Decade's Best Duals: 2020 Iowa vs 2018 Penn State

By RossWB on April 7, 2020 at 4:13 pm
go hawks go
© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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We covered the "why" of this exercise yesterday, so check that out if you haven't done so already. Basically, we're looking at how the 2020 Iowa wrestling team, the best team of the current season, might have fared against the best teams of the last 10 years. 

Starting lineups were determined primarily by NCAA qualifiers at each weight; if no wrestler qualified, I generally went with the wrestler who started the most matches at that weight. I also generally assumed a given wrestler was in good health -- unless they dealt with nagging injuries or health issues all season long, in which case that was factored into the prediction. Without further ado... 

2020 Iowa (13-0) vs 2018 Penn State (14-0)

125: Spencer Lee (JR, 18-0) vs Carson Kuhn (SR, 4-5)

New year, new opponent for Spencer Lee... but the same lopsided result. Lee pinned Kuhn in just over two minutes in their meeting at the dual meet in 2018; but given that 2020 Spencer Lee was more of a tech fall specialist than a pinner, I'll predict another quick technical fall for the reigning Hodge Trophy winner. 

IOWA 5, PENN STATE 0

133: Austin DeSanto (JR, 17-4) vs Corey Keener (SR, 17-10)

Keener was a solid enough option for Penn State in 2018; he went 17-10 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten duals (including a 5-2 win over Iowa's Paul Glynn). He went 3-2 at the Big Ten Tournament and qualified for the NCAA Tournament, where he went 1-2. He managed a competitive loss against Ohio State's Luke Pletcher (just 5-4), but also got blanked 12-0 by Illinois' Dylan Duncan and 10- by Michigan's Stevan Micic. (He was also pinned in both of his NCAA Tournament losses.) I think DeSanto's array of offensive attacking and frenetic pace would have been too much for Keener here. 

IOWA 9, PENN STATE 0

141: Max Murin (SO, 16-3) vs Nick Lee (FR, 33-7)

Murin didn't fare well yesterday against the sophomore version of Lee; might his luck be any better against the freshman version? Lee was still quite good that season; he finished 33-7 overall with a bonus rate of 63% and he finished 5th at the NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, he did lose seven matches and while most of those were to elite opponents, he also dropped matches against Clarion's Brock Zacherl, Illinois' Mike Carr, and Maryland's Ryan Diehl, who are all guys at basically the same level as Murin. I see a close match here -- closer than Murin's other matches with Lee -- and while the upset potential is definitely there, Lee still seems like the more likely winner. 

IOWA 9, PENN STATE 3

149: Pat Lugo (SR, 21-1) vs Zain Retherford (SR, 31-0)

Lugo had a tremendous senior season in 2019-20 and looked like the best possible version of himself for much of the year. Unfortunately, in this match he's up against Zain Retherford, the best 149-lb wrestler of the 2010s. Retherford won three straight NCAA titles and went 94-0 over his final three years in college, with bonus points in 84 of those wins (89%). He was a train plowing down the tracks and every other 149er in college over those seasons was barely a speed bump. Retherford did have his lowest bonus rate of those three seasons as a senior (a measly 84%) and was held to decisions in the Big Ten Tournament final (by Iowa's Brandon Sorensen) and the NCAA Tournament final (by Lock Haven's Ronnie Perry). Lugo only lost once via bonus points -- he was pinned as a freshman at Edinboro in 2016 in the NCAA Tournament by... Zain Retherford. That said, Lugo's defense improved considerably over his Iowa career, so I'm going to say that he's able to hold Retherford to a decision here. 

IOWA 9, PENN STATE 6

157: Kaleb Young (JR, 15-5) vs Jason Nolf (JR, 26-1)

Eventually this exercise will get better for Kaleb Young... but not when he's wrestling Jason Nolf each time out. Nolf suffered a loss as a junior in 2018 -- but only because he got injured was forced to default out of his match against Rutgers' John Van Brill. Before the injury, Nolf was 19-0, with 15 pins. After the injury, Nolf missed a month of action before wrestling just two matches at the Big Ten Tournament. He still went 5-0 at the NCAA Tournament, but three of his wins came via regular decision. Pre-injury Nolf was on an absolutely monstrous tear; post-injury Nolf was still very good (still won an NCAA title, after all), but not quite as overwhelming. Which Nolf do we get here? Let's split the difference and say he gets another major decision win over Young. 

