Penn State vs. Iowa. No. 1 vs. No. 2. The hype for tonight's match between these two top teams is real, and all ten matches are expected to be barnburners. This will be a night full of can't-miss wrestling from the opening bout until the final matchup.
Here's a list of all ten projected bouts, ranked in terms of interest and intrigue:
1. 285 pounds: No. 2 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State) vs. No. 3 Tony Cassioppi
If the dual starts at 125 pounds, everything could come down to heavyweight, and these two guys — Greg Kerkvliet and Tony Cassioppi — are ready for that challenge.
Cassioppi has been Iowa's anchor for the last three seasons, finishing third in the country in 2021 and rallying back for seventh last season. Kerkvliet has produced nearly identical results, finishing seventh in 2021 and fourth in 2022. In their head-to-head bouts, Cassioppi has the official edge, holding a formal 2-0 record against the Nittany Lion, but Kerkvliet did beat Cassioppi 8-5 in the All-Star exhibition match earlier this season, creating added intrigue for this upcoming bout.
🚨MORE COLLEGE WRESTLING 🚨 Get alerts and live updates on Bleacher Report | Watch championship content and more on YouTube | Keep up with stories on Apple News
In an interview after his strong performance in the Iowa vs. Wisconsin dual, Cassioppi said he knows his role, and his role is to finish with a win. But Penn State will come into this dual as the favorite, and Kerkvliet will get to wrestle in front of his home crowd. There's no doubt that if the dual stays close and ends on heavyweight, this could be the most exciting mach of the night.
2. 197 pounds: No. 4 Max Dean (Penn State) vs. No. 7 Jacob Warner (Iowa)
It might seem odd to not put this 2022 NCAA finals rematch first on the list, but Penn State national champion Max Dean is undefeated against his Iowa foe. He topped Warner 8-3 in this dual last year, riding the Hawk hard in the third period for back points to seal his win.
Warner kept this match closer at NCAAs, but he still dropped 3-2 to put him 0-2 against Dean. There's a scenario in which Warner pulls off the upset and beats Dean, particularly given the fact that Dean has already taken two losses, but but Warner will need to increase his offensive and stay tough when wrestling underneath if he wants to avoid giving up points and taking a loss. The Hawkeye upperweight has also taken two losses so far this year, one to Yonger Bastida of Iowa State and one to Zach Braunagel of Illinois, so Friday's dual will come down to which of these two big men wrestles tougher with the team score potentially on the line.
3. 141 pounds: No. 2 Real Woods (Iowa) vs. No. 4 Beau Bartlett (Penn State)
Opposites attract, and the clash of styles between No. 2 Real Woods and No. 4 Beau Bartlett are one of the many reasons why this match is so fascinating. Woods, a 2020 NWCA All-American and a sixth-place finisher in 2022 may look like the obvious favorite on paper, but Bartlett is tough, and he's even tougher down at 141 pounds.
HAWKEYE HISTORY: Full recaps and summaries of every Iowa wrestling NCAA title
Bartlett, a third-year sophomore for Penn State, has had an unusual three years with the Nittany Lions, from starting out at 149 pounds as a true freshman and falling just short of qualifying for the national tournament to propelling himself to No. 4 in the country at 141 pounds this year. Bartlett (14-0 this season) has an enormous opportunity in front of him against Real Woods.
I’m surrounded by a great group of dedicated men.— Beau Bartlett (@BeauBartlett) December 21, 2022
Onward & Upward pic.twitter.com/uRZu9jcCK0
Iowa's Woods comes into this bout with a similarly impressive 9-0 record and a 66.67 percent bonus rate, But Bartlett wrestles top guys close, and this dual will be in his home gym. Bartlett's defensive and doesn't give up much space. Woods has the potential to be fast and scrappy, but he also showed in his match against Casey Swiderski of Iowa that he can win on escapes and riding time if necessary. If Bartlett pulls off the upset, he goes from being a likely All-American contender to a serious title threat, if not a possible title favorite, and that's a scary thought considering Penn State already has three No. 1 ranked wrestlers in its lineup. This is a bout Iowa will need to win to stay in this dual, but Bartlett knows that his fans would love to see this upset.
4. 157 pounds: No. 9 Levi Haines (Penn State) vs. No. 15 Cobe Siebrecht
The rest of the wrestling world may want to see national champs Aaron Brooks and Carter Starocci of Penn State or the always fast and furious Roman Bravo-Young, but I want to see true freshman Levi Haines compete against Iowa's latest breakout star, Cobe Siebrecht.
