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Shannon Scovel | NCAA.com | January 29, 2021

Deep previews of the 5 most intriguing college wrestling duals this weekend

Hawkeye heroes claim 23 wrestling team titles

The Hawks are back, the Heels are looking for a top-ten ACC win, and Oklahoma State takes on two top-15 ranked opponents. What more could you want in a college wrestling weekend? As season rolls on, the stakes increase and every match matters more, but here are five duals that are particularly interesting and worth watching this weekend. 

1. North Carolina vs. N.C. State: Friday, Jan. 9, 6 p.m. — ACC Network

North Carolina is a wrestling state. 

At least, that's the message UNC and N.C. State sent last year when the Pack raised the roof in Reynolds Coliseum after topping the Tar Heels at heavyweight in a barnburner dual that came down to the final bout. These two teams are back at it again, and this top-15 ACC dual will have it all: local rivalries, title contenders, redemption stories and action-packed matchups. Both squads will field similar lineups to last year with a few notable additions, and this dual is certainly one to watch.

Relive some of the best matchups from the 2020 rivalry dual: 

Leading the way for the Wolfpack again this year are the Hidlay brothers, Hayden and Trent, who sit at No. 2 and No. 4 in their respective 157 and 184-pound rankings. The older Hidlay brother, Hayden, won't face a ranked opponent from the Tar Heels, so he'll go out looking for bonus in an effort to break open the score. North Carolina is favored in four of the first five matches, so Hidlay will need to come to the mat with some firepower if he wants to bring points back to the Pack, but that's what he does best.

Following Hidlay are the Bullard Brothers, Daniel and Thomas, who will take on No. 8 Kennedy Monday and No. 9 Devin Krane in, again, two matches where they won't be favored. Both Bullards have taken some losses, with Daniel holding a 4-1 record and Thomas coming in with a 2-2 record, but the Pack will need them to keep it close here. N.C. State has the edge by significant margins in the final three weights with No. 4 Trent Hidlay at 184, newcomer No. 17 Isaac Trumble at 197 and last year's dual hero No. 18 Deonte Wilson at heavyweight, so if they can pick up wins here and at 125 pounds with No. 4 Jakob Camacho, they should be set to stay undefeated on the year, but Carolina always has a few surprises. 

HIDLAY MANIA: Here's how N.C. State's stars, and other national title contenders, performed during the off-season 

North Carolina is led by No. 1 Austin O'Connor at 149 pounds, and he'll have the advantage of not having a ranked opponent this weekend, so he'll be expected to cruise through his match as he chases a title in this junior season of his. North Carolina's ACC champions No. 15 Clay Lautt and No. 10 Zach Sherman will also be in the mix at 184 pound and 141 pounds, creating intrigue all through the lineup. The edge belongs to N.C. State on paper, but the Pack had the advantage last year too, and the Tar Heels stayed in the hunt through the final 7 minutes. 

This weekend will also feature an ACC dual between Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina, which would be the dual of the weekend if the Pack weren't also in Chapel Hill. Both matches will be worth watching, but for North Carolina wrestling fans, the first dual is the one. 

2. Penn State vs. Northwestern: Saturday, Jan. 30, 4 p.m. — Big Ten Network+

One of the biggest storylines this year is unquestionably the state of the Penn State lineup. What does this squad look like? How talented are the freshman? Can these guys compete with Iowa? Penn State's first two duals against Rutgers and Michigan State were postponed due to COVID-19, so while other teams have had a chance to test themselves early, the Penn State team remains a mystery. This weekend will be the first look at a squad that features no No. 1 ranked wrestlers but still has nine top-20 guys, five of whom are in the top five, and potentially as many as six freshman starters. 

