Welcome to The Weigh-In, our extensive preview of Iowa wrestling heading into the 2019-20 season. We'll be doing weight-by-weight previews for all ten weight classes, as well as some full team breakdowns -- and maybe a few extra goodies as well.
|Alex Marinelli||JR (RS)||5-9 / 165|
|Jeremiah Moody||SR (RS)||5-9 / 165|
THE KNOWN QUANTITY
Alex Marinelli (5'9", 165 lbs, JR (RS), 59-10 overall, 27-2 (2018-19), 2x NCAA All-American, 2019 Big Ten Champion)
Marinelli was one of the biggest coups in Iowa's recruiting efforts over the last half-decade, as Iowa was able to pry a 4-time Ohio state champion and Top-3 overall recruit out of St. Paris Graham, a powerhouse program that's sent many kids to Ohio State. Marinelli got fans excited with a 13-2 showing during his redshirt year (including a 4-2 outing at Midlands), then made an instant impact as a starter in 2017-18. Marinelli went 19-6 that season, highlighted by an upset win over Penn State's Vincenzo Joseph in the Iowa-Penn State dual meet. But Marinelli faded a bit in March, going just 2-3 at the Big Ten Tournament (finishing 6th). He won his first three matches at the NCAA Tournament to make the semifinals, but dropped a 5-2 decision there to eventual NCAA runner-up Isaiah Martinez. He faded again in the consolation rounds, losing 16-3 to Wisconsin's Evan Wick and then getting pinned in the 5th place match by Virginia Tech's David McFadden.
2018-19 represented a chance for redemption for Marinelli and he grabbed it with gusto for the most part. The Bull opened the season by winning his first 25 matches in a row, with 15 of those wins including bonus points (9 pins, 5 major decisions, 1 technical fall). That 25-match winning streak included a Midlands championship, three wins over persistent nemesis Wick, and another upset win over Cenzo, this time with the Big Ten title on the line. (FUN FACT: Alex Marinelli is the only wrestler in the Iowa lineup to win a Big Ten championship.) Marinelli got a hellacious draw at the NCAA Tournament, opening with Oklahoma State's very talented Joe Smith. After mounting a 7-4 comeback win over Smith in that opener, Marinelli won his second round match easily, but fell 3-1 to Virginia Tech's Mekhi Lewis (the eventual NCAA champion) in the quarters. In the consolation bracket, Marinelli went 2-1, beating Michigan's Logan Massa and UNI's Bryce Steiert, but losing to Lock Haven's Chase Marsteller, and ultimately finishing 7th -- one place lower than he did as a redshirt freshman.
To be fair to Marinelli, he's had some rough draws at the NCAA Tournament -- he's been knocked out of the winner's bracket both years by eventual NCAA finalists (and last year, the winner). On the other hand, though...
If Marinelli beats Martinez in 2018 and Lewis last year, he's probably a two-time NCAA finalist. If he wants to get to the top of the mountain, he's going to have to beat guys like that in the top half of the bracket. (Marinelli could also stand to do better in his runs through the consolation bracket, but that's kind of a moot point this year -- for Iowa to achieve its team goals, they need Marinelli contending for titles, not fighting and clawing for a possible 3rd place finish.)
Last year's regular season and Big Ten Tournament showed that Marinelli could stand toe-to-toe with the best in the sport -- and beat them. He beat Wick (three times). He beat Cenzo. He beat Logan Massa. He beat Jake Shields. He beat Isaiah White. The key for Marinelli now is doing it again... and doing it when it matters most, on Friday and Saturday at the NCAA Tournament. There's no question that Marinelli has the physical gifts to win a title at this weight -- he went through Wick and Cenzo to win a Big Ten title last season. The Bull is tough in all positions and he's gotten increasingly better on the mat. It really is just a case of doing it all in the biggest moments now.
