What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Next up: bscaff from Black Shoe Diaries, SB Nation's excellent blog for all things Nittany Lion.
1) So we're a little bit past the halfway point of the season -- how are you feeling about Penn State's odds of three-peating in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments this year?
Big Tens are dicey. A single point won the title in 2011, and PSU nearly blew it in 2012 after a quarterfinals flame out. When only 12 teams are in the tournament, and 3 of them are Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue, there isn't a lot separating PSU, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois - which is my predicted order of finish.
The NCAA's I actually feel better about. This PSU squad could - emphasize could - score more points than the 140 or so they put up last year. They lose Frank the Tank and perennial R12 Cam Wade - somewhere around 30 team points last season. Andrew Alton is not likely to win the title at 149 in place of Molinaro - but he'll also add a couple of pins. Both Nico and Dylan Alton could score some bonus this year. Gingrich could replicate the Wade R12. And I think 165 - 197 is stronger this year (plus Brown, minus frosh McIntosh) than last year, even with Ruth and Quentin up a weight, and Dake in Taylor's bracket. In a perfect tournament, PSU could have as many as seven finalists. It's highly unlikely, of course - but possible.
2) Penn State has several new starters (as well as a few old starters in new places) -- who's been the biggest surprise for you? Has anyone been far better (or worse?) than you expected coming into the season? On a related note, which weights worry you the most right now -- both in terms of this dual and in terms of scoring points at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments?
The biggest (positive) surprise has been shaved bear Gingrich. I thought Lawson would be the starter by now, but Gingrich beat him in a wrestle off following the Southern Scuffle. Gingrich has been active (by bear standards) from neutral, has a sweet double leg, and has pulled a couple of nice upsets over (then) #8 Chalfant and (then) #4 McClure.
The weights that worry me the most for this dual are 133, 141, and 149 - exactly the wrong recipe for going into Carver.
Conaway at 133 upset Tyler Graff two weeks ago when Graff quit wrestling after 6 minutes. But Graff also got three pretty easy takedowns in the first period. Ramos is a takedown machine, and isn't going to gas. Conaway needs to keep it on the mat, and keep it to a regular decision.
Pearsall at 141 vs. Ballweg. Pearsall can wrestle well, particularly from top. But he can also throw out a head scratcher, and look horrible in the process. If Pearsall could do me a favor and upset Ballweg, I'll be able to enjoy the rest of the dual without breaking things in the house.
And last, Andrew Alton vs. Kelly/Grothus at 149. Alton leads the team in pins. You might remember him from the neck wrench he put on Montell Marion two seasons ago as a true frosh (and subsequently gassed out) down at 141. This Sunday he hit a sweet double and got 2 back with a 2-on-1 tilt in the first 30 seconds against Sueflohn. And subsequently gassed out and got decked. If he hits his patented duck under to a headlock in the first minute, I'm happy. If the match goes 7 minutes, I'm nervous.
Matt Brown at 174 is my brand new concern at NCAA's. He hasn't looked too hot the last few weeks. I had him as a possible finalist, but not the way he's been wrestling. He can look dominating one second, and give up the weakest takedown the next. I'm betting he pulls it all together by March. Even better would be to pull it all together before Friday night.
3) Penn State and Iowa look pretty evenly matched to me -- Iowa should be favored in about five matches, while Penn State should be favored in the other five -- so I think bonus points will be critical. I said the same thing before the Oklahoma State and Minnesota duals and, well, there were no bonus points in either of those duals. But Penn State has some bonus point machines, so I think we'll someone put some bonus points on the board. Who do you think are the most likely guys on Penn State's squad to hit the bonus?
Nick Moore looked really good against Yawn, until the last 10 seconds. But Taylor has literally bonused everyone he's wrestled not named Kyle Dake. He bonused everyone last year except Evans in the dual (but majored him at Big Tens) and Hatchett in the Lehigh dual (but tech'ed him in the Finals). He's a machine. I'm a PSU homer and it still pisses me off how easy he makes it look. Why does he keep getting ankle picks, Ross? Why?
