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WE MUST BREAK YOU: #1 IOWA VS #24 NORTHWESTERN (PREVIEW + OPEN THREAD)

The Big Ten dual meet season hits the halfway point.

WHO: #24 Northwestern Wildcats (9-4, 1-3)
WHEN: Friday, January 23, 7 PM CT
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
RADIO: AM 800 KXIC (local), Hawkeye All-Access (non-local; $$)
TV: no TV; BTN Plus (online stream; $$$)

Iowa returns to action tonight with a second-straight home dual meet against a team from the Land of Lincoln -- but this week's dual against Northwestern should be far less stressful than last week's showdown with Illinois, a meet that was up in the air until Alex Meyer managed to secure a pin in the final seconds of his match at 174 lbs.  Northwestern is a perfect example of a better tournament team than a dual meet team, which is backed up by the rankings: Flowrestling ranks jNW #10 in their tournament rankings and InterMat ranks them #13 in their tournament rankings, but the Wildcats are just #24 in the NWCA coaches poll dual meet rankings (InterMat has them #22 in their dual meet rankings).

Northwestern has very strong quality at a few weights, but very poor overall depth.  That quality will enable a handful of wrestlers to rack up a lot of points in a tournament setting, but they can only score so many points in a dual meet. And lack of depth across all weights tends to be brutally exposed in a dual meet setting.  The Wildcats have three very good wrestlers (#1 Jason Tsirtsis at 149, #4 Mike McMullan at 285, and #6 Pierce Harger at 165) and another solid wrestler (#13 Alex Polizzi at 197), but beyond that they have holes.  A lot of holes.  There's some hope on the horizon -- they landed three top-20 recruits last year -- but that hope is at least a year away (and by then McMullan and Harger will be gone anyway).

This isn't a "name the score" dual for Iowa like their clash with Purdue earlier in the season, but it's also not a dual meet where the team result should be in question.  The intrigue here centers on a few key weights (149, 165, 285) where Iowa and Northwestern each have highly ranked wrestlers squaring off against one another.  Wins in those match-ups could be key to future seeding decisions at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.

But let's break things down weight-by-weight...

125: #5 Thomas Gilman (SO, 18-1) vs. UN Garrison White (JR, 11-9)

As The Daily Iowan nicely documented this week, Thomas Gilman has been on a roll of late, racking up takedowns, push-outs, and bonus point victories and generally wrestling an aggressive, attack-happy, crowd-pleasing style.  I don't expect that to change this week.  The question for Gilman is how well he can maintain that approach against the better opponents at 125, but that's a question for another match.  Gilman should roll to bonus points here.

PREDICTION: Gilman via MAJ DEC (IOWA 4-0)

133: #5 Cory Clark (SO, 15-2) vs. UN Dom Malone (JR, 16-10)

Cory Clark has scuffled a bit over the last few weeks -- he's lost two of his last three matches (to Ohio State's Jonni DiJulius and Illinois' Zane Richards) and in both cases the gameplan to beating Clark was similar: start slow out of the gate, give up early takedowns, and then fail to overcome that early deficit in the third period.  Malone isn't as good as DiJulius or Richards, but he's decent (fringe top-20).  But this match really comes down to what Clark shows: he should be chomping at the bit to get back on the mat after his last few matches and hopefully we see an aggressive, energetic Clark from the opening whistle.  He needs to start fast and keep the pressure on.  I think he does just that here.

PREDICTION: Clark via MAJ DEC (IOWA 8-0)

141: #8 Josh Dziewa (SR, 17-4) vs. UN Jameson Oster (JR, 15-6)

Jeva rarely wins pretty, but he also rarely loses to guys ranked well below him (or who are unranked).  I wish I could predict bonus points, but that's not something we see often enough out of Jeva.  A ho-hum decision win seems more likely.

PREDICTION: Dziewa via DEC (IOWA 11-0)

149: #3 Brandon Sorensen (RS FR, 23-2) vs. #1 Jason Tsirtsis (SO, 24-0)

This is probably the match of the night.  Rankings-wise, it's either this or 285 (which also features two top-5 opponents facing off), but 149 should offer a lot more fireworks than 285.  Emphasis on "should," though, because T-shirt the younger (his older brother attended Iowa several years ago) is expert at draining the excitement out of matches and turning them into low-scoring, defensive bouts where a single tiny mistake can prove fatal.  Sorensen has been the most pleasant surprise of the season for Iowa and he rocketed up the rankings after a pair of wins over top-5 opponents (Ohio State's Hunter Stieber, Oklahoma State's Josh Kindig) and now he gets to take a crack at the defending NCAA champion at this weight.  It should be a great learning experience for Sorensen, but I'll take T-shirt to win a very close, low-scoring match.