ALL-TIME LINEUP: The ten best Penn State wrestlers at every weight, across decades
The first caveat here is that we might not see this match. Penn State might protect Haines' redshirt and send out Terrell Barraclough instead. But if Haines gets the nod, watch out. In his five duals so far this season, the Pennsylvania native pinned Corbyn Munson of Central Michigan, topped Danny Nine of North Carolina, beat Jason Krassier of Iowa State, majored NCAA qualifier Garrett Model of Wisconsin and edged out All-American Will Lewan. He’s on fire right now, and there’s nothing like a crowd at the Bryce Jordan Center to fire up this rookie even more.
Iowa wrestler Cobe Siebrecht started journaling last summer. Helps him catalog his progress and organize his thoughts, a small daily thing that’s led to some big results — increased confidence and the best wrestling of his career: https://t.co/mhYJCCAT7a— Cody Goodwin (@codygoodwin) January 20, 2023
Siebrecht's most intriguing quality on the mat is his funk, and the Hawkeye junior has emerged as not only Iowa's best option at this weight but as a potential NCAA qualifier and someone who could bust up his bracket. His only two losses on the year came against All-American Peyton Robb and Round of 12 finisher Mikey Carr by decision. Haines, if he starts, will be favored, but Siebrecht will battle until the final whistle.
5. 184 pounds: No. 1 Aaron Brooks (Penn State) vs. No. 12 Abe Assad (Iowa)
This is where the debate about best matches to watch gets really interesting. Penn State still has three No. 1-ranked wrestlers set to compete in the Iowa dual who could rank in the top-five of the most exciting matches of the night, but I'm going with Aaron Brooks vs. Abe Assad in this spot.
BIG TEN CHAMPS: Penn State wins 2019 Big conference title
The previous two times these athletes have competed, Brooks won by decision, 7-3 and 8-3. Friday's match will likely look similar. Both wrestlers come into the dual with a loss to Iowa State's Marcus Coleman, while Assad has a second loss by fall against Tyler Dow of Wisconsin, a result that dropped him in the rankings and could impact his confidence.
Wrestling in the Bryce Jordan Center, Brooks will be the fan favorite, and the favorite on paper. The two-time champ has looked nearly unbeatable throughout his college career, and he wrestles with a fearlessness and poise that makes it difficult for all of his opponents to shut him down. Assad's job here will be to keep this close. While there is always a potential for an upset, and Brooks has taken losses in the past to the aforementioned Coleman, Myles Amine and Taylor Venz, these losses are rare. He'll look to take over this match and score bonus points if he can against a strong Assad.
6. 165 pounds: No. 5 Alex Facundo (Penn State) vs. No. 13 Patrick Kennedy (Iowa)
With Iowa favored at 125 and 141 and 149 and Penn State favored at 133 and 157, the 165-pound bout will be an important halfway point for both of these teams, and there's nothing like a rivalry to mark that moment.
Freshman Facundo and sophomore Kennedy are expected to take the mat to wrestle for the first time since FloWrestling's "Who's #1 Event" in 2020 where Kennedy got the better of Facundo. Since that match, both wrestlers have spent time in their respective college rooms, improving and preparing. Facundo has the higher ranking coming in, just by nature of his 11-1 record compared to Kennedy's 12-2 record, but neither wrestler has lost to anyone outside of the Top 10.
NEW FACES, NEW STORYLINES: Top athletes to know in the 2023 season
Nationally, 165 pounds is a deep weight, headlined by three former national champions and a national finalist. Earning a spot on the podium will be a challenge come March, and Facundo and Kennedy are two guys who want to be standing there with All-American trophies at the end of the season. This bout will likely be the first of perhaps several matches these two could wrestle against one another, as they have the possibility of meeting at both the conference tournament and national tournament. This, like most of the matches on Friday night, will be a close bout that could go either way. Will the crowd play a role? How will these two young stars handle this moment? Which athlete can be the momentum starter for their team?
Following Facundo, Penn State rolls out its trio of former national champs in Carter Starocci, Aaron Brooks and Max Dean, so if Iowa wants to slow down the Nittany Lions, the Hawks will need to try to do so at 165 pounds.
7. 174 pounds: No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) vs. No. 16 Nelson Brands (Iowa)
While the Alex Facundo vs. Patrick Kennedy match will showcase two new faces, a pair of veterans will take the mat at 174 pounds. Two-time Penn State champion Carter Starocci comes into this match undefeated — in fact, he has not taken a loss since the 2021 Big Ten finals. He's confident and competitive, and he wants to put on a show for his fans.
