#1 Iowa vs #11 Minnesota Wrestling: Preview

By RossWB on January 22, 2021 at 3:21 pm
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@Hawks_Wrestling (Twitter)

WHO: #11 Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-1, 2-1 Big Ten)
WHEN: Friday, January 22, 2021
WHERE: Maturi Pavilion (Minneapolis, MN)
START TIME: 8:00 PM Central
ONLINE: FoxSports.com
RADIO: Hawkeye Sports Network (check local listings); TuneIn (maybe)
ANNOUNCERS: Shane Sparks and Jim Gibbons

Iowa opened up their 2021 season with a dominant win over Nebraska and if the transitive property applies to wrestling (it does not), then they should be in store for another easy win tonight. Iowa beat Nebraska 31-6 and Nebraska beat Minnesota 22-14 a few weeks ago. No, the reason Iowa is heavily favored to make it seven straight dual meet wins over Minnesota has less to do with the transitive property and more to do with the fact that they simply have better wrestlers at most weights. 

That said, even if the outcome of the dual meet is unlikely to be in doubt for very long, there are still a few intriguing matches to check out. 285 and 157 both feature Top 10 showdowns, with #1 Gable Steveson taking on #3 Tony Cassioppi at 285 and #6 Brayton Lee and #7 Kaleb Young tussling at 157. Steveson beat Cassioppi in each of their meetings last year, 7-5 at the dual meet and 9-4 a few weeks later at the Big Ten Tournament. Tonight's match should be a good indication of whether or not Cassioppi has been able to narrow the gap on Steveson at all. Young and Lee have no past history (Lee was at 149 lbs prior to this season), but figure to be in the mix for Big Ten and NCAA podium spots this season. 125 also technically features a Top 10 matchup, between #1 Spencer Lee and #9 Patrick McKee and McKee did just beat the then-#2 ranked Rayvon Foley last week but... yeah. Spencer Lee is Spencer Lee. 

125 #1 Spencer Lee (SR, 1-0)
Aaron Cashman (SO, 0-0)
vs #9 Patrick McKee (SO, 2-1)
133 #5 Austin DeSanto (SR, 1-0) vs #20 Boo Dryden (SR, 3-0)
141 #1 Jaydin Eierman (SR, 1-0)
Carter Happel (SR, 0-1)
vs Marcos Polanco (RS FR, 2-1)
149 #6 Max Murin (JR, 1-0)
Bretli Reyna (FR, 0-0)
vs #17 Michael Blockhus (SO, 2-1)
157 #7 Kaleb Young (SR, 1-0) vs #6 Brayton Lee (RS FR, 3-0)
165 #2 Alex Marinelli (SR, 1-0) vs #16 Andrew Sparks (FR, 3-0)
174 #1 Michael Kemerer (SR, 0-0)
Patrick Kennedy (FR, 0-1)
vs #16 Jake Allar (JR, 2-1)
184 #6 Nelson Brands (SO, 1-0) vs #19 Owen Webster (SR, 1-2)
197 #3 Jacob Warner (JR, 0-1)
Connor Corbin (JR, 0-1)
vs #31 Garrett Joles (SO, 1-2)
285 #3 Tony Cassioppi (SO, 1-0) vs #1 Gable Steveson (JR, 3-0)

Let's go weight-by-weight: 

125: Patrick McKee was a touted recruit and he recorded a very nice win over then-#2 Rayvon Foley last week. So he's certainly not a scrub. But Foley's #2 ranking had more to do with the weakness of this weight outside of Lee than it did with him being particularly close to Lee in terms of quality. And Spencer Lee has been such a buzzsaw over the last few years that it's hard to expect anyone at this weight to keep things close with him, at least until proven otherwise. Maybe McKee has another surprise up his singlet... but my money's on Spencer doing Spencer things and getting a technical fall. 

133: Last year DeSanto broke Dryden and rolled to a 24-8 technical fall in under six minutes of work. Dryden is 3-0 this year, but he hasn't faced anyone of note. Maybe he avoids the ignominy of another technical fall loss, but I still see DeSanto earning bonus points for Iowa here. 

