The Champs Are Here: Iowa Wrestling Wins 2020 Big Ten Championship

By RossWB on March 8, 2020 at 10:18 pm
GO. HAWKS. GO.
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Iowa entered this weekend's Big Ten Tournament as clear favorites to win the 2020 Big Ten title. They had rumbled through the regular season with an undefeated dual meet record, barely being tested in most duals. They had two top-seeded wrestlers, a total of five top-two seeds, and all 10 wrestlers were seeded third or better. The math was on Iowa's side. 

But they still had to go out and finish the job on the mats. They needed to live up to the pre-tournament hype and get the takedowns, the turns, the bonus points, and the wins that would add up to a Big Ten Championship. Well, I have some good news: 

THE CHAMPS ARE HERE. 

Led by individual championships by a trio of Iowa studs -- Spencer Lee, Alex Marinelli, and Pat Lugo -- Iowa was able to roll to a 25-point win and their first Big Ten championship since 2015, as well as their first solo Big Ten title since 2010. A performance like this has been a long time coming, but it finally arrived and it felt good to see Iowa officially back on top of the Big Ten once again.

Iowa built a solid 19-point lead heading into the final day, but the title wasn't yet assured because Nebraska, the team that had emerged as Iowa's somewhat surprising top challenger at this event, had nine wrestlers competing in the consolation semifinals, where each win would be worth at least 3.5 points in the team race. And, sure enough, the Huskers continued their strong showing at this tournament by going 6-3 in the consolation semifinals. Fortunately, Iowa answered the challenge by going 4-1 themselves in their consolation semifinal matches. The key sequence came at the end of the consolation semifinal round. In the span of a few minutes, Iowa got a big takedown from Abe Assad to win his match deep in overtime (the second sudden victory period, technically), followed by a first period pin from Tony Cassioppi (from a counter to a deep shot Nebraska's David Jansen), and a 9-3 win from Jacob Warner, all in rapid-fire succession. Those wins gave Iowa a healthy advantage heading into the final session and the 1st, 3rd, and 5th place matches. 

Iowa placed four wrestlers in the championship finals (only Penn State, with five, had more wrestlers in the finals) -- and finished with more champions than any other team (3), thanks to an impressive 3-1 showing in those championship matches. Spencer Lee got things started for Iowa with his customary display of excellence. Lee had to wrestle an entire seven-minute match for the first time in the Big Ten Tournament (and just the fourth time all season), but he didn't seem any worse for wear, considering he turned a 6-1 lead after the second period into a 16-2 major decision by the end of the third period. Lee recorded multiple takedowns against Purdue's Devon Schroder, rode him like a pony, and made sure to take him to tilt town before the match ended, too. Any win in a Big Ten championship match is good, but Lee made sure to win with style and overwhelming dominance -- the way he has all season long. He outscored opponents 47-5 over the course of the Big Ten Tournament -- all five points his opponents scored were escapes, most of them gifted by Lee. Not a bad way for him to finally win that elusive first Big Ten championship. 

Iowa's second Big Ten championship came about a half-hour later, as Pat Lugo avenged his only regular season loss with a 2-1 victory over Ohio State's Sammy Sasso. That match was marked by Lugo's inability to finish attacks despite several good shots that allowed him to get in deep on Sasso. The Lugo on display today was an improved Lugo, the one we've seen over the last month or so. This Lugo finishes attacks crisply when he gets in on a shot. This Lugo rides with a dogged ferocity -- and some of the most painful-looking mat returns in all of college wrestling. This Lugo doesn't panic, doesn't get nervous, even when opponents put him in danger. And Sasso had Lugo in danger at the end of this match --  he got to Lugo's legs and initiated a frenzied scramble that nearly led to a takedown (or neutral danger zone points) for Sasso. But close isn't finished and almost doesn't win Big Ten titles. Pat Lugo sealed the deal and got his first Big Ten championship -- he continues to look in the best form of his life heading into the NCAA Tournament in two weeks. Lugo's win also officially clinched Iowa's 36th Big Ten team title -- not bad!  

