We talked about the intensity of Carver-Hawkeye Arena last weekend when the Hawkeyes welcomed No. 8 Nebraska into the Hawkeye Home, and this week, it's the Ohio State Buckeyes' turn to face the No. 1 team in the country in Iowa City.
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The Buckeyes have been on a hot streak in the last couple of weeks with big wins over Arizona State and Wisconsin, but this will be their biggest challenge. Armed with No. 1 Luke Pletcher and No. 1 Kollin Moore, head coach Tom Ryan's squad is ready to compete. But they'll face a team with just as many top-ranked wrestlers and three more athletes in the Top 20. Ohio State will take on Iowa on Friday at 9 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network. Here's what you need to know about each team and their potential lineup before another team aims to stop the rolling Hawkeyes.
125: No. 1 Spencer Lee vs. Malik Heinselmen
Spencer Lee is not a good matchup for Malik Heinselmen. He's not a good matchup for anyone, and he's certainly not a good matchup for the young Buckeye. The two-time Hawkeye NCAA champion has pinned or teched eight of his last nine opponents within the first four minutes of each match. How did the match go the last time Lee wrestled Heinselmen? He pinned him in the first period. If Lee and Heinselmen wrestle, expect this match to follow Lee's trend.
If Lee sits and the Hawkeyes wrestle backup Aaron Cashman, things could be a little closer. But Lee is listed as a probable for the Hawkeyes, and (if he goes) he'll likely put up at least four team points, if not more. Ohio State freshman Hunter Lucas is also listed as a probable starter for the Buckeyes. At 6-4, his record gives him a higher winning percentage that Heinselmen's 9-9 record, but Lee will work for a similar outcome regardless of who he faces. The question is whether or not the match lasts the entire three periods.
133: No. 2 Austin DeSanto vs. No. 18 Jordan Decatur
The 133-pound weight class poses a little bit more intrigue in this dual. Iowa's No. 2 Austin DeSanto has been a powerhouse competitor for the Hawkeyes this year. But he showed vulnerabilities against No. 13 Ridge Lovett last weekend in Carver, grinding out a tough 7-4 decision and walking off the mat with a look of frustration. His next opponent will be an interesting one, as Ohio State freshman Jordan Decatur will wrestle against the All-American in just his fourth dual meet.
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Decatur's last three bouts have all ended in losses, but all three came against top-ten opponents. Will this be the dual that Decatur finds another win? In the Covelli Center with everything going Decatur's way, he might have a shot. But in Carver, with the Iowa bench screaming for DeSanto, the odds are much lower. Ohio State will need an upset here and in several other weights to take down the Hawkeyes. Yet upsets are hard to come by against the No. 1 team in their home arena.
141: No. 9 Max Murin vs. No. 1 Luke Pletcher
If the dual starts at 125 pounds as the Iowa vs. Nebraska dual did, then 141 pounds will be Ohio State's first bout where the Buckeyes have the seeding advantage. No. 1 Luke Pletcher has been on fire this year, bonusing over 60 percent of his opponents this year and scoring at least 10 points against his competitors in his last seven duals. He most recently beat Tristan Moran, a top-ten Big Ten opponent who brought momentum to the Field House and found it halted by the fast and furious two-time All-American.
Pletcher will face another top-10 opponent in Iowa's Max Murin, a sophomore who has had a strong year for the Hawkeyes at 10-1. Murin won Midlands with wins over Dylan Duncan, Shakur Laney, Josh Heil and Doug Zapf. But his loss against Chad Red of Nebraska ruined his undefeated season. Now Pletcher will invade Murin's home turf and aim to a "2" to Murin's loss column. There is no doubt that the Hawkeye will have the crowd behind him. But if Pletcher pick up a win, and perhaps even bonus points, he'll make a big difference in the team score for Ohio State.
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149: No. 1 Pat Lugo vs. No. 6 Sammy Sasso
Pat Lugo vs. Sammy Sasso. If this match-up was set to occur at the beginning of the season, after Sasso's run through the Michigan State Open and Lugo's decisions against Chattanooga, Iowa State and Princeton, few might have predicted that Lugo would be ranked six spots above the Ohio State standout freshman.
Since November, Lugo earned his No. 1 spot in the country when he beat last year's third-place finisher Austin O'Connor at Midlands on his way to a title. Sasso took two losses to Brent Moore and Brayton Lee, but he'll face his toughest competitor since those losses in fiery Pat Lugo.
These two athletes have only faced each other once before in college, with Sasso earning the sudden victory win at Midlands. But this set up could be much different. Lugo will run out to the center of the mat behind the flames and fans in Carver-Hawkeye as the No. 1 seed in the United States at 149 pounds. He's the man until proven otherwise, and he's going to do everything he can to make sure Sasso isn't the one to prove that Lugo doesn't deserve the top spot. This could be the match of the dual, as these two stars battle for the No. 1 ranking.
157: No. 6 Kaleb Young vs. Elijah Cleary
The 157-pound matchup is the weight outside of 125 pounds that presents the most problems for the Buckeyes. Kaleb Young is beatable, as he's lost to Quincy Monday of Purdue and David Carr of Iowa State. But against unranked Elijah Clearly, Young should be able to put up bonus points and excite the Iowa bench.
Young has bonused just 16 percent of his opponents so far this year, but he's riding an eight-match win streak that includes big wins over Peyton Robb of Nebraska and two ranked victories over the dangerous freshman Kendall Coleman of Purdue. A Midlands title and a 2019 All-American honor also sit on Young's resume, and he's growing more dangerous by the day.
