After dominating No. 20 Purdue on the road, the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes will head back to Columbus and welcome another top-10 Big Ten rival to St. John Arena: the No. 7 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska enters the dual off last week's upset win over then-No. 7 Minnesota, and the Cornhuskers face a competitive Buckeye team chasing another conference dual meet win. For Nebraska, a win against Ohio State would solidify its momentum heading into the post-season and give the team a nice rankings boost. A loss for Nebraska would move the Cornhuskers to 11-5 on the year and likely not play too big of a role in next week's rankings.
For the Buckeyes, however, a win is critical. They need this win to continue team momentum, they need this win for added confidence, and they need this win for Big Ten standings. In their recent dual against Purdue, the Buckeyes allowed the Boilermakers to score just four team points, but a win against another top-10 team would bring back even more swagger to the Ohio State wrestling room.
Just last week, the Buckeyes suffered a crushing loss to No. 1 Penn State 28-9, giving up two favored weight classes and losing valuable bonus points in five matchups. Tom Ryan's squad rebounded well with its recent team victory, but this next match is crucial. There’s no reason why the Buckeyes shouldn’t pull out the win, but they can’t lose favored weight classes like they did against Penn State. Ohio State must have all athletes wrestle to seed. On paper, if everything falls as expected with no bonus points, the Buckeyes walk away with an 18-12 win. But wrestling fans don’t watch the sport for expected outcomes. They watch for the upsets, for the falls and for the emotion. This match favors the Buckeyes, but advantages don’t mean much in late season Big Ten duals. This one could be battle, and these are the three matchups to watch:
157: No. 6 Ke-Shawn Hayes vs. No. 2 Tyler Berger
By the time Ke-Shawn Hayes reaches the Big Ten tournament, he will have experienced wrestling all five of the athletes ranked above him in the national rankings, as this match against Berger will be his second contest against the No. 2 Cornhuskers and his sixth against a top-5 opponent.
Hayes’ six losses all come from ranked opponents with five of then coming against the previously mentioned top-5 opponents. Berger, on the other hand, holds a 20-2 record. Berger and Hayes both suffered losses to Penn State’s No. 1 Jason Nolf, and Berger’s second loss came against Purdue’s No. 11 Griffin Parriott at the Cliff Keen Invitational in sudden victory. Hayes’ most recent win came against the same opponent, Parriott, in Ohio State’s dual against the Boilermakers, and Hayes topped the Purdue senior 5-1 to end his two-match losing streak. The two athletes have only faced each other head-to-head one time, and Berger took the win 6-3 at the Cliff Keen Invitational. The Nebraska senior has the edge in this dual as well, but don’t count out Hayes.
184: No. 1 Myles Martin vs. No. 6 Taylor Venz
Myles Martin has been Mr. Win for the Buckeyes all season, cruising into this dual against No. 6 Taylor Venz with an undefeated 15-0 record and ranked victories over No. 7 Emery Parker, No. 15 Cameron Caffey, No. 5 Nick Reenan, No. 13 Max Dean, No. 12 Louie DePrez, and No. 6 Taylor Venz himself. He took down Venz 11-5 on his way to winning the 2018 Cliff Keen Invitational title, and he looks to be on a path toward another NCAA final if he maintains his dominance. He’s been the experienced leader Ohio State has needed this season, and he’ll enter this match looking to add another note on his senior year wrestling resume.
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Venz, for his part, is certainly capable of taking down the 2016 NCAA Champion, but his quest won’t be easy. The Nebraska sophomore holds a 17-4 record, with a notable recent loss to No. 11 Cash Wilcke of Iowa in the Cornhuskers’ dual with the Hawkeyes on Feb. 3. He also dropped matches against Reenan and North Carolina’s No. 14 Chip Ness after losing 11-5 in his match against Martin in November. However, the Cornhusker also recorded statement wins against Parker, No. 9 Drew Foster and No. 10 Bonaccorsi.
Venz is one of just three wrestlers all year to hold Martin to a decision, but holding his opponent to just three team points this time won’t be enough to help Nebraska earn the upset win. He needs a win in this match for a Cornhusker dual win, and his unbeaten opponent hasn’t given up a loss all season. Watch for Martin to take control of this match, but expect Venz to fight, and fight hard, for every point to avoid becoming one of the 12 wrestlers that Martin has majored, teched or pinned.
197: No. 2 Kollin Moore vs. No. 13 Eric Schultz
Ranked No. 2 in the country, Kollin Moore will be a title contender in his weight class, and, despite being pinned by No. 1 Bo Nickal last week, the Ohio State senior captain is still expected to make an NCAA finals run and fight for a spot on top of the podium. Moore came off his loss against Nickal, his only "L" of the season, and put up a forceful 12-5 win over No. 11 Christian Brunner. The win sent a message to the Big Ten that Moore could handle top-ranked opponents comfortably, and he wouldn't let the loss to Nickal faze him. Nebraska's No. 13 Schultz will be Moore's next test, but he's already beaten the Cornhusker three times in the last two seasons, each in decision fashion, and he'll look to extend that record on Sunday. His most recent win against Schultz came back in late November during the Cliff Keen Invitational, a tournament that Moore, like his teammate Martin, ended up winning.
Schultz is 18-7 on the year, with four of those losses coming against ranked opponents and two of them coming against the top two guys in the weight class, Nickal and Moore. Ohio State's 184-197 pound combo is one of the best in the country, and Nebraska faces a fun challenge with the Martin-Moore duo on Sunday.
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