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Iowa Wrestling: No. 1 Iowa vs No. 2 Penn State Preview

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This is the Big Mugamba of wrestling duals.

Brian Ray // Hawkeyesports

“There’s no place like wrestling in Iowa City, Iowa. Russia, Iran, they’re not better. Iowa City, Iowa is the Mecca. That’s the message we sent them.”

-Tom Brands.

Per Tom Brands and Kirk Ferentz, the Cambus is the most efficient operation on the planet and it will be shuttling spectators back and forth from the parking lot at Hancher Auditorium to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

This isn’t The Lakers vs The Celtics or the Red Sox vs the Yankees. Nor is it Ohio State vs Michigan or Palmer vs Nicklaus or Frazier vs Ali… this is something better. This is the most historic program in wrestling history vs the greatest program of the past decade and both are at the top of the rankings and out for blood. Simply put, there is no other rivalry like this in sports today.

This is #1 Iowa Hawkeyes vs #2 Penn State Nittany Lions in front of a solid out crowd inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Jan. 31.

This is the dual we circled on our calendar many moons ago when the schedule was announced. All along, we believed it would be #1 vs #2, but we weren’t sure which team would have which ranking.

The Hawks lead the all-time series 27-10-2, but PSU has taken three of the last four meetings dating back to 2014. Our last win came in 2015, which coincidentally was PSU’s last down year that saw them finish 6th at the national tournament. Since then, they've won the last 4 NCAA team titles.

Regardless, we’re going to chuck history out the window because history gives zero shits about what we think, want, and expect, especially in wrestling. Especially in this rivalry.

PROBABLE LINEUP:

@Hawkeyesports
intermat/track/win rankings

PENN STATE (7-1)

This isn’t the normal PSU squad that seemingly features a legit title contender at every weight.

The Nittany Lions lost returning heavyweight champ, Anthony Cassar, earlier in the season from an apparent shoulder injury. Cassar had been battling injuries throughout much of his career, but last season he turned it up a notch or five and stopped Minnesota’s young phenom, Gable Steveson in the NCAA finals.

All things considered, Cassar was the favorite coming into this year as well. He was 3-0 with two of those wins coming against former All-Americans before he went down again. Unfortunately, it looks like his collegiate career may be over. We here at BHGP wish him a speedy recovery and that he’s healed up in time to make one more fun at the Olympic Team Trials.

They also took a massive hit when Brady Berge (157lbs) went down with a concussion early in the season and has yet to make a return to the starting lineup. Berge isn’t on Cassar’s level, but he is returning NCAA qualifier.

Kyle Conel also fell by the wayside back in December. The 197lber was an offseason transfer acquisition from Central Michigan where he took home 3rd place in 2018. With his injury, Sanderson has had to get a bit creative with his lineup.

Even though PSU lost to Arizona State, 19-18, in their second dual of the season, they still boast a hard-hitting lineup that features four in Flowrestling’s top five. #1 ranked wrestlers, Vincenzo Joseph (165lbs) and Mark Hall (174lbs), lead the way followed by #2 Nick Lee (141lbs) and #4 Roman Bravo-Young (133lbs).

Of the seven ranked, only two appear from 125 – 157, while they’re loaded on the back end with the final five all appearing in the top 16.

No matter how we twist and turn this ditty, PSU is an incredibly talented dual AND tournament team.

IOWA (8-0)

We’ve been talking about the January meatgrinder for the previous three weeks. We started things off with #10 Nebraska. We took care of business. Then we hosted #4 Ohio St. Again, we took care of business. This has been a brutal 14 day stretch, that ends with the ultimate test against the team we’ve been trying to run down for the past decade.

I dropped this line last year when Sam Stoll made a harrowing last stand at the NCAA’s, but I think it applies here as well.

“I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once, as I ever was.”

