Deep and dangerous. That’s the only way to describe the Big Ten wrestling conference.
After a weekend of wild results, the NWCA rankings are expected to shake up a bit tomorrow, but for now, the Big Ten includes five of the top ten ranked teams, seven of the top 15 and ten of the top 25 teams. No. 1 Iowa leads the way for the conference (and the country) and the Hawkeyes showed off in the most dominant way possible this weekend against Indiana and Purdue, winning both duals 41-0.
— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) January 11, 2020
The Boilermakers did pick up a win on the weekend against Northwestern, beating the Wildcats 21-13. Northwestern, however, won two critical weight classes, as No. 1 Ryan Deakin majored No. 8 Kendall Coleman and Lucas Davison beat No. 2 Christian Brunner.
With less than two months to go before the Big Ten tournament and just over two months to go before the national tournament, these conference and individual duals will matter even more. Here’s what we learned from one of the most action-packed weekends of Big Ten wrestling and how we expect these results to influence lineup decisions and future duals.
1. No one won a match against the Hawkeyes this weekend
Iowa is No. 1 for a reason. In six duals, the Hawkeyes have blanked three teams and given up just 18 points combined.
10-for-10 today = 41-0
10-for-10 Friday = 41-0
20-for-20 = 82-0
— Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling (@Hawks_Wrestling) January 12, 2020
Head coach Tom Brands’ lineup is star-studded from top to bottom, filled with young talent and veteran stars. Two of those stars, heavyweight Tony Cassioppi and 165-pound two-time All-American Alex Marinelli, paced the team throughout the two duals this weekend. Both athletes picked up two falls on Friday and Sunday, with Marinelli’s falls taking just over a combined 7 minutes while Cassioppi finished his matches in a combined 2:20.
Iowa also made some headlines with another upper-weight move, sending out true freshman Abe Assad to wrestle for the Hawkeyes against both Indiana and Purdue, leaving Round of 12 wrestler Cash Wilcke and redshirt freshman Nelson Brands on the bench. Assad finished second at Midlands, out-placing both Brands and Wilcke, and he rolled past both his Purdue and Indiana opponents by a combined score of 11-4. The question of whether Assad will be the guy at this weight in every dual moving forward remains to be seen, but he did what he needed to do this weekend to prove that he deserves the spot.
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All-American Pat Lugo filled his role perfectly over the weekend as well. He picked up a decision against Indiana’s Graham Rooks and added the kind of bonus points that Tom Brands emphasizes in his 8-0 win over Nate Limmex. Max Murin added decisions in both of his 141-pound bouts.
Perhaps the most exciting duals of the weekend for Iowa came at 157 pounds, 174 pounds 197 pounds, where Kaleb Young, Michael Kemerer and Jacob Warner had to beat top-five Purdue wrestlers. Young knocked off a dangerous Kendall Coleman with a 4-3 decision two days after beating Fernie Silva of Indiana while Michael Kemerer battled for a tough 8-4 decision over the previously undefeated Dylan Lydy. Kemerer also picked up a 9-6 decision against Jacob Covaciu of Indiana during the weekend.
Jacob Warner also had a to beat a highly-ranked Purdue wrestler in No. 2 Christian Brunner, but momentum and strength helped No. 5 Warner accomplish his goal. He also picked up a win against Indiana’s Nick Willham.
The most dangerous lightweight duo in the country, Spencer Lee and Austin DeSanto combined for three tech falls and a fall over the course of the weekend. While their performances were impressive, can we also just take a moment to appreciate this exchange between the two athletes during the Purdue match?
Is this the most dangerous 1-2 punch in college wrestling? pic.twitter.com/Mt05sxi0aZ
— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) January 13, 2020
2. No. 2 fell to No. 8 two days after No. 8 dropped to No. 15
What is happening in college wrestling this year? You might as well ignore the rankings and just watch wrestling if you want to understand how this madness is playing out. But we can say this for sure: it’s upset season.
Let’s start with the Border Battle and some great Midwestern wrestling. Minnesota created the scene, brought up WWE and UFC superstar Brock Lesnar, and hyped up their Gophers to maximum capacity, setting a stage where they would ultimately surpass the No. 8-ranked Wisconsin Badgers behind a series of early wins and some late-match heroics.
