So as we all know, Iowa's dual schedule kind of stunk this year. Mostly that was because due to the machinations of the Delanybot9000 (and/or the Big Ten's regular scheduling rotation), Iowa was not scheduled to wrestle Penn State, Ohio State, or Michigan in a dual meet. The biggest blow there, of course, was Penn State; the Iowa-Penn State rivalry has become one of the sport's best since Penn State's ascendance to college wrestling's elite this decade.
But we have some down time until Iowa next hits the mat (for the Big Ten Tournament on March 9-10), so I figured why not do what the Big Ten declined to do and give us an Iowa-Penn State dual -- or at least a hypothetical one, projecting how such a dual might have played out. Obviously the venue could make a key difference -- could a raucous sellout crowd in Carver-Hawkeye Arena swing an upset Iowa's way? Likewise, could a rabid crowd in Rec Hall (or another NCAA record crowd in the Bryce Jordan Center) add more fuel to Penn State's burning fire? But for my part I opted not to let that element factor into this analysis; for the sake of this post, let's imagine this dual is happening at a neutral site.
I also grabbed a tag team partner for this exercise, Penn State fan and wrestling writer Jp Pearson, who writes for our old blog buddies Black Shoe Diaries. Jp and I both made our projections for each weight of the dual; you can find 125-157 here and 165-285 at a similar post over at BSD. Let's get down to it...
RB: I won’t lie -- my confidence in Spencer is not what it was a few weeks ago, let alone entering the season. Seeing him get stuck by Nick Piccinnini on Sunday was… disconcerting. Add to that his struggles with Sebastian Rivera and Sean Russell earlier this season and it’s clear that he hasn’t looked like the all-consuming phenom he did last March. That said, he’s still all-consuming when it comes to lesser opponents and Schnupp is nowhere near the level of Piccinnini or Rivera. Spencer will take him down and after a quick stop in Tilt Town, I expect him to finish the bout in the first period with a pin.
JP: After that virtuoso performance in Cleveland last year, it’s so wild to witness imperfection. Which is of course one of great things about this brutal & beautiful sport. Another is all the fresh green opportunity yet ahead of Spencer, still this year. He needs to solve the new blueprint that Rivera laid down at Midlands and which Picc emulated in Stillwater this past weekend--the neutral Ali footwork that avoids Spencer's ties and shows different looks from space. But you'd be hard pressed to find any semi-reputable pundit who would suggest that such a prospect is a mountain too high for Terry & Tom Brands and Spencer Lee. The Mountain of Lee, however, is far too steep for Devin Schnupp.
RB: Austin DeSanto has been a breath of fresh air for Iowa this year and enabled a much-needed return to form for Iowa at 133 lbs, a weight it excelled at for years (7 consecutive years of Tony Ramos and Cory Clark resulted in five NCAA finals appearances and two NCAA championships) before dipping last year. He’s been tearing through the 133 lb field for the most part and I think this tempo and varied attacks from neutral would give Roman Bravo-Young trouble. RBY has looked very good as a true freshman, but he hasn’t faced too many elite 133ers, either. This will likely develop into a good rivalry over the next few years, but I think DeSanto takes Round I with a 4-5 point decision win.
JP: This would be hands down my favorite bout of the meet, ahead of even Bull-Cenzo. Both these guys have looked amazing this year! I still can't believe how pedestrian DeSanto made Suriano look. His tank has been a sight to behold--and would definitely be a problem for RBY.
Conversely, I'd be immensely curious to watch DeSanto respond to Bravo-Young's quickness. He was destroying Austin Gomez with it early in the first (8-1), before getting jacked up into double underhooks, chucked & decked. The worst part of that result was that it was in the semis of the Southern Scuffle, and it deprived us of a look at RBY against Daton Fix in the finals. Then later against Purdue, in an avoidable acrobatic attempt to cartwheel out of a single leg, he twisted his knee, took a seedings-unfriendly injury default loss to Thornton, and deprived us a look at him against the Serbian Sickle, Stevan Micic the next week. So, yeah, 133 is deep and dope, but we've missed a couple oppties to see how RBY stacks up against that dopeness. Hopefully we’ll get to see the IRL version of this hypothetical dual matchup against DeSanto in two weeks at B1Gs. For now, I'll take the Hawkeye.
