WHO: #1 Penn State Nittany Lions (12-0, 8-0 B1G)
WHEN: 7:02 PM CT (Saturday, February 10, 2018)
WHERE: Bryce Jordan Center (University Park, PA)
RADIO: Hawkeye All-Access; AM 800 near Iowa City or iHeart Radio (online)
It's weird that an Iowa-Penn State dual meet isn't the biggest dual meet of the season, but that's the reality this season. Penn State's still the king of the mountain -- they're the defending national champions, they're ranked #1 and they just saw off their biggest challengers, Ohio State, in a thrilling dual meet last weekend -- while Iowa was taken a step back this year after losing five senior starters from last year's team. Penn State has already clinched the Big Ten's dual meet championship as well (or a share of it, at least), so this dual meet is somewhat meaningless.
Or it's meaningless from a records and trophies standpoint at least -- it's still very meaningful when it comes to the emotions and teams involved. I doubt the 16,000 Penn State fans who will pack out the Bryce Jordan Center will consider the dual "meaningless" or care that the result will have no impact on the Big Ten dual meet title. They just want to see the Nittany Lions claim an Iowa scalp tomorrow night. Meanwhile, Iowa is looking to shock the world and record a huge upset to give themselves some positive momentum heading into next month's Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
There was a time -- and it wasn't that long ago -- that the thought of this year's Iowa-PSU dual meet filled me with almost indescribable amounts of dread. Penn State whupped Iowa last year via a 26-11 score and there wasn't much reason to expect a different result last year -- if anything, there was plenty of reason to expect an even worse thumping at the hands of Cael & Co. PSU would have a team returning five national champions and while they would have some question marks at weights like 133 and 141, Iowa didn't have good answers there themselves. Even the weights where Iowa was strongest -- the Sorensen/Kemerer one-two punch at 149 and 157 -- provided little optimism because Penn State had an even better one-two punch at those weights with Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf. On paper it looked like Penn State could hand Iowa an absolutely historic beating in this dual meet.
But, little by little, things have changed to make that possibility look less likely. The long saga of Nick Suriano ended with him transferring to Rutgers right before the season began and leaving Penn State with a sizable hole at 125 lbs. Meanwhile, Spencer Lee made his debut and looked sensational, giving Iowa the chance to score big points at 125 in this dual. Meanwhile, wrestlers like Alex Marinelli and Sam Stoll kept racking up wins in competition and looking better and better, which made the possibility of them recording wins against their Penn State counterparts look more plausible. And, most recently, Jason Nolf went down with a serious-looking knee injury. That absolutely sucks and it's disappointing that we'll have to wait until March to (maybe) see if Kemerer has been able to close the gap on Nolf this year. But, on the other hand, it does mean that 157 went from a weight where Iowa would be big underdogs to one where they'll be big favorites.
I still don't see an Iowa win in this dual meet -- there just aren't enough match-ups that favor the Hawkeyes. Penn State looks like significant favorites at 174 and 184, where Iowa will be doing well to keep them from getting bonus points, let alone scoring upset wins. And they look like solid favorites at 141, 149, 165, and 197, weights where they could also score bonus points. That leaves Iowa as heavy favorites at 125 and 157 and toss-up weights at 133 and 285. An Iowa win would mean getting big bonus points at 125 and 157, winning the toss-up weights, and picking off at least one, maybe two weights at 141, 149, 165, and 197. That's not impossible -- but it is a pretty tall order, especially on the road in front of a huge PSU crowd baying for black and gold blood. Then again, that's why they don't wrestle dual meets on paper, right?
all rankings via InterMat
125: #3 Spencer Lee (FR, 12-1) vs Carson Kuhn (SR, 0-1) OR Devin Schnupp (FR, 1-14)
I expect Kuhn to get the start here after his very credible showing against Nathan Tomasello last weekend and he should put up more of a fight than Schnupp. If Schnupp gets the start, I don't think this match will make it out of the first period -- Lee will make quick work of him. Kuhn will make him work harder, but Lee is wrestling very very well right now and I suspect wrestling for the first time in his home state will give him some added pep in his step, too. I think Lee will get Kuhn on the mat and work his magic down there. Incidentally, you should definitely read this tremendous profile on Spencer Lee by Cody Goodwin at The Des Moines Register, too.
PREDICTION: Lee via TECH FALL (IOWA 5-0)
133: Paul Glynn (SO, 7-8) vs Corey Keener (SR, 12-6)
Glynn is the only wrestler listed by Iowa at this weight in the Match Notes, so Glynn appears to have firmly won the starting spot here over Phillip Laux. Keener has had some up and down results this year, but he gave #2 Luke Pletcher all he could handle last week in a 5-4 loss. Glynn ended a three-dual losing streak with a narrow 3-2 win over Northwestern's Colin Valdiviez last time out. This feels like a close match that will come down to a takedown in the third period; I give the slight edge to the upperclassman with home mat advantage in that scenario.
PREDICTION: Keener via DEC (IOWA 5-3)
141: Vince Turk (SO, 8-5) OR Carter Happel (RS FR, 11-7) vs #8 Nick Lee (FR, 20-4) or Jered Cortez (JR, 11-1)
Options, options, options! Both Iowa and PSU list multiple options here, although the choice appears more genuine for Iowa than Penn State; only Lee has wrestled for Penn State at 141 over the last seven duals. Happel and Turk split time at 141 last weekend and each earned a win, with Happel scoring a bigger scalp with his last-second pin over Minnesota's Tommy Thorn, then-ranked #10. I think Happel gets the nod here and while he has upset potential, especially after his last time out, I give Lee the edge. I think his relentless tempo will be too much and he'll score a few takedowns in the third to pull away.
