Photo of Spencer Lee (middle) by Mark Lundy, LutteLens.com
2018 is here and with it comes dual season in NCAA Division I college wrestling. Across the country, we’ve got outstanding match-ups this week including Oklahoma State visiting Iowa, Minnesota battling Ohio State, Penn State facing Michigan, and so many more. This time of year there are a laundry list if showdowns that could have massive implications for individuals, weight classes, and the national team race. We narrowed down a strong slate to the 10 most important matches in Division I this week. Here they are complete with our predictions!
TOM Predictions Season Record: 20-14
All times eastern. Matches are in chronological order.
#3 Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) vs. #4 Nathan Tomasello (Ohio State), 125 pounds, Friday, Jan. 12th, 7:00 pm, at Ohio State
You might think that Tomasello, who made his season debut last weekend and enters this match 1-0 after sustaining an injury at the Under 23 World Team Trials in October, would be the wrestler with questions in his showdown with Lizak. While we certainly haven’t seen Tomasello pushed since he has been back, his only match didn’t make it out of the first period, Lizak sat out Minnesota’s dual against Michigan State over the weekend and though I’m told he is scheduled to go, his backup Steve Polakowski will also make the trip. That means that if this scrap is close heading to the third, fans of both teams might wonder just how much their man has left. The last time these two met was in February of 2015 with Tomasello coming away with a 19-5 victory. Lizak has improved a great deal since then, but expect the Buckeye to control the action in neutral. If Tomasello can score multiple takedowns in the first period and stay out from underneath the Gopher, he could win easily. However, expect Lizak to take top when he has the chance. That position should determine if the returning NCAA finalist has a chance to win. If Tomasello can simply not give up nearfall, he should take it.
Prediction: Tomasello by Decision
#6 Scott Parker (Lehigh) vs. #8 Josh Terao (American), 133 pounds, Friday, Jan. 12th, 7:00 pm, at Lehigh
When the season began, it was fair to wonder if anyone could crack the top three at 133 pounds of Seth Gross (South Dakota State), Stevan Micic (Michigan), and Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State). While Gross has established himself as the clear number one, the rest of the top1-0 has descended into anarchy. Parker found himself ranked second heading into the Southern Scuffle, having beaten Brock and Terao, but he struggled in Chattanooga, falling to Isaac Jimenez (Air Force) in the opening round, then dropping a consolation match to 18th ranked Rico Montoya (Northern Colorado). Terao has been battle tested with big wins over Jack Mueller (Virginia) and Dom Forys (Pitt), though he has taken four losses now. He is coming off a loss to redshirt freshman Montorie Bridges (Wyoming), one of the surprises of the weight class. With Micic and Brock both having a pair of losses, this weight class suddenly seems open for any number of contenders to position themselves as a finals threat. However, getting on Gross’ side is likely not conducive to making that happen. This bout is key for both men as they try to right the ship after their losses. Parker beat Terao 604 at the Journeymen Classic in November. If he can do it again, it will be a good sign he has put his rough Scuffle behind him. The loser could be destined for a quarter-final meeting with Gross, though there is plenty of wrestling left.
Prediction: Parker by Decision
#6 Joey McKenna (Ohio State) vs. #11 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota), 141 pounds, Friday, Jan. 12th, 7:00 pm, at Ohio State
Another Buckeye that could play a large role in their title drive, McKenna hasn’t participated in the mega-matches at this weight that have seen each of the other title contenders take at least one loss already this season. The Stanford transfer hasn’t wrestled anyone ranked better than 17th so while he remains undefeated, he hasn’t had a chance to banish the demons from last season’s NCAA tournament that saw him miss the podium. This is a huge match in that regard as it was Thorn who upended McKenna as the number 14 seed in the round of 16 at the 2017 NCAA tournament, pinning Joey in overtime. Thorn went on to finish eighth and is once again looking like the type of competitor likely to be found in the round of 12 in Cleveland. McKenna has higher aspirations and is capable of being one of six grapplers at this weight with a legitimate title shot, but we need to see it this season to be sure there aren’t scars from his 2017 miss. Thorn might not be a title threat himself, but seeing McKenna notch a convincing revenge victory would be another piece of evidence that St. Louis was an aberration.
Prediction: McKenna by Decision
#5 Troy Heilmann (North Carolina) vs. #11 Eleazar DeLuca (Rutgers), 149 pounds, Friday, Jan. 12th, 7:00 pm, at Rutgers
A pair of seniors who entered the season not expected by many to challenge for All-American honors will clash on Friday having put themselves squarely in that conversation with strong first halves. Heilmann got off to a torrid start, racking up a slew of quality wins with just one loss, to third-ranked Justin Oliver (Central Michigan), before the South Beach Duals. However, he was tripped up by Grant Leeth (Missouri), who is looking like another unlikely top eight contender himself, in Florida, then fell to 15th ranked Michael Sprague (American) last week. DeLuca earned the biggest win of his career when he took then number five Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) for a ride twice in the third period en route to a 12-6 upset. The Rutgers man is dangerous and Heilmann is reeling a little bit. This is an important bout for the Tar Heel as he looks to ensure that all that strong early season work doesn’t unravel. If he can win here, he still has an incredible resume that could lead to a good seed in March. A second big win in a row for DeLuca would likely see him enter the top-10 and set him up as an intriguing dark horse as we enter conference dual season.