PREDICTION: Tsirtsis via DEC (IOWA 11-3)

157: #15 Michael Kelly (SR, 16-3) vs. UN Ben Sullivan (SO, 5-9)

Mike Kelly got roughed up by Illinois super-frosh Isaiah Martinez last week; he should get his mojo back against Sullivan.

PREDICTION: Kelly via MAJ DEC (IOWA 15-3)

165: #9 Nick Moore (SR, 13-4) vs. #6 Pierce Harger (SR, 19-3)

Nick Moore has missed the last two Iowa dual meets (against Oklahoma State and Illinois) for reasons that have never been adequately explained.  (Maybe he's just developed a crippling fear of the color orange.)  But he's expected to return to action tonight -- against a wrestler who was one of the last foes he faced before this mini-sabbatical.  Harger handed Moore an 8-5 loss at Midlands and enters this dual on a mini-roll -- he pinned Purdue's Pat Robinson in 54 seconds and then mauled previously ranked #4 Taylor Walsh in a 15-0 technical fall last week.  Moore has three previous wins over Harger, but on current form Harger looks like the much better bet for a win here.

PREDICTION: Harger via DEC (IOWA 15-6)

174: #2 Mike Evans (SR, 17-0) or UN Alex Meyer (SO, 15-2) vs. OPEN

The Match Notes for this dual list no one for Northwestern at 174 and they've taken a forfeit at this weight in several recent dual meets.  It seems hard to believe that they don't have a warm body they could toss out there for 7 minutes, but... they really might not.  Their best 174er is Johnny Sebastian, but he's a true freshman taking a redshirt season.  Their only other listed 174er, Ben Sullivan is listed on the match notes at 157.  Bumping someone up a weight doesn't seem to be much of an option, either -- their only listed 165er is Harger, the starter at that weight.  They also have only one wrestler listed at 149 and 157.  That is one bare-bones wrestling team.  Anyway, another forfeit seems likely, so go ahead and chalk up six points for Iowa here.

PREDICTION: Evans/Meyer via FFT (IOWA 21-6)

184: #8 Sammy Brooks (SO, 17-2) vs. UN Mitch Sliga (RS FR, 9-11)

Sammy Brooks rebounded from a surprising loss with a comfortable decision win over a top-20 opponent last week; against an unranked opponent tonight, I think he gets back on the bonus point train.  I have him pegged for a major decision, but if he's able to get his tilts working on the mat, that could easily become a technical fall or even a pin.

PREDICTION: Brooks via MAJ DEC (IOWA 25-6)

197: #5 Nathan Burak (JR, 12-0) vs. #13 Alex Polizzi (SR, 20-5)

Burak went 2-1 against Polizzi last year and -- surprise! -- all of the matches were close.  He beat Polizzi 5-3 at Midlands and again 3-1 (in sudden victory) at the dual meet.  Polizzi got the better of him at the Big Ten Tournament, though, taking a 4-3 decision there.  Burak wrestles damn near everyone close, so it's not going out on much of a limb to predict another close match here.  That said, he's also been very good at finding ways to win those close matches; I think he does so again here.

PREDICTION: Burak via DEC (IOWA 28-6)

285: #1 Bobby Telford (SR, 18-0) vs. #4 Mike McMullan (SR, 17-2)

Telford and McMullan are no strangers to each other, this season or in the past.  This season, Telford is 1-0 against McMullan, nipping him via a 4-2 decision in the Midlands finals with a late takedown off a scramble.  Telford went 1-2 against McMullan a year ago, losing to him 3-1 (sudden victory) in the dual meet, avenging that with a 3-1 win of his own in the Big Ten Tournament, then dropping another 3-1 decision in the 3rd place match at the NCAA Tournament.  Telford and McMullan also split a pair of encounters during their freshman season (Telford won 4-2 in OT at Midlands, while McMullan won 7-5 in OT at the dual meet).  All told, their career record is tied up at 3-3. Whoever wins here will take the advantage in their series... but this likely won't be their final meeting with each other, either.  It would hardly be a surprise if they tussled in the Big Ten or NCAA Tournament this season.  As is the case with most heavyweight matches, this figures to come down to which big fella can get a takedown.  Given Telford's form this year (and the fact that to date no opponent has taken him down in a match), I'm going to give Big Bad Bobby the edge here.

PREDICTION: Telford via DEC (IOWA 31-6)

Feel free to follow along with tonight's action in the comments.