WHO: #8 Minnesota Gophers (8-1, 1-0 Big Ten)
WHEN: Sunday, January 13, 2019
START TIME: 12:00 PM CT
WHERE: Maturi Pavilion (Minneapolis, MN)
RADIO: Hawkeye All-Access; AM 800 near Iowa City or iHeart Radio (online)
After a two week hiatus, Iowa wrestling is back and ready for action. They're also back and facing what is, on paper, one of their most difficult opponents of the season in #8 Minnesota. Interestingly, the strength of both teams is at the lower weights, so there should be some good battles there. Iowa has a few more advantages at the upper weights (minus 285) and they'll need to make those count -- especially if they lose some of the toss-up matches in the lighter weights.
It's been a while since we've seen Iowa in dual meet action -- since a 28-14 win over Lehigh back on December 8. This dual will kick off a busy portion of the schedule, though -- Iowa will have four duals over the next two weeks, three of them away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. This is also the true start of Big Ten competition; technically, Iowa's already wrestled one Big Ten dual this season -- a 26-9 win over Purdue back in November -- but their next eight duals are all against Big Ten foes. Regrettably, none of them are against the Big Ten's best squads -- #1 Penn State, #2 Ohio State, or #6 Michigan -- but that's the Delanybot 9000 for you.
While those teams rotate off Iowa's schedule every three years, Minnesota never does because the Gophers have been set as Iowa's protected rival. We play them year in and year out no matter what. That arrangement made plenty of sense when Iowa and Minnesota were the top two programs in the conference, though it seems less desirable now when it prevents Iowa from facing Penn State on an annual basis (although, based on results over the last 4-5 years, it probably is better for Penn State and Ohio State to be protected rivals than Iowa and Penn State; the Buckeyes have been a stronger rival to PSU than the Hawkeyes, unfortunately). Still, whether or not we're at the top of the league or not, there's always plenty of animosity to tap into for a border brawl like this. Iowa has dominated the series in recent years -- they've won four straight and took the last two 27-11 and 34-7 -- but this is the best team the Gophers have had in a few years. That, coupled with some injury-induced absences and some inconsistency in Iowa's results, could make things more interesting on Sunday.
|125||#2 Spencer Lee (9-1, SO)||#6 Sean Russell (17-2, SR)||Lee via MD (IOWA 4-0)|
|133||#10 Austin DeSanto (10-1, SO)||#7 Ethan Lizak (16-3, SR)||Lizak via DEC (IOWA 4-3)|
|141||#15 Max Murin (9-2, RS FR)||#6 Mitch McKee (10-1, JR)||McKee via DEC (MIN 6-4)|
|149||#12 Pat Lugo (7-5, JR)||#20 Tommy Thorn (9-6, SR)||Lugo via DEC (IOWA 7-6)|
|157||#5 Kaleb Young (11-1, SO)||#9 Steve Bleise (10-1, SR)||Young via DEC (IOWA 10-6)|
#2 Alex Marinelli (11-0, SO) /
Jeremiah Moody (8-6, SO)
|Carson Brolsma (14-4, JR)||Marinelli via MD (IOWA 14-6)|
|174||Mitch Bowman (4-2, SR)||#11 Devin Skatza (16-5, SR)||Skatzka via DEC (IOWA 14-9)|
|184||#14 Cash Wilcke (10-2, JR)||
Owen Webster (7-7, JR) /
Brandon Krone (4-5, SR)
|Wilcke via DEC (IOWA 17-9)|
|197||#6 Jacob Warner (6-2, RS FR)||
Rylee Streifel (6-5, JR) /
Dylan Anderson (9-5, RS FR)
|Warner via DEC (IOWA 20-9)|
|285||Aaron Costello (6-4, RS FR)||#2 Gable Steveson (19-0, FR)||Steveson via TF (IOWA 20-14)|
Sean Russell is quite a bounce-back opponent for Lee; he's ranked #6 in the country and he's picked up bonus points in 11 of his 17 wins. His only losses came against the only Top 10 opponents he's faced (#3 Ronnie Bresser, Oregon State, and #4 Nick Piccininni, Oklahoma State) and he lost 15-0 to Lee at last year's Midlands in their only previous meeting. I think Spencer will rebound quite well here, although I wasn't quite confident enough to pick a tech fall victory.