-Toby Keith

This is all about the sleeping Hawkeye giant waking from a slumber. The phoenix rising from the ashes. The old wrestling school coming back to relevancy and reclaiming what was once ours. We may not be as good as the Dan Gables years, but for one season, we can be as good once as we ever were… and we need that Friday night.

All ten Hawkeyes are in Flowrestling’s top ten, with nine in the top four, and seven ranked third or higher. On paper we’re outright favorites in four matches: 125, 149, 157, and 285. PSU is heavily favored at 141 with an edge at 174. The other four are toss up matches that I can see going any direction: 133, 165, 189, and 197.

While we are technically ranked higher in both 133 and 197, PSU is trotting out two guys (#4 Roman Bravo-Young and #15 Shakur Rasheed) that are former AA’s that are more than capable of wrecking our night.

I say this every week, but perhaps it’s an even bigger factor on nights like this, but we HAVE to come away with bonus points in the matches we’re supposed to win. If we only snag 5 or 6 wins this dual is going to come down to bonus points and that’s a battle we must take.

Friday night is the first of three rounds against Penn St. It only gets bigger from here on out: Big Ten Championships followed by the NCAA Tournament. Winning this dual will send the clear message that we’re ready to take the next step. We’re ready to keep the ball rolling into March.

Wrestlestat predicts Iowa winning 21-14.

KEY MATCHUPS:

125: #1 Spencer Lee vs Brandon Meredith. We haven’t started at 125 the previous two weeks, but whether we do or not is irrelevant. Lee has to come out and continue his tech/ pin streak. We desperately need those two to three additional team points to give us much cushion as we can get. Lee loves the armbar-tilt to quickly rack up the points, but I suspect he comes out and immediately looks for the pin to get CHA rocking.

133: #2 Austin DeSanto vs #4 Roman Bravo-Young. ADS has won the only two previous meetings between these two, including an exciting 7-2 win in last year’s NCAA’s. ADS has clearly upped his game this year, but the big question is if RBY has kept pace. Austin has given up an early takedown in his previous two contents and had to battle back each time. If he wants to keep the pressure on RBY and even push the envelope in the 3rd period, then he has to come out fast, but smart, and not get caught flat-footed right off the whistle. I assume RBY wrestles one armed to stay away from Austin’s fireman’s carry and keeps this thing close. Although, If Austin finds himself with a 4 to 5 point lead going into the 3rd, I look for him to try and push it into major decision territory. That’s a big if though…

141: Carter Happel vs #2 Nick Lee. It appears that #3 Max Murin will be sitting out this match. If this holds true, then Carter Happel is going to be thrown to the wolves for the 2nd straight week. Despite giving up the maj. dec. last week against #1 Luke Pletcher (OSU), he was in deep several times and actually looked okay. As Tom Brands said, “If he believes,” he could find himself in this match. Regardless, Happel needs to wrestle his very best to keep this thing to a decision to help the team score.

***NEWS FLASH*** Mizzou transfer, Jaydin Eierman, is now listed in the student directory. Guys, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to see Eierman in the black singlet tonight. This is a huge development and will have a significant impact at 141 as well as the team race. If JE cracks the lineup he will be an immediate title favorite and could blow this dual wide open. He is a 3x AA at 141, finishing 5th, 4th, and 3rd the past three years.

165: #2 Alex Marinelli vs #1 Vincenzo Joseph. This is the defending B1G champ vs a former 2x National champ. Marinelli is 2-0 against Joseph, but hasn’t gotten it done when it matters most: the post season. The Bull has been wrestling at a high level this season, but so has the Nittany Lion. Both bring in undefeated records, but one will leave with their first loss. Marinelli looked sloppy last week in a 14-10 win over #13 Ethan Smith, a dual which saw him give up a pair of lazy TD’s. Those are two brain farts that he can’t afford to have against Joseph. These are two physical wrestlers and this thing is going to turn into a brawl right off the whistle. In both their prior meetups, The Bull has taken Joseph for a ride, here’s to hoping it happens for the third time.

