WHO: #16 Michigan Wolverines (6-5, 4-4)
WHEN: Friday, February 13, 7 PM CT
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
RADIO: AM 800 KXIC (local), Hawkeye All-Access (non-local; $$)
ONLINE: BTN Plus ($)
#1 Iowa returns home from last week's East Coast swing to close out the Big Ten portion of the dual meet season Friday night with a home dual against #16 Michigan (6-5 overall, 4-4 B1G). Iowa's win over Penn State last Sunday clinched at least a share of the Big Ten dual meet championship for the Hawkeyes (Ohio State and Nebraska have already wrapped up their Big Ten seasons at 8-1 apiece); a win over Michigan tonight would give Iowa an outright Big Ten dual meet championship. Of all the championships Iowa competes for, that title might be one of the least important -- but Iowa might as well add it to its collection anyway.
Friday night's dual is also Senior Night for a big senior class, although it certainly won't be the last time that Iowa fans get to see the likes of Mike Evans and Bobby Telford wrestle for Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye Arena -- Iowa hosts a regional dual in the NWCA National Duals (against #13 Virginia) on Sunday; if they win that (and they should), they'll host at least two (and probably) three dual meets in Iowa City the following weekend. It will be a long goodbye between Iowa fans and this senior class, consisting of starters Bobby Telford (285), Mike Evans (174), Nick Moore (165), Mike Kelly (157), Josh Dziewa (141), backups Matt Gurule (125) and Jeremy Fahler (184), and student manager Maddie Schossow, and it begins Friday night.
Iowa enters this dual as solid favorites over Michigan, but the Wolverines won't be pushovers -- they rarely are. Did you know who Iowa's stiffest competition has been in the Big Ten over the years? It's not the most obvious suspects, like Minnesota or Penn State. It's actually Michigan -- Iowa owns a 30-25-1 record against the Wolverines; prior to Iowa's current 7-dual winning streak, Michigan actually had a winning record against Iowa. Even so, the Wolveines' 44.6% winning percentage against Iowa is the best mark any Big Ten can boast of against the Hawkeyes. Depending on who wrestles for Michigan on Friday, they could send out eight wrestlers ranked in the top 20, including five ranked in the top 10 at their respective weights.
Let's take a look at the individual weights in Friday's dual.
125: #5 Thomas Gilman (SO, 22-1) or UN Philip Laux (RS FR, 3-2) vs. #20 Conor Youtsey (SO, 17-9)
The official Match Notes list both Gilman and Laux as options for Iowa this weekend, so Gilman might finally get a rest in one of these duals; I'd guess the Virginia dual is a slightly more likely bet to be the one where he's rested (if he's rested at all). Michigan's Youtsey is a fringe top-20 opponent, but Gilman has blasted plenty of opponents like that this season. An overly conservative approach has hampered Gilman against some of the top guys at this weight, but that doesn't figure to be an issue against Youtsey. I think Gilman returns to his free-scoring ways and picks up a major decision.
PREDICTION: Gilman via MAJ DEC (IOWA 4-0)
133: #7 Cory Clark (SO, 17-4) vs. or #9 Rossi Bruno (JR, 14-6) or UN Zebulon Hilyard (SR, 1-4)
For awesome name purposes, I hope ZEBULON HILYARD gets the call for Michigan tonight, and also because seeing an Iowa beat up a guy named "Ross B" would just be awkward for me. That said, Bruno will be no pushover for Clark if he takes the mat -- all of his losses are to top-10 guys at 133 and he has a nice win over #12 Mason Beckman. Clark has lost three in a row against top-10 guys at 133, although he looked better against #5 Jimmy Gulibon on Sunday; he lost on a late big move, but he avoided getting in an early hole, looked aggressive, and only lost at the end because he got caught out of position after taking a late shot. He's too good to keep losing all of these matches against top-10 foes and I think he'll snap out of it against Bruno.
PREDICTION: Clark via DEC (IOWA 7-0)
141: #6 Josh Dziewa (SR, 20-5) vs. UN George Fisher (FR, 20-14)
And here's where things could get interesting for Iowa. He's not listed on the Match Notes, but Brody Grothus' cut down to 141 should be complete by Friday night's weigh-in, meaning that he should be an option for Iowa here. It would be slightly awkward for Dziewa to get the hook on Senior Night, but his own inconsistent performances all season have opened up the door to another challenger. Tom Brands has just 4-5 matches before the Big Ten Tournament to see what Grothus can do at his new weight and determine which guy (Grothus or Dziewa) gives Iowa a better shot to score points in March. By now it's pretty clear what Dziewa brings to the table, so I'd be a bit surprised if Grothus didn't get most (or all) of those matches if he can indeed make weight. Fisher has talent, but he's taken some lumps after being thrown to the wolves as a freshman (he probably would have redshirted if Michigan's returning All-American, Stephen Dutton, hadn't suffered a season-ending injury). Either Grothus or Dziewa should pick up a decision for Iowa here.
