The Iowa wrestling season got off to something of a soft launch. The competition they've faced through the first two months of the season... has not been the stiffest, shall we say. Iowa is 8-0 in dual meets, but they've yet to face an elite opponent in a dual -- the best team they've faced is probably Illinois, currently 3-2 and ranked #12 in the NWCA Coaches Poll. They crowned five champions and dominated the field at Midlands -- but the best teams there were probably Arizona State and Rutgers, currently ranked #9 and #14, respectively, in InterMat's tournament rankings. Not exactly the best of the best there.
But the competition is about to ramp up in a big way. The easy part of Iowa's schedule is pretty much over and all that's left (give or take a season-ending dual with Iowa State) is a series of grueling dual meets and the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Starting with this Sunday's dual against Oklahoma State, Iowa faces six straight teams ranked in the NWCA Top 25, including four in the top ten.
We're going to see just how good this Iowa team truly is over the next month, which should also give us an idea of what they might be able to do in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments in March. Every wrestler in Iowa's lineup could be seeing at least 4-5 opponents ranked in the Top 20 over the next month. Penn State and Ohio State have teams loaded with high-end quality from top to bottom, while Oklahoma State and Michigan have several top-end wrestlers as well. Minnesota and Northwestern don't have the same level of overall quality, but they each have a few high-end guys and some other quality guys that should ensure that the duals are still competitive.
The other piece of good news for Iowa fans? Five of Iowa's next six dual meets are scheduled to be broadcast on regular BTN, meaning you can finally see Spencer Lee, Michael Kemerer, Brandon Sorensen, and Co. in action without having to pay for a stuttering internet stream. Huzzah!
So let's take a quick peek at who Iowa wrestlers could be seeing over the course of the next month at each weight.
125: Spencer Lee (#9 InterMat)
Oklahoma State: #6 Nick Piccininni
Ohio State: #1 Nathan Tomasello (?)
Michigan: #15 Drew Mattin
Minnesota: #4 Ethan Lizak
Northwestern: #10 Sebastian Rivera
The Lee is free -- and he's going to get tested now that he's in the lineup. Lee made his debut in the InterMat rankings this week at #9 but he'll have ample opportunity to lift that ranking if he can beat the host of ranked opponents he's slated to face. He gets a big opportunity right out of the gate against Okie State on Saturday as he faces #6 Piccininni. Beyond that there's an interesting match with Minnesota's Lizak, a returning NCAA runner-up, in a few weeks as well as ranked guys like Mattin and Rivera. I have a question mark next to Tomasello because I'm not sure if he'll wrestle in that dual meet or not. If he does, that's obviously a blockbuster showdown and a potential preview of the Big Ten and NCAA finals (though several guys will have their say in those races, including Rutgers' Nick Suriano). But Tomasello is also recovering from knee surgery earlier this season -- he just made his regular season debut last weekend against Maryland. I expect Tom Ryan to be fairly cautious with him during the dual meet portion of the schedule.
133: Paul Glynn or Phillip Laux (both unranked)
Oklahoma State: #4 Kaid Brock
Ohio State: #2 Luke Pletcher
Michigan: #6 Stevan Micic
Minnesota: #12 Mitch McKee
Northwestern: #18 Colin Valdiviez
Glynn got the nod at 133 against Michigan State last week, but it's unclear if he's locked in as the starter going forward. Whether it's Glynn or Laux, though, they're going to see some tough guys at this weight -- Iowa's next three opponents each feature a Top 10 guy at 133. Any wins for Iowa in these matches would have to be considered pretty sizable upsets; damage limitation (in terms of avoiding bonus points) may be a more realistic goal.
141: Carter Happel or Vince Turk (both unranked)
Oklahoma State: #5 Dean Heil
Ohio State: #6 Joey McKenna
Minnesota: #11 Tommy Thorn
Penn State: Nick Lee?
Iowa State: #16 Kanen Storr
141 is another weight without a locked-in starter, although Happel seems to be the favorite moving forward. He's set to face two-time defending NCAA champion Dean Heil this week and Top 10-ranked Joey McKenna next week. Welcome to the deep end of the pool. He could also see a ranked challenger in Minnesota's Tommy Thorn as well as Iowa State's Storr, their only currently ranked wrestler. There's a potential wildcard in Penn State's Nick Lee, too; he's a highly-touted true freshman who PSU is considering taking out of redshirt -- if they do, he would assuredly be ranked somewhere in the Top 20 (probably near the Top 10) by the time Iowa faces Penn State next month.
149: Brandon Sorensen (#2 InterMat)
Oklahoma State: #14 Boo Lewallen
Ohio State: #6 Ke-Shawn Hayes
Minnesota: #15 Steve Bleise
Northwestern: #4 Ryan Deakin
Penn State: #1 Zain Retherford
Sorensen will see a handful of ranked opponents over the next few weeks, with the most interesting threat looking like OSU's Hayes (#6) next week. jNW's Deakin (#4) will be an interesting threat next month -- he's rocketed up the rankings this year and could be the future of 149 in the Big Ten next year after Sorensen and Retherford graduate. And of course there's the looming rematch with the Zain Train in February, in what we hope is the first of three showdowns this year. Hopefully our man Brandon can win at least one of those showdowns (preferably one in March, if we're being 100% honest).
157: Michael Kemerer (#2 InterMat)
Ohio State: #6 Micah Jordan
Michigan: #5 Alec Pantaleo
Minnesota: #18 Jake Short
Penn State: #1 Jason Nolf
Kemerer is only slated to see four ranked opponents the rest of the way, but three of them are ranked #6 or better, so the quality is definitely there. Jordan and Sorensen engaged in a series of low-scoring slugfests at 149 last year, so we'll get to see how Kemerer, a more action-oriented wrestler, handles Jordan this year. Pantaleo is another deeply defensive wrestler moving up from 149. Like Sorensen, Kemerer is pointing toward a big looming rematch with the #1-ranked Penn State big kahuna at his weight -- Jason Nolf, in his case. Kemerer has made definite improvement this year -- but has he closed the gap on the otherworldly Nolf? We'll find out next month.