174: #3 Michael Kemerer vs #1 Mark Hall. Kemerer hasn’t been magnificent this year, but he has been steady. Hall, on the other hand, has been on a mission. Like the two studs at 165, these two also have undefeated records and whoever comes out alive will have the #1 ranking. Kemerer was moving up to 174 last year when he was sidelined in the preseason, but for nearly two years we’ve all been wondering how he stacks up against the elite of this class. So far, he’s answered the call by defeating everyone he’s encountered, but Hall is another question all together. Kemdog’s gas tank and takedown efficiency have been a concern, but has he turned the corner? He has the talent to do it, now he needs to execute.

189: #8 Abe Assad vs #10 Aaron Brooks. Both of these guys find themselves in the starting lineup with high expectations resting on their young shoulders. Assad launched himself up the rankings after upsetting #9 Taylor Venz (Neb), 6-4. This past weekend Brooks got handled, 9-5 by Venz. However, Venz immediately lost two nights later to #14 Cameron Caffey… so what does this mean? I have no idea. Brooks is a pure athlete with quite the freestyle background. Assad has improved by leaps and bounds since his season debut at the Grandview and Luther Opens. Assad is a grinder and I look for him to constantly be on the prowl, but he needs to be smart, and not blindly shoot. This is going to be a fun one.

197: #4 Jacob Warner vs #15 Shakur Rasheed. It’s my opinion that Warner was benched last week against #1 Kollin Moore. Tom Brands is hoping a week off has gotten his mind right and back on track, because we need him to regain his form. Rasheed has been struggling since returning to the lineup (and moving up a weight) but he’s a former AA with freakish abilities. Warner struggles at times with these big spotlight matches, but he needs to find his mental toughness and put it to a guy that seems to be struggling in his own right.

285: #3 Tony Cassioppi vs #16 Seth Nevills. Like Assad, Nevills had his redshirt pulled a few weeks back and hasn’t looked back. These two have never met collegiately, but they have toed the line in freestyle, where Big Cass throttled Nevills in the finals of the UWW Junior Freestyle Nationals. Cass has handled two former AA’s this season and with his beat down in freestyle, he should have the upper hand here as well. But as I mentioned, Sanderson is going to have his guy primed, so Cass needs to wrestle smart and pick his shots. This is the biggest match of both of their careers, and I bet Nevills is going to be looking for a big move. Cass needs to be ready to go.

Lugo and Kaleb Young are favored in their match ups and it would be a big boon to our team score if they can come away with bonus points, especially at 157. Lugo likes to wrestle tight matches, but after last week’s upset to #2 Sammy Sasso, it would be nice to see him covert those TD’s and blow up the scoreboard.

PROJECTED LINEUP:

125: #1 Spencer Lee (10-0) vs Brandon Meredith (12-8)

133: #2 Austin DeSanto (12-1) vs #4 Roman Bravo-Young (13-0)

141: Carter Happel (6-4) vs #2 Nick Lee (12-0)

149: #3 Pat Lugo (13-1) vs Jarod Verkleeren (12-8)

157: #4 Kaleb Young (11-2) vs Brady Berge (1-0) // Bo Phiper (8-9)

165: #2 Alex Marinelli (14-0) vs #1 Vincenzo Joseph (7-0)

174: #3 Michael Kemerer (8-0) vs #1 Mark Hall (16-0)

184: #10 Abe Assad (19-3) vs #10 Aaron Brooks (7-1)

197: #4 Jacob Warner (10-3) vs #15 Shakur Rasheed (2-2)

285: #3 Tony Cassioppi (13-0) vs #16 Seth Nevills (10-0)

Flowrestling rankings

Well folks, this was a longwinded preview, but I suppose it’s warranted since it’s the biggest dual of the NCAA season. What are you most looking forward to? Thoughts? Score? Concerns?

Also, I’d like to send a big shout out to Mr. Barry from Chicago for hooking me up with a pair of tickets! GO HAWKS!!!