#1 Iowa vs #6 Wisconsin Wrestling: Preview

By RossWB on December 1, 2019 at 9:30 am
go hawks go

WHO: #6 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0)
WHEN: Sunday, December 1, 2019
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
KICKOFF: 7:00 PM Central
ONLINE: FoxSports.com
RADIO: Hawkeye Sports Network (check local listings); TuneIn (maybe)
ANNOUNCERS: Tim Johnson, Jim Gibbons, Shane Sparks

A week after facing a Top 10 Iowa State team, Iowa is back in action this week with a home dual meet again... another Top 10 foe. The challenges keep coming. (Although that's not strictly true; Iowa only has one more dual meet the rest of the month after this and no other Top 10-ranked teams until they face #2 Nebraska in about six weeks.) This week's challenge is Wisconsin, one of Iowa's oldest foes in wrestling -- and also one that they've dominated. Iowa leads the all-time series 78-8-3 and they've won 39 of the last 40 duals between the teams. Wisconsin's lone win in that stretch was a 21-14 victory back in 2014. 

This dual is also Iowa's first since ascending to the #1 ranking in the polls. Iowa moved up a spot in the rankings after Penn State surprisingly lost at Arizona State last weekend. It's the first time Iowa has been ranked #1 in the polls since February 2015. 

Wisconsin has a senior-laden lineup -- the Badgers could start as many as six starters on Sunday night -- but their strength comes from the handful of elite wrestlers they have. They have three wrestlers ranked 3rd or better at their respective weights (Seth Gross at 133, Evan Wick at 165, and Trent Hillger at 285). They also have another Top 10-ranked wrestler in Tristan Moran at 141 and a Top 20-ranked wrestler in Cole Martin at 149. That's enough quality to beat a lot of teams in a dual meet. Unfortunately, Iowa can counter them with elite wrestlers at most of the weights where Wisconsin is strongest (Austin DeSanto at 133, Alex Marinelli at 165), as well as strong options at 141 (Max Murin) and 149 (Pat Lugo). Worse, Iowa also has very good wrestlers at all of the weights where Wisconsin isn't strong (i.e., every other weight). That's going to make it very, very hard for Wisconsin to win this dual, barring some flukish results.  

125 #1 Spencer Lee (2-0, JR)
Aaron Cashman (3-0, RS FR)
vs Michael Cullen (4-2, SR)
Eric Barnett (3-1, FR)
133 #2 Austin DeSanto (2-0, JR) vs #1 Seth Gross (6-0, SR)
141 #10 Max Murin (1-0, SO)
Carter Happel (4-1, JR)
vs #11 Tristan Moran (6-0, SR)
149 #3 Pat Lugo (2-0, SR) vs #22 Cole Martin (5-1, SR)
157 #3 Kaleb Young (1-1, JR) vs Garrett Model (2-4, SO)
165 #5 Alex Marinelli (2-0, JR) vs #2 Evan Wick (6-0, SR)
174 #2 Michael Kemerer (2-0, SR) vs Jared Krattinger (1-2, RS FR)
Tyler Dow (3-2, RS FR)
184 #9 Nelson Brands (2-0, RS FR)
Cash Wilcke (4-0, SR)
vs #31 Johnny Sebastian (2-1, SR)
197 #4 Jacob Warner (2-0, SO) vs Peter Christensen (5-2, FR)
Taylor Watkins (0-5, SR)
285 #12 Tony Cassioppi (2-0, RS FR) vs #3 Trent Hillger (6-0, SO)

(team rankings via NWCA coaches poll; individual rankings via Trackwrestling)

Let's look at things weight-by-weight. 

125: We're going to see Aaron Cashman at 125 for Iowa at some dual this season; could this be the first of those appearances? It's certainly possible, although I continue to think we'll see Lee more often than not at home duals (away duals seem like more likely spots to rest him). Cullen wrestled at 133 and 141 (!) last year and is in his first season down at 125. I would expect Lee to handle either opponent, likely with plenty of back points. I would predict Cashman to win as well, though with fewer bonus points. 

133: This is one of three spotlight matches in the dual and the only one that pits a #1-ranked wrestler against a #2-ranked wrestler. For now Austin DeSanto seems to be Iowa's guy at 133 lbs; while the Match Notes lineups are hardly etched in stone when it comes to the actual dual meets, DeSanto is the only wrestler listed at 133 lbs for this dual in that lineup. Whether DeSanto stays at 133 all season is still TBD, and probably won't be determined until after Midlands at the end of the month, but he seems to be the guy for now.

This match presents a fascinating chance to see him take on the guy who would be his biggest challenge if he does stay at 133 -- top-ranked Seth Gross. Gross, whose career began at Iowa many (many) moons ago, is a two-time NCAA finalist at this weight, losing to Iowa's Cory Clark in 2017 and beating MIchigan's Stevan Micic in 2018. A shoulder injury kept Gross out of action all of last year, but he was able to regain his eligibility via medical redshirt. During his rehab process, Gross also made the decision to transfer from South Dakota State to Wisconsin, following his former coach at SDSU, Chris Bono, who replaced Barry Davis as Wisconsin's head coach in 2019. 

Gross' results haven't skipped too many beats in his return to action this season -- he's 6-0 on the year with five bonus point wins (three major decisions and two pins). Gross also presents a fascinating stylistic contrast to DeSanto. DeSanto is strongest from the neutral position and using his relentless tempo and arsenal of attacking moves to wear opponents down and rack up takedowns by the bushel. Gross is best on the mat, particularly from the top position, where he can smother opponents and use his strength and technique to turn opponents for back points. DeSanto struggled to get off the mat against some elite riders last season, so it will be interesting to see what his strategy is against Gross in this match. My vote would be to avoid going underneath Gross as much as possible; keep the match standing, where DeSanto ought to have an advantage. DeSanto is excellent at 133, but until I see him actually beat Gross, I'm not going to pick it to happen just yet. 

141: This match isn't quite on par with the spotlight bouts at 133, 165, and 285, but it's the next-best thing and could feature two Top 10-ranked wrestlers -- if Max Murin gets the call here for Iowa. Murin won their only previous encounter, a tight 3-2 match back at last year's NCAA Tournament. These two seem pretty evenly-matched, though, and with Murin's health still in question, I'd have to favor Moran at this point. 

149: This concludes Wisconsin's best three-weight stretch in the dual and is certainly a match where they would need to pull an upset in order to have any hope of taking the dual. Lugo beat Martin in both of their encounters last season, a 3-1 overtime win in the dual meet and a more comfortable 11-6 win at the Big Ten Tournament. Lugo has looked pretty sharp to start the season, so I favor him to be able to get a few takedowns in this match and secure a solid decision win over Martin. 

157: This is one of Wisconsin's weakest weights (Model is just 2-4 this season after going 10-14 last year), while Iowa counters with a returning All-American. This should be a recipe for Iowa to get bonus points and pick up an easy win. Young beat Model 11-2 at the dual meet a year ago and I expect another lopsided major decision here.

165: Along with 133 and 285, this is the other spotlight match of the dual. Unlike those bouts, which feature first time-ever encounters, the match at 165 is one that features a lot of history. Alex Marinelli and Evan Wick are no strangers to one another; this will be their fifth match in college and their fourth encounter in the last 12 months. Wick dominated Marinelli in their first encounter, a 16-3 major decision win at the 2018 NCAA Tournament, but Marinelli has won every other meeting, including a 4-3 win at last year's Midlands Tournament, a 6-4 sudden victory win at last year's dual meet, and a 2-1 win at the Big Ten Tournament. Wick's freakish length and riding ability presents a unique challenge for Marinelli, but it's one that he's been able to solve lately. Marinelli is never going to have an easy time with Wick and it would come as little surprise if Wick is able to get him again at some point. But I expect CHA to be rocking for this match and for Marinelli to use the crowd's energy to help him edge Wick once again. 

174: Danger, Wisconsin, danger. The match notes list a pair of options for the Badgers here, either RS freshman Jared Krattinger (1-2 on the year) or RS freshman Tyler Dow (3-2 on the year), but I don't think it will matter much which guy the Badgers put on the mat. Kemerer is going to feast here. 

184: After his second-straight win over a ranked opponent Nelson Brands has entered the rankings at 184 lbs at #9 via Trackwrestling. The match notes continue to list both Brands and returning starter Cash Wilcke here, so there's still some uncertainty at this weight. Brands has done very well to open the season and is certainly deserving of more opportunities, although Wilcke hasn't done anything this season to lose chances, either. Whoever gets the call should have a good chance to pick up a win over Sebastian, a former Northwestern wrestler in his first year up at 184 lbs. 

197: Warner picked up a methodical major decision last week and could be in line to do the same in this match, given his superiority over his likely opponent(s). Warner is either going to face Taylor Watkins, 0-5 on the season, or true freshman Peter Christensen, who has a pair of losses to non-Division I wrestlers this season. Watkins has faced some decent competition and kept things close-ish, but I do think Warner will be able to do enough to secure bonus points here. 

285: The final spotlight match of the night is at heavyweight, where Iowa's Tony Cassioppi will face his first big test of the season against #3 Trent Hillger. Hillger made the podium last year and he's 6-0 this year with a major decision and two pins, including an overtime fall over Top 10-ranked Tate Orndorff of Utah Valley. Hillger is skilled from neutral and a strong rider on the mat, so he'll be a huge test for Cassioppi. A win here by Tony Pins would be a very impressive statement of intent for him this early in the season. I have to favor the more experienced Hillger at this point, though. 

I don't expect much overall drama in this dual meet; Iowa has too much quality across all weights, while Wisconsin has too many weak spots to realistically make this a close dual. But there are still some very interesting individual match-ups to be found here, particularly at 133, 165, and 285. Those match-ups could be pivotal to the Big Ten and NCAA title races in March, so seeing how Iowa fares in them now will be illuminating. 

BONUS: After the dual, BTN's The B1G Story documentary series airing a special on the story of Alex Marinelli and the late Eli Stickley. Stickley, a Wisconsin wrestler, was  Marinelli's best friend and the brother of Marinelli's girlfriend (and now wife), Moriah. Stickley tragically died in a car accident before the 2018 season. 

This special is sure to be very compelling viewing -- though you might want to keep a few tissues handy as well. 

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