Cleary is having a solid season as a starter for the Buckeyes, holding a 13-7 record in a competitive Big Ten and non-conference schedule. He most recently picked up a big win against NCAA qualifier Eric Barone and a 7-3 win against Wisconsin starter Drew Scharenbrock. Cleary could very well qualify for the national tournament, but he may struggle against a Hawkeye like Young.
165: No. 2 Alex Marinelli vs. No. 13 Ethan Smith
When you mess with The Bull, you get the horns. That's the way things have gone this year for anyone that has dared to take on Iowa's Alex Marinelli, as known as The Bull. The 2019 Big Ten champ has rolled past most of his opponents this year with bonus points.
He's won the Champions of Champions Award at Midlands on the way to winning his third title in that tournament, and he's undefeated on the year with a bonus rate of over 50 percent. Ranked No. 1 in the country, Marinelli has already beaten All-Americans Isaiah White, Evan Wick and David McFadden. His next opponent, Ethan Smith, is having one of the best seasons of his career this year, but Marinelli is a tough wall for Smith to run through.
Smith's best win this year also came against McFadden and the Buckeye junior is 13-7 on the season. He has his eyes on the podium in March, but in the more immediate future is The Bull, The Carver King who is waiting, ready.
174: No. 2 Michael Kemerer vs. No. 8 Kaleb Romero
Ohio State's middleweights have started to find their rhythm as the season has progressed, with Smith and 174-pounder Kaleb Romero showing grit, heart and development that could lead them to a shot on the podium in March. Romero has won 18 of his 20 matches this year, with his only losses coming against Mikey Labriola and Devin Skatzka, both All-Americans and both tough, top-seven opponents.
Smith's biggest win came against Anthony Valencia in the Arizona State dual, and his toughness has been recognized and honored by his coaches with the awarding of his black sweats. Sitting eighth in the national polls, Smith is hungry for All-American honors this year, and Ohio State's tough schedule continues to allow him to see many of the contenders he could face in March. Iowa's Michael Kemerer will certainly be in the title conversation, and Friday will be a good chance for Romero to test himself against one of the best.
All-American Michael Kemerer has been on the podium twice, once finishing third and once finishing fourth. But this year, he wants gold. Ranked No. 2 in the country, Kemerer has been a steady force for the Hawkeyes at this weight. Although he's only wrestled seven matches, he has big ranked wins against Labriola and Dylan Lydy of Purdue and has stayed undefeated so far. Once again, the advantage will go to Iowa in this bout. But don't count out Ethan Smith in putting up a fight.
184: No. 7 Abe Assad vs. Rocky Jordan
There's a new Hawkeye in town, and his name is Abe Assad. He's fearless, scrappy is ready to rock with the best in the country. The freshman had his redshirt pulled against Indiana on Jan. 10, and he's won all three of his duals as the Hawkeye starter at 184 pounds. Assad's most recent win against No. 5 Taylor Venz established himself as an All-American and potentially finalist contender, and now he has the chance to exert his dominance against another young star in Rocky Jordan.
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The Jordan family wrestling pedigree is long and full of accolades, and Rocky is looking to find his own success and build his own name in college wrestling. He's started the last two duals for Bucks, going 2-0 against Tyler Dow and Zach Braunagel. With the support of his head coach behind him, Rocky Jordan is also chasing the podium in his first year as a starter.
Assad has the statistical advantage with an 18-3 record compared to Jordan's 24-4, but both athletes have been impressive. 184 could be up in the air just because we haven't seen enough of either of these two athletes. But if Assad's performance against Venz is any prediction, Iowa's new upper weight is a young star in the making and so is Ohio State's.
197: No. 6 Jacob Warner vs. No. 1 Kollin Moore
Again, if the dual runs in weight order, Ohio State's Kollin Moore will be the final No. 1-ranked wrestler to compete in this dual. He will aim to live up to that seed and avoid breaking his undefeated season in enemy territory. Moore won Cliff Keen and he's been dominant all year. A title favorite at the weight already, the senior Buckeye just needs to hold on and finish out the year the way he's intended to the last three seasons.
Iowa's No. 6 Jacob Warner is a tough All-American, but Moore is a tough matchup for the Hawkeye. Warner is 10-3 on the year with losses to Jay Aiello, Patrick Brucki and most recently Eric Schultz of Nebraska. The Schultz loss also occurred in Carver-Hawkeye, which could give some motivation to Warner in his effort to upset Moore and move up the rankings. But Moore is a recent member of the 100-win club and always dangerous. The 197 pound weight class is another great chance for Ohio State to put points on the board, and they'll need to win this by bonus points to stay in the fight.
285: No. 3 Anthony Cassioppi vs. Gary Traub
Kollin Moore may be the last formally ranked wrestler to take center stage in this dual. But if there is any wrestler that is No. 1 in the hearts of Buckeye fans, it's Gary Traub. Gas Tank Gary has built a cult-like following among Ohio State supporters who have thrown their weight behind the redshirt junior starter.
The new starter is strong, but his magic is more powerful in the Covelli Center. Carver, on the other hand, is Cassioppi's house. The Iowa freshman has not lost a dual yet in his home gym, and he does not want Friday to be the day that record ends.
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The team score likely won't come down to heavyweight, but Cassioppi doesn't care — he has additional motivation to want to score bonus points against Traub. The young Hawkeye has already made it clear that he's chasing the Iowa team pin record, and in his first 12 matches this year, he has five pins with the most recent coming against No. 15 Christian Lance of Nebraska. The Iowa big man will intend to close the dual out with a statement win, but it's clear that the Buckeye fans never doubt Traub ability to close.