PREDICTION: Grothus or Dziewa via DEC (IOWA 10-0)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen (RS FR, 27-2) vs. #13 Alec Pantaleo (FR, 17-5)
149 begins a pivotal stretch of the dual, as Michigan has ranked guys at 149, 157, and 165; a Michigan upset bid likely depends on them winning at least two of those middleweight bouts. 149 looks like the least likely upset bid -- Pantaleo has had a nice freshman season, but he hasn't beaten anyone nearly as good as Sorensen this year. Sorensen has scuffled a bit in some of his recent wins, but I think he'll put together a comfortable decision win here with a handful of textbook takedowns.
PREDICTION: Sorensen via DEC (IOWA 13-0)
157: #14 Mike Kelly (SR, 18-5) vs. #10 Brian Murphy (SO, 19-8)
Between highly-touted seniors like Dylan Ness and James Green and red-hot newcomers like Isaiah Martinez, Murphy has kind of flown under the radar at 157 this year, but he's a solid wrestler with a few nice wins on the season. Murphy has solid fundamentals and is tough to score on, so he's going to be a tricky matchup for Kelly. This smells like a match that could be decided by a single takedown in the third period or sudden victory; given Kelly's struggles from neutral, I feel better about Murphy being the one to get that takedown.
PREDICTION: Murphy via DEC (IOWA 13-3)
165: #12 Nick Moore (SR, 16-5) vs. #10 Taylor Massa (SO, 13-4) or UN Garrett Sutton (FR, 12-5)
Massa has missed some time lately due to injury, so it's not a certainty that he wrestles here. If he doesn't go, Nick Moore should get a second straight match against an opponent named Garrett; let's hope this one goes better than his maddening match with Garrett Hammond last Sunday. As always, the main issue with Moore seems to be his confidence -- he's capable of beating Massa, but only if he wrestles smartly and trusts in his offense. Sadly, of late he hasn't given me much reason to expect that.
PREDICTION: Massa via DEC (IOWA 13-6)
174: #3 Mike Evans (SR, 20-1) or UN Alex Meyer (SO, 11-2) vs. UN Jake Salazar (SR, 12-8)
There were several frustrating performers for Iowa in last week's ugly win over Penn State, but perhaps none moreso than Mike Evans, who couldn't do much of anything against Matt Brown: he never came close to scoring on him from neutral, he wasn't able to ride him very long when he was in top position, and he wasn't able to get an escape (or reversal) when he was in bottom position. Fortunately, Salazar is no Brown. I think Evans rebounds with a solid win. A comfortable decision (something like 8-3 or 9-2) seems like the safest bet, but bonus points could also be in play if The 'Stache is able to go to work on the mat.
PREDICTION: Evans via DEC (IOWA 16-6)
184: #8 Sammy Brooks (SO, 21-2) vs. #12 Domenic Abounader (SO, 15-6)
This is very nearly the match of the dual, rankings-wise, and it's almost certainly the match of the dual in terms of expected action. For the most part, Brooks has been one of Iowa's most reliable go-getters, an energetic point-scorer on his feet (thanks to his array of attacks) and on the mat (thanks to his skill with tilts), while Abounader has had some high-scoring bouts of his own (he beat Minnesota's Brett Pfarr, 8-7, and lost to Nebraska's TJ Dudley, 10-7). I think Sammy takes care of business here.
PREDICTION: Brooks via DEC (IOWA 19-6)
197: #6 Nathan Burak (JR, 14-2) vs. #8 Max Huntley (SR, 16-5)
Just as 149-157-165 is an opportunity for Michigan to make hay against Iowa, 184-197-285 are another chance for Michigan to score some upset wins over Iowa. Given Burak's propensity for wrestling close matches, Huntley should have a chance to get that decisive late takedown here. Still, Burak's only losses this season have been to top-tier guys like Scott Schiller and Morgan McIntosh; Huntley isn't quite in their category, so I'll trust Burak to eke out another win here.
PREDICTION: Burak via DEC (IOWA 22-6)
285: #2 Bobby Telford (SR, 21-1) vs. #7 Adam Coon (SO, 23-3)
Finally, the dual concludes with what is the match of the night in terms of rankings (#2 versus #7), but almost certainly won't be in terms of action. Even by the ponderous standard of most heavyweight matches, Telford-Coon matchups have proven especially dull in the past -- their last two matches a season ago both went all the way to the second set of tiebreakers in OT -- combined, those matches took nearly 20 minutes and there was hardly a decent shot (forget a takedown) to be found. Hopefully this year's clash is a little better... but I wouldn't bank on it. Telford is well-equipped to win a match like that -- his riding skills may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they're effective and his defense from neutral is tremendous. Coon is very good and he's been successful against Telford in the past, so a win for him would hardly be much of an upset, but I think Telford grinds out an ugly win here.
PREDICTION: Telford via DEC (IOWA 25-6)
As you can see, it's not impossible to find six wins for Michigan in this dual... but it does feel a bit unlikely, especially in CHA, on Senior Night, with a (hopefully) raucous crowd cheering on the Iowa wrestlers.
I'll be posting results and discussing the action in the comments below, starting at 7 PM CT. Feel free to join in.