Michigan is back, Penn State is looking for matches, and the No. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes are out because of COVID-19. Out West, the Arizona State Sun Devils have a big weekend ahead with top-20 duals against Northern Iowa and Iowa State.
With limited duals remaining in the season, this weekend is key for teams to fine-tune their athletes and prime their lineups for championship season in March.
Here are some of the big questions we have as the dual season nears the finish line.
1. What will we see from the Michigan lineup?
The Maize and Blue have been out of action for the last two weeks because of COVID-19 protocols, but they're back now just in time for a heated rivalry dual. Michigan will wrestle Ohio State on Friday in Ann Arbor for what could be their second-to-last dual of the season, and the matchup will be a good chance to see if Michigan is as strong as expected. Fans have yet to see Michigan's full lineup yet this season, as No. 3 Stevan Micic and No. 1 Myles Amine have not wrestled this season. Neither are listed as probables for the dual against the Buckeyes, but if they make an appearance, expect domination from the two Olympic qualifiers.
Even without Amine and Micic though, the Wolverines have seven ranked wrestlers, led by No. 2 Mason Parris and Logan Massa who will likely take on Ohio State's No. 13 Tate Orndorff and No. 4 Kaleb Romero respectively.
Parris is 3-0 on the year with 100 percent bonus, he isn't expected to struggle against Orndorff, but this bout will be a chance to see how he competes after several weeks off. Massa, on the other hand, has a serious challenge on his hands with Romero, a wrestler with momentum who avoided being taken down by Michael Kemerer last weekend. In their only meeting so far in college, Massa beat Romero 7-2, but Romero is a different wrestler than he was in 2019. He'll put up a fight against Massa, and the question will be whether or not he can score enough points against the senior national champion to keep himself in the fight.
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Michigan's two additional top-ten ranked wrestlers both have intriguing matches ahead with No. 6 Kanen Storr of Michigan taking on No. 2 Sammy Sasso and No. 8 Dylan Ragusin battling No. 12 Malik Heinselman.
Sasso appears to have found his groove this year after pinning Max Murin last weekend, and Heinselman has just one loss to Big Ten finalist Devin Schroder, but Michigan will test these guys yet again. Sasso is 2-0 against Storr with a 3-0 win at the Big Ten tournament last year and a tech at the Michigan State Open, while Heinselman and Ragusin have never battled. The 125-pound bout in particular will offer a better understanding of where freshman Ragusin and refined junior Malik Heinselman are at heading into the final weeks. Sasso and Storr are a little more proven, but they'll still be fun to watch.
2. How dominant will Daton Fix be?
Oklahoma State's Daton Fix returns to the college wrestling season after a year-long USADA suspension, and he'll make his 2021 debut at the Cowboy Challenge this weekend when Oklahoma State wrestles No. 6 Missouri, West Virginia and Wyoming. Head coach John Smith has praised Fix's perseverance through the suspension process. In his first match back, Smith doesn't expect Fix to be at full form yet though, and the question will be: how strong is the NCAA finalist?
“You’re gonna have some rust no matter what — you haven’t competed in a year,” Smith told the Stillwater News Press. “If we see some rust, we see some rust, but I’m not going to hold him back. He’s not gonna listen to me on that. Get out there, push yourself and if we see some issues or some problems, we got some time to work on it."
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Fix could see No. 20 Ryan Sullivan of West Virginia as well as No. 12 Matt Schmitt in the Cowboy Challenge, depending on how the brackets play out. Based on his previous performances, neither of those two athletes should pose a challenge for the Cowboy sophomore, but he hasn't competed folkstyle since March 2019 when he dropped the NCAA finals match in overtime to Nick Suriano. Fix has held his No. 1 ranking in numerous media polls over the course of the season, despite not competing, and now he'll have a chance to prove that he's still the best in the country.
3. Can Pitt win at least one of the two ranked matchups against Virginia Tech?
The deep competition in the ACC will once again be on display when No. 4 Virginia Tech battles No. 16 Pittsburgh in the final conference showdown on their respective schedules. The Panthers have four ranked athletes in their lineup, and two of them will take on ranked Hokies. Pittsburgh has the advantage in just one of those two matchups, and the question remains: Can Pitt win a ranked dual?
Starting at 133, Pittsburgh junior Micky Phillippi will take on Hokie veteran Korbin Myers in a dual that will provide Phillippi with his biggest test of the year. Both athletes are undefeated and hold the 1-2 spots in the conference rankings respectively, meaning that the outcome of this dual will determine who has the top seed at the ACC tournament. This is Pittsburgh's best chance for a ranked win as Phillippi has looked solid all year and has not lost a match since the Southern Scuffle last season.
Myers, for his part, is storming back after an injury held him out last season, and he, like Phillippi is chasing a chance at the podium for the first time in his career. Myers has a slight edge in his bonus production this season but the two wrestlers are both average 8+ points a match. Phillippi is 3-1 against Myers, but all four of the duals have been decided by two points or less. Expect this one to be tight, but Pitt will need a win here if the Panthers want to stay in the dual at all.
The next ranked matchups for Pittsburgh is far more of a challenge as No. 10 Jake Wentzel will take on No. 1 Mekhi Lewis. A 2019 NCAA champion, Lewis is undefeated on the year at 8-0, but he has been pushed by fellow ACC foe Kennedy Monday.