Lizak is DeSanto's biggest test yet, both from a quality opponent standpoint (he hasn't faced anyone else ranked as highly as Lizak yet this year) and from a strategic standpoint. Lizak is a ferocious rider and if he can get on top of DeSanto, he could do some damage, particularly as DeSanto has shown some weakness from that position. I think it's critical for DeSanto to get at least one (and hopefully more than that) takedown in the first period. I'd also be surprised if DeSanto chose down when he has the choice in the second or third period; his biggest advantage should be his tempo and attacking prowess in neutral, so he should try to keep the match there as much as possible. Lizak hasn't had the best of luck against Iowa in past duals -- he blew a big lead against Thomas Gilman a few years ago and got blanked 15-0 by Lee last year. I'm rooting for DeSanto to prove me wrong, but I think Lizak ends his Hawkeye hex here.
141 is another big test match for an Iowa wrestler, as Murin will have a chance to knock off a potential All American in McKee. He had a similar challenge against UNI's Josh Alber in the Midlands final and came up wanting; a win here would be a nice step forward for Murin. I think it will be difficult, though, and I'll take McKee to edge him by a few points.
149 is a weight where Iowa needs to take care of business. Tommy Thorn's season has been anything but a bed of roses so far; losing to Top 10 149ers like Rutgers' Anthony Ashnault, Oklahoma State's Kaden Gfeller, and North Carolina's Austin O'Connor is not bad, but he's also lost to several less heralded (and unranked) opponents this year. Lugo has had his own ups and downs, but looked sharper at Midlands. He needs to bring that same focus to this match and also make sure he's able to finish his shots. He gets in trouble when he shoots and isn't able to finish; several opponents have been able to turn those shots into scoring opportunities of their own after scrambles. I think Lugo is able to take care of business and wins by 3-4 points.
157 is the third of three Top 10 vs Top 10 match-ups we could see on Sunday, with #5 Kaleb Young facing #9 Steve Bleise. Young looked good mowing through the Midlands field before losing to Top-5er Ryan Deakin in the final. Bleise only has one blemish on his record this year, a 5-3 loss to Lehigh's Josh Humphreys, who Young beat 4-1 earlier this year. Just four of Bleise's 10 wins have included bonus points. I think Young takes this one by 2-3 points.
Minnesota has five ranked wrestlers from 125 to 157, but just two from 165 to 285. One of those ranked wrestlers is not at 165, which is why Iowa really needs The Bull to do some goring. Carson Brolsma hasn't been bad this year -- he's 13-4 overall -- but he lost 10-2 in his only match against a Top 10 165er this year (Oklahoma State's Chandler Rogers). I think Marinelli can at least match that effort and I'm hoping he goes for more; a tech fall or pin here would be huge for Iowa in this dual.
We got our first glimpse of Mitch Bowman at 174 back at Midlands, but it was an abbreviated look -- he wrestled just four matches, going 2-2. Skatzka is a guy on the fringes of the Top 10 at Midlands and all his losses have been against Top 10-ranked opponents. A win here for Bowman would be a great sign that he might be able to make a little noise at 174, but I just don't see it happening.
Minnesota lists two options at 184 and thus far neither Brandon Krone nor Owen Webster have been too exciting. Krone is 2-3 at 184 (4-5 overall), with all three losses coming against Top 20 opponents. Webster is 7-7 and only a few of his losses have been against top-tier competition. The issue for Iowa is that Wilcke has a habit of making almost any match he wrestles close and if this is a tight match, it could be anyone's game in the third period. Iowa really needs Wilcke to win here and I think he will -- but it will probably be closer and nervier than we want to see.
For years, Minnesota had a series of studs rolling through the 197 lb weight class; for this year, at least, that pipeline has run a bit dry, as neither Streifel nor Anderson have been able to make noise at this weight. For me, this match really comes down to what Jacob Warner we get on the mat. Do we get the Warner who came out aggressively and took it to Willie Miklus in the ISU dual last month and wrestled hard 'til the final whistle despite an injured ankle? Or do we see the Warner that looked tentative and less sure of himself at Midlands. I'm hoping for the former and a dominant Iowa win, but expecting something much more nerve-wracking.
- In preseason it looked like this dual might feature a #1 vs #2 matchup at 285 with wily veteran Sam Stoll taking on flashy newcomer Gable Steveson. Alas, Stoll's knee injury has lingered into the season and appears set to keep him off the mat quite a bit until tournament time in March. We're definitely not expecting him to wrestle in this match, which means it's Aaron Costello time. Unfortunately, I think that's going to go very, very, very poorly for young Mr. Costello. Steveson is an absolute phenom. He's 19-0 with 11 bonus point wins, including three pins and five technical falls. Steveson is too strong, too quick, and his technique is too good; I'm afraid Costello is probably going to look a bit like a speed bump here. Hopefully Iowa has a big enough lead that the result of this match won't matter to the dual's outcome.
So that's how I see the dual shaking out. The action gets underway at 12 PM CT on Sunday, January 13 and, happily, this one will be easy to watch -- it's on BTN.