When the wrestling schedule dropped nearly one month ago, this coming Sunday, Jan. 31, was one of the few tri-meets all wrestling fans eagerly circled with anticipation: #1 Iowa vs #2 Michigan vs Illinois.
Unfortunately, earlier this week, the University of Michigan halted any and all athletic activities, including the suspension of all games, contests, and wrestling meets due to a Covid-19 outbreak. Outside of the upcoming meet with Penn State on Feb. 12, this was a chance to finally see the best team Michigan has assembled in years. I won’t dive too heavily into them right now, but they have three All-Americans coming off Olympic redshirts, with two of them ranked #1 and the third, ranked #2.
It’s a bummer that we’re missing out on these two powerhouses dualing it out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It’s a double-bummer for Illinois because we’re now turning all our attention to them with the plan of wrecking their weekend joyride to Iowa City.
We lead the all-time series 52-26-1, including the last nine in a row. The Fighting Illini haven’t beaten us since 2006, which makes head coach Tom Brands a perfect 9-0 while he’s been at the helm. For more insightful information please click here.
We have individually wrestled several of these guys before, it’s been two years since we dualed them. We eked out a close 31-8 win in Champagne during the 2018-19 season, largely thanks to four bonus point wins. A mark we could top this time around.
Illinois comes in receiving little to no respect in the Wrestlestat rankings, sitting at a lowly #33. However, they’re #13 on Trackwrestling and as high as #9 in the latest NCWA Coaches Poll. They’re 4-0 after beating Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and a recent come-from-behind win over Purdue.
They don’t have any returning All-Americans, but they do have a few guys that will be knocking on that door this post season. They have four ranked inside the top 15 with two more sitting inside the top 20 according to Wrestlestat.
Conversely, if we switched over to Track, they now have three in the top 10 with two checking in at 5… ahh the volatility of wrestling rankings. Gotta love it.
They have five underclassmen in the lineup and are led by true sophomore heavyweight, #12 Luke Luffman and 165lber #15 Danny Braunagel who both check in at #5 on Track. Rounding out the other notable mentions are #15 Dylan Duncan (141lbs), #15 Mike Carr (149lbs), and #19 Zach Braunagel (197lbs).
They don’t have the top to bottom heavy hitters that we do, nor do they have the bonus point threats, but they definitely have enough quality grapplers that can make things interesting if we drop a few matches we shouldn’t. Although their margin for error is incredibly low, I expect them to aim for low scoring matches going into the 3rd in hopes of pulling off the unthinkable upsets.
Little, if anything, has changed over the last week in terms of rankings following the Minnesota Massacre, 35-4. We still have all ten wrestlers firmly inside the ten, with seven in the top 4, including three at #1: Spencer Lee, Alex Marinelli, and Michael Kemerer.
The name of the game through the first two duals against Nebraska and Minny were takedowns and bonus points. As we shift our gaze to Illinois, that hasn’t changed either.
Through those two duals we’re collectively 19-1 with nine bonus point wins. There’s every reason to think we can continue that trend on Sunday afternoon, especially against an Illinois squad that isn’t quite as strong as our previous opponents.
With that said, there’s six top 20 matchups on the slate. While we go into this dual without an underdog for the first time this season, we must treat every match with the same intensity as before. With little overlap and so few matches, this dual will have an immediate impact on seedings for the Big Ten’s. This is a golden opportunity to not only hand Illinois their first team loss, but to knock them down a peg or two come March.
If there’s a chance to throw these guys onto the opposite side of the bracket, then we need to capitalize.
125lbs: #1 Spencer Lee (2-0) vs Justin Cardani (2-2)
Spencer Lee is coming off his second Big Ten co-Wrestler of the week award and Justin Cardani may be the victim that gives him his third in as many chances. But he’s listed for the simple question of: can continue his bonus point streak?
Dating back to last year, he’s sitting at seven, including a forfeit to close out the B1G regular season schedule. He then bonused his way through the B1G Championships and have pinned his two opponents to kick off this year.
He’s arguably the most exciting wrestler of our generation. It’s an early dual, so make sure you’re up, have your coffee brewing, and your rotary tv dialed in, otherwise you will miss it.
149lbs: #5 Max Murin (2-0) vs #15 Mike Carr (3-1)
These two are no strangers because they’ve battled three times before at 141lbs, with Max taking two of the three. After two years in the varsity lineup, Carr has put together a solid resume with wins over All-Americans Chad Red (Neb), Nick Lee (PSU), now graduated Mitch McKee (Minn), and of course, Murin.