RB: Turk or Murin? Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. Iowa’s been getting diminishing returns from 141 since the calendar flipped to 2019 and I don’t think it would really matter which guy Iowa put on the mat against Nick Lee. Murin just got victimized by Kaid Brock’s slick neutral offense and neither Turk nor Murin has shown a great willingness to be active from neutral, especially against top opponents. I think they would stymie Lee from getting bonus points, but I don’t have much faith in either guy pulling off an upset (although it says a lot for how remote Iowa’s upset chances are at other weights that 141 would still be one of their 2-3 best upset opportunities).
JP: I really like both these Hawks, and kinda feel like Turk mighta been a better matchup fit against OkSt on Sunday. But maybe Kaid Brock is finally settling into this weight here at the end of the year? Nick Lee’s been wrestling tough, shaking off the last remnants of his freshman-ness. I'd be psyched to watch Hawk fans get a close-up look at his unreal tank, which he used to gas Joey McKenna the other week. Dude's gonna be a handful in Pittsburgh, and he would be in this dual.
RB: 149 would be one of the rare bouts in this dual where Iowa and PSU would have a wrestler on roughly even footing. PSU has solid advantages at 141, 184, and 285, as well as a big edge at 174 and two all-timers at 157 and 197, while Iowa has edges at 125 and 133 and 165 is an intriguing push. But Lugo and Berge (or Verkleeren) both look like fringe All America guys who could easily be scrapping in the Round of 12 at NCAAs in a few weeks. I like the way Lugo has come on of late, though, with wins in his last seven straight bouts, including edging Cole Martin in overtime and getting a comfortable decision win over Kaden Gfeller on Sunday. Since some early season hiccups, he’s only lost to Matt Kolodzik, Sammy Sasso, and Anthony Ashnault -- nothing too shabby there. I worry a little about the fact that Berge seems like an adept counter-attacker and he could use Lugo’s attacking style against him (particularly since Lugo has struggled at times to finish shots this year), but I’m still going to take Lugo to grind out a decision here.
JP: Man, I Ioved that Lugo performance against Gfeller on Sunday--so patient. I still can’t quite tell what Berge's gonna be this March. It seems like he can't yet either. He missed a couple duals there a week or so ago, but I'm not sure if he was struggling with confidence, struggling with the weight cut or struggling with confidence about wrestling through the weight cut. Scaff seems to think he's pretty vulnerable, but it looks to me like he's got more than enough to advance through the National Quarterfinals. This one's a real tossup, but one of those sneaky fun matchups that we'd be #blessed with if this dual actually happened. Gimme Lugo because of those clutch patient takedowns on Sunday.
RB: The problem for Iowa in this hypothetical dual is that after 149, it starts getting real hard to find wins for them, even when you put on the most black-and-gold-colored glasses you can find. 157 is certainly not one of those weights where you could find an Iowa upset possibility lurking. Barring an act of God, Nolf is winning this match, so then it becomes a question of margin of victory. He’s scored bonus points in 21 of 23 wins, including 13 pins, four major decisions, and three technical falls (the other “bonus point win” was an injury default). I’m going to optimistically hope that Young can keep the loss to just a major decision, although likely a very lopsided one -- something like 20-7.
JP: I'm with Ross about the Hawk prospects from here. Hall & Cenzo have wrestled some close bouts here and there, but the only suspenseful parts of Nolf & Nickal matches this year have been how the opponent chooses to approach them. Young looks like a nice combination of offensive and makes few mistakes, so I think that could make for an entertaining bout? Nolf will make it entertaining either way, but I'm doubting Young will employ a bunch of block offs and ankle passes, and turn it into a Tyler Berger wannabe Jesse Delgado eyesore. Tech Falls have been rarer this year as he's found the pin sooner, but I somehow trust Young to stay off his back, so I'll go with a Major.
Click here for Part Two.
H/T to Jp for his excellent assistance with the post and also to the also-excellent Sam Janicki, for his photos. Check out many many more of his photos at his website.