Carver-Hawkeye Arena will transform on Friday night from an athletic arena to a national stage, as the No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions take on the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes in front of a sold-out crowd with team rankings and pride on the line. This is going to be battle, and the crowd will want to see some fireworks.
How to watch
Date: Friday, Jan. 28
Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV channel: Big Ten Network
Let’s take a look at the probable lineups for each team:
|WEIGHT||NO. 1 PENN STAE||NO. 2 IOWA|
|125||No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt||No. 11 Drake Ayala
OR Jesse Ybarra
|133||No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young||No. 3 Austin DeSanto
OR Cullan Schriever
|141||No. 1 Nick Lee||No. 2 Jaydin Eierman|
|149||No. 19 Beau Bartlett||No. 10 Max Murin|
OR Terrell Barraclough
|No. 12 Kaleb Young|
|165||No. 11 Brady Berge
OR Creighton Edsell
|No. 5 Alex Marinelli|
|174||No. 1 Carter Starocci||No. 2 Michael Kemerer|
|184||No. 1 Aaron Brooks||No. 17 Abe Assad|
|197||No. 2 Max Dean||
No. 4 Jacob Warner
|285||No. 3 Greg Kerkvliet||No. 5 Tony Cassioppi|
The dual will be expected to start at 125 pounds with No. 11 Drake Ayala of Iowa taking on No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt of Penn State, a heightened contest between the young and the experienced, the new and the All-American, and the transfer and the Iowa hometown hero. There will be higher-ranked bouts in the dual, but this is the battle that you'll want to pay close attention to, given the unpredictable nature of this weight class. Ayala, who stepped in as a true freshman this January after three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee opted to repair his ACLs, is 13-4 on the year with his only losses coming against Pat McKee three times and Malik Heinselman last week. He has wins over Devin Schroder, Michael DeAugustino, Justin Cardani, but he'll have another test in Hildebrandt. The Penn State graduate student has just one loss on the year, a 2-1 decision against No. 1 Nick Suriano, and he has the advantage on paper. The key questions going into this dual are simple: How does Ayala respond to the magnitude of the moment? Can Hildebrandt can stop Ayala's speed? How many points can these two lightweights put up on the board for their team's momentum?
STATE OF THE WEIGHT: Everything you need to know about 125 pounds this year
Following this epic bout will be the first of several possible NCAA finals previews as No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young is set to take on No. 3 Austin DeSanto at 133 pounds. Iowa's DeSanto sat out two matches for the Hawkeyes in the past two weeks, leading head coach Tom Brands to pull Cullan Schriever's redshirt against Illinois and Northwestern, but the All-American Hawkeye returned to put up a technical fall against Ohio State on Friday. DeSanto is 2-3 against Bravo-Young with the Penn State national champ winning the last three consecutively, including one in the Big Ten finals 5-2. Despite the fact that DeSanto has beaten Bravo-Young before, he's not seen as the favorite on paper, and the last time they wrestled in Carver, Bravo-Young forced DeSanto into taking an injury default after the Hawkeye tweaked his knee while snuck in a pinning combination from Bravo-Young. The Black and Gold faithful want an upset here, but Bravo-Young continues to look just too smooth for all of his opponents, and we'll see how DeSanto responds to that slickness this year.
In the 2021 NCAA tournament, Penn State's Nick Lee built off of the momentum of Bravo-Young's national title and took down Jaydin Eierman in sudden victory to win his first national title at 141 pounds. Now these two will be back at it again, as No. 1 Lee and No. 2 Eierman face off for the fourth time in their careers. Nick Lee, much like Austin DeSanto, missed two matches earlier this month — in his case because of COVID-19 protocols — but he returned with force to go 2-0 against Michigan and Michigan State last weekend by bonus. He’ll come into this match at 70% bonus on the year and a 10-0 record. Eierman, on the other hand, has just 41.67% bonus, a percentage that would be fine if “The Riddler” wasn’t known for his funky moves, quick spladles and high-powered flash. The Hawkeye is 12-0 on year but he’s been in some tight, competitive matches; neither he nor Lee have been tested against and All-American yet this year. Lee is such a fundamental wrestler that he’s a sharp contrast of styles for Eierman, and the Hawkeye graduate student will need to be on his A-game if he wants a shot at taking down the defending champ.