PENN STATE 10, IOWA 9

165: Alex Marinelli (JR, 20-1) vs Vincenzo Joseph (SO, 25-2)

Another day, another showdown between Cenzo and The Bull. Joseph went 25-2 as a sophomore and picked up his second straight NCAA title -- but he also picked up his first career loss to Alex Marinelli (with his other loss that season coming against Illinois' Isaiah Martinez in the Big Ten Tournament finals). Marinelli and Joseph are so evenly matched that it's not hard to predict a win for either guy when they face off, but Marinelli has had slightly more success against Joseph overall -- and his younger self beat this version of Joseph, too, which gives me confidence that the older Bull could as well. 

IOWA 12, PENN STATE 10

174: Michael Kemerer (SR, 15-1) vs Mark Hall (SO, 32-1)

Much as he did as a junior, Mark Hall slashed his way through the field as a sophomore, winning his first 32 matches (and posting a 70% bonus rate along the way), before falling to Arizona State's Zahid Valencia in the NCAA Tournament final. This is another match that could certainly go either way, and since I gave Kemerer the benefit of the coin flip yesterday, it seems fair to give Hall the edge today. 

PENN STATE 13, IOWA 12

184: Abe Assad (FR, 22-7) vs Bo Nickal (JR, 31-0)

Better days are ahead for Abe Assad, but this seems like a terribly unfair match-up for Iowa's freshman starter. Nickal went 31-0 as a junior in 2018, picking up his second of three straight NCAA titles (and his second at 184 lbs), while posting a bonus rate of 74% and recording 16 pins. This Nickal wasn't quite as world-dominating as his senior self, but he was still outstanding. An older, savvier Assad might have been able to limit the damage in this match, but a freshman Assad feels like an easy kill for an apex predator like Nickal. 

PENN STATE 19, IOWA 12

197: Jacob Warner (SO, 20-4) vs Shakur Rasheed (JR, 24-5)

Rasheed posted his finest season in 2018, going 24-5 overall and finishing as runner-up in the Big Ten and earning a 7th place finish at the NCAA Tournament that season. This Rasheed was healthier than he managed to be in 2019 or 2020, which would have added an interesting wrinkle to this match. Warner went 2-1 against Rasheed in 2020, and while that was a more hobbled version of Rasheed, Warner showed a good ability to get to Rasheed's legs and finish (at least in two of the matches), while fending off Rasheed's attacks from neutral. That's enough for me to give him a slight edge here. 

PENN STATE 19, IOWA 15

285: Tony Cassioppi (RS FR, 20-3) vs Nick Nevills (JR, 30-7)

So it comes down to heavyweight once again, though this time Cassioppi needs bonus points to have a shot at either tying (a major decision) or beating (a technical fall or pin) Penn State in this showdown. The good news is that Nevills isn't the heavyweight terrormonster that Anthony Cassar was in 2019; the bad news is that he was still pretty good, as evidenced by his 30-7 overall record and 7th place finish at the NCAA Tournament. He and Cassioppi look pretty evenly-matched in this bout, but Cassioppi's success against similar heavyweights in 2020 (like Wisconsin's Trent Hillger) makes me think that he would have been able to grind out a win here. But unless he was able to take Nevills to his back, I don't think he would have been able to secure bonus points. 

PENN STATE 19, IOWA 18

WT WINNER RESULT LOSER TEAM SCORE
125 Spencer Lee (JR) TECH FALL Carson Kuhn (SR) IOWA 5-0
133 Austin DeSanto (JR) MAJ DEC Corey Keener (SR) IOWA 9-0
141 Nick Lee (JR) DEC Max Murin (SO) IOWA 9-3
149 Zain Retherford (SR) DEC Pat Lugo (SR) IOWA  9-6
157 Jason Nolf (SR) MAJ DEC Kaleb Young (JR) PSU 10-9
165 Alex Marinelli (JR) DEC Vincenzo Joseph (JR) IOWA 12-10
174 Mark Hall (SO) DEC Michael Kemerer (SR) PSU 13-12
184 Bo Nickal (JR) FALL Abe Assad (FR) PSU 19-12
197 Jacob Warner (SO) DEC Shakur Rasheed (JR) PSU 19-15
285 Tony Cassioppi (RS FR) DEC Nick Nevills (JR)  PSU 19-18

I've got Iowa and Penn State evenly splitting all ten matches here, with each side taking five wins and the overall difference coming down to bonus points, with Penn State earning a fall and a major decision to trump Iowa's technical fall and a major decision. This is another showdown with a lot of close match-ups; Iowa would be strong favorites at 125 and 133 and Penn State would be solid favorites at 149, 157, and 184, but it's not hard to see the other five matches going either way. For Iowa to win the dual, I think they'd need to take four of those matches... and I can't quite see them pulling that off. (Better results are ahead for Iowa in this series, I promise.)

NEXT: 2020 Iowa faces off with 2017 Penn State

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