Wentzel lost 6-3 in the last meeting against Lewis and comes into this year's dual with a 6-1 record, his only L coming against Thomas Bullard of N.C. State 6-3. Lewis beat Bullard last weekend 5-0, again proving that he has the edge here and will be expected to take a solid win against Wentzel. Being able to wrestle the top-ranked guy at the weight will be an advantage for Wentzel though, and he'll have a chance to test himself against the best before he starts peaking for ACCs and likely NCAAs as well.
4. Can Arizona State pick up two wins against Iowa opponents?
The No. 11 Sun Devils will take on both No. 13 Iowa State and No. 15 Northern Iowa in a tri-dual this weekend, setting up some particularly intriguing matchups at 125 pounds and 285 pounds, as well as a Northern Iowa v. Iowa State top-ten battle at 184.
Arizona State is 4-0 while the Cyclones and Panthers have two losses each, so wins against both Iowa programs would keep the Sun Devils undefeated.
Head coach Zeke Jones and his squad have been particularly dominant this year with their closest match being 29-15 against Wyoming, but Iowa State and Northern Iowa will offer a new, ranked challenge.
This dual was originally scheduled for earlier in the year but was postponed because of COVID-19, and the rankings have shifted a little since that original date of Jan. 17.
The highest ranked battle is at heavyweight where Arizona State's No. 6 Cohlton Schultz will wrestle Iowa State's No. 5 Gannon Gremmel. Both wrestlers are undefeated, but Gremmel has wrestled two more matches. The intrigue around Schultz is simply his lack of college freestyle experience, as the redshirt freshman has just eight matches this year and only wrestled eight as a redshirt last season. His impressive senior-level Greco results suggest that he could be a title contender at heavyweight, if not this year than in years to come, but he'll have to get past proven Gremmel to make that point.
Lightweights No. 3 Brandon Courtney and No. 14 Brody Teske are also undefeated, and while Teske isn't ranked in the top-ten yet, the wild race at 125 pounds gives him a chance to break through with a win over Courtney.
Since transferring from Penn State last season, Teske has been on fire, winning all seven of his bouts this season and notching three gritty ranked wins against Alex Mackall, Connor Brown and Trevor Mastrogiovanni.
Courtney, for his part, has an 85 percent bonus record and seven wins as well, but he hasn't faced the same rigor of competition as Teske. These two athletes have met just once in their careers with Courtney earning the 19-7 major in the Arizona State upset of the Nittany Lions back in 2019, but he'll see a different level of intensity from Teske this weekend. This will be a fascinating one and will have major rankings implications based on whichever wrestler pulls off the win to stay undefeated.
The 184-pound weight class is perhaps the most intense with Northern Iowa and Iowa State fielding ranked athletes. Iowa State has the edge with No. 6 Sam Colbray, who wrestled his first match of the season last weekend, though Northern Iowa is right there with No. 7 Parker Keckeisen. The winner of Keckeisen vs. Colbray will impact Big 12 rankings and could have a significant role in conference tournament seeding, so this will certainly be a matchup to watch.
5. Will Penn State wrestle this weekend?
The 2019 NCAA champion Nittany Lions have struggled to find matches this year with their first two duals of the season against Rutgers and Michigan postponed because of COVID and now the Penn State-Iowa dual also postponed as a result of the virus.
Penn State will need wrestlers to have four matches if they want an athlete to be eligible for an at-large bid at the Big Ten tournament, and while a number of wrestlers — particularly Roman Bravo-Young, Nick Lee and Aaron Brooks — have a good chance of winning the tournament outright, depending on such an outcome for tournament qualification is a risk.
Head coach Cael Sanderson hinted to The Daily Collegian this week that he was working on setting up duals against Michigan and Michigan State, but those duals have not yet been added to the schedule.
Normally, without the duals on the schedule by Friday, we could suspect that the matchups might not happen, but Penn State managed to secure a dual against Wisconsin on short notice on a Tuesday, so nothing is out of the question.
If Penn State is able to meet the Wolverines and the Spartans, most starters will be able to wrestle a fourth match, and we'll have a better sense of where the Nittany Lions stack up.
Michigan is currently ranked No. 2 in the country, so a strong performances against the Maize and Blue would be a good sign for the Penn State faithful, but much of that again depends on if the duals can happen and what lineups these two teams wrestle.
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Penn State has not had a 125-pounder wrestle yet this year, but if the Michigan dual happens, that lightweight Nittany Lion could face No. 8 Ragusin for a serious showdown.
Bravo-Young would also be tested if Micic takes the mat at 133 pounds, but, again, that outcome seems unlikely as Micic is not listed as a probable.
Freshman Joe Lee and Carter Starocci would also face ranked wresters if the Michigan dual materialized with Lee seeing No. 16 Cam Amine and Starocci potentially wrestling No. 2 Logan Massa.
If Michigan State ends up wrestling the Nittany Lions, fellow freshman Michael Beard would have a tough task against No. 6 Cameron Caffey.
All of this is speculative, as neither dual has been confirmed, but the chance to see Penn State wrestle again would certainly be a treat for wrestling fans.