While 141 pounds has a Big Ten and an NCAA champ, the 149-pound contenders are a little less credentialed but no less tough. Penn State is expected to field No. 19 Beau Bartlett against Iowa's No. 10 Max Murin, and these are two wrestlers who compete in close matches and are always looking for that extra takedown at the end of the period. Murin, a fifth-year junior, is 6-2 on the year with a real close loss to NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso last week 3-2 and a loss to Bryant Manzona earlier in the year. He's at 25% bonus, and while it's unlikely he'll bonus Bartlett, there's no denying that Murin wants to make a statement. He's been a consistent starter for the Hawkeyes during his career thus far, finishing in the Round of 12 twice, and this could be a match that we see again in the national tournament Blood Round. Bartlett is also solid, as he has 10-3 record with losses to Manzona as well, along with Mike Van Brill of Rutgers in tie-breakers again NCAA champion Yianni Diakomihalis by major. Of his 13 matches, four have gone into extra time, and this one could as well. Murin will need to wrestle with the grit that he had against Sasso if he wants to give Iowa some momentum during this stretch of middleweights that favors the Hawks on paper.
The 157-pound weight class is the only weight where one of the two teams has an unranked wrestler, and, in this case, that unranked wrestler will compete for the Nittany Lions against Iowa's No. 12 Kaleb Young. Penn State has wrestled both Tony Negron (1-5) and Terrell Barraclough (6-6) at this weight at various times throughout the season, and both men have been fighting tough against their Big Ten opponents in an effort to earn the spot. Regardless of who wrestles Young, Iowa will be favored, and the question will likely be about bonus. Kaleb Young, a sixth-year senior, has finished fifth and seventh in his two NCAA tournament appearances, and he's currently 10-5 on the year. He hasn't wrestled either of Penn State's probable starters yet this year, but his most dominant performance came against Joe Roberts of Illinois in the dual where he secured the tech fall. Typically, Young wrestles tight matches and relies on his tenacity to help him find the win. Iowa needs him to win here and potentially win big to keep the Hawks in this, and he has an opportunity to create contagious momentum for the Black and Gold heading into the second of three consecutive weights were Iowa is favored.
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Alex Marinelli is one of the faces of this Hawkeyes program, and his leadership has been key to helping keep his team on track, despite the adversity of Spencer Lee's injury and some less dominant performances from the team earlier this year. He's been a consistent threat for the Hawkeyes, particularly in the dual season, but last weekend caused a wrinkle in that pattern, as he took a rare in-season loss to Ohio State's Carson Kharchala in Columbus, Ohio, leading to a expression moment on the mat after the loss and perhaps some newfound fire that could carry him through NCAAs. Wrestling at 165 pounds, Marinelli will be expected to take on Penn State's Brady Berge, a two-time national qualifier for the Nittany Lions who was most recently serving as the volunteer assistant coach for South Dakota State before returning to done the Blue and White for one last run. Berge is fresh off two wins in Michigan, one against All-American Cam Amine of the Wolverines and one against Caleb Fish of the Spartans. None of his three wins this year have been by more than four points, but Berge looks as solid as he ever has, wrestling like he never left. This will not be a matchup Marinelli can afford to dismiss, and while he'll be the favorite, Iowa fans may be a little more nervous than they might have been last week. Expect the Iowa senior to be more offensive, especially in the first period as he looks to set a tone, but don't be surprised if Berge hangs tough.
