Decade's Best Duals: 2020 Iowa vs 2017 Penn State

By RossWB on April 8, 2020 at 8:17 pm
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© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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We covered the "why" of this exercise on Monday, 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 2017 Penn State (14-0)

125: Spencer Lee (JR, 18-0) vs Nick Suriano (FR, 16-3)

Suriano debuted as a freshman with a truckload of hype in 2017 and did an impressive job living up to that hype -- he lost just twice in the regular season, a narrow 3-2 loss to Thomas Gilman (who was an absolute steamroller that year... until the NCAA Tournament semifinals) and an injury default to Oklahoma State's Nick Piccininni in the final regular season dual of the year. The latter was highly consequential, as the injury Suriano sustained there kept him from doing anything except injury defaulting and medically forfeiting out of his matches at the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Lee beat a better version of Suriano (now at Rutgers) a year later, so I don't have much doubt that a better version of Lee (from the 2020 season) could beat this version of Suriano. The question is whether or not Suriano could hold him to a regular decision. I think it would be very close -- we saw Lee get bonus points against some very good wrestlers this season -- but I'm going to err on the side of no bonus. 


133: Austin DeSanto (JR, 17-4) vs Jered Cortez (SO, 6-2)

In the real 2017, Cortez suffered a season-ending injury in December and Penn State was forced to rely on a succession of shaky options at this weight for the rest of the season. Still, this exercise is all about pitting the best possible versions of teams against one another (when possible), so Cortez gets the nod here. That's good news for Penn State because he's good enough to keep things from getting too out of hands against DeSanto. But he wasn't good enough to upset this version of DeSanto, or even prevent him from racking up enough takedowns for a major decision victory.


141: Max Murin (SO, 16-3) vs Jimmy Gulibon (SR, 17-12)

Gulibon had his ups and downs at Penn State, but he was definitely better at 133 (his weight as a freshman and sophomore) than he was at 141, where he combined to go 37-23 and bounced out in the Round of 16 and the Round of 12. Gulibon's 12 losses came against a wide range of opponents, some elite and some... not. He also managed to get pinned four times that season. Murin's consistency this year helps carry him to the decision victory here. 


149: Pat Lugo (SR, 21-1) vs Zain Retherford (JR, 28-0)

Junior year Zain was, if anything, even more terrifying than senior year Zain. The junior version of Retherford went 28-0 on his way to his second straight NCAA title, including a bonus rate of 89% and 17 pins. He bonused his way to the NCAA title, too, with four technical falls and a pin in his five victories. The only thing that makes me think that Lugo could hold a defeat to a regular decision is that his defense was absolutely elite this season and strong defensive wrestlers like Brandon Sorensen and Anthony Collica held him to his only close losses of the year (though Sorensen was also pinned by Retherford in another match that season, so... shrug emoji)


157: Kaleb Young (JR, 15-5) vs Jason Nolf (SO, 27-0)

Nolf won his first of three national titles in 2017 with a dazzling 27-0 season with a 93% bonus rate. Michael Kemerer was the only wrestler that season to hold Nolf without bonus points... and he lost 9-4 (at the dual) and 8-2 (at the Big Ten Tournament). 2020 Kaleb Young was not as good as Michael Kemerer. Holding Nolf to a major decision here would qualify as a bit of a victory, honestly. 


165: Alex Marinelli (JR, 20-1) vs Vincenzo Joseph (RS FR, 22-4)

After a wild 18-12 (!) defeat to Stanford's Keaton Subjeck early in the season, Joseph only lost three more times the rest of the season: a 6-4 loss in sudden victory against Wisconsin All-American Isaac Jordan, a 5-2 loss to two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez at the PSU-Illinois dual, and an 8-5 loss to Martinez in the Big Ten Tournament final. The third time was the charm for Joseph against Martinez, though; he topped him with a pin in the NCAA finals. Which is to say: Cenzo was very very good, even as a freshman. So, odds are, this would be another tight and thrilling match between him and The Bull. But given that The Bull has generally had the upper hand against older, better versions of Joseph, I favor him to edge out this version of Joseph, too. 