IN THE WAITING ROOM
Jeremiah Moody (5'9", 165 lbs, SR (RS), 50-21 overall, 8-6 (2018-19))
I had Nelson Brands listed here for a while and it still seems like 165 might be his best weight... but there's also no chance of him wrestling at that weight this year. Iowa has more need of him as a back-up (at 174) and possible starter? (at 184) for now. 165 is Marinelli's domain for the next two seasons. If Marinelli does get spelled this year, it's probably by someone at 157 or Jeremiah Moody, if he gets healthy. Speaking of Moody, his team picture this year is an utter delight:
God bless that man.
STANDING IN THE WAY
|Vincenzo Joseph||SR||Penn State||75-8||3x NCAA finalist, 2x NCAA Champion|
|Evan Wick||JR||Wisconsin||67-13||2x All-American|
|David McFadden||SR||Virginia Tech||87-18||3x All-American (2019: 174 lbs), 2x ACC Champion|
|Josh Shields||SR||Arizona State||103-20||2x All-American (2018: 157 lbs), 3x Pac-12 Champion|
|Isaiah White||SR||Nebraska||58-18||2019 All-American|
165 was set to return six of last year's All-Americans, but it's only five in practice, thanks to one very big Olympic redshirt: defending national champion Mekhi Lewis. Even in his absence, though, there's a lot of returning talent at this weight. Joseph has never failed to be in the NCAA finals -- and he'd never failed to win an NCAA title until losing to Lewis last year. Wick is a two-time All-American who finished 3rd in 2018 and 4th last year. McFadden is a three-time All-American who finished 6th as a true freshman in 2016, 5th in 2018, and 5th again last year (at 174 lbs). (Lewis' redshirt has freed McFadden to move back to his preferred weight for his final year of competition.) Shields is a two-time All-American who finished 6th a year ago and 7th in 2018. And White finished 5th last year after narrowly missing out on a podium finish in 2018.
One thing that stands out about that list? Three of those five guys are in the Big Ten. There isn't a great deal of depth at this weight outside of that top four... but that top four is really, really, really good. It's going to be a meat-grinder at the top of the Big Ten once again. We'll have to wait and see how that impacts their seeding at the NCAA Tournament.
|#2||Evan Wick||JR||vs Wisconsin||12/1/19|
|#3||Isaiah White||SR||vs Nebraska||1/18/20|
|#7||Ethan Smith||SO||vs Ohio State||1/24/20|
|#1||Vincenzo Joseph||SR||vs Penn State||1/31/20|
|#14||Travis Wittlake||RS FR||vs Oklahoma State||2/23/20|
All of those studs at the top of this weight class in the Big Ten? Yeah, Marinelli could face them all in dual meets this year. He's set to renew his rivalry with Wick (in which The Bull has a 3-1 advantage) in a few weeks, when Wisconsin visits CHA. And in late January, he could face White, Smith, and Joseph in back-to-back-to-back matches. Marinelli has good career records against White (1-0) and Joseph (2-0) (he hasn't wrestled Smith yet), but those will still be mighty challenging matches. Finally, The Bull could see one of the young bucks at this weight near the end of the regular season, with Okie State's Wittlake coming to town in February. Marinelli is undefeated at CHA thus far in his career -- he's actually undefeated in dual meets, period, which is pretty remarkable -- and if that's still true at the end of this season, he'll definitely have had one hell of a season.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN
Iowa wasn't really a serious threat to win an NCAA championship in 2018 or 2019... but Marinelli's 6th and 7th place finishes certainly hurt those efforts all the same. Iowa needs high finishes on the podium out of all of its top guys to dethrone Penn State this year. Marinelli is one of those top guys. He has one of the more brutal paths to a championship -- at both the Big Ten and NCAA level -- of anyone on the Iowa team, but the good news is that outside of McFadden, he has wins over everyone else who's likely to be in his path this year. (And he has a freestyle win over McFadden, for whatever that's worth at this point.) He doesn't have to worry about Lewis or Marsteller (or IMar). I think Marinelli is a repeat Big Ten finalist this year... and I think he finally gets over the hump at the NCAA Tournament and makes the finals there as well. I'll put him down for one win in those two matches -- hopefully in the NCAA Tournament.