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Finally, the Hawkeyes have come back... to Iowa City.

WHO: #11 Illinois Fighting Illini (8-1, 2-0)
WHEN: Friday, January 16, 7 PM CT
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
RADIO: AM 800 KXIC (local), Hawkeye All-Access (non-local; $$)
TV: Mediacom 22; BTN2Go

Iowa returns home for first time in over a month -- December 6, when they blasted Michigan State off the mat, 37-0.  Tonight's dual meet won't be that easy.  Illinois' resume doesn't contain any big wins yet -- so far they've beaten SIU Edwardsville, Rider, Northern Illinois, Appalachian State, CSU Bakersfield, Grand Canyon, Rutgers, and Indiana (and lost to Lehigh) -- but they're ranked #11 because they have a solid core of good wrestlers.  Illinois matches up fairly well with Iowa in the lower and middle weights -- five of the first six weights are either a toss-up or an Illinois advantage.  Iowa does have a decided advantage in the upper weights, though, something which figures to be true in nearly every dual Iowa wrestles this season.  (It's still strange to adjust to the reality of an Iowa team lead by its upper weights more than its light weights, but here we are.)  Illinois' potential for springing an upset on Iowa is seriously harmed by the likely absence of their best wrestler, though, two-time defending 125 lb national champion, Jesse Delgado.

With Delgado in the lineup (and in good form), there was a chance for Illinois to open up with three straight wins (125, 133, 141) and at four of the first five weights (157 as well), potentially putting Iowa in a pretty big hole right off the bat.  Delgado's likely absence puts a crimp in those plans, though.

Illinois is a big favorite at just one match (157), but a slight favorite at another (165) and a toss-up at a few more (133, 141, 174).  To pull the upset tonight, Illinois likely needs to win all of those matches, get bonus points if possible (a real possibility at 157), and spring another upset somewhere (184 is probably their best shot).  That's asking for a lot of things to break Illinois' way in order for them to get a win here.

It's possible... but not very likely, especially against an Iowa team that should be energized by their first matches in front of a home crowd in several weeks.  I'd say there's a better shot that this dual ends up being a big Iowa blowout in terms of the team score (it's plausible that Iowa could win nine of ten weights in this dual -- all of them but 157) than there is of an Illinois upset here.  But even if the team score ends up being a rout for Iowa, we could see a lot of close, hard fought matches at this dual, based on the rankings and history at several weights.

As for the weight-by-weight predictions...

125: #5 Thomas Gilman (SO, 17-1) vs #1 Jesse Delgado (SR, 2-0) OR UN Dominic Oliveri (JR, 7-8)

Gilman burst onto the national scene a year ago with a win over Delgado at the Midlands tournament, but didn't get another crack at him at the Big Ten or NCAA Tournaments after Cory Clark reclaimed the starting gig at 125.  It looks like we'll have to wait until this year's Big Ten/NCAA Tournament to have another opportunity to see Delgado v Gilman, based on the word from Tony above.  If Oliveri goes, Gilman should rack up bonus points for Iowa.  Whoever takes the mat for Illinois, though, I hope we see the aggressive, attack-happy Gilman that showed up in Stillwater for the Hawkeyes last Sunday -- that guy is a) fun to watch and b) capable of doing big things for the Hawkeyes.


133: #4 Cory Clark (SO, 15-1) vs #5 Zane Richards (SO, 17-1)

Clark and Richards wrestled a nervy match in the Midlands final at 133 a few weeks ago, with Clark emerging with a tight 4-2 win after a takedown in the third period.  That's Richards' only loss this season.  Clark's own undefeated season was ended by Johnni DiJulius a few weeks ago, when a sloppy first period performance helped dig him a hole he couldn't climb out of against the Buckeye.  I expect another tight match between these two here; it would be huge if Clark could get an early takedown and put pressure on Richards to actually engage.  I'll go with Clark to win again, this time at home.

PREDICTION: Clark via DEC (IOWA 7-0)

141: #8 Josh Dziewa (SR, 16-4) vs #13 Steven Rodrigues (JR, 9-4) or UN Logan Arlis (SR, 8-6)

Jeva split his two matches with Rodrigues last year (losing 4-3 at Midlands and winning 3-2 at the Big Ten Tournament), but lost again to Rodrigues earlier this year (3-1, again at Midlands).  Jeva showed some commendable fight in his win against Oklahoma State's Dean Heil last week -- he got down early, but got back into the match with some solid attacks from neutral (something he struggles with at times) and then finished the match in emphatic fashion with a pin.  That said, Rodrigues is an opponent who's given Jeva fits and I still don't have a ton of faith in Jeva to be consistent and aggressive.  This screams close match, with Rodrigues getting the decisive takedown in the third period or sudden victory.  If Jeva can pull this one out, though, I think it could spur Iowa to an absolute route tonight.

