The NWCA National Duals are here and, while we didn’t get the match-ups we wanted to see after Penn State versus Oklahoma State, there are some excellent individual clashes to watch. There are a couple of matches in that championship dual that could be on this list that I left off for various reasons. Austin Schafer (Oklahoma State) against Nick Nevills (Penn State) would be fantastic, but Schafer was last seen in a walking boot and hasn’t wrestled in two weeks. Even if he goes, that lay-off could kill that one. Nolan Boyd (Oklahoma State) against Bo Nickal (Penn State) is a top five tilt, but I really don’t like the match-up for Boyd. I’ll go deeper into that one in our Dual of the Week but, for now, just know that I don’t see it as being all that interesting or close.
TOM Overall Season Record: 54-14
10) #13 Earl Hall (Iowa State) vs. #15 Mitch McKee (Minnesota) – 133, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 3 pm at Iowa State
This is a battle between two good wrestlers who need a win over another good wrestler in the worst way. McKee, a true freshman, has lost a lot of matches this year, but most have been to ranked wrestlers. His schedule has been brutal and he has picked up some nice wins along the way. However, he has missed many chances to announce himself as a top-eight contender. Hall is a two-time All-American who has also struggled this season against the type of wrestlers he will need to beat to finish on the podium once again in his senior campaign. He has been willing to sit back and win low scoring matches when his opponents don’t attack much, but that shouldn’t be an issue here. McKee will attack, it is simply a question of whether he can score.
Pick: Hall by Decision
9) #5 Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State) vs. #8 Matt McCutcheon (Penn State) – 197, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 4 pm at Oklahoma State
With Weigel returning to the mat last weekend with a pair of victories, expect him to be ready to take on McCutcheon on Sunday. Neither man scores much so expect points to be at a premium. The odds are against a first period takedown, but if either man can find one, it would be huge. The Cowboy sophomore has 10 shutout victories this season and would be willing to win on an escape and a ride out if he can. It will be interesting to see if McCutcheon goes underneath Weigel. If he does, I think he will get away at some point, it will simply be a race against the riding time clock. In the end, I think this one comes down to whether or not the Nittany Lion can find a takedown. If he doesn’t, I expect Weigel to win, though it might take tie-breakers to settle it.
Pick: Weigel by Decision
8) #5 TJ Dudley (Nebraska) vs. #10 Zack Zavatsky (Virginia Tech) – 184, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 6:30 pm at Virginia Tech
Both wrestlers are coming off of upset losses, though each was a mild upset. Dudley lost to Myles Martin (Ohio State), 11-5, while Zavatsky fell to Michael Macchiavello (NC State), 9-3. The margin of victory in those matches is a little concerning, especially with Dudley missing the Sunday dual against Iowa. If he is sick or dinged up, he may not go in this one. Zavatsky bounced back on Sunday to win against South Dakota State so chalk his loss up to a bad match. Remember that last year Zavatsky was seeded higher than Dudley at NCAAs, five versus seven, before the Hokie fell from the quarter-finals to missing the podium while Dudley ended up in the finals. There could be similar swings as we end 2016-17 with either man finishing strong or being cut down before reaching the top-eight. If Dudley is reasonably healthy, I expect him to win an ugly match here, but it’s anyone’s guess which way these two go in the last month of the season.
Pick: Dudley by Decision
7) #3 Jared Haught (Virginia Tech) vs. #7 Aaron Studebaker (Nebraska) – 197, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 6:30 pm at Virginia Tech
Two men who are often overlooked when discussing the 197-pound weight class will meet, likely on the heels of the Dudley/Zavatsky scrap. Haught is a returning All-American who has only lost to the top-two in the country this season, while Studebaker has long been a solid round of 12 type that seems to be taking a step forward as a senior. These two met in the round of 12 at the NCAA tournament a season ago with Haught taking a 5-4 win before finishing sixth. For Studebaker, it was his second consecutive loss in the round of 12. This year, he began the season looking like he would again struggle to become an All-American, but won 14 matches in a row in the middle of the season, including a Midlands title and a win over eight-ranked Matt McCutcheon (Penn State) to build a nice resume. A win over Haught would be huge, but that is a tough ask. Expect a good, close fight with the Hokie coming out on top once again.
Pick: Haught by Decision
6) #4 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State) vs. #9 Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State) – 165, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 4 pm at Oklahoma State
Rogers’ matches are always intriguing and doubly so when he wrestles someone like Joseph who can not only go with him but is more than willing to wrestle him in any position. Rogers has just three matches all year that have not been either a fall or featured at least 10 points on the scoreboard. Joseph has just one such match, his 5-2 loss to top-ranked Isaiah Martinez (Illinois) on Friday. With such a willingness to engage and go for big moves from both men, a fall is a real possibility for either side. Even if no one secures a fall, this one could go back and forth in a classic encounter. I think Rogers learned a lot from last season and is better equipped to wrestle this match than ever before. Still, Joseph adjusted quickly after his early season, 18-12, loss to Keaton Subjeck (Stanford) and has been much more efficient since without losing his explosiveness. While you never know which one might end up counting the lights, the edge goes to the freshman here.
