Another weekend, another top-10 Big Ten dual with rankings implications at both the team and individual level.
On Friday night, the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers will welcome No. 4 Ohio State to The Field House in Madison, a venue that, just five days ago, echoed of enthusiasm and excitement as the Badgers outscored then-No. 2 Nebraska 25-18. Wisconsin is undefeated in this venue this year, but the Buckeyes haven't lost a road dual all year.
Both teams will be looking to continue to add wins to their schedule after each taking an upset loss earlier in the year with Wisconsin falling to Minnesota last weekend and Ohio State dropping to Virginia Tech near the start of the season. Each team rebounded well with wins against then-No. 2 Nebraska for Wisconsin and then-No. 4 Arizona State for Ohio State, respectively giving these groups some momentum and setting up a wild dual with an unpredictable finish.
BIG TEN WRESTLING: Here's what we learned from last week's action
The Buckeyes have six ranked starters, including No. 1 Luke Pletcher and No. 1 Kollin Moore at 141 and 197 pounds respectively. Ohio State is one of just three teams in the country with two No. 1 ranked wrestlers, but Wisconsin has a No. 1 ranked wrestler of their own in 133 pounder Seth Gross. The Badgers bring six additional ranked guys to the mat, including No. 7 Tristan Moran, whose only two losses this year have been against Josh Heil and Max Murin.
The dual will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network at 9 p.m. ET. Here's what you need to know about the dual and why you won't want to miss this Badger vs. Buckeye showdown.
The matchup of the dual is at 141 pounds
Tristan Moran had one of the best weekends in college wrestling last weekend, beating No. 3 Mitch McKee of Minnesota 7-6 and No. 9 Chad Red 9-4. His next test, however, will be none other than No. 1 Luke Pletcher, a man who is beating ranked opponents by an average of 7.75 points and is 16-0 on the year. Pletcher and Moran have never in met in college, setting up an electric first dual this weekend.
Tristan Moran of @BadgerWrestling earns #B1G Wrestler of the Week honors after earning a pair of ranked victories, including a win over a top-3 opponent, in Wisconsin’s duals against Minnesota and Nebraska. #B1GWrestle— Big Ten Wrestling (@B1GWrestling) January 14, 2020
FOR MORE: https://t.co/trTGctcW4t pic.twitter.com/3rBRzSN4Bl
If the dual starts at 125 pounds, as it did the last time the Badgers wrestled at home, Moran will follow No. 1 Seth Gross, who is expected to start against Ohio State true freshman No. 16 Jordan Decatur. Kyle Burwich and Dom Denito are also listed as expected starters for the Badgers at this weight, but if Gross starts and earns another bonus point ranked win against Decatur, he could give Moran all the adrenaline he needs to put up a fight against Pletcher.
The Ohio State two-time All-American Pletcher, however, has a Big Ten wrestling resume full of accolades and has shown no signs up slowing down since he moved up to 141 pounds this year. So far, the Buckeye captain has beaten the No. 3, No. 4, No. 9, No. 10 and the No. 15 guy in the country and has a bonus point percentage of 62.50. Moran is on a roll, but Pletcher is solid, tough, strong and unbeaten so far this year.
The dual could come down to Thor vs. Gas Tank Gary
Props to these college teams for their heavyweight nicknames. Wisconsin All-American heavyweight Trent "Thor" Hillger is 15-3 on the year with his only losses coming against No. 1 Gable Steveson, No. 2 Tony Cassioppi and No. 4 Matt Stencel, all by decision. His projected opponent, Gary "Gas Tank" Traub is the latest phenomenon to hit Columbus, Ohio, as the redshirt junior has surged on to the scene and made a statement with his 16-2 record so far this year.
Traub sat behind three-time NCAA champion and 2016 Olympic champion Kyle Snyder in 2017 and 2018 and then served as the backup for NCAA qualifier Chase Singletary in 2019. With Snyder graduated and Singletary out with an injury, Traub has made the most of his opportunity be to a starter for the Buckeyes. He's a fan favorite, and the man to watch when the Buckeyes wrestle at home behind their loyal fanbase. Traub's biggest win so far has come against Brendan Furman of Cornell, but the heavyweight is just getting started.
Again, if the dual starts at 125 pounds with No. 17 Eric Barnett and Malik Heinselman, expect the crowd to be ready for the big guys at the end as the outcome of the event could be riding on this final contest. Traub will lose some of his Covelli Center advantage given that he's wrestling in Badger Territory, but the confidence and recent scholarship that Traub earned for his efforts have to help his mental game heading into one of the biggest matches of the season for the up-and-coming star. Hillger and Traub have faced off once before in college, with Hillger taking the 5-0 win at Midlands last year, and Hillger has become a Wisconsin favorite as well. An eighth-place finisher in last year's NCAA tournament, Hillger is a finalist contender this year, and if he can stop Gas Tank Gary as the Wisconsin faithful will expect him to do, he could be the hero and the guy to help lift the Badgers past the Buckeyes.
More lineup questions
Despite a group of consistent performers who have first-place aspirations this year, both Ohio State and Wisconsin still have lineup questions remaining.
Ohio State made the move to pull 133-pounder No. 16 Jordan Decatur out of redshirt for the Arizona State dual, and the decision paid off as the Buckeyes snuck past the Sun Devils 17-16 behind thrilling performances from Decatur, Pletcher, Sammy Sasso, Kaleb Romero and Kollin Moore. Traub and 184-pounder Gavin Hoffman also held on and ensured that they didn't give up too many points in their battles against No. 6 Tanner Hall and No. 1 Zahid Valencia to avoid giving up the team win. Decatur replaced Quinn Kinner at 133, who is listed as a projected starter at 157 pounds for the Buckeyes, suggesting that 133 pounds may have been too much of a weight cut for the young highly-touted wrestler. Kinner and Elijah Cleary are the two projected starters at 157 pounds, while Dylan Koontz is also listed as a 133-pound projected starter for the Buckeyes in this dual.
FRESHMAN TO WATCH: These are the nine best freshmen in college wrestling right now
Wisconsin is still figuring out its lineup as well at 197 pounds as both Peter Christensen and Taylor Watkins are listed as options. The team has had just one win in a dual at this weight all season, and Friday's dual against Ohio State will be the most difficult time in which to earn that second win against No. 1 Kollin Moore.
As previously mentioned, the Badgers also have three projected starters at 133 pounds, but Seth Gross is expected to be the guy in the postseason if not for most of the dual season. Gross has already qualified at 57kg for the Olympic Trials but will also be chasing another NCAA title this year. Wisconsin also has options at 157 pounds, where the coaching staff could send out Garrett Model or Drew Scharenbrock. Neither team has a ranked wrestler at 157 pounds, but Scharenbrock was the starter for both duals last weekend, going 1-1. This dual may not be the dual to play lineup games as both teams will be aiming to add a key ranked win to their schedule, but the high-level contest will be another opportunity to see where ranked or almost ranked wrestlers are at and what adjustments need to be made before the remaining slate of conference duals.