165: Alex Marinelli (#11 InterMat)
Oklahoma State: #8 Chandler Rogers
Michigan: #5 Logan Massa
Minnesota: #9 Nick Wanzek
Penn State: #1 Vincenzo Joseph
Marinelli is another wrestler, like Lee, who has tremendous opportunity to move up the rankings with his upcoming slate. Guys like Kemerer and Sorensen can't move up much -- they're already #2 -- but Lee and Kemerer are ranked #9 and #11, respectively, so there's ground to be gained there. For Iowa to be in any sort of national title picture this year, they need those guys to significantly outperform their current rankings. I have a lot of confidence in Lee to do that and some more cautious optimism where Marinelli is concerned. We just haven't seen him really cut loose against a higher-ranked guy yet. But matches with Rogers, Massa, and Wanzek will give him a great opportunity to pick up big wins and prove that he belongs in All-America contention (or better) at this weight. And his match with defending NCAA champion Joseph next month will be a great measuring stick match, too.
174: Joey Gunther (unranked)
Oklahoma State: #14 Jacobe Smith
Ohio State: #3 Bo Jordan
Michigan: #6 Myles Amine
Northwestern: #18 Johnny Sebastian
Penn State: #2 Mark Hall
Gunther has been plugging away at 174 for Iowa this year and steadily improving, but the quality of his competition is about to go through the roof. Guys like Okie State's Smith or jNW's Sebastian are realistic upset targets for him -- Gunther is probably on the fringes of the Top 20 himself and if he wants to potentially vie for a spot on the podium this year, he'll definitely have to beat guys like that. Meanwhile, OSU's Jordan (#3), Michigan's Amine (#6), and PSU's Hall (#2) are much bigger game -- but also good measuring sticks for Gunther's current level of development.
184: Mitch Bowman (unranked); maybe Pat Downey III?
Oklahoma State: #19 Keegan Moore
Ohio State: #2 Myles Martin
Michigan: #5 Domenic Abounader
Minnesota: #20 Owen Webster
Penn State: #1 Bo Nickal
The million-dollar question about Iowa's upper weights are when (if?) Pat Downey will be making his debut for Iowa. It doesn't sound like it will be this weekend and of course before Downey can make a debut he needs to be officially announced as a member of the team, which Iowa hasn't done yet. It still seems like it's going to happen... and it may just be a matter of jumping through certain procedural hoops. Iowa's second semester begins next Tuesday, so I'd guess if we don't hear any sort of official announcement next week, it's not going to happen.
Of course, even if Downey joins the team it's not a certainty that he would wrestle at 184 -- when there was talk of him wrestling at Midlands, he was going to go at 197 lbs -- but that seems to be the plan. (Downey referenced cutting to 184 on Twitter recently.) If there's no Downey, Bowman will have his hands full with Iowa's upcoming opponents at 184 -- there are five ranked guys there, including three in the Top 5. If Downey is on the team and wrestling in these matches, well, then things get more interesting -- and we get to see how he stacks up against the best of the best at this weight class.
197: Cash Wilcke (#5 InterMat)
Oklahoma State: #3 Preston Weigel
Ohio State: #1 Kollin Moore
Michigan: #11 Kevin Beazley
Penn State: #10 Shakur Rasheed
It's still kind of unbelievable that Wilcke has gone from only making the NCAA Tournament last year as an injury replacement to being the 5th-ranked 197er in the country, but he just keeps quietly producing. He had a nice performance at NCAAs last year, just missing out on All-America status, and he's undefeated so far this season. His competition has been fairly weak so far, but that's about to change, especially in the next two weeks as he faces the #3 and #1-ranked guys over that span. How competitive he is with them should give us a much better sense of his ability to contend for a spot high on the podium this year. Likewise, matches with Beazley and Rasheed will be interesting tests for him as well.
285: Sam Stoll (#3 InterMat)
Oklahoma State: #10 Derek White
Ohio State: #1 Kyle Snyder (?)
Michigan: #2 Adam Coon
Penn State: #8 Nick Nevills
Stoll has ascended to the #3 ranking behind an undefeated record, but like Wilcke, he hasn't faced too many tests yet. We'll know a lot more about Stoll, his surgically-repaired knee, and his ability to contend at the highest level of this weight a month from now. White will be an interesting test this weekend and Coon and Nevills will be good measuring sticks as well. Coon seems like the clear-cut #2 guy at this weight in my opinion, so if Stoll is able to give him a run, I'll be very impressed. The clear-cut #1 guy at this weight is of course Snyder and if Stoll can do anything against him, I'll be over the moon. That is, if Snyder even wrestles in that dual; he wrestles a light collegiate schedule during dual meet season and may or may not be around for that dual. My big question for Stoll is what kind of offense he can produce from neutral against top guys at this weight -- i.e., how does he score points? He won two matches at Midlands via DQs and another via penalty point, but I'm not sure how replicable that success is. If he can get takedowns and/or turns on top guys, I'll feel a lot better about his ability to contend for high spots on the podium at Big Tens and NCAAs.
So that's a quick overview of what Iowa wrestling has to look forward to over the next six duals, over the course of the next 4-5 weeks. We're going to see just how good this Iowa team -- and several of these Iowa wrestlers -- really are because they are some big tests looming from an individual and team standpoint. But we've had our fill of seeing Iowa pound cupcakes; let's throw them in the deep end and see if they can swim with the sharks.