Prediction: Heilmann by Decision
#9 Nick Wanzek (Minnesota) vs. #12 Te’Shan Campbell (Ohio State),165 pounds, Friday, Jan. 12th, 7:00 pm, at Ohio State
At this point in the season, there are many different wrestlers that could ultimately decide whether Penn State or Ohio State ultimately take home the national title. Campbell is a prime candidate, especially if he can climb into the top six at 165. The transfer from Pitt looked like he might be headed in that direction when he crushed Anthony Valencia (Arizona State), 14-0, in November, but his results since haven’t been to that level, splitting matches with Isaiah White (Nebraska) in addition to taking losses at the hands of David McFadden (Virginia Tech) and Richie Lewis (Rutgers). None of those are bad losses, but those are the type of guys Campbell needs to beat to score significant points at the NCAA tournament. In Wanzek, a senior who reached the round of 12 in St. Louis last year, Campbell has another opportunity to show he is ready to become an All-American. With nine of the top 13 165s in the nation wrestling at Big Ten schools, there will be more chances down the road. Still, if either man misses too many chances, they’ll find themselves behind the eight ball when the postseason rolls around.
Prediction: Campbell by Decision
#2 Adam Coon (Michigan) vs. #7 Nick Nevills (Penn State), 285 pounds, Friday, Jan. 12th, 9:00 pm, at Michigan
10 days ago this would have been a two versus three battle, but Nevills went to the Southern Scuffle and took a pair of uncharacteristic losses. Last year’s national fifth-place finisher was undefeated before falling at the hands of Mike Boykin (NC State) and Nathan Butler (Stanford). Both of those wrestlers are solid, but Nevills was viewed by many as a potential finalist if he could figure out Coon. He still could be just that and the Penn State junior will get his first look at the Michigan senior on Friday. Coon, a third-place NCAA tournament finisher in 2016 before redshirting last season, has been as advertised since his return, entering this weekend 16-0. He has consolidated his place as the consensus number two behind Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) and will be looking to repel another challenger here. Nevills’ top work is strong which gives him a chance to earn a crucial edge in this sort of match if he can find riding time. However, his neutral offense has largely disappeared in recent matches. Coon can ride a little bit himself which makes it difficult to see either man winning without a takedown unless this battle extends to the second set of tie-breakers. Coon seems more likely to find the winning score, but expect it to be tight.
Prediction: Coon by Decision
#9 Kevin Beazley (Michigan) vs. #8 Anthony Cassar/Shakur Rasheed (Penn State), 197 pounds, Friday, Jan. 12th, 9:00 pm, at Michigan
The first question that must be answered in this one is who will take the mat for Penn State. Matt McCutcheon was injured at the Southern Scuffle leaving Cassar and Rasheed, the Scuffle champion, as the most likely options. Cassar has been the choice in all five duals for the Nittany Lions, though Rasheed just notched four ranked wins, three by fall, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets a look. Whichever man gets the call, they’ll know they have competition waiting in the wings. Beazley lost a couple of matches in Vegas that he’d have expected to win, but has otherwise been rock solid. He sat out the Princeton dual last weekend but wrestled against Purdue that same day. The 2017 All-American for Old Dominion looks like the type of guy the Nittany Lion 197 needs to beat if they are to stand on the podium in Cleveland. A loss to the Wolverine would most assuredly see calls for the other guy to get the call. On the flip side, Beazley’s All-American run and career as a whole shows he is more than capable of taking down big game. He’ll want to show that Vegas was just a bad tournament and that he is still one of the top eight at this weight.
Prediction: Cassar by Decision, Rasheed by Fall
#7 Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State) vs. #11 Spencer Lee (Iowa), 125 pounds, Sunday, Jan. 14th, 4:00 pm, at Iowa
Lee took down one All-American at the Midlands, rolling up Sean Russell (Edinboro), 15-0, in a demonstration of how dangerous he can be when he gets on top. However, he was beaten, 3-1, in a controversial match with Ronnie Bresser (Oregon State). Smartly keeping his hands out front, Bresser was able to stay away from danger when it was his turn on bottom, eventually winning a scramble for an escape, then hitting an inside trip for the winning takedown. Piccininni famously blew a large lead against Ethan Lizak (Minnesota) earlier this season after Lizak was able to go to work on top, earn six nearfall in the second period, and finish the comeback with a takedown in the third. After getting out scrambled for takedowns against Sean Fausz (NC State), Piccininni needs to get a win over another top notch 125 in order to avoid facing one in the round of 16 at nationals. This match should come down to whether Lee can get a takedown and, if he can’t, whