Ask five coaches about the current format of what originated as the National Duals and you will get five different opinions. This Sunday, Oklahoma State and Penn State face off in a No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup to determine the best dual team for the 2016-17 season. The National Wrestling Coaches Association has experimented with a number of formats, including one site with Divisions I, II, and III all competing and an eight-region format with eight different sites and a basketball-type “Final Four” a week later.
A year ago, eight Big Ten schools hosted, with the Nittany Lions beating Oklahoma State in State College in what was called the Bowl Dual Series. The Big Ten schools are the visitors this weekend, prompting a coach or two to ask, “What if the top two teams both represent the Big Ten? Would we not have a 1 versus 2 final to determine who is the best dual team?”
Many have weighed in all week on a topic that has been discussed ad nauseam. The bottom line? How, without a bracketed tournament format, can you determine a season dual champion?
“If something would have happened and we would have lost a dual meet, I’m not sure we would have been in the championship,” said Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, who won a close match at Missouri and knew about Sunday’s dual with his team still having four duals to wrestle. “I’m not sure what would have happened.”
Iowa, ranked third or fourth in most polls, travels to No. 24 Edinboro, while top 10 teams Ohio State and Cornell meet, along with Virginia Tech and Nebraska. For the better part of the last decade, some factions of coaches want to add a dual component to the annual NCAA Championships in March. Since 1928, the NCAA tournament has included individual brackets for each weight class with points scored for each individual match victory. Finding the right formula for the National Duals has been difficult.
“Last year it was a mess,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “I didn’t want to do it. But we had teams come to us, so I couldn’t not do it. I had to be a good sport. We’ve got to travel this year, so that’s why we’re doing it. I can be a good concept, but it needs to be where it’s, just worry about why dual meets are important on your camps and build your team to win in an exciting fashion.
“I think we need to focus on things that matter to wrestling. I think that the National Duals are not what’s wrong with wrestling. We need to focus on rules that are simple, that reward exciting, aggressive wrestling.”
“I think we’re laying some ground work with these types of meets,” Smith said. “Maybe we turn the NCAA Championships into a dual meet championship. People like dual meets, not that they don’t like tournaments, but dual meets are exciting. I think we continue to focus and make them important because in the future it might be the NCAA championship.”
Over the last decade, Oklahoma State, Penn State and Iowa have all been absent at different times for various reasons from the National Duals. Missouri and Illinois, both among the top 10 in the latest NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll, are not participating this weekend.
“I think having a legit one and two helps the series and the whole concept,” PSU coach Cael Sanderson said. “The concern is we had a two-year plan and this is a trial to stop the never-ending push to change our national championship in March. This is just going to help their cause and they’re probably going to double down as the teams aren’t participating.
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“It’s teams on both sides, it’s teams that want a National Duals and teams that don’t want a National Duals that aren’t following through. And the NWCA has to hold people accountable. They can’t say, ‘Well this doesn’t work, now we have to go to a National Duals format and we have to give it to the NCAA.' That’s the frustration and the concern that we’ve been combating for 10 years now.”
NCAA wrestling’s biggest event draws almost 100,000 annually over a three day, 10-bracket tournament. One coach argued this week, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Stay tuned. The debate will not end anytime soon.
Regardless of the format
The Oklahoma State-Penn State dual has been in the making since the season began. The unbeaten Cowboys host an unbeaten Penn State squad that has rolled through a tougher schedule that includes Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Illinois. OSU beat Iowa and Cornell at home and got by Missouri in Columbia. Sunday’s 4 p.m. ET dual inside Gallagher-Iba Arena has a chance to be a classic.
Here is a brief look at each matchup:
125 – Two rookies will go at it, as PSU’s Nick Suriano (16-1), who lost a narrow decision to Iowa’s Thomas Gilman, faces OSU’s Nick Piccininni (18-6), a native of New York. Suriano is from New Jersey, so right out of the gate there could be bad blood.
133 – Cowboy redshirt freshman Kaid Brock (22-1) has been dominant against most opponents. He is ranked among the top five. Nittany Lion sophomore George Carpenter (1-11) or freshman Triston Law (0-2) will try and avoid giving up at least a major decision.
141 – National champion Dean Heil (23-0) has won 55 of his last 56 matches. The junior meets a familiar foe in Jimmy Gulibon, a senior who is 13-6. One flurry or one scramble could determine the winner, areas Heil excels at.
149 – PSU’s Zain Retherford (18-0), the NCAA champion in 2016, has won 53 straight matches, most in dominating fashion. OSU senior Anthony Collica (17-1) beat Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen earlier this season and is ranked second in most services. This is a must-see match.
157 – Jason Nolf (18-0) is a sophomore who wrestles like a fifth-year senior. He lost in the NCAA finals a year ago, a year in which he beat OSU’s Joe Smith twice. Smith (8-3) has been out most of the season but wrestled last Sunday. If the Cowboys have a chance they may need the coach's son to pull off the upset here.
165 – When OSU’s Chandler Rogers (17-4) wrestles, people watch. The sophomore can score points in bunches. PSU rookie Vincenzo Joseph (13-3) is a rising star. Rankings give Joseph the edge. This one could be fun.
174 – The news of January was Mark Hall pulling the redshirt. The PSU freshman lost his first varsity at match (at Iowa) and is 23-2, one of those wins over OSU All-American Kyle Crutchmer, who has some strange performances during his 15-4 campaign as a senior. Crutchmer likes the spotlight and big matches are nothing new to Hall, a Junior World champion in freestyle. Again, a must-see match.
184 – PSU’s Bo Nickal, still just a sophomore, is 17-0 and as electric as any wrestler in 2016-17. He squares off with Nolan Boyd, an underrated senior who is 18-3 with two losses to top-ranked Gabe Dean of Cornell. The 10,000-plus in attendance will fully be on Boyd’s side.
197 – PSU’s Matt McCutcheon (14-3) and OSU’s Preston Weigel (15-4). Neither is an offensive highlight reel, but at this point in the dual, a 2-1 victory by either could prove very large. Often in duals of this magnitude, it is not the big guns who determine the outcome. Two wrestlers ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, might determine this one.
285 – OSU senior Austin Schafer (18-1) is listed for OSU along with 197-pounder Derek White and Tanner Allen (8-6). Injured since a January match at Iowa State, Schafer has not been on the mat. PSU’s Nick Nevills (15-2) will be tough to beat, regardless of who steps on the stage.
“It’s the best thing that could happen for our sport,” said Crutchmer, who missed last season’s meet at State College due to injury. “There will be a lot of viewers, even people who don’t watch wrestling or might not know much about it. This will be a good one to watch.
“There’s a lot of good guys on each team and a lot of really good matchups. Two of the best coaches, if not the best coaches in the country will be coaching, so it’s just going to be a good time.”
Taylor continues to climb
Rider beat Drexel 18-16 last Saturday. It pushed the Broncs to 11-1 for the season, but more importantly gave RU head coach Gary Taylor his 440th dual victory to tie former Minnesota boss J Robinson for third all-time among Division I coaches. Rider faces Princeton on Thursday. Taylor’s squad has two — Chad Walsh (157) and Evan Fidelibus (141) — among the top 10 in pins in the latest NCAA Award Standings. Walsh is tied for second with 12 pins, while Fidelibus is 10th with nine.