Sophomore Big Ten champion Aaron Brooks and Big Ten finalists Roman Bravo-Young and Nick Lee lead the way for Penn State, but the lineup power doesn’t end there. Redshirt freshman Carter Starocci, Michael Beard and Joe Lee are scheduled to enter the lineup, and the Boys in Blue are also expected to bring out true freshmen Robbie Howard and Beau Bartlett at 125 and 149 pounds, respectively. Bartlett could also drop down to 141 pounds depending on where three-time All-American Nick Lee chooses to wrestle, but regardless, there’s fresh talent here and excitement in Happy Valley about the future of this team.

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The Northwestern dual in particular will be a good way to see what Penn State has in store this yearand should be a chance for the Nittany Lions to sort out some lineup questions and finalize the starting team. Northwestern brings five ranked athletes at 125, 133, 149, 157 pounds and 197 pounds, and the Wildcats will be favored against the Nittany Lions at the first and last two of those weights. Penn State's Howard in particular is untested collegiately at 125 pounds, but as a two-time New Jersey state champion and a three-time Cadet World Team member, he's shown that he can find success against the best in the world in age-level competition. Northwestern's lightweight No. 8 Michael DeAugustino will push him, but Howard should be in the mix in this match. Penn State fans are hoping Howard can be the solution to the team's recent 125-pound woes, but his potential remains to be seen.

Questions also exist around 149, depending on which athlete Penn State sends out, and whichever athlete represents the Nittany Lions will take on No. 10 Yahya Thomas. Beau Bartlett is the predicted starter, but last year's Jarod Verkleeren, Terrell Barraclough, Luke Gardner and Bo Pipher are also listed as probables. If we know anything about Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson, it’s that he plays chess with his lineup, so it remains to be seen who will get the start, but, regardless, 149 pounds is a fun national weight with tons of title contender possibilities. This weekend will reveal more about whether or not Northwestern or Penn State have an athlete in that conversation. 

At 157, another weight where Northwestern has the edge, Penn State is expected to roll out Brady Berge, a talented veteran who has been sidelined with injuries throughout his career. Berge will take on No. 1 Ryan Deakin of Northwestern in his first match back, and this will again be a good test to see how Berge matches up against the best in the country. Throughout his career, Berge is 25-7 with his biggest wins coming against Josh Humphreys of Lehigh, Pat Lugo of Iowa and Jarrett Degen of Iowa State. A tight match with Deakin would send the message that Berge is healthy and ready to go, but those heath questions still linger. 

Penn State has the edge in rankings at 165,174, 184 and 285, with No. 11 Lucas Davison at 197 for Northwestern being the only break in that stacked lineup for the Nittany Lions. Davison will take on redshirt freshman Michael Beard, and, like Howard, Barlett and Berge, Beard will have his work cut out for him in this bout, but the matchup will be a chance for him to test himself against tough, ranked Big Ten competition. Beard went 13-3 as a redshirt, but another year in the Penn State wrestling room has likely only strengthened his skills. The Nittany Lions have a history of training up national champions, and a lot more will be known about their potential to do that this year after the Northwestern dual. Penn State also wrestles Indiana in this tri-dual, but, given the ranked athletes on the Northwestern squad, the dual against the Wildcats will be of particular intrigue. 

3. Binghamton at Lehigh: Saturday, Jan 30, 4 p.m. — Lehighsports.com

The Binghamton Bearcats snuck into the rankings this week at No. 25 after their impressive win over Army, but their tough EIWA conference schedule continues this week on the road as they take on reigning conference champions Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa. The Mountain Hawks have struggled as of late, heading into the dual with an 0-2 record following losses to Pitt and Navy, and Binghamton is not a team you want to see if you're looking for a win right now. Head coach Kyle Borshoff and his squad have momentum, and with two ranked athletes on Intermat, they are ready to prove that more of their guys belong on that list. Binghamton's top athletes — No. 18 Zack Trampe and No. 5 Lou Deprez — will both take on unranked Mountain Hawks, and both will look to maintain their undefeated records heading into the second half of the dual season. 