Iowa's third Big Ten championship came in one of the most hotly-anticipated matches of the day, the showdown at 165 between #1 Vincenzo Joseph and #2 Alex Marinelli. The rivalry between these two has developed into one of the sport's best, not just this year but in recent memory. And it's done so because the matches always, always, always deliver. The same was true again today. This match, a 3-2 win for Marinelli, was the lowest-scoring so far of their quartet of matches, but that doesn't mean there was a lack of action. Given the explosive fireworks we've seen from both men in their previous three matches, there was some understandable caution and tactical reticence on display from Joseph and Marinelli. But they also couldn't help but pull the trigger a few times -- there was at least one sequence like the ones that led to six point moves for both Marinelli and Joseph in the past but it somehow ended with no point scored and both guys rolling through. Every time they went upper body there was an audible buzz from the crowd -- and a sense of dismay when they backed off. The takeaway from this match was Marinelli's incredible defense -- Joseph appeared to have him dead to right at least twice on double-leg takedowns off explosive shots, only for Marinelli to slide out of danger. The eventual match-winning takedown came in the final seconds of the third, when Marinelli ducked low, snatched Joseph's left leg, and then manage get hold of both legs to finish crisply.  

Are we headed to a fifth and final Marinelli-Joseph match in the NCAA Tournament finals in two weeks? Let's hope so. Styles make fights and these two make magic together on the mat. 

Iowa's bid to go 4-for-4 in title matches came up short, as Mark Hall avenged his loss to Michael Kemerer at the Iowa-Penn State dual and won his third straight Big Ten championship at 174 lbs. This was a very different match than their initial encounter, one without the dramatic stakes of the dual meet or the electrifying atmosphere of a big match in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Hall definitely adjusted his gameplan from that first match and wrestled a more restrained, controlled match than he did in Iowa City. He scored a takedown in the first to go up 2-1 and kept Kemerer off-balance and unable to initiate much of his own offense. The match broke open in the second when Kemerer got on top of Hall during a scramble and Hall leaned back to the mat. The move exposed Kemerer's back to the mat for not just a takedown, but also two near fall points. Hall didn't have control, but under the new neutral danger zone rule, he doesn't need control to score those points. Kemerer seemed to not hear or not understand the referee's count and was surprised to find out about the near fall points. That sequence put Kemerer in a 7-1 hole (Hall led 3-1 after an escape earlier in the period) and against a wrestler as good as Hall, that's a bridge too far, even for a wrestler as skilled as Kemerer. He gave it a game effort with an escape and a takedown in the third period, but he couldn't find any more points before time expired. For Kemerer's sake, hopefully this trend holds true: 

2017: Hall finishes 2nd in Big Ten Tournament, wins NCAA Tournament
2018: Hall wins Big Ten Tournament, finishes 2nd in NCAA Tournament
2019: Hall wins Big Ten Tournament, finishes 2nd in NCAA Tournament
2020: Hall wins Big Ten Tournament... finishes 2nd in NCAA Tournament? 

This result sets up what could be an excellent rubber match in Minneapolis in two weeks; here's hoping we get to see it -- and that Kemerer comes out on top that time. 

Iowa went 2-2 in their four 3rd place matches. Austin DeSanto and Seth Gross waged another wild, closely-fought battle, with Gross narrowly avoiding a potential match-tying DeSanto takedown attempt in the final seconds to edge DeSanto 6-3 at 133 lbs. At 184 lbs Abe Assad lost a 6-4 decision to Taylor Venz in similar fashion -- he was in on a potential tying takedown as time expired, but couldn't finish the job before the whistle blew. Jacob Warner picked up a win and a 3rd place finish at 197 lbs as he avenged his quarterfinal loss to Penn State's Shakur Rasheed. The match ended as an injury default because Rasheed came up a bit gimpy after Warner's second takedown, but Warner led 4-1 at the time of the stoppage and looked worlds better than he had in their match on Saturday. Finally, Tony Cassioppi ended Iowa's tournament with final win, using an escape, a takedown, and a mountain of riding time to secure a 4-0 win over Trent Hillger. 

FINAL TEAM SCORE

RANK PTS TEAM WRESTLERS
1 157.5 IOWA 3 champions, 1 runner-up, 3rd 2x, 4th 2x, 5th
2 132.0 Nebraska 1 runner-up, 3rd x5, 5th, 6th x2, 7th
3 112.0 Ohio State 2 champions, 1 runner-up, 4th x2, 5th, 6th, 7th
4 107.0 Penn State 2 champions, 3 runners-up, 4th
5 83.0 Purdue 2 runners-up, 3rd, 6th x3, 7th, 8th

157.5 points is an impressive haul -- one of the three biggest of the last 20+ years, in fact. 

Not a bad way to add to your Big Ten-record collection of 36 Big Ten championships. 

This was fun, friends. Let's do it again in two weeks. 

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