No matter what your opinion of the current NWCA National Duals format, the finals match-up this year, top-ranked Penn State against second-ranked Oklahoma State, is a case of the system getting it right. Last season, these two teams met under a cloud of controversy as the Cowboys had a pair of early season losses, but the format did not allow undefeated Iowa and undefeated Penn State, the consensus top two teams in the country to square off. When the death of the father of two Oklahoma State wrestlers occurred shortly before the final dual resulting in a depleted Cowboy team traveling to Happy Valley, it was easy to see the whole exercise as futile.
However, whether by luck or by design, we have an outstanding final dual this season between the Cowboys and the Nittany Lions. These two teams have held the top two spots in the team rankings all season long and appear to be at, or very near, full strength heading into the post-season. Sunday's dual, which gets underway at 4 pm eastern and can be streamed live on Flo with a subscription, is a clash between the program with more NCAA wrestling titles than any other, Oklahoma State, and the current powerhouse, Cael Sanderson's Penn State. That it all takes place in storied Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater is icing on the cake.
The history of this match-up reflects Oklahoma State's traditional dominance. The two teams first met in 1982 with the Cowboys holding a 13-7-1 edge all-time. These two have traded victories back and forth over the last six meetings which stretch over the past 17 years. This will be the fourth consecutive season these two programs have met in February and, if the National Duals format doesn't change, it won't be the last.
Oklahoma State is a clear underdog in this one as they will be at the national tournament in a month's time. However, their balanced lineup gives them hope in any format. Each of their starters is ranked in the top-10 of the latest TOM rankings and eight of the 10 inhabit the top eight. They are led by top-ranked defending national champion Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) who is undefeated this season as he looks to repeat.
Penn State is the favorite to win their sixth national title in the past seven seasons, entering this weekend with four wrestlers ranked in the top-two in their weight class. Defending national champion Zain Retherford (Penn State) and 2016 national runner-up Jason Nolf (Penn State) hold the top spot in the rankings and look well prepared for a title run in St. Louis.
The Nittany Lions are favored at six weights on paper with a seventh win, at 174, likely given Mark Hall's previous win over Kyle Crutchmer. This spells trouble for the Cowboys, but there are some close match-ups where Oklahoma State can look for upsets to even up the dual. 165, 174, and 285 seem the most likely weights where the home crowd could push their man to an unexpected win, though none will be easy and Austin Schafer (285) has been injured. 149 would usually be a toss-up, given that it is number one versus number two, but it is hard to see Zain Retherford as anything but a solid favorite. Still, history suggests Anthony Collica will be competitive which leaves the door slightly ajar.
No. 1 Penn State vs. No. 2 Oklahoma State
125: #2 Nick Suriano (Penn State) vs. #10 Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State)
133: George Carpenter or Triston Law (Penn State) vs. #4 Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State)
141: #12 Jimmy Gulibon (Penn State) vs. #1 Dean Heil (Oklahoma State)
149: #1 Zain Retherford (Penn State) vs. #2 Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State)
157: #1 Jason Nolf (Penn State) vs. #6 Joe Smith (Oklahoma State)
165: #4 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) vs. #9 Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State)
174: #10 Mark Hall (Penn State) vs. #7 Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State)
184: #2 Bo Nickal (Penn State) vs. #4 Nolan Boyd (Oklahoma State)
197: #8 Matt McCutcheon (Penn State) vs. #5 Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State)
285: #3 Nick Nevills (Penn State) vs. #6 Austin Schafer (Oklahoma State)
Second-ranked Nick Suriano leads off for the Nittany Lions. The true freshman has not looked like one this season being as consistent as anyone throughout the year. His only loss came to top-ranked Thomas Gilman (Iowa) in a 3-2 bout in January. As of late Suriano has been increasing his bonus point output, but I don't expect that to be in play here. 10th ranked Nick Piccininni has been majored twice, once by Gilman and the other time by Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) who put the Oklahoma State redshirt freshman on his back. Suriano may come out looking to push the pace in an effort to secure the major, but Piccininni is no push-over and should have enough defense to hold him off. The only avenue to victory for the Cowboy here seems to be getting on top and finding a tilt. Piccininni has that in his arsenal, though this would be the best opponent he has been able to turn if he gets it. The vast majority of the time, this one ends with Suriano ahead by three to five points.
WrestleStat: Suriano by Decision, 3-0 Penn State
TOM: Suriano by Decision, 3-0 Penn State
Want to read more of this article and others like it? Become a TOM Prime member today!