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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | January 15, 2021

The weekend's best college wrestling duals, previewed

What to look for in the 2021 wrestling season

The 2021 college wrestling season is in full swing and ranked athletes are competing every weekend. Here’s the complete schedule of every ranked match this weekend and a guide to the major storylines heading into the third weekend of the year. 

Ranked Teams in action

(all times Eastern)

Friday, Jan.  15

  •     5 p.m., No. 13 N.C. State vs. Virginia, ACC Network Extra
  •     7 p.m., No. 22 Northwestern vs. No. 16 Purdue, Big Ten Network 
  •     9:10 p.m., No. 6 Nebraska vs. No. 1 Iowa, Big Ten Network

Saturday, Jan. 16 

  •    10 a.m. No. 12 Pittsburgh vs. Duke, ACC Network Extra
  •    12 p.m.No. 25 Michigan State vs. Maryland, BTN+
  •    2 p.m., No. 14 Minnesota vs. Maryland, BTN+
  •    4 p.m. No. 14 Minnesota vs. No. 25 Michigan State, BTN+
  •    6:30 p.m., No. 18 Lehigh vs. Navy, ESPN+

Sunday, Jan. 17

  •     12 p.m., No. 3 Michigan vs. Indiana, BTN+
  •     3 p.m. No. 11 Arizona State vs. No.10 Iowa State
  •     3 p.m. No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 20 Northern Iowa
  •     5 p.m. No. 11 Arizona State vs. No. 20 Northern Iowa
  •     5 p.m. No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 10 Iowa State, ESPN+
  •     7 p.m. No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 11Arizona State, Rokfin

No. 6 Nebraska and No. 1 Iowa face off this weekend

Iowa's Spencer Lee.

Kicking off the weekend is the biggest dual of the year so far when No. 6 Nebraska battles No. 1 Iowa in Iowa City. The Iowa Hawkeyes will be loaded from top to bottom with No. 1 Spencer Lee (above) and No. 4 Anthony Cassioppi bookending the lineup full of All-Americans. 

The Huskers, however, do pose a threat in a number of weight classes, particularly 141 pounds with No. 7 Chad Red Jr., 184 pounds with No. 7 Taylor Venz and 197 pounds with No. 2 Eric Shultz. No. 25 Brock Hardy, a freshman Husker, could also be a contender at 149 pounds against Iowa’s No. 8 Max Murin given Hardy’s impressive win over Michael Blockus last weekend. In addition, the Red and White have ranked athletes at 125 pounds in No. 11 Liam Cronin, 165 pounds in No. 18 Peyton Robb, 174 pounds in No. 4 Mikey Labriola, and heavyweight with No. 16 Christian Lance. Nebraska is strong across the board but its top athletes — Schultz, Red, Venz, and Labriola — will all face top-five ranked Hawkeyes likely in the form of No. 4 Jacob Warner at 197, No. 1 Jaydin Eierman at 141, No. 8 Nelson Brands and No. 1 Michael Kemerer. 

BIG TEN: Here's what we learned from the first weekend of Big Ten action

Even if Nebraska wins all of the matches it's expected to based on rankings and avoids bonus points against athletes like Spencer Lee (which is always rare for anyone facing Lee), the Hawks have the edge 24-6. Iowa beat Nebraska 26-6 last year, so if Lee adds bonus, the score could be similar. Lee is expected to make his return in the folkstyle scene in dominant fashion, even against a solid competitor like Liam Cronin, who picked up a ranked win last week against Minnesota’s Patrick McKee. The Hawkeye Hodge winner bonused all but one of his opponents last year, and he’ll aim to start his senior campaign with similar force. Anchored by this two-time NCAA champion, Iowa is expected to take the W here, but count on the Huskers to put up a fight and win some matches. 

The No. 2 team in the country, Penn State, had its dual against Rutgers cancelled for COVID reasons. The Nittany Lions will have to wait until next week for their first showing. Head coach Cael Sanderson noted during media day that his team is in better shape than he’s seen at this time in previous years. Like all coaches this season, Sanderson said he is just focused on hitting the four-match requirement for the NCAA tournament and will hustle to pick up four duals for his athletes at any opportunity. Iowa and Nebraska will add their first matches towards that four-match minimum this weekend, but expect Penn State to come roaring back next weekend and look to make a statement in its debut against Michigan State. 

The postponement of the No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 North Carolina dual also leaves fans without an ACC dual between two ranked teams, but the Tar Heels said in a statement they plan to reschedule. North Carolina’s first dual against Appalachian State was also postponed because of COVID-19. The team did compete against Gardner-Webb last weekend and picked up a 45-0 shutout win, but Carolina will now be off a few more days. The Hokies, on the other hand, are set to compete again Jan. 22 against Virginia. 