However, Carr missed last season due to an undisclosed injury. I’m purely speculating at this point, but he’s been wrestling so far this year with a heavily bandaged left knee, so that could be the culprit. He’s 3-1, with his lone loss coming to #2 Sammy Sasso (tOSU). He was wrestling well, and was in deep on two attempts, before Sasso caught him in a cradle, rolled through, and stuck him. Carr appeared to be in pain as the match ended, so we’ll see if that’s a factor on Sunday.
Murin has the recipe and knows what he needs to do, but make no mistake about it, this will be another low-scoring affair. He’ll face off against Sasso next week, so this two-match stretch is perhaps the biggest of the year. He could throw his two biggest obstacles onto the same side of the bracket for the B1G’s, but it starts with a win over Carr.
165lbs: #1 Alex Marinelli (2-0) vs #15 Danny Braunagel (4-0)
The Bull owns the series between these two, 2-0, both by major decision. Marinelli should be eying a third, but he hasn’t looked as sharp to start the year as we’d expect.
He’s had some tough competition with wins over #14 Peyton Robb (Neb) and #14 Andrew Sparks (Minn). Braunagel won’t be any different.
Like Murin, this is chance to solidify himself atop the B1G standings and ensure that the 2nd highest ranked 165lber in the Big Ten, Braunagel, stays on the opposite of the bracket come March.
184lbs: #8 Nelson Brands vs #19 Zach Braunagel (2-2)
The only time these two clashed was last year in the Midlands quarterfinals with Braunagel edging it out, 3-2. Consequently, this was the loss that sent Brands spiraling down and out of the starting lineup. Brands would immediately lose again to teammate, Cash Wilcke, and get bumped from the tournament, and the lineup.
This is perhaps the match that Brands has been looking forward to the most. This is all about sweet, sweet revenge and you damn well know that Braunagel knows it too. Brands needs to come out aggressive, but controlled and find a couple first period TD’s to set the pace in his favor.
He gave up a first period TD last week to Isaiah Salazar (the first of the dual) and that could be a costly mistake if he repeats that error here. If he can avoid that early brain fart and find those takedowns he could blow this thing open by the 3rd period.
285lbs: #4 Tony Cassioppi (1-1) vs #12 Luke Luffman (4-0)
Big Cass is coming off the worst loss of his career after getting majored, 14-6, to #1 Gable Steveson (Minn). Cass got rocked for six takedowns, four of them coming in the 3rd period. He was offensively oriented, but continually found himself out of position following an attack, which left him wide open for singles, blast doubles, and go-behinds. In other words, he got his ass handed to him.
On the contrary, Luffman is on a roll after big upsets over #11 Tate Orndorff (tSOU) and All-American #5 Trent Hillger (Wisc) that pushed him to 4-0. Both of those were tight one-point decisions with the win over Hillger coming in TB2. Luffman had an average season last year, but he seems to have jumped levels so far in his sophomore campaign.
He is a smaller, but quicker heavyweight, which seems to be the direction the big boys are heading. Strength and positioning will be the biggest factors here. Can Cass control the ties to neutralize Luffman’s speed and does he have the strength to ride him when he’s down?
Normally, I would say yes, but these are the builds that can give Cass fits.
If Cass can bully the neutral position, he should be able to find an angle for that snatch single, from there I’d expect to see him initiate a tough ride to close out the respective periods. He has a significant size advantage, so that could wear Luffman out in the later period. He needs to dig deep here and find a win, he doesn’t want to drop to 1-2 on a short season.
125: #1 Spencer Lee vs Justin Cardani
133: #2 Austin DeSanto vs #23 Lucas Byrd
141: #3 Jaydin Eierman vs #15 Dylan Duncan
149: #5 Max Murin vs #15 Mike Carr
157: #8 Kaleb Young vs Johnny Mologousis
165: #1 Alex Marinelli vs #15 Danny Braunagel
174: #1 Michael Kemerer vs DJ Shannon
184: #8 Nelson Brands vs #19 Zach Braunagel
197: #7 Jacob Warner vs Matt Wroblewski
285: #4 Tony Cassioppi vs #12 Luke Luffman
- Dual is Sunday, Jan. 31 live on BTN at 11 AM CT
- Extra matches begin at 9 AM CT on BTN+