grothus (SR, 4-3) vs. #3 Kevin Jack (SO, 20-3)
Kevin Jack rose to national prominence a year ago when he came in as an unseeded wrestler and knocked off Iowa's Josh Dziewa (seeded 5th) in the first round at the NCAA Tournament. He went on to make the semis there (losing there to eventual 4-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber), before eventually finishing in 5th place. A year later, it's an Iowa wrestler who has a chance to make some noise at Jack's expense. Brody Grothus' debut at 141 has come with fits and starts, but he has a chance to earn a signature win here and stake his claim as someone who can make some noise at this weight at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. If nothing else, this match should give us a better sense of how well Grothus can compete with the top guys at this weight. I'll be rooting like heck for an upset, but I don't feel confident enough in Grothus to pull it off.
PREDICTION: Jack via DEC (IOWA 7-3)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen (SO, 22-0) vs. UR Sam Melikian (RS FR, 9-5) or UR Beau Donahue (SO, 9-11)
Melikian is the nominal starter at this weight for the Wolfpack, but he's been out of the lineup since January 9. Donahue has wrestled in his stead, going 3-4 in those matches and losing by major decisions twice. Sorensen has appeared to be coasting a bit in some of his recent matches, but he did get a pin his last time out and I think if he smells vulnerability in this match that he'll pounce on it and earn Iowa some bonus points.
PREDICTION: Sorensen via MAJ DEC (IOWA 11-3)
157: #18 Edwin Cooper, Jr. (SR, 14-6) vs. #4 Thomas Gantt (SR, 21-0)
This is the first of four Midlands rematch bouts, as well as the first of four matches pitting ranked opponents against one another -- this is when the dual starts getting pretty interesting, in other words. Gantt absolutely took Cooper's lunch money the first time they met, schooling him via 17-6 major decision at Midlands. But our man Coop has gone 7-2 since then (with 7 wins in a row, in fact) and looked much better than he did early in the season. Has he improved enough to turn this result around? That would be a huge result -- getting a win over a Top 5 guy would be great for Coop and give me a lot more confidence in his ability to score some points for Iowa at the NCAA Tournament. Outside of #1 Jason Nolf (Penn St) and #2 Isaiah Martinez (Illinois), 157 isn't really a "here be dragons" weight, so if Coop can beat a Top 5 guy, well... maybe making the podium isn't so far-fetched. That said, I'm not completely ready to pick Coop to pull the upset, either. I do think he'll keep it close, though.
PREDICTION: Gantt via DEC (IOWA 11-6)
165: UR Burke Paddock (RS FR, 10-5) or UR Patrick Rhoads (SR, 10-8) vs. #6 Max Rohskopf (JR, 12-2)
Brands seems to have settled on Rhoads as his man at 165 and the senior has responded with wins in his last three matches, albeit against less than stellar competition. Rohskopf missed time due to injury earlier in the season, but has been rattling off wins since his return (until a loss to #4 Daniel Lewis (Missouri) last weekend). Rohslopf's matches are not exactly thrill-a-minute affairs -- he has three 1-0 wins on his record so far this year (although he did just score a 15-0 technical fall last weekend, too). In fact, he's given up zero points in six of his wins this year -- he's not an easy guy to score on. Rhoads has looked better lately, but Rohskopf looks a bit out of his league.
PREDICTION: Rohskopf via DEC (IOWA 11-9)
174: #10 Alex Meyer (JR, 20-2) vs. UR Nicky Hall (SO, 10-11)
Hall has had a rough go of things this year and in particular lately -- he's riding a six-match losing streak (he's lost 7 of his last 8, in fact) into this match. Meyer has an excellent record, but anyone who's watched him this year knows that the process to achieve those results has sometimes looked a bit... spotty. Just last week he nearly got pinned by an NAIA opponent. He battled back well and was able to grind out a win, but he's certainly capable of making mistakes and digging himself a hole. I think he'll win this match -- I don't have confidence that he'll be able to get bonus points in doing so, though.
PREDICTION: Meyer via DEC (IOWA 14-9)
184: #10 Sammy Brooks (JR, 20-2) vs. #16 Pete Renda (JR, 19-6)
This is the second of four Midlands rematches on the docket, as well as the likely Match of the Night. Rankings-wise, 285 looks like the match of the night, but the gap in talent and experience seems smaller in this match, which I think is likely to result in a better match. Brooks edged Renda, 8-7, at Midlands and has been wrestling well (against overmatched opponents) since his shock loss to Nebraska's TJ Dudley (ranked #9) a few weeks ago. Renda is coming off the biggest win of his season, an 11-0 smashing of then-#10 Willie Miklus (Missouri) last week. This match looks pretty even, but Brooks has the edge given his past head-to-head win and the fact that the match is at Carver.
PREDICTION: Brooks via DEC (IOWA 17-9)
197: #4 Nathan Burak (SR, 19-1) vs. #14 Michael Boykin (SO, 14-7) OR UR Malik McDonald (RS FR, 13-6)
And here's the third of those four Midlands rematch bouts. Burak took that one via an 8-2 decision and overall Boykin has struggled against Top 20 opponents this year -- he's just 1-6 against them this season. He's a solid wrestler and if Burak messes up, he's good enough to capitalize. But Burak hasn't been making too many mistakes as a senior and I don't think he will here in one of his last matches ever at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It might not be as comfortable as the 8-2 decision win back in December, but Burak wins again.
PREDICTION: Burak via DEC (IOWA 20-9)
285: #7 Sam Stoll (RS FR, 20-2) vs. #1 Nick Gwiazdowski (SR, 26-0)
Rankings-wise, this match -- the fourth and final Midlands rematch bout on tap -- is the match of the night. It's the only one to pit two Top 10-ranked wrestlers against one another. But even though Gwiz and Stoll are both in the Top 10 the evidence suggests there's still a pretty big gap between them. Gwiz is the two-time defending NCAA champion and hasn't lost a match in college since dropping a 1-0 decision to ex-Minnesota wrestler Tony Nelson on January 1, 2014. Not only does Gwiz win all his matches -- he dominates his matches. He's logged bonus points in 77% of his 26 wins this year, up from 75% a year ago. He's not your typical boring heavyweight. Our man Sam found that out the hard way at Midlands this year when he got punked 10-1 by Gwiz. Stoll hasn't lost a match since then and has looked strong in several of those wins. This match should be a great test to see just how far he's come over the last two months. I think he's learned enough and improved enough to hold Gwiz to a decision this time.
PREDICTION: Gwiazdowski via DEC (IOWA 20-12)
I'll be posting results and reaction in the comments below; feel free to join in.
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