Ruth majored Lofthouse down at 174 in last year's dual. I think he fell a point short of the major 2 seasons ago. Ruth tends to pick his matches to take it up a level - call it a 50/50 chance that Friday night is one of those times. And Quentin - he's as likely to grind out a takedown match as he is to hit a 5-point throw that no one else would try. I'm encouraged by the fact that Burak was aggressive with Schiller. Most avoid Q's left underhook like the plague. Hopefully Burak bucks that trend. Put me down for one more bonus between 184 and 197.
4) I'm pretty sure Cael Sanderson has never been part of a team win (as a wrestler or coach) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Has he said anything about targeting this dual meet or putting a little extra emphasis on it?
I'm answering this before his presser, but I don't expect that we'll hear anything special. It'll be along the lines of Kirk. Maybe we'll get a snort, a little finger twirl. Cael might even take a note with a pencil. I don't think Cael chews gum, though. Sugarless and spit, if anything.
Tom-Brands-INTENSITY has been an issue at times for PSU. Two years ago the Hawks came into Rec Hall and smoked us. Last year Goldy put a beat down on us in a way-too-early dual. The positive spin - in case we come out flat for this dual on Friday - is that each of those setbacks served to refocus the team for March. Particularly after the Iowa dual two seasons ago. Cael was politically correct before and after that dual - but word is that the team got put through the ringer for a few weeks after that loss. I think this one at Carver probably carries a little more extra weight than he'll let on.
5) So why isn't Penn State going to be at the National Duals this year? It's a shame that there's no shot at a rematch of this dual meet this year.
Penn State probably won't be at National Duals next year, either. Cael's passionate about his perspective on how to grow the sport - and, in the current setup, it conflicts with the Duals format. Here's his rub, as I understand it: 1) you're booking multiple weekends without guaranteed matches (should you lose); and 2) holding the regionals and/or finals at top seed schools doesn't grow the fanbase, and isn't much (if any) benefit to the fringe programs. Binghamton fans (for example) aren't traveling to Stillwater to see their team get bounced in the first round. And because they signed up, now Binghamton has no match for the next weekend - bad for the team.
Conversely, if you want to grow the fanbase and help the fringe programs - fringe isn't the right word...less well endowed? - then go have a dual at their place. Most of the smaller programs don't have the travel budget to begin with, which is problematic particularly on the left side of the Continental Divide. If you're a Big Ten school, you have the means to build interest in wrestling and help fund the smaller school's program by showing up for a dual. It's a bottom-up approach, instead of a top-down. Basically the BCS/FBS in reverse.
Sanderson, to his credit, has put his team where his mouth is. Last year they skipped Duals to travel to Utah Valley. Utah Valley drew 5,000+, kept the gate receipts, didn't have to spend on travel, and probably got some new fans out of the grade school / high school kids and coaches in attendance. Next year PSU's showing up at Rider to do the same thing. And they've worked hard to keep as many PA/regional schools on the schedule as possible - Lock Haven, Pitt, Lehigh, Bloomsburg, Bucknell, West Virginia, Rutgers...pretty much everyone but Edinboro and Clarion - which aren't going away under any circumstances - have been on the schedule the last few years.
It blows for you and me, since we don't get a repeat of the orgy that is Friday night's dual. We don't get Goldy at all this year (thanks Big Ten!). But I do agree that the bottom up approach is a better way to grow the sport. So I'll sacrifice.
6) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
I want to go Ric Flair and shout 'Wooooo!' into the camera 20 times in a row. It's going to be awesome. Carver will be nuts, Brands will be ALL THE INTENSITY. Hopefully I don't even notice the refs. I'm so amped I'm afraid I'll Molly Elizabeth Brown, 18, Iowa City, IA, in my pants by 6pm.
I think PSU holds serve at its four favored weights - 149, 165, 184, and 197, and sneaks 3 bonus out of that to get to 15. Then pulls one upset out of 125, 141, 157, 174 or 285 to get to 18. PSU 18 - Iowa 15 as the final.
It would be even cooler if Daniel F***** Murray runs onto the Resilite at the break, trips on a seam, and loses a few teeth off the scorer's table.
(Ed. Note: Do you mean this Daniel Murray?
Thanks for being a good sport, bscaff. You can check out him and the rest of the BSD crew at Black Shoe Diaries. You can also follow BSD on Twitter at @BSDtweet. The Iowa-Penn State dual meet is in Iowa City on Friday, February 1 at 8:04 pm CT, with television coverage from BTN.