For the first time as the top-ranked team in the country this season, the Iowa Hawkeyes will welcome a top-10 Big Ten foe into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and look to keep their undefeated record alive. Iowa has not lost a Big Ten opener since the 1997-98 season, and if this streak continues, head coach Tom Brands will pick up his 100th Big Ten career win when the No. 1 Hawkeyes take on the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers at 8 p.m. on Sunday night.
Following the dual, the Big Ten Network will air a documentary celebrating the life of Wisconsin wrestler Eli Stickley who passed away last year in a car accident.
Wisconsin comes into the dual with a 5-0 record and a lineup that includes five ranked wrestlers, with three of those five guys ranked in the top three. Head coach Chris Bono’s squad has been on a roll this year, picking up wins against Fresno State, Army, Navy, Buffalo, Edinboro and Utah Valley, but Iowa will be a new kind of test.
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The Hawkeyes are favored in eight of the 10 matches, and the two weights where Wisconsin has the upper hand on paper, Iowa also has a ranked wrestler who will be looking for the upset win. This dual could be a shutout win for Iowa, a nail-bitter for the Hawkeyes, an upset win for Wisconsin or anything in between.
FloWrestling and the Big Ten Network will broadcast all of the action, and here are the three duals that you should pay special attention to when these two teams do battle in Iowa City.
133 pounds: No. 1 Seth Gross vs. No. 2 Austin DeSanto
Last year’s NCAA tournament fifth place finisher Austin DeSanto of Iowa has wrestled just as many matches this season at 141 pounds as he has at 133 pounds, but after earning a major decision against Iowa State’s Todd Small last weekend at 133, DeSanto is expected to stay down at the lighter weight for the Wisconsin. His next opponent, 2018 NCAA champion Seth Gross, is a sixth-year senior transfer from South Dakota State who has the No. 1 spot in the weight this year with a 6-0 record and is looking for another title and possibly a Hodge Trophy in his final season.
Gross has also already locked up his ticket to the Olympic Trials with a win at the Bill Ferrell Memorial Open earlier this month where he beat NCAA champions Nick Suriano, Nathan Tomasello and Darian Cruz on his way to the tournament title. The weekend after the Ferrell, Gross was back to full strength at 133 and majored No. 9 Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley for another bonus win. DeSanto will be Gross’ biggest folkstyle test so far this year and vice versa. Gross will be favored in the matchup given his dominance so far this year and his previous NCAA title, but regardless of the outcome, the winner will take over the top spot in the weight class before the two athletes could potentially meet again at Midlands in late December.
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DeSanto’s drop back down to 133 pounds leaves 141 open for Carter Happel or Max Murin, and Hawkeye starter will likely take on Wisconsin’s No. 10 Tristan Moran at this weight. Murin has No. 9 rank in the Intermat right now, but the sophomore has wrestled just one match this year and has medical forfeited twice. Murin beat Moran 3-2 in the NCAA tournament last year, but head coach Tom Brands has options at this weight and may not need to start Murin at this point in the year. If Murin sits, Wisconsin will be favored in the dual, given that Happel is unranked at this weight, but the junior Hawkeye is still 4-1 with his only loss coming against No. 13 Ian Parker and would give his team major momentum if he pulled off an upset. Moran is undefeated at 141 pounds with his best win coming against Corey Shie of Army at the Battle of the Midway, so he could be a threat to put up bonus points, depending on which wrestler Iowa has facing the ranked Badger.
165 pounds: No. 3 Evan Wick vs. No. 2 Alex Marinelli
The Alex Marinelli-Evan Wick rivalry has been a fun one to follow, and on Sunday, the juniors, both two-time All-Americans will meet for the fifth time in less than two years. Wick finished higher than Marinelli in both the 2018 and the 2019 NCAA tournaments, but the Hawkeye has a 3-1 advantage over Wisconsin’s Wick and won the matchup in last year’s dual 6-4. Both wrestlers come into the match undefeated, with Marinelli holding a 2-0 record and Wick boasting a 6-0 resume so far this season. Wick has a top-ten win against Cael McCormick of Army and though Marinelli doesn’t have a ranked win yet, he did earn a solid 13-7 win over NCAA qualifier Chase Straw in last weekend’s bout against Iowa State. Head coach Tom Brands warns that his consistent starter is just getting started.
"We haven't even seen Alex Marinelli come close to what he can do," Brands said in an Iowa press release about the dual. "This is a big match and he probably had it highlighted on his calendar. I think you will see him show up."
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Look for this matchup to showcase elite level wrestling with the winner securing the No. 2 spot, second only to two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph of Penn State.
285 pounds: No. 2 Trent Hillger vs. No. 12 Anthony Cassiopi
Heavyweight Trent Hillger is also having quite the year after upsetting the then-No. 3 ranked wrestler in his weight class against Utah Valley and earning himself the new No. 2 spot in the country. An All-American as a freshman, Hillger is developing into an even bigger threat and could put up some major team points if he can pull off bonus points against Iowa’s freshman heavyweight star Anthony Cassiopi. The Hawkeye, however, is also undefeated on the year and looking for a bonus win himself. Cassiopi pinned Grayson Walthall of UT-Chattanooga and battled tough for the decision against Iowa State’s No. 16 Gannon Gremmel. Though it’s unlikely that this dual will come down to bonus points, expect these two young grapplers to put on a show. Only one will leave undefeated, and a win for Cassiopi throw the heavyweight rankings on its head next week. A win for Hillger will further prove that he’s worthy of the number two spot, but regardless, these guys will be fun to watch on Sunday and for the remainder of the season.