What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of a blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Andy from Eleven Warriors, the best damn Ohio State blog around.
1) Ohio State's light weights have some firepower, particularly at 125 and 133. Is Nathan Tomasello back to full speed and what's made Luke Pletcher so dominant at his new weight this season?
ANDY: By all indications, Nathan Tomasello is back and if not better than ever, darn close to it. The former NCAA champion looks fit as a fiddle, and his match with a highly-regarded Ethan Lizak made it look like Tomasello not only hadn’t missed a beat, but is perhaps in the best shape of his career.
Rutgers fans didn’t have much nice to say about NaTo or Buckeye head coach (and Iowa alumnus) Tom Ryan the week prior, but frankly it didn’t make any sense to risk Tomasello’s well-being one match into his triumphant return. With that said, though, back-to-back tech falls at Maryland and versus Lizak seems like a strong indicator that Tomasello is still the top lightweight in the country.
Luke Pletcher is perhaps the most underrated Buckeye on the roster, simply because he’s riding a 19-match win streak, and has never really been in danger this season. The reason he doesn’t get more attention - aside from the fact that Ohio State’s roster is perhaps the best, top-to-bottom, in history - is that he scores bonus points less often than any other member of the team. A 4-2 decision is not an unusual result for the sophomore… he’s the consummate grinder. But he’s powerful, he’s never out of position, he’s always the lower man with better leverage, and he just simply refuses to lose a match.
2) The middle weights are probably the one area of the dual where Iowa would appear to have an advantage on Ohio State; they have the higher ranked wrestler at 149, 157, and 165. What can you tell us about OSU's options there and who's most likely to spring an upset?
ANDY: Ohio State’s biggest weapons are on the ends of the roster, for sure, but some of that is due to the long-term stability they’ve had there from guys like Tomasello and Kyle Snyder, not to mention the fact that guys like Myles Martin and Kollin Moore announced themselves as title-contenders from day one.
The middle of the lineup has been more of an adventure for the Buckeyes in recent years, from 141 through 165. Tom Ryan worked overtime to address his needs there this offseason, recruiting transfers Joey McKenna from Stanford at 141 and Te’Shan Campbell from Pitt at 165. Both have proven to be outstanding additions to the roster, and allowed Micah Jordan to go back up to 157, where he belongs, and giving a couple of years of consistency to the middleweight roster.
At 149, Ke-Shawn Hayes is a guy who wanted to wrestle 141, but with McKenna in the lineup was asked to go up a class, and for the most part it’s worked. Hayes dropped a match at the Cliff Keen, and more recently an upset at Rutgers late in the third when he simply got overpowered on a pair of throws that turned into serious backpoints. Competitor that he is, however, he refused to give up the pin, and got off the mat in both cases. He has to keep working to become one of the best in the class, but he’s proven that he belongs in that tier of guys who will make the class interesting when Retherford and Sorenson move on.
At 157, it’s Micah Jordan, part of the legendary Jordan Wrestling Dynasty of St. Paris, Ohio (home of Hawkeye Alex Marinneli). He’s right at home at 157, and this well could be one of the most exciting matches of the night because of how well-matched Jordan is with Michael Kemerer. Jordan likes to score points, so look for him to be aggressive as early in the match as he can.
Te’Shan Campbell, at 165, is something of an enigma. If he gets you on the mat, it’s over, because he’ll tilt you and the backpoints come in buckets. The problem for him, in the matches he’s dropped, has been his work in the neutral position. He needs to take more shots, and needs to finish the ones he takes. Likewise, he’s vulnerable on bottom, and a few guys have ridden him out, much to Tom Ryan’s chagrin. That said, the reigning ACC champion is strong, and he’s rounding into form in the much tougher environs of the Ohio State wrestling program.
After uncharacteristically dropping two matches in a row, the match with Marinelli is really important not only to his postseason prospects, but especially to showing how well he’s learning and growing from two disappointing losses late in matches.
3) The back end of Ohio State's lineup is absolutely loaded, with their starters at 174, 184, 197, and 285 ranked #3 or higher (by InterMat). Tell us a little bit what makes that quartet so fearsome -- and which, if any of them, might be slightly vulnerable to an upset?
ANDY: Sheer dominance. Brute strength. Quick as lightning. The heavy end of Ohio State’s lineup is the fiercest quartet of big men in the business.
It all starts with the reigning, defending, undisputed, undefeated Olympic, World and NCAA champion Kyle Snyder. No one is going to beat him between now and Cleveland, period. Not only is he the strongest man in the sport, he’s arguably the fastest. Watch Snyder warm up prior to the match - you’ve never seen another human of his size move with such quickness. The only question Sunday is will he pin Stoll, or settle for a tech fall. To quote Snyder, “It’s a bad matchup. I’m going to score a lot of points.”
Kollin Moore announced himself last season as perhaps the most exciting freshman in the country, and has given no reason to doubt his unanimous No. 1 ranking this season. Moore is fearless; he may not be as big or quite as quick as Snyder, but he’s long as a country mile and likes to take shots. You could say the same thing about Bo Jordan, in fact, though Jordan is a bit more of a technician… and he should be, as he’s been studying the sport most of his life.