Nelson Brands, the scrappy, gritty upperweight for the Hawks who is set to take on this defending champ, is 4-3 on the year with losses to Mikey Labriola, Edmund Ruth and Rocky Jordan, but, much like several of his teammates, he wrestles the best of the best in close matches, and he's always in contention. Brands as had a hard early recent stretch of top-ranked foes, but his most recent match against Labriola showed a side of Brands that should create excitement for the Hawks.
CAEL SANDERSON: The complete collegiate record of the Penn State head coach
Down at 174 pounds, Brands has the potential to be more dangerous and productive than ever before in his career. He's not expected to win this bout, though Brands certainly is going into this bout with big goals. If Brands can even just hold Starocci to a decision and the Hawks can flip one or two other bouts in their favor throughout the night, they have a chance to top the Nittany Lions.
8. 149 pounds: No. 7 Max Murin (Iowa) vs. No. 13 Shayne Van Ness (Penn State)
While this 149-pound match is unlikely to be high scoring, just given the nature of Iowa's Max Murin's wrestling style and Penn State's Shayne Van Ness, the bout is as much of a toss up as anything on the list so far. Head coach Tom Brands has previously said in an interview that Murin "leads with his face" when he wrestles. He's hard-nosed and competitive, and Iowa trusts him.
Murin and Penn State freshman Shayne Van Ness have both taken losses by decision to Wisconsin's Austin Gomez and Iowa State's Paniro Johnson, and while Murin also has a third loss to Northwestern's Yahya Thomas 3-2, he's also racked up two more wins than Van Ness with his most notable victory coming against Penn's Doug Zapf.
GOMEZ TAKES DOWN NO. 1: Here's how Wisconsin's Austin Gomez beat Yianni Diakomihalis
This will be another bout where Iowa will need to hold down its on-paper advantage and work to squeeze out the victory if the Hawks want to fight for an upset, but in Penn State's house, don't expect Van Ness to give this one up easily. The longer this redshirt freshman star spends in the Nittany Lion wrestling room, the better he's going get and the scarier he's going to become for this weight class.
This is a match that could go to easily sudden victory, as Murin does not give up a lot of points and has the ability to wrestle patient and calm in big moments. There may not be a lot of points here, but there will undoubtedly be a lot of interest.
9. 133 pounds: No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) vs. No. 17 Brody Teske (Iowa)
While Roman Bravo-Young might be one of the most fun wrestlers to watch, he's one of the biggest favorites in this bout against the Hawks. With an undefeated record and an 88 percent bonus rate, Bravo-Young continues to separate himself from anyone he wrestles. If he keeps up this streak and runs through 133 pounds for the rest of the season, he's certainly in contention to be a finalist for the Hodge Trophy, and he's already caught the attention of some notable alumni.
"RBY's a phenomenal athlete, he's so fast [and] fun to watch," Penn State Olympian Ken Chertow said in an interview with NCAA.com. "RBY's best talent is his speed."
HODGE TROPHY: Full list of former winners of wrestling's biggest award
This speed will be a problem for Iowa's Brody Teske, a tough 133-pounder who has found his way into the lineup and will be hoping to battle for All-American honors this year. Teske started his career at Penn State, wrestling at 125 pounds, before transferring to Northern Iowa and then to the University of Iowa. Teske knows Bravo-Young, and this familiarity may help him in this bout. Only one person so far this year, Dylan Ragusin of Michigan, has held Bravo-Young to a decision, but Teske will want to fight for a similar result to keep Iowa in this bout, while Bravo-Young will shoot for bonus points to try and even the score as much as possible after a likely Iowa bonus point win at 125 pounds.
10. 125 pounds: No. 1 Spencer Lee (Iowa) vs. Gary Steen (Penn State)
Iowa's Spencer Lee is always must-watch wrestling. The Hawkeye has pinned his last six opponents before the start of the third period, and he's been utterly dominant as he continues his quest for a fourth title.
In any other dual, Spencer Lee would be the main attraction, the most interesting wrestler to watch on the mat.
Against the Nittany Lions though, in a dual where every other weight features two ranked wrestlers, 125 is at the bottom of the list in terms of excitement. Lee will be expected to pin Penn State's Gary Steen and start his team off with six team points. Steen's goal will be to survive as long as possible and do whatever he can to avoid giving up the fall. This is Iowa's opportunity to take a big lead early and capitalize on Lee's momentum.
QUEST FOR PERFECTION: Relive every match of Spencer Lee's 2021 season
In Lee's most recent Penn State vs. Iowa dual he wrestled Brandon Meredith and secured the tech in the second period. Prior to his match with Meredith, he pinned Carson Kuhn of Penn State in 2018 in the first period. He'll be looking to add to this list Friday night with more bonus points.