Wisconsin vs. Nebraska wrestling: Three things to know about this top-ten Big Ten battle

Two days after taking a tough loss against Minnesota on the road, the Badgers return home to welcome the No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers to Madison for a top-10 Big Ten dual featuring 14 combined ranked wrestlers, one No. 1 ranked athlete and national rankings on the line.

Nebraska holds a 5-0 undefeated record but has not wrestled a Big Ten team in dual format yet this season while Wisconsin is 7-2 with two conference losses against Minnesota and Iowa. The Cornhuskers claimed the Cliff Keen Invitational title back in November while Wisconsin put up a solid showing at the Midlands tournament last month. Nebraska has the edge in the rankings by just six spots, but Wisconsin head coach Chris Bono’s squad is hungry after the Minnesota loss and anxious to surprise some people.

The dual will begin at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 12 and can be viewed on BTN+. Before the action begins, here’s what you need to know when the Cornhuskers take on the Badgers. 

Wisconsin is going to need big points from Seth Gross

Only two athletes on the current Wisconsin squad earned All-American honors in 2019, Evan Wick and Trent Hillger, but major team points this year have been coming from a third athlete: 2018 national champion and current No. 1-ranked 133-pounder Seth Gross. After transferring from South Dakota State last year and now donning the Red and White of Wisconsin as a graduate student, Gross is 16-1 with wins over No. 2 Austin DeSanto and No. 5 Sebastian Rivera. With the exception of those two ranked wins, Gross has majored all of his last eight opponents and recently added five critical team points against Minnesota with a tech fall over Jake Gliva. He has a bonus rate of over 70%, and if Wisconsin wants to have a chance to challenge the No. 2 Cornhuskers, the Badgers are going to need Seth Gross to come through with a statement bonus-point win.

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Nebraska has No. 13 Ridge Lovett listed as a projected starter for the Cornhuskers at 133 pounds in this dual, and Lovett will push Gross likely more than Gliva did. A freshman, Lovett has wrestled just 11 matches in his collegiate career, but he’s won eight of them, including an impressive win against No. 14 Todd Small of Iowa State. Gross will be Lovett’s biggest challenge this year, but if he can hold Gross to a decision, or perhaps even a major decision, he could limit the output of Wisconsin’s biggest point scorer. 

Nebraska has the only ranked wrestler in the dual at 197, 174 and 157. Wisconsin has the only ranked wrestler at just one weight. 

The Badgers boast seven ranked wrestlers, an impressive and intimidating number against most teams, but Nebraska isn’t most teams. The Cornhuskers have nine ranked athletes and are led by No. 3 Isaiah White at 165 pounds. The combination of White at 165, No. 6 Chad Red at 141 pounds, No. 6 Mikey Labriola at 174 pounds and No. 5 Taylor Venz at 184 pounds puts Nebraska in a unique spot to potentially roll past the Badgers. Head coach Mark Manning’s squad will look to widen a score gap at the three weights where Wisconsin does not have a ranked athlete: 197 pounds, 174 pounds and 157 pounds.

As previously mentioned, Mikey Labriola is the man at 174 pounds, and, after finishing sixth last year at NCAAs as a freshman, he currently holds a 12-3 record with his only losses coming against Dylan Lydy of Purdue, Bryce Steiert of UNI and Jordan Kutler of Lehigh. Labriola is tough, and against an unranked Jared Krattiger, he could light up the scoreboard. 

The 197-pound weight class is another weak spot for the Badgers and one where Nebraska will be looking to put up big team points. Junior No. 14 Eric Schultz is projected to take the mat for the Cornhuskers on Sunday, and he could face one of the two starter options that Wisconsin has used through the season, Taylor Watkins or Peter Christensen. Watkins, a senior, is 5-11 and recently took an overtime loss to Minnesota’s Hunter Ritter while Christensen is 8-7 with five falls. Regardless of who Wisconsin sends out to battle with Schultz, however, Nebraska will have the advantage. Schultz is 13-2 with ranked wins over Greg Bulsak of Clarion, Jordan Pagano of Rutgers and Jacob Seely of Northern Colorado. A win against Wisconsin wouldn’t necessarily move Schultz up in the rankings but a win would prevent him from dropping and could also give his team some insurance points in the dual against the Badgers. 

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Just like 197 pounds, 157 pounds is another weight where Nebraska will send out a ranked wrestler, and Wisconsin will send out one of two unranked athletes. Nebraska’s No. 11 Peyton Robb is likely to compete for the Cornhuskers, while fans could see either freshman Drew Scharenbrock or sophomore Garrett Model for the Badgers. Scharenbrock has the record advantage of 11-4 versus Model’s 7-9, and Scharenbrock also did pick up a win against Minnesota on Friday night. A win for either Badger would send them up in the rankings, but Robb is expected to keep scoring and exert his strength over his unranked opponent. 

Wisconsin has the only ranked wrestler at 125 pounds, so the pressure will be on Eric Barnett to start things off on a positive note for Wisconsin. Barnett took a loss to No. 15, Patrick McKee on Friday night, but if he can rebound and win, he could be a key part of Wisconsin’s attempt to knock off the Cornhuskers. 

165 pounds is a battle of All-Americans

Wisconsin and Nebraska will have ranked battles at 141 pounds, 149 pounds, 165 pounds 184 pounds and heavyweight, but the match of the night will come at 165 pounds when No. 3 Isaiah White of Nebraska battles No. 5 Evan Wick of Wisconsin. White is currently undefeated on the year at 12-0 and holds a Cliff Keen title to his name, while Wick is 16-2 with his only losses coming against David McFadden and Alex Marinelli. The two athletes have combined for third, fourth and fifth-place finishes at the NCAA tournament, the first of those two belonging to Wick. The Badger junior also holds the head-to-head advantage, having beaten White four of the five times these athletes have competed against each other. 

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The most recent battle of these two All-Americans came at the 2019 NCAA tournament where Wick prevailed 4-3. Wick also won during their Big Ten tournament meet-up last year by tiebreaker and in 2018 by a 3-1 decision. Last year’s Wisconsin-Nebraska dual resulted in a bigger gap win for Wick, though he still only managed a decision, pulling out the victory 12-5. White’s only win against the Badger came in the 2018 Wisconsin-Nebraska dual 6-3. If these scores suggest anything, it’s that this dual will be close, it will be intense, and Wisconsin will be counting on Wick to find a way to win and keep the team alive in this intense Big Ten battle.  

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