Myles Martin is really special. Tom Ryan is fond of comparing him to the late Muhammed Ali because Martin is so “silky smooth” on the mats. Blink, and he’s got you on the mat. Martin, like Moore and Snyder, won’t dilly-dally trying to ride you out. They’ll spend a few seconds on top for form, and then go right back to work with a little catch-and-release action en route to the tech fall. Martin scores bonus points at a higher clip than anyone on the team (Snyder and Tomasello both technically have 100% bonus rates, but Martin has wrestled more matches than both of them combined due to NaTo’s injury and Snyder’s international schedule).
4) Which match are you most excited about seeing on Sunday?
ANDY: I’m excited for Snyder’s final home dual as a Buckeye. I’m excited to see Tomasello face the debutante belle of the 125-pound ball. But I’m really most excited for 149, 157 and 165… if I had to pick one, I’d probably say 149. Sorenson, like Snyder, Tomasello and Bo Jordan, is a special wrestler in his farewell tour, and I’m looking forward to seeing him work in person - and to seeing how Hayes responds to the challenge.
As I mentioned above, Micah Jordan may be in the most competitive match of the night, and I want to see how Campbell rebounds from recent stumbles against not only a ranked opponent, but a guy who is making an appearance in the building where he won four state titles as an Ohio prep before heading to Iowa City.
5) This certainly appears to be a "national title or bust" year for the Buckeyes and they definitely have a team loaded with talent to contend for that title. How do you think they'll fare come March?
ANDY: It’s not often that you hear coaches say it so plainly, but Tom Ryan was anything but coy in his opening visit with the media this season. It’s been known from the get-go that he and the senior leaders - Snyder, especially - believe this team can and will upset Penn State in Cleveland, and can be the second team in history to finish 10 All-Americans.
Snyder takes it a step farther, saying this is the best roster in NCAA history. If they do what they’re capable of doing, they have a strong case. But there are a few Hawkeyes and at least five Nittany Lions who will have a lot to say about it, too.
Snyder will repeat as NCAA champion, of that there is no doubt. Tomasello is the prohibitive favorite at 125, no matter what Rutgers fans think. Kollin Moore and Luke Pletcher seem primed to make title runs, and Myles Martin obviously has what it takes to win one. If those four guys make it to the final match, and the other six make All American… yeah, that should do it. Sounds easy, right?
6) This is Senior Day for Ohio State, which means it's the last time the home fans get to see Nathan Tomasello, Bo Jordan, and Kyle Snyder. Can you explain what that trio has meant to Ohio State wrestling over the last 4-5 years and how much they'll be missed when they're gone?
ANDY: All three of these seniors over the past two weeks have talked about the amazing change in culture they’ve seen during their tenure. Jordan noted that his freshman year, practices weren’t fun - now, the team has a blast every day in “The Room.” Snyder said his freshman year - consider, by the way, that Ohio State won a national title that year - that the Buckeyes were a group of really good wrestlers, but not much of a team.
What has changed in the room? Those three men have owned this team in one way or the other. Tomasello won a title, Snyder became the greatest pound-for-pound wrestler on the planet, and Bo Jordan is one of the most accomplished and well-respected guys in the sport. They have taken a program that was right there at the top, and turned it into a perennial title contender in the Big Ten and at the NCAA Tournament.
How do you replace that? You can’t, honestly. Fortunately for Tom Ryan, Snyder will be training at the Ohio RTC for years to come, and Tomasello intends to focus on his freestyle aspirations as well, so their leadership will still be a part of the program, even if they’re not longer on the NCAA roster. They’ve brought a lot of wins to the program, but the DNA they’ve injected into the program, I think, means a lot more - and will last a lot longer.
7) OK, prediction time -- who do you have winning it and how's it going to go down?
ANDY: Only two teams have made it to double-digits on Ohio State this season, and Arizona State topped out at 12. Only “fully weaponized” in one meet so far this season, either due to Tomasello’s injury or Snyder and McKenna’s international obligations, most teams simply don’t have the horsepower to win more than a match or two in a dual with the Buckeyes.
Iowa is one of those teams that will actually give fans in Columbus reason for consternation, particularly with Lee in the lineup making things more interesting. If I were to bet the rent, I’d give Ohio State the edge at 125, 133, and 174 through 285. I’d definitely give Sorenson the nod at 149, though I have hopes that Hayes makes it interesting, and Iowa has a shot and perhaps the edge at 157 and 165.
Final score? Something like 31-12 or 29-11 feels reasonable.
NOTE: Andy posed some great questions to me as well, which I answered in the companion piece to this post over at 11W. Go check it out!
Thanks for being a good sport, Andy, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped by Iowa on Sunday (lol). You can check out Andy and the rest of the 11W crew at Eleven Warriors. You can also follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyVance and Eleven Warriors on Twitter at @11W. The Iowa-Ohio State dual meet is in Columbus, OH on Sunday, January 21, and is scheduled to start at approximately 2:30 pm CT, with TV coverage from BTN.