Veteran All-American senior Devin Skatzka kicked off the dual with a workman-like major decision over Wisconsin’s Jared Krattiger. Teammate No. 20 Owen Webster followed with a ranked upset win at 184 pounds in sudden victory over No. 10 Johnny Sebastian. Hunter Ritter then added a sudden-victory win of his own, and All-American Gable Steveson showed off in a 10-5 decision against No. 6 Trent Hillger. Minnesota earned its second bonus point win of the night when Pat McKee knocked off Eric Barnett 8-0, but the Badgers were not down for the count. NCAA champion Seth Gross barreled through Minnesota’s Jake Gilva for the tech fall, and 141-pounder Tristan Moran added more points on the board for Wisconsin with the first of what would be two upset wins for the Badger.
Follow Seth Gross’ journey through the many trials and tribulations of his wrestling career which ultimately led to reuniting with head Coach Chris Bono and @BadgerWrestling.
This is Seth’s story: On the Mat. pic.twitter.com/K9K95uhZ3m
— Big Ten Wrestling (@B1GWrestling) January 11, 2020
Wisconsin also went on to win 157 pounds and 165 pounds, but a win from Brayton Lee over Cole Martin would give Minnesota a sixth match win and a 20-14 overall victory against the higher-ranked Badgers.
Following the dual, coach Chris Bono said it all: “I’m proud of our effort, but we have to have a short-term memory and get ready for Sunday against Nebraska.”
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And get ready they did. Wisconsin came out firing on all cylinders against the Cornhuskers, winning the first four matches by fall, major decision, upset decision and fall. Of the four, Tristan Moran deserves special attention as he took down No. 6 Chad Red with grit in his 9-4 decision to give him perhaps one of the most impressive weekends of any wrestler in the Big Ten.
Nebraska added three tech falls and a decision to close the gap on the Badgers, but Evan Wick’s 100th career win and a clutch 4-1 decision from Trent Hillger gave Wisconsin the 25-18 win over No. 2 Nebraska. Talk about a rebound performance.
“I’m proud of our effort, but we have to have a short-term memory and get ready for Sunday against Nebraska.” –@ChrisBono, on Friday
— NCAA Wrestling (@ncaawrestling) January 12, 2020
Nebraska has two tough contests left in January as they face Iowa this weekend and Penn State the following weekend. Minnesota will take on both Michigan and Michigan State next weekend and Ohio State the following weekend while Wisconsin will wrestle Ohio State this weekend and Indiana next weekend. Can you keep all of that straight? This could get crazy.
3. The Penn State lineup continues to cause chatter
Penn State owned college wrestling last year, posting a 14-0 record, crowing three national champions and earning part of the Big Ten regular season title as well as a Big Ten tournament title. Now, following the graduation of its two legends Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf and the injury of NCAA champion Anthony Cassar, the Nittany Lions are working to find their groove again and return to dominance.
Coach Cael Sanderson’s squad picked up two victories over the weekend, with the first coming much closer than the second. The Nittany Lions edged past the Illini 22-14 with wins from Nick Lee, Jared Verkleeren, Mark Hall, Aaron Brooks, Shakur Rasheed and true freshman Seth Nevills. The team also beat Northwestern 30-9.
Penn State’s quiet but consistent Nick Lee starts the discussion at 141 pounds. He put up a major decision against Illinois’ Dylan Duncan and a tech fall over Northwestern’s Alexander McKenna. Lee was one of just two Penn State All-American to wrestle and win both matches, and his bonus point production in both duals makes him a standout of the weekend. 2017 NCAA champion Mark Hall also steamrolled through his matches, stalling out Illinois’ Joey Gunter for DQ points and tech-falling Tyler Morland of Northwestern.