3 No. 1-ranked wrestles are in action this weekend, too

In addition to the three No. 1- ranked Hawkeyes set to make their season start on Friday, No. 1 157-pounder Ryan Deakin, No. 1 197-pounder Noah Adams and No. 1-ranked heavyweight Gable Steveson are back in action as well. 

Deakin, who has not competed yet this year, finished last season 21-0 and earned the top seed at the cancelled 2020 NCAA tournament. A senior for the Wildcats this year, Deakin will be a key player in the No. 22 Northwestern vs. No. 16 Purdue dual on Friday night, and he’ll have his first test against Purdue’s No. 7 Kendall Coleman. Deakin previously beat Coleman 7-2 at the Big Ten championships and 14-0 in last year’s dual, giving him a historical advantage in this dual. Coleman, however, was one of Purdue’s biggest stars last year, and Deakin will be a great chance for him to measure himself against the best this early in the season. 

DIVISION I RANKINGS: Iowa tops latest poll

Adams will also have a tough match this weekend against No. 12 Jake Woodley. Woodley is always a fighter. The two athletes have wrestled three times in their college career, with Woodley holding the edge 2-1 after wins in the 2019 dual and Big 12 Championships. A win for Woodley here would cause significant shakeups in the rankings, but it’s too early to predict a loss for the No. 1 ranked athlete. Woodley also took a loss to Arizona State’s Kordell Norfleet last weekend, while Adams is 3-0 so far in 2021. After missing out on a chance to compete for a title last year, Adams has a chance to bring an individual title back to West Virginia, and the first step on that journey starts with a battle against Oklahoma’s Woodley. 

At the heaviest weight, it’s all Gable Steveson, and the Minnesota heavyweight is ready for another show against Maryland and Michigan State. Steveson teched Nebraska’s Christian Lance in a takedown clinic, and neither Maryland nor Michigan State have a ranked guy likely to put up a fight against the junior Gopher. Deakin and Steveson were both Hodge Trophy finalists, and Steveson has already shown that he’s chasing bonus points with every performance. Expect big moves when Steveson takes the mat on Friday, and don’t be surprised if the match ends before the 7-minute mark.

Missouri will be tested in midwest quad meet

The Big Ten will wrestle only within the Big Ten this season, and the ACC and EIWA teams are staying mostly within conference as well, but there is one cross-conference event that is particularly juicy this weekend: the Iowa State, Arizona State, Northern Iowa and Missouri quad. These four teams, all ranked in the top-20, will battle each other Sunday in Ames, Iowa, and teams will have a chance to mix up the lineup to increase competitive opportunities given the number of matches.

The quad also will be the first big test for the No. 9 Tigers, who are 5-0 with wins against South Dakota State, Wyoming, North Dakota State, Oregon State and Central Michigan. With 10 top-20 guys, Missouri is in a position to pick up wins against Arizona State, Iowa State and Northern Iowa, but the team will face ranked opponents in 18 of 30 matches if all teams wrestle their starters. 

WRESTLING EXPLAINED: How matches are scored

Brock Mauller, Missouri’s 149-pound All-American will be the top-ranked athlete competing among the four teams, and he’ll battle Iowa State’s Jarrett Degen in a top-five contest if Degen takes the mat for the Cyclones.

Degen has yet to wrestle this year with Iowa State sending out freshman Cameron Robinson for the first three duals, however, which would create a significantly different match for Mauller. So far this season, Mauller has won all five of his duals, and he’s 2-2 against Degen in his career, creating an intense battle here in Ames for both athletes who will be looking to stay undefeated on the year if Degen competes.

The other interesting pairing for the Tigers is at 165 pounds where true freshman Keegan O’Toole could take on Arizona State’s No. 5 Anthony Valencia, an experienced national qualifier now in his sixth year of college wrestling. O’Toole made a splash in his debut match with a fall against Cade DeVos of South Dakota State and has since picked up two techs and a decision in his last four bouts. Ranked No. 13 at 165 pounds, O’Toole started the year at 157 pounds, but if he represents the Tigers at 165 pounds on Sunday, expect him to challenge Valencia and be in a battle with the Sun Devil senior from the opening whistle. 

Missouri’s two biggest wrestlers, Rocky and Zach Elam, will both have the chance to face two ranked opponents as well, with 197-pound Rocky set to take on Kordell Norfleet of Arizona State and Yonger Bastida of Iowa State, and heavyweight Zach scheduled to wrestle Cannon Gemmel of Iowa State and Carter Isley of Northern Iowa. It’s possible that not all ranked athletes in this quad will wrestle in all of the duals, but the Missouri-Arizona State-Iowa State-Northern Iowa dual is still one you won’t want to miss come Sunday. 

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