Pick: Joseph by Decision
5) #7 Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State) vs. #10 Mark Hall (Penn State) – 174, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 4 pm at Oklahoma State
This is a fascinating match-up that could have major ramifications for both this dual and the post-season. When these two met in the Southern Scuffle finals, the match was largely over less than halfway through the first period as Hall scored a takedown and added four near-fall on a tilt to build a 6-0 lead that made up most of the final margin in a 10-3 decision. Since then, Hall came out of redshirt, lost to Alex Meyer (Iowa), but has been lights out since including an impressive, 17-1, tech fall over #11 Zac Brunson (Illinois). Crutchmer stumbled through a pair of upset losses in late January but rebounded to beat Lelund Weatherspoon (Iowa State) and has looked better as of late. This is the big test, though. Hall seems to be accelerating towards national title contention. The Cowboys need Crutchmer to be in that mix as well, though he hasn’t gotten there yet this season. If Hall blows the doors off the Oklahoma State senior again, it might all but end the 2017 NCAA title race. If Crutchmer can close the gap or even get the win, it could get interesting.
Pick: Hall by Decision
4) #3 Tim Lambert (Nebraska) vs. #5 Joey Dance (Virginia Tech) – 125, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 6:30 pm at Virginia Tech
It is hard to believe with the success these two are having this season that they have just one All-American award between them and that one came in 2014. Dance’s post-season travails are well documented, but Lambert has also been to the NCAA tournament three times, twice as a seeded wrestler, and come up empty. However, this has been by far the Cornhusker senior’s best season and he’ll be looking for a high national seed next month. A win here would be huge as everyone scrambles to avoid being on the same side of the bracket as Thomas Gilman (Iowa). Dance’s only loss is to fourth-ranked Darian Cruz (Lehigh), but he hasn’t yet faced any of the best Big 10 competitors. This is his chance to stake his claim to the number three seed as well. Dance has been opening up more in the second half of this season, including a 12-3 major decision over #19 Sean Fausz (NC State) last weekend. If that loss to Cruz ignited him to go to another level, the rest of 125 should watch out.
Pick: Dance by Decision
3) #1 Zain Retherford (Penn State) vs. #2 Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State) – 149, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 4 pm at Oklahoma State
For all but one match this season, Retherford has been on a level few ever reach in college wrestling. He has wrestled just two seven minute matches and one of those was a 19-6 romp. However, Sunday’s showdown with Collica will be a huge test of his dominance. Collica has lost to Retherford 2-0 and 4-1 in their previous meetings. The Cowboy senior is wrestling better than he ever has and has an uncanny ability to slow opponent’s offenses to a crawl when he needs to with staccato blows to the forehead to keep distance and dangerous re-attacks an ever-present threat. He beat Brandon Sorensen (Iowa) for the first time this season, the same Sorensen who pushed Retherford into tie-breakers in a 9-8 thriller. If this version of Collica can’t compete with Retherford, perhaps the Sorensen match was just a speed bump as Zain posts one of the most dominant seasons in NCAA history. However, don’t be surprised if this one is close in the third period.
Pick: Retherford by Decision
2) #1 Gabe Dean (Cornell) vs. #8 Myles Martin (Ohio State) – 184, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 1 pm at Cornell
Do you remember when the Dean/Martin match at the All-Star was announced and who would win was a legitimate question? For a long time this season, after Dean hammered Martin in that match and launched his campaign to end all hope for everyone else at 184, that seemed like a dumb query in hindsight. While Dean continues to splatter people left and right, Martin has suddenly climbed back into the periphery of the national title conversation. His big weekend sparked talk of another title run, especially among Buckeye fans, and proved he is still incredibly dangerous. We shouldn’t forget that he lost to both Bo Nickal (Penn State) and Sam Brooks (Iowa) not too long ago, but we also shouldn’t forget that he was the 11 seed when he won the title. I don’t see Martin winning this match at all. However, he doesn’t need to win this one to prove he is coming on strong and could be there in the end. He lost at the All-Star in a 13-4 dismantling during which he seemed to have no answer for Dean. If he can close the gap and, more importantly, threaten the two-time defending champ with his offense, that will keep hope alive. Much like Retherford/Collica, if the champ dominates, it could spell doom for everyone else.
Pick: Dean by Decision
1) #2 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) vs. #3 Brian Realbuto (Cornell) – 174, Sunday, Feb. 19th, 1 pm at Cornell
While no one knows for sure if Jordan will take the mat as he continues to deal with a tumor in his foot, the fact that he wrestled twice last weekend bodes well for this match to materialize. If it does, we will get our first look at Jordan against a top notch 174. Realbuto has lost only to top-ranked Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) while beating the likes of seventh-ranked Kyle Crutchmer (Oklahoma State) and fourth-ranked Ryan Preisch (Lehigh). This would be a huge measuring stick for Jordan who has only lost to his cousin, Isaac Jordan (Wisconsin), and three-time NCAA champion Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) since entering college. Had Jordan wrestled a regular schedule this season, there is little doubt that he’d be at or near the top of the rankings, but a win here would remove even what little doubt is left. Realbuto, on the other hand, has a chance to nail down the two-seed at NCAAs if he wins out, which would probably entail beating Preisch again at EIWAs. This is a huge match. I hope we get to see it.
Pick: Jordan by Decision