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The biggest matches against the Illini came at 197 pounds and heavyweight where Penn State debuted two new elements to their 2020 lineup in 2018 NCAA All-American Shakur Rasheed and true freshman Nevills. Rasheed tore his ACL last season, and in his first dual back in the Blue and White he picked up a necessary decision over Illinois’ Matt Wroblewski. Rasheed then fell on Sunday to Northwestern’s surging Lucas Davison, and while the loss will hurt Rasheed’s return to a high individual ranking, the loss also could have put some energy and fire back into the starter and given him some motivation for Penn State’s upcoming match against Nebraska. Heavyweight Nevills stepped up the plate big time this weekend, beating Luke Luffman of Illinois 6-3 in a match that mattered for the team score and then putting away Northwestern’s Heyob to stay undefeated on the year.
Penn State stars Vincenzo Joseph and Roman Bravo-Young missed the Illinois dual, leading Sanderson to send out Austin Clabaugh and Konner Kraeszig, both of whom were bonused by Illinois’ Travis Piotrowski and Dan Braunagel, respectively. Piotrowski and Braunagel went on to pick up a second win of the weekend against Indiana.
Upon their return, Bravo-Young picked up a tech fall against Dylan Utterback of Northwestern while Joseph pinned Shayne Oster in the first period. Fans were denied a Sebastian Rivera- Roman Bravo-Young dual, but expect to see these two face off in the Big Ten tournament. Freshman Aaron Brooks, who earned a decision against Illinois, missed the Northwestern dual, leading to the return at 184-pounds of Creighton Edsell, who picked up a decision against Northwestern’s Jack Jessen.
— Penn State WRESTLING (@pennstateWREST) January 12, 2020
At 149 pounds, Jarod Verkleeren is continuing to build his resume, going 2-0 on the weekend with wins over Mousa Jodeh and Eric Yang in decision fashion. Both Bo Pipher and Brandon Meredith went 0-2 on the weekend at 125 pounds and 157 pounds as their opponents Eric Barone and Justin Cardani went 2-0 on the weekend with wins against the Nittany Lions wrestlers and wins against Fernie Silva and Liam Cronin of Indiana.
Illinois followed the loss to Penn State with a dominant 31-3 win over Indiana, where Duncan, Gunther, Wroblewski and Luffman also added wins.
4. Gas Tank Gary electrified the Covelli Center as the Bucks picked up another win
Heavyweight Gary Traub didn’t need much time to become a fan favorite in Columbus. The young Buckeye is 16-2 so far this season with his only losses coming against Arizona State’s Tanner Hall and Pittsburgh’s Demetrius Thomas, both by decision. His sixteenth victory came in wild fashion as he defeated Rutgers’ Matt Correnti in sudden victory to help Ohio State earn a nice Big Ten victory over the Scarlet Knights 22-13.
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Team captains Luke Pletcher and Kollin Moore both showed their leadership with bonus points in the dual against Rutgers as Pletcher majored Devon Britton 12-4 and Moore earned a major decision over Jordan Pagano 20-9. Both wrestlers are still undefeated and ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes.
Kaleb Romero and Ethan Smith, both who have earned the coveted Black Shirt at Ohio State for their toughness, earned wins, with Smith notching a major against Brett Donner and Romero securing a decision against Joe Grello at 174 pounds. Fellow Black Shirt Buckeye Sammy Sasso also earned bonus points with a 16-7 win over Gerard Angelo.
Kaleb Romero has joined the elite group.
— Ohio State Wrestling (@wrestlingbucks) January 10, 2020
Rutgers won 157, 184, 125 and 133 pounds, with the only bonus point win coming at 125 pounds as Nic Aguilar topped NCAA qualifier Malik Heinselman, 14-1. Sammy Alvarez of Rutgers also won a highly-anticipated matchup against true freshman Jordan Decatur 6-1 at 133 pounds.
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The Scarlet Knights turned around from the loss to the Buckeyes and beat Michigan State 25-12 before the end of the weekend. The Spartans, like the Hoosiers, went 0-2 on the weekend with a second loss to in-state rival Michigan. Michigan State is one of just four teams in the Big Ten outside of the Top 25, and the Spartans are joined in this category by Illinois, Indiana and Maryland. The Terps wrestled in the Virginia Duals, going 1-3 with a win over Fresno State and losses to Rider, Kent State and Old Dominion.