The No. 1 Nittany Lions are a team worth watching every time they take the mat, and this Friday's dual against No. 10 Arizona State will be of particular interest for fans anxious to see the defending champs take on a ranked opponent.
Penn State has never wrestled the Sun Devils in Arizona, but the two teams have seen each other eight previous times, with six of those meet-ups coming at the National Duals. Arizona State has a 4-4 record against the Nittany Lions and will be aiming to break Penn State's 60-match winning streak to earn a fifth program win over a team that has won eight of the last nine NCAA titles.
Penn State brings eight ranked wrestlers into the dual including three No. 1 ranked guys in 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph, 174-pounder Mark Hall and 285-pounder Anthony Cassar, as well as No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young and No. 3 Nick Lee at 133 and 141 pounds.
No. 2 Shakur Rasheed is also listed as a projected starter at 184 pounds, though he has not wrestled yet this year after tearing his ACL last season, and No. 5 Brady Berge has not returned to folkstyle yet this year after a concussion in the U23 World Championships earlier this fall. 197-pounder Kyle Conel rounds out the ranked wrestlers at No. 7.
Arizona State will field ranked athletes at 125 pounds, 133 pounds, 165 pounds, 174 pounds, 184 pounds, and 285 pounds, setting up ranked potential duals at 133, 165, 174, 184 and 285.
The dual will be on the Pac-12 Network Arizona and can be streamed at 9 p.m. ET on Pac12.com. Here's what you need to know about the teams heading into Friday's top-ten matchup.
Arizona State is far more threatening than last year's squad
The Sun Devils earned a 6-10 dual-meet record in 2018-2019 and finished 12th in last year's NCAA tournament, but Zeke Jones has assembled a different kind of team this year. Arizona State comes into this rematch with a 4-0 record including wins over Purdue, Virginia, Augustana and McKendree, and the Sun Devils lineup includes six ranked wrestlers with three of those six in the Top 5.
Leading the way for Arizona State is two-time NCAA champion Zahid Valencia up at 184 pounds where he is 7-0 on the year with four falls. No. 5 Tanner Hall and No. 5 Josh Shields at 285 and 165 pounds round out the highest-ranked guys for the Sun Devils.
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The only athlete to record a win in last year's dual against Penn State was 125-pounder Brandon Courtney, a returner who now sits at No. 19 in the rankings and could either face Devin Schnupp again or take on 5-1 Brody Teske in this year's battle. Courtney will have the advantage again, but he won't be the only wrestler who could look to put up points this year.
Arizona State's Josh Maruca will take on either unranked Jarod Verkleeren or unranked Luke Gardner, who is 3-1 with his only loss coming to Verkleeren. Last year, Maruca lost to Brady Berge, who has since moved up to 157 but could sit out this dual after a concussion. If Berge wrestles, he'll be a competitive challenger against unranked Jacori Teemer or Dillon Ulrey from Arizona State, but if he doesn't wrestle, Penn State will put out Bo Pipher, who has proven to be tough at 157 but has taken two losses already this year.
Outside of 125, 149 and 157 if Berge doesn't wrestle, Penn State is loaded, but don't count out Arizona State's six ranked and four unranked wrestlers from trying to put some points on the board.
We should still expect a version of the Hall-Valencia rivalry
The Nittany Lions rolled past the Sun Devils last year 41-3 in Rec Hall, but the biggest takeaway from the dual was the success of Penn State's Mark Hall. He avenged his NCAA finals loss to Zahid Valencia in front of the Penn State faithful to earn and hold the No.1 ranking for the remainder of the year. Valencia reversed the outcome of that dual in the NCAA finals once again in 2019 but has since moved up to 184 pounds, leaving 174 open for Hall. The Hall-Valencia rivalry isn't over though. With Zahid up at 184, the Sun Devils have slotted in Zahid's brother, Anthony at 174, creating a new version of the Hall-Valencia battle.
Anthony Valencia holds a No. 8 ranking at 174, but he's never taken on Hall, or any Penn State wrestler for that matter, in his career. As a redshirt sophomore, he won the Pac-12 championship in 2018 and is expected to be a contender at 174. Yet Hall comes into the match with a statistical advantage. He won the NCAA championship in 2017 and has lost just five times in his entire career, though two of those losses have come against a wrestler with the last name Valencia. Though Anthony Valencia does not have an NCAA All-American honor to his name yet, his battle against Hall will be a good test to see where he stacks up against top-level talent.
Both 165 and 285 pounds feature a top-five matchup
Neither No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph nor No. 1 Anthony Cassar have been challenged in folkstyle yet this year, but both will face top-five guys in Josh Shields and Tanner Hall this Friday at 165 and 285 pounds. Vincenzo has wrestled Shields twice and beaten him both times, once by 11-2 in the dual last year and once in the NCAA tournament 3-2. Shields has a 6-1 record so far this year with a loss to Nebraska's Isaiah White, a tough opponent ranked No. 4 on the Intermat rankings. Joseph, on the other hand, is 1-0 after a solid tech fall against Navy. The two-time NCAA champion Joseph is fresh also off the Bill Ferrell International Memorial Open last weekend where he beat 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis, suggesting that Joseph is back and fully ready to chase his third individual national title. Shields will be another good test for Joseph, but the Penn State wrestler has the upper hand heading into the dual, based on history.
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Cassar also holds a 1-0 record, but unlike Joseph, he has not wrestled his top-five opponent yet in his college career. Hall redshirted last season during Cassar's dominant run to the heavyweight title, but now he'll have his chance against Penn State's latest national champion. The Arizona State senior All-American, however, has already taken a loss this year to U23 Junior World Team member Tate Orndorff. Cassar's only loss as a full-time heavyweight starter for the Nittany Lions came against Oklahoma State's Derek White, a loss that Cassar ultimately avenged in the 2019 NCAA finals. A dangerous bonus point machine for the Nittany Lions, Cassar's power and technique make him a threat to Hall.
With Joseph vs. Shields at 165 and Cassar vs. Hall at 285, not to mention the other potential four ranked matchups, Arizona State vs. Penn State will be the perfect top-ten matchup to kick off what is likely another wild weekend of college wrestling.