Like Marinelli, Iowa's 174-pounder Michael Kemerer has been around the block, and if there is one place where Michael Kemerer puts on a show, it's Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The senior NCAA finalist made his triumphant return in front of his home crowd on Jan. 7 with a solid 9-2 win over Purdue, and he's been on a roll since then, racking up bonus in three of his last four matches. In fact, over the last two years, Michael Kemerer has only lost to one wrestler in the entire county, and he'll meet that wrestler again on Friday. Penn State's Carter Starocci shocked the wrestling world when he pulled off an upset win over Kemerer in the national finals last year during sudden victory, reversing the result of Kemerer's decisive win over him from the Big Ten tournament. Starocci comes into this dual with a 13-0 record and a 70%+ bonus rate, but this will be quite the moment for the young star. Carver is Kemerer's house, and the last time he wrestled a No. 1-ranked wrestler in this arena, he stunned Mark Hall for the win and the team victory. Can he do it again, even with his shoulder brace and lingering injuries, or has Starocci jumped levels to the point where his youth and speed is too much for the graduate Hawkeye? This is most high-profile match of the dual, and it's quite an opportunity for both wrestlers to put their team on their backs and fight for all the glory.
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The upperweights for Penn State include a list of heavy-hitters that, if they catch momentum, could roll through Iowa and leave as champions. The Nittany Lions put on a clinic against the Wolverines, showcasing their poise in the most intense matches and winning every bout they were expected to, based on rankings, along with a few contests where they secured upsets. Potentially Penn State's best wrestler leads the way at 184 pounds as Aaron Brooks will continue his tough Big Ten schedule against Iowa's Abe Assad. Brooks has been tested: beating No. 2 Myles Amine 3-1, No. 4 Parker Keckeisen 3-2, No. 7 John Poznanski 10-2, No. 11 Kyle Cochran 19-7 and No. 14 Donnell Washington 13-4. Assad is currently ranked No. 17, and, in their last meeting, Brooks beat him 7-3. Coming into this match, Assad is 9-3 on the year with losses to Kaleb Romero in a gritty overtime battle, Trent Hidlay 6-0 by decision and an outlier loss to Clayton Whiting at the Luther Open. If Assad wrestles like he did against Romero, he could maybe challenge Brooks, but he'll need that degree of intensity to keep things tight with a defending champ who seems to only continue separating himself from the rest of the weight.
A week ago, this 197-pound matchup against Penn State's Max Dean and Iowa's Jacob Warner might have leaned more Penn State on paper, but the contest has shifted to be even more of a coin-flip after Dean took a loss to Big Ten finalist Cameron Caffey of Michigan State. Warner also has a loss on the year, dropping 4-2 to Yonger Bastida of Iowa State, but he hasn't lost since, despite looking a little less explosive than normal against Ohio State's Gavin Hoffman last week in his decision victory. Warner's best win this year is a 3-2 decision over No. 20 N.C. State's Isaac Trumble, but he's wrestling with confidence, and his skills will be seriously tested against his Nittany Lion foe. Dean comes into the match with Ws over No. 6 Pat Brucki, No. 7 Greg Bulsak and No. 11 Kordell Norfleet, but he'll need to tap into his dominant style again in this bout with a solid, strong Warner. These two have not yet competed against each other in college, and this is quite the stage for that first battle.
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If the match is tied going into heavyweight, few would be surprised. Penn State, on paper, has the rankings advantage at 125, 133, 141, 174, 184, 197 pounds and heavyweight, but if one match of those first six listed goes Iowa's way before Greg Kerkvliet and Tony Cassioppi take the mat, fans in Carver will be on their feet, looking to cheer on Cassioppi for the upset. In their last meeting at the Big Ten tournament, Cassioppi majored Kerkvliet 9-0 without giving up a point, but we've seen a different Kerkvliet so far this year. The Nittany Lion heavyweight is 11-0 on the year having just upset No. 2 Mason Parris in Ann Arbor, and he'd love to pick up his first career win against the Hawks. Cassioppi came into the year with high expectations after winning U23 worlds and finishing third in last year's NCAA tournament, but he dropped his first match against Princeton by fall and has also taken a (more expected) loss to Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson by major. His major decision against Tate Orndorff last week suggests that the young Hawkeye has found his rhythm again, but this will be a major moment for the heavyweight. Iowa may need him to win this match to win the dual, and it's going to be quite the challenge to stop Penn State's big man given the momentum he's riding right now.