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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | February 7, 2019

No. 7 Minnesota vs. No. 9 Nebraska wrestling: 3 matches to watch

Will a freshman dominate the mat in the 285 lb weight class this year?

Freshman heavyweight phenom Gable Steveson has dominated the conversation around Minnesota wrestling this season, but the Gophers are more than their young star. On Friday night at 8 p.m. ET, No. 7 Minnesota will take on No. 9 Nebraska in a second Top-10 Big Ten dual of the night, with No. 1 Penn State-No. 6 Ohio State the other.

BIG TEN RIVALRY PREVIEW:    3 matches to watch in the Penn State vs. Ohio State dual

The Gophers have ranked wrestlers at all but three weight classes (165, 184 and 197), and Nebraska is in a similar position with unranked wrestlers at two weight classes (133 and 149). This unusual ranked-unranked pairing will lead to just five matches, despite the 15 ranked wrestlers likely to check in on Friday. Here’s what you need to know about the Gophers-Cornhuskers battle on Friday night — and the three matches you won’t want to miss.

Minnesota-Nebraska wrestling preview

157: No. 8 Steve Bleise vs. No. 2 Tyler Berger

For Nebraska's No. 2 Tyler Berger, Friday's match against No. 8 Steve Bleise is just another top-ranked opponent on a long list of Top-10 athletes he's faced this year. The match matters for team points, and the bout will also be a chance to both athletes to test themselves against top-10 competition, but Berger's seen this kind of talented competition already this season. The Cornhusker has previously taken down No. 4 Hayden Hidlay and No. 2 Ryan Deakin this year, and he also recently beat No. 7 Kaleb Young in the Iowa-Nebraska dual last weekend. Chasing a third consecutive All-American honor in his final season, Berger enters the match with a 19-2 overall record with a 13-1 dual meet record, winning eight of his fourteen duals in bonus points. If he can deliver a similar result against No. 8 Bleise, he could give Nebraska valuable team points in a dual that might come down to just one or two matches. 

THE 157-POUNDER LEADERS: Here's how Berger stacks up against No. 1 Jason Nolf and No. 4 Hayden Hidlay

Bleise, on the other hand, has not yet earned All-American status, finishing in the round of 12 in 2017, but the three-time NCAA qualifier is on his way to making a run for such an honor. He started the year 8-0 and has since only lost three matches total this season, all against ranked opponents. Bleise enters the dual against Berger riding a two-match winning streak against Big Ten opponents Garrett Model and No. 13 Griffin Parriott. He will need a top performance to take down the veteran Cornhusker on Friday, and a win would elevate him significantly in the national rankings. Though he faces an uphill battle against Berger, Bleise could face the Nebraska senior again in the Big Ten tournament, making this match a valuable trial run for the Gopher.

174: No. 12 Devin Skatzka vs. No. 9 Mikey Labriola 

Mikey Labriola, the No. 9 Nebraska redshirt freshman, has made a statement during his first year as a starter, holding an 18-4 overall record with a 11-3 dual meet record. He won the Daktronics Open, earning bonus points in three of his four wins at that tournament, and he also finished fourth at Cliff Keen, after losing to Michigan’s Myles Amine in the quarterfinals. Labriola's performances have earned a Top-10 ranking, but this position could be in jeopardy on Friday night when he faces the No. 12 Devin Skatzka, a Minnesota redshirt junior who transferred from Indiana at the end of last season. Skatzka qualified for the national tournament twice in as many years while representing the Hoosiers, and he’ll hope to carry that streak, and compete for an All-American title, this year.  

Skatzka holds a 20-6 record with one of those losses coming against Labriola at the Daktronics Open. His additional five losses have all come against athletes ranked No. 11 or higher. Skatzka's experience wrestling high-quality opponents in the Big Ten make him a threat to Labriola, creating added excitement for this Top-15 matchup. Expect both of these athletes to come to the mat with intensity, fighting for a Top-10 spot in the individual rankings at 174 pounds. 

WRESTLERS TO WATCH: 5 wrestlers we underestimated this college wrestling season

285: No. 1 Gable Steveson vs. No. 10 David Jensen 

Enter the aforementioned Steveson, a 24-0 true freshman who has rolled his way to the top of the national ranking, taking down multiple top-ranked opponents along the way, including No. 8 Trent Hillger, No. 5 Jordan Wood and No. 2 Derek White. He’ll face another test on Friday against No. 10 David Jensen, a junior Cornhusker who recently took down All-American No. 3 Sam Stoll in Nebraska’s dual with Iowa. Jensen has had one of his strongest seasons thus far with a 14-2 record, after going 10-11 last year and 20-8 the year before. His only two losses on the year have come against Penn State’s No. 3 Anthony Cassar and Maryland’s No. 9 Youssif Hemida. Steveson has not faced Cassar yet, and he’ll face Hemida on Sunday, but his resume so far this year suggests he should be able to handle both Top-10 athletes.

Jennings hasn’t faced as many ranked opponents as Steveson. His only ranked win came against No. 16 Conan Jennings, but he has won his last three Big Ten duals including his 3-0 victory last weekend in Nebraska’s dual against Iowa. Jensen will have a challenge to defeat Steveson, but he’s proved his ability against ranked wrestlers with his win against Stoll. Look for Jensen to battle and attempt to hold his top-ranked opponent to just a decision.

NCAA TOURNAMENT INFO: How the NCAA wrestling tournament works

 

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