Decade's Best Duals: 2020 Iowa vs 2016 Penn State

By RossWB on April 9, 2020 at 4:57 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 2016 Penn State (16-0)

125: Spencer Lee (JR, 18-0) vs Nico Megaludis (SR, 32-3)

This match would pit the winners of three of the last four NCAA titles at 125 lbs, as Megaludis finally broke through and got his national title as a redshirt senior in 2016, beating Iowa's Thomas Gilman in the final. Megaludis went 32-3 that season, with a 54% bonus rate. All three of his losses were narrow -- a pair of 3-1 losses to Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello and 4-3 loss to Virginia Tech's Joey Dance in tiebreakers. Megaludis was very, very good. But Lee is great. Megaludis' spectacular defense might be able to keep Lee from racking up bonus points, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.  


133: Austin DeSanto (JR, 17-4) vs Jordan Conaway (SR, 30-8)

Conaway was a scrappy wrestler who managed to be a two-time NCAA All-American, finishing 8th at 125 lbs in 2015 and 6th at 133 lbs in 2016. Conaway was not an easy out and he was especially tough in close matches. But he did lose 17 matches over his two years as a starter, mostly against elite-level opposition. DeSanto certainly looked pretty elite for much of this season. I think his relentless pace and scoring ability from neutral would be too much for Conaway, which would allow DeSanto to break the match open in the third period. 


141: Max Murin (SO, 16-3) vs Jimmy Gulibon (JR, 15-11)

Gulibon was roughly the same wrestler in 2016 that he was in 2017: capable of some good performances, but mostly inconsistent. I'd favor Murin to beat the 2017 version of Gulibon and I'd also favor him to beat the 2016 version of Gulibon in a fairly comfortable decision victory.


149: Pat Lugo (SR, 21-1) vs Zain Retherford (SO, 35-0)

Retherford won his first of straight national titles at 149 lbs in 2016 and he was pretty terrifyingly good even then. Zain went 35-0 with an 89% bonus rate and just four of his wins were regular decisions. The closest of those four was a 2-1 victory over Rider's Bryant Clagon. An upset win for Lugo seems like a remote possibility. Frankly, holding Retherford to a regular decision will be challenging, too -- though that at least seems plausible. 


157: Kaleb Young (JR, 15-5) vs Jason Nolf (RS FR, 34-2)

Nolf made his official debut in the Penn State lineup in 2016 -- and he hit the ground running, going 34-2 with an 89% bonus rate. His only defeats came against Big Ten and NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez (in the Big Ten and NCAA finals) and by the absolute slimmest of margins. Martinez edged him on tiebreakers in the Big Ten final and 6-5 in the NCAA final. Otherwise, Nolf absolutely rolled his competition, even as a redshirt frosh. So it's going to be another long day for Young here. 


165: Alex Marinelli (JR, 20-1) vs Geno Morelli (JR, 21-12)

Morelli bridged the gap at 165 lbs between David Taylor and Vincenzo Joseph for Penn State, but he was, ah, not quite at that level. He was an NCAA qualifier in 2016, but went 2-2 at the NCAA Tournament. Morelli lost a lot that season (12 times), mostly against top-tier competition, but the nature of those defeats was wide-ranging. He had a pair of one-point losses -- plus five losses in overtime. But he also lost by a major decision, a technical fall, and a pin as well. Morelli might have been able to slow down Marinelli for a bit, but I think eventually The Bull would have been able to string together enough takedowns (and possibly a turn) to get a major decision. 


174: Michael Kemerer (SR, 15-1) vs Bo Nickal (RS FR, 33-2)

Match-ups like this are one of the things that make this exercise so fun. The thought of Kemerer taking on Bo Nickal is an absolutely mouth-watering proposition. Nickal was superb in his first official year in the lineup, going 33-2 with a 66% bonus rate. His only hiccups were a 7-6 loss to Indiana's Nate Jackson at a dual and an 11-9 upset loss to Ohio State's Myles Martin in the NCAA final. A Nickal-Kemerer match would have been absolutely must-see TV; they're both lanky athletes with good motors and excellent scrambling ability. I'm envisioning seven minutes of constant action in this match and two very evenly-matched competitors. I think Kemerer's experience might give him the slenderest of advantages, though. 


184: Abe Assad (FR, 22-7) vs Matt McCutcheon (SO, 16-8)

McCutcheon was an NCAA qualifier his last year at 184 lbs, going 16-8 with a 29% bonus rate in 2016. He went just 0-2 at the NCAA Tournament (and 2-2 at the Big Ten Tournament), though a late season injury he suffered in a dual with Oklahoma State likely hampered his postseason performance a bit. This is the first time in this exercise I'd say Assad has a legitimate shot at winning a match for Iowa... but I would give a healthy McCutcheon a slight advantage over Assad.


197: Jacob Warner (SO, 20-4) vs Morgan McIntosh (SR, 34-1)

McIntosh, along with Megaludis and Retherford, was one of the few wrestlers to bridge Penn State's pair of national title four-peats in the 2010s. He was at his absolute peak as a senior in 2016, posting a 34-1 record and a 74% bonus rate while winning a Big Ten championship. His only loss came in the NCAA finals, when he dropped a 4-2 decision to eventual three-time NCAA champion J'den Cox. Not much shame in that loss. McIntosh was absolutely huge and I think his size and strength would give Warner some problems, as well as his stout defense and strong positioning. This would be a low-scoring match, but I favor McIntosh to record the decisive points. 


285: Tony Cassioppi (RS FR, 20-3) vs Nick Nevills (RS FR, 6-3)

Penn State used Jan Johnson in eight duals in 2016 (he went 1-7 in those duals and 0-6 in Big Ten duals), but opted for Nevills in the Big Ten Tournament. Alas, he went 1-2 there and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament. This looks like a decisive win for Cassioppi, with bonus points being a real possibility. 


125 Spencer Lee (JR) DEC Nico Megaludis (SR) IOWA 3-0
133 Austin DeSanto (JR) MAJ DEC Jordan Conaway (SR) IOWA 7-0
141 Max Murin (SO) DEC Jimmy Gulibon (JR) IOWA 10-0
149 Zain Retherford (SO) DEC Pat Lugo (SR) IOWA  10-3
157 Jason Nolf (RS FR) MAJ DEC Kaleb Young (JR) IOWA 10-7
165 Alex Marinelli (JR) MAJ DEC Geno Morelli (JR) IOWA 14-7
174 Michael Kemerer (SR) DEC Bo Nickal (RS FR) IOWA 17-7
184 Matt McCutcheon (SO) DEC Abe Assad (FR) IOWA 17-10
197 Morgan McIntosh (SR) DEC Jacob Warner (SO) IOWA 17-13
285 Tony Cassioppi (RS FR) DEC Nick Nevills (RS FR) IOWA 20-13

Just like last time I've got Iowa winning six matches here and Penn State winning four; in fact, the results are the same at each weight except for a flip-flop at 197 and 285. This looks like a much more comfortable win for Iowa, though; they should be solid favorites at 125, 133, 165, and 285, and Murin should be a reasonable favorite at 141 as well. Penn State would be clear favorites at 149 and 157 and a solid favorite at 197 as well. That leaves 174 and 184 as the only matches that look like potential toss-ups; splitting the difference there and giving PSU one win and Iowa the other there seems fair. That works out to a pretty solid Iowa win overall. 

NEXT: Iowa takes on... a non-Penn State squad! At last! 2015 Ohio State is on tap. 

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