174: Michael Kemerer (SR, 15-1) vs Mark Hall (FR, 31-3)

Hall won what wound up being his one and only NCAA title as a freshman in 2017, but he also posted his lowest bonus rate (62%) and lost as many matches that season as he did in his final three seasons combined (3). Those losses included defeats to Central Michigan's Christian Brucki and, memorably, Iowa's Alex Meyer (as well as Ohio State's Bo Jordan in the Big Ten Tournament final). This Hall was very, very good (especially by the time the NCAA Tournament rolled around), but he had a few more weaknesses than his older selves had, which gives Kemerer the advantage in a close bout here.


184: Abe Assad (FR, 22-7) vs Bo Nickal (SO, 26-1)

Nickal won the first of his three NCAA titles in 2017 after bumping up to 184 lbs. Nickal was clipped by Ohio State's Myles Martin in the Big Ten Tournament, but otherwise he was flawless this season and posted a 78% bonus rate, too. He also had 17 pins, so... still pretty dominant, even as a freshman. I'll give Assad enough benefit of the doubt that he can avoid getting stuck by Nickal... but that's as far as I'll go. 


197: Jacob Warner (SO, 20-4) vs Matt McCutcheon (JR, 20-6)

McCutcheon bumped up to 197 after two seasons at 184 lbs and had... solid results. He went 20-6 with all six losses coming against Top 10 opponents (Minnesota's Brett Pfarr x2, Nebraska's Aaron Studebaker x2, Ohio State's Kollin Moore, and Virginia Tech's Jared Haught). McCutcheon and Warner would have matched up very well; they're both wrestlers with very good positioning who take good shots and avoid putting themselves in dangerous spots. Warner's had a bit more success against top-tier guys at 197, though, which gives him the nod here. 


285: Tony Cassioppi (RS FR, 20-3) vs Nick Nevills (SO, 25-5)

Nevills was at his best as a sophomore, posting a 25-5 record and earning a 5th place finish at the NCAA Tournament, while recording bonus points in 40% of his matches. His only losses came against Ohio State's Kyle Snyder, Wisconsin's Connor Medbery (x2), Duke's Jacob Kasper, and Virginia Tech's Ty Walz -- all Top 10 opponents. Cassioppi vs Nevills feels pretty close to a toss-up and since Cassioppi got the nod over him in a similarly close match yesterday, I'm giving Nevills the coin-flip advantage here. 


125 Spencer Lee (JR) DEC Nick Suriano (FR) IOWA 3-0
133 Austin DeSanto (JR) MAJ DEC Jered Cortez (SR) IOWA 7-0
141 Max Murin (SO) DEC Jimmy Gulibon (SR) IOWA 10-0
149 Zain Retherford (JR) DEC Pat Lugo (SR) IOWA  10-3
157 Jason Nolf (SO) MAJ DEC Kaleb Young (JR) IOWA 10-7
165 Alex Marinelli (JR) DEC Vincenzo Joseph (RS FR) IOWA 13-7
174 Michael Kemerer (SR) DEC Mark Hall (FR) IOWA 16-7
184 Bo Nickal (SO) MAJ DEC Abe Assad (FR) IOWA 16-11
197 Jacob Warner (SO) DEC Matt McCutcheon (JR) IOWA 19-11
285 Nick Nevills (SO) DEC Tony Cassioppi (RS FR) IOWA 19-14

This time Penn State is a clear favorite at three weights (149, 157, 184), while Iowa is a strong favorite at two weights (125, 133). I also have Iowa as slight favorites at 141, 165, 174, and 197 and 285 as a toss-up; it wouldn't take much for some of those matches to flip Penn State's way. But this feels like the first dual in this series where Iowa can prevail without needing some weirdness to break their way. They should be better at Penn State -- even if slightly -- at a majority of weights; that ought to enable them to secure a dual victory. 

NEXT: 2020 Iowa tackles 2016 Penn State

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