PREDICTION: Rodrigues via DEC (IOWA 7-3)

149: #3 Brandon Sorensen (RS FR, 22-2) vs UN Kyle Langenderfer (JR, 13-6)

Fresh off a pair of back-to-back wins over top-5 ranked opponents, Brandon Sorensen (and his shiny new #3 ranking, per InterMat) get a break this week -- but I don't expect Sorensen to rest on his laurels.  He's been a tremendous addition to the Iowa lineup this season and I don't expect Langenderfer to be able to deny him bonus points.  I'm looking for a lot of takedowns out of Sorensen in this match.

PREDICTION: Sorensen via MAJ DEC (IOWA 11-3)

157:  #15 Michael Kelly (SR, 16-2) or UN Patrick Rhoads (JR, 4-3) or UN Logan Thomsen (RS FR, 11-1) vs #5 Isaiah Martinez (RS FR, 18-0)

Iowa lists three different guys at this weight, which is curious; Kelly might be nursing an injury.  Patrick Rhoads filled in for Nick Moore at 157 last week against Oklahoma State's fearsome Alex Dieringer; this week he could get a look at Illinois' hotshot frosh, Isaiah Martinez (ranked as high as #2 at 157 by some polls).  Or we could get our first glimpse of Logan Thomsen in a varsity match.  Whoever gets the nod will have a tough ask against Martinez, who's been a buzzsaw at this weight so far this season.  I like the way Kelly has been wrestling lately enough to think that he can hold it to a decision (and I'm thinking something like 10-3, not a particularly close decision), but if Rhoads or Thomsen wrestle here, bonus points seem very likely for Illinois. Hell, they might be likely if Kelly gets the nod -- Martinez rolled over him at Midlands, 16-5.

PREDICTION: Martinez via DEC (IOWA 11-6)

165: #9 Nick Moore (SR, 13-4) vs #8 Jackson Morse (SR, 18-2)

Nick Moore got the week off against Oklahoma State last time out, ostensibly to give him more time to prepare for his upcoming opponents and get his head right after a series of losses the previous week.  One of those losses actually came against Morse at Midlands, so Moore gets an early shot to avenge one of his losses.  Point blank: if Nick Moore is going to finally make it onto the podium this season, these are the matches he has to win.  He's perfectly capable of doing so -- he majored him, 12-4, at the NCAA Tournament a year ago -- but it all comes down to which Nick Moore turns up.  Unfortunately, I trust him even less than I trust Jeva right now.

PREDICTION: Morse via DEC (IOWA 11-9)

174: #2 Mike Evans (SR, 17-0) vs #6 Zac Brunson (SO, 18-1)

Evans-Brunson is yet another Midlands rematch (we got quite the preview of the key matches in this dual just a few weeks ago), one that actually went Iowa's way at the time.  It was a hard grind for Evans, though -- he won 2-1 on a reversal in the third period.  Evans is coming off one of his finest performances of the season, a 16-1 romp over Jordan Rodgers when Evans put on an absolute clinic in racking up back points.  If he can get an early takedown against Brunson, I think this should be a comfortable decision win for The 'Stache.  If this stays close into the third, though, Brunson could have a great chance to pull the upset.  But I can't pick against The 'Stache here.

PREDICTION: Evans via DEC (IOWA 14-9)

184: #8 Sammy Brooks (SO, 16-2) vs #20 Nikko Reyes (SO, 17-5)

Almost everyone in a black and gold singlet had a great time against Oklahoma State last week.  One exception?  Sammy Brooks, who went from winning 5-0 to a 9-6 loss after his attempt at a big throw went awry.  I have to think Brooks is eager to get back on the mat and make up for that slip-up.  Reyes is a crafty opponent and all of his losses this season have been relatively close, but I think a motivated Brooks gets back on the winning track at home.

PREDICTION: Brooks via DEC (IOWA 17-9)

197: #5 Nathan Burak (JR, 11-0) vs UN Jeff Koepke (JR, 14-6)

Burak isn't one of Iowa's best bets at bonus points, but if he's able to string together a few takedowns here, he might have a decent shot at a major decision.  I'll go with an easy decision win instead.

PREDICTION: Burak via DEC (IOWA 20-9)

285: #1 Bobby Telford (SR, 17-0) vs UN Christopher Lopez (JR, 11-4) or UN Brooks Black (RS FR, 11-7)

Bobby just got done wrestling five straight top-10 opponents.  He beat 'em all.  Bobby is the man.  He's not facing a top-10 opponent this week.  Pity the poor Illinois wrestler who gets the call to face Telford tonight.  Heavyweight is rarely a great weight for bonus points, but with the way Telford is wrestling this season, bonus points are definitely in play.  My hunch is that Lopez or Black (whoever gets the nod) will be hellbent on not getting stuck, so Bobby may rack up oodles of riding time, but he won't quite be able to nail his opponent's shoulders to the mat for a pin.

PREDICTION: Telford via DEC (IOWA 23-9)

The meet gets underway at 7 PM Central.  Join us in the comments.