PREDICTION: Lee via DEC (PSU 6-5)
149: #2 Brandon Sorensen (SR, 18-0) vs #1 Zain Retherford (SR, 21-0)
Ranking-wise, this is the big one for the dual, especially with Jason Nolf sitting out for Penn State at 157 lbs (which would have been another 1v2 showdown otherwise). Retherford is 4-0 lifetime against Sorensen and only one of the matches has been close, a 9-8 win in overtime for Zain at this dual last season. That didn't help Sorensen much in the rematch: Zain pinned him in the first period in the NCAA semifinals last March. Sorensen is wrestling better than ever this season and he enters this dual on a 20-match winning streak (dating back to last year) and the highest bonus percentage clip of his career (67%). Unfortunately, Zain is better too: he's undefeated at 149 lbs (84-0) with bonus in all of his wins this year, including 15 pins in 20 matches (he also won via forfeit once). I would love to see Sorensen finally get one over on Retherford, but there's not much evidence to support that prediction. The better question right now is whether he can keep Zain from getting bonus points. I'm going to say yes... but barely.
PREDICTION: Retherford via DEC (PSU 9-5)
157: #2 Michael Kemerer (SO, 18-0) vs Bo Phipher (SR, 7-10) OR Luke Gardner (FR, 6-4) OR #1 Jason Nolf (JR, 19-1)
Penn State lists three options here, but every indication is that the Nolf listing is pure gamesmanship and nothing but a smokescreen. There's basically zero chance of him wrestling in this dual meet. So instead of Nolf-Kemerer III (Nolf won both showdowns last year, though Kemerer was the only opponent to hold him to a decision), we're going to get Kemerer against one of his back-ups instead. Kemerer looked excellent last weekend with a pair of bonus points wins after sitting out the Michigan dual meet. I think he makes it three bonus point wins in a row here.
PREDICTION: Kemerer via MAJOR DECISION (TIE 9-9)
165: #7 Alex Marinelli (RS FR, 12-0) vs #1 Vincenzo Joseph (SO, 16-0)
Someone's 0 must go in this showdown, which is shaping up to be the most intriguing in the entire dual meet. Retherford-Sorensen and Nevills-Stoll have an edge on it in terms of rankings, but the outcome of the former seems pretty predictable and the latter seems less likely to produce entertaining wrestling than Marinelli-Joseph. Cenzo will be Marinelli's biggest test of the year and while he's handled all comers so far, the defending NCAA champion looks like a whole 'nother story for The Bull. Joseph's quickness and slick skills on offense are going to be a handful for Marinelli, and while I think Marinelli's relentless pressure and heavy hands will help him keep things close, I have to go with Joseph to end up with the win here.
PREDICTION: Joseph via DEC (PSU 12-9)
174: Joey Gunther (SO, 12-3) OR Kaleb Young (RS FR, 9-7) vs #2 Mark Hall (SO, 22-0)
In this dual last year, Mark Hall made his debut out of redshirt -- and suffered a shocking loss to Alex Meyer in the process. He's only lost one match since then (to Bo Jordan in the Big Ten Tournament finals last year) and I suspect he's itching to get a little revenge on Iowa here. I think Gunther gets the start here and while I think he might be able to stymie Hall for a while, I think Hall will get his offense flowing in the second and third periods.
PREDICTION: Hall via MAJOR DECISION (PSU 16-9)
184: Mitch Bowman (JR, 10-7) vs #1 Bo Nickal (JR, 21-0)
Bowman has been a pleasant surprise for Iowa this season, but he's swimming in the deep end here and I don't think it's going to go well. Bo Nickal pinned Sammy Brooks twice last year in a grand total of 1:40 and Bowman, bless him, is no Sammy Brooks. His biggest job in this match may just be keeping off his back. I'll go with him to avoid the pin, but that's about it.
PREDICTION: Nickal via TECH FALL (PSU 21-9)
197: #7 Cash Wilcke (SO, 15-3) vs #8 Anthony Cassar (JR, 16-2) OR Shakur Rasheed (JR, 15-2) OR Matt McCutcheon (JR, 5-3)
197 is another weight where PSU lists three different options, but like 157, it seems that only two of them are actually plausible: Cassar and Rasheed. Rasheed rocketed into the Top 10 at this weight after storming through the Southern Scuffle with several first period pins, but Cassar has wrestled in three of PSU's last five duals at this weight and is fresh off a hugely impressive win over then-#1 Kollin Moore last week. If Wilcke is at his sharpest, I think he could pull off an upset here. But we haven't seen him at his sharpest for a while now and so I can't pull the trigger on him getting a win here.
PREDICTION: Cassar/Rasheed via DEC (PSU 24-9)
285: #3 Sam Stoll (JR, 15-1) vs #6 Nick Nevills (JR, 20-4)
And finally, the dance of the shaved bears. Nevills had a spirited effort in losing just 15-10 to Kyle Snyder last weekend and actually recorded two takedowns on Snyder in that losing effort, but he's also been rather sluggish at times this year, particularly against other top-tier foes. As we know well, Stoll's style can be a bit... methodical... as well, so it's safe to say I'm not expecting fireworks here. This is a definite toss-up weight and wins by either guy would not surprise me, but I'm going to go with Stoll to edge Nevills in a close, low-scoring bout.
PREDICTION: Stoll via DEC (PSU 24-12)
24-12 certainly wouldn't be pretty -- and it could be worse if PSU gets a few more bonus points and/or Nevills trips up Stoll at 285 -- but it would still be what I feared out of this dual a few months ago. Back then it looked like this could easily be something like 36-3 for PSU, which would be an extremely ugly low for the Iowa program. I'm still expecting a PSU win here, but with a more respectable margin of defeat for the Hawkeyes. We'll see what Saturday night actually brings.