141: Jaydin Eierman got his Iowa career started with a W last week in a high-profile win over Nebraska All-American Chad Red. This week I think he'll get to show off why he was such a coveted transfer and why he's one of the favorites for a national title this season. Bring on the funk, bring on the nearfall points, and bring on the bonus points.

149: Murin and his likely opponent, Michael Blockhus, have history against one another, albeit at a different weight (141) and when Blockhus was with a different team (UNI). Murin won that initial encounter via 8-0 major decision back at the 2018 Midlands Championships. Both guys have improved since then and I think Blockhus can avoid conceding bonus points, but I think Murin will still take a comfortable 4-5 point decision win. 

157: This is one of the top matches of the night and, unlike the other Top 10 bouts in this meet, it's one that doesn't have a heavy favorite. Lee was good down at 149 lbs the last two seasons, but is trying to take the step to All-America status up at 157 lbs. Young ended last season on a sour note (losses in his final three bouts), but he started the year with an emphatic 17-5 major decision win over Nebraska's Caleb Licking last week. This feels like a coin-flip weight, but we'll give Minnesota the slightest of edges since they're the home team here. 

165: True freshman Andrew Sparks made his Minnesota debut with a 7-6 win over Nebraska's Peyton Robb a few weeks ago; Marinelli dispatched Robb 9-3 last week. Sparks is a newcomer to the Gopher lineup who has a bit of buzz behind him, but I don't think he's ready to lock horns with The Bull. Marinelli didn't get bonus points last week, but I think he'll take Sparks on a few trips to Tilt Town on his way to a major decision here.  

174: Michael Kemerer wasn't cleared to wrestle last week, which led to the surprise Iowa debut of mega-recruit Patrick Kennedy in a narrow loss to Mikey Labriola. After the meet, Tom Brands indicated that Kemerer's medical issues weren't significant and suggested that he'd likely be wrestling in this dual; so I'm expecting him to make his 2021 debut tonight. That's bad news for Jake Allar, who's looked pretty good up at 174 (minus getting pinned by Labriola earlier this year). But a fit and ready Kemerer is going to be hard for anyone at 174 to handle this season. I think Kemerer gets his year started with a comfortable decision win. 

184: I said last week that I expected Abe Assad to still get chances to start at 184 even after Nelson Brands' impressive win over Taylor Venz... but perhaps not? Brands is again the only wrestler listed for Iowa at 184 this week. It's impossible to argue that he doesn't deserve another start after his great season debut last week; he'll get a chance to build on that against Minnesota's Owen Webster this week. I think Brands improves to 2-0 this year with a win here, but I think Webster does enough to prevent bonus points. 

197: Jacob Warner was one of just two Iowa wrestlers to taste defeat last week but Garrett Joles looks like an excellent get-right opponent for Warner. Joles was just 8-13 last year and is 1-2 this year, with lopsided losses to Michigan State's Cam Caffey (12-5) and Nebraska's Eric Schultz (14-3). I think a focused Warner gets his first win of the season -- and picks up some bonus points in the process. 

285: And, finally, the big fellas bash. As noted, Steveson went 2-0 against Cassioppi last year, winning 7-5 at the dual meet and extending that to a 9-4 win at the Big Ten Tournament a few weeks later. While the scores of those matches look superficially close, my recollection is that all (or nearly all) of Cassioppi's points came via escapes. He's not going to beat Steveson if he can't find a way to score on him via a takedown (or reversal). That's what I'm most interested in seeing from this match -- a win would be very nice, obviously, but can Cassioppi's offense actually threaten Steveson? That's going to be more telling in regards to their future encounters. For now, I certainly expect another Steveson win here. 

Minnesota ought to win at 285. They have a very good chance to win at 157. Beyond that? It's hard to find many possible wins for them, unless Iowa's lineup unexpectedly features a lot of unfamiliar faces. 

I'll be posting results and (limited) PBP in the comments below starting at 8 PM tonight; feel free to join in!

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