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A win for Lehigh could put the Mountain Hawks back into the rankings, and Lehigh is 4-0 against the Bearcats, with the most recent win coming in dominant fashion 36-3. But this is a different Bearcats team. This is a team with confidence, poise and power, and a win against Lehigh could help them hold on to that national ranking. This is a dual that will showcase great personalities and high-level wrestling, and the results could have conference and national ranking implications, making it a must-view event. 

4. Oklahoma State vs. Iowa State, Saturday, Jan. 30 7 p.m. — ESPN+

The 2021 Oklahoma State Cowboys are on a mission to extend their dynasty this year, and with a lineup full of ranked athletes, they are in a good position to live up to the legacy of their program. Ranked No. 5 in the country, the Cowboys are 5-0 with wins against UT-Chattanooga, Oregon State, SIUE, Little Rock, Northern Colorado and Air Force, but the real test comes this weekend. Oklahoma State is set to wrestle both Northern Iowa and Iowa State, and both duals should be stellar. Iowa State has the slight edge in the rankings over the Panthers and brings seven ranked athletes to the mat to compete against the stacked Cowboys, suggesting that the Oklahoma State vs. Iowa State dual might be a bit closer, but don't ignore Oklahoma State vs. Northern Iowa. 

The Cowboy lineup this weekend will also be slightly weaker than the championship Cowboys that are expected to compete in March as No. 1 Daton Fix is temporarily out and No. 5 Kaid Brock also won't be competing, per reporting from Cowboys local reporter Seth Duckworth. The absence of Brock eliminates the potential of a top-ten match for Iowa State's No. 7 Ian Parker and tips the scales in favor of the Cyclones at this weight, but there is still plenty of starpower to go around for the Cowboys. No. 4 Boo Lewallen will lead his team at 149 pounds, and teammate No. 4 Travis Wittlake will also be looking for a big win and bonus at 165 pounds. Wittlake will wrestle one of two unranked guys in the Iowa State dual, Isaac Judge or Grant Stotts, both of whom have a winning record but may struggle against the force of Wittlake. Lewallen, on the other hand, would normally wrestle No. 5 Jarrett Degen of Iowa State in a high-profile top-five match, but Degen is temporarily out with an injury, so Cam Robinson or Ben Monroe to take his place. 

Following Lewallen, Big 12 wrestling fans should be excited to see No. 3 David Carr of Iowa State take on No. 12 Wyatt Sheets of Oklahoma State, as these two guys met at the conference tournament in a close 6-4 win for Carr. Sheets' improvement from his14-6 major decision loss earlier last year to the 6-4 battle in March shows that he's made adjustments, but Carr has also continued on an upward trajectory. With just two losses on his career record, Carr is a force to be reckoned with and someone that will compete for an NCAA title. Sheets has a chance to cement himself as a title contender as well, and his performance against Carr will reveal where he's at in that seeding order, at least at this point in the season. 

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Oklahoma State All-American Dakota Geer would also have wrestled in a top-ten match this weekend if No. 8 Sammy Colbray of Iowa State was healthy, but the Cyclones list Tate Battani as a probable instead. These substitutions suggest that a fully-loaded Cyclone squad will be dangerous come March, if everyone is back, but the current team is holding everything together as best as possible.  

Two freshmen in No. 17 Dustin Plott, and No. 14 AJ Ferrari will also take on ranked opponents against Iowa State at 174 and 197 pounds as they face off against No. 20 Julien Broderson and No. 20 Yonger Bastida, and both Cowboys have been excellent so far this year. Ferrari, for his part, is 5-0 with 100 percent bonus and Plott is 5-0 with 80 percent bonus. Broderson and Bastida will be tougher competition for both freshmen, but Plott and Ferrari are guys to watch, not just this weekend but for the rest of the season. 

5. Iowa vs. Illinois, Sunday, Jan. 31, 11 a.m. —  Big Ten Network

The Iowa Hawkeyes are appointment viewing.

Led by No. 1 Spencer Lee, No. 1 Jaydin Eierman and No. 1 Michael Kemerer, this is a squad that puts opponents on their back and puts points on the board. The Hawkeyes will take on Illinois this weekend after dominant performances against Nebraska and Minnesota, and while Illinois has wrestled tough this year, Iowa will be a unique challenge. The dual will feature six ranked matchups at 125, 141, 149, 165, 184 and 285, with some of those expected to be closer than others.

At 125 pounds, Iowa is unquestionably expected to win and win big. No. 1 Spencer Lee has pinned both of his first two opponents in the first period, and he'll be a handful for Illinois' Justin Cardani. The Illini sophomore is 2-2 with losses to Devin Schroder and Malik Heinselman, both of whom Spencer Lee has majored in the last two years. Lee is on another level and continues to separate himself from the weight class. Cardani is tough and ranked, but the question will be how long he can hold off Lee's brute strength and skill. 

The 141-pound ranked matchup is similar, with No. 1 Jaydin Eierman wrestling funky and gritty and will likely put up bonus points against No. 12 Dylan Duncan, though Duncan has some fundamentals that could slow down Eierman.

He'll be followed in the lineup by potentially the match of the night as No. 9 Michael Carr of Illinois takes on No. 8 Max Murin. Moving up from 141 to 149, Murin looks full-sized and speedy, and he's had success so far this season with wins against Brock Hardy and Michael Blockus, setting up an exciting dual against Carr who has wins against Alec White, Drew Scharenbrock and Luke Baughman but a loss to No. 2 Sammy Sasso. Carr and Murin have met four times previously, and Murin is 3-1 in those meetings. If Murin wins here, and his teammates wrestle to seed, Iowa could sweep the dual, but 149 pounds is one where the shutout could be in danger.

Iowa's 133-pounder Austin DeSanto, 157-pounder Kaleb Young, 174-pounder Michael Kemerer and 197-pounder Jacob Warner won't have ranked opponents this week, making them bonus point threats as usual. Alex Marinelli, Iowa's 165-pounder, will have a top-ten matchup against Danny Braunagel, but Marinelli has majored Braunagel in their previous two collegiate meetings. If The Bull wrestles like he's wrestled, he'll be looking for bonus too, but Braunagel is undefeated and seems to have jumped levels. Braunagel will want to keep this interesting, and the question will be just how interesting he can keep the match for how long. 

DIVISION I RANKINGS: Iowa tops latest poll

Two other matches to keep an eye on here are 184 and 285, as Iowa's No. 6 Nelson Brands, and No. 3 Tony Cassioppi battle No. 13 Zach Braunagel and No. 6 Luke Luffman.

Heavyweight Tony Cassioppi and 197-pounder Warner are the only Iowa starters with a loss this year, and both lost to athletes ranked in the top three, but, at heavyweight, Luffman will be another unique challenge this week for Cassioppi. With wins against Trent Hillger and Tate Orndorff, Luffman has found his stride this year and is cementing himself as an All-American contender with sights set on a high podium position. Cassioppi is experienced, savvy and training in one of the best wrestling rooms in the country, so he has the edge coming in to the match, but Luffman can't be ignored. Iowa likely won't need Cassioppi to win, though a victory will be expected of him by his coaches and his teammates. 

Brands, on the other hand, is undefeated, and wrestling with impressive strength and size, so he's in good shape to compete for a win against the other Braunagel brother, but with 184 pounds being so deep and back-and-forth, any match in this weight class is worth watching. Illinois is a strong team across the board, but Iowa has wrestled on a different level. The questions in this dual are how many bouts can Illinois win, and how many bonus points does Iowa score? 

Minnesota, Rutgers and Purdue will also be wrestling in Big Ten action this weekend in a tri-meet, while Michigan State will take on Ohio State. The Buckeyes also wrestle the Maryland Terrapins on Sunday, and Wisconsin and Nebraska compete on Sunday as well.

The Big Ten continues to one of the deepest conferences in the country and rankings and while Iowa has pulled away at the moment, the battle for No. 2 rages on as teams look to fine-tune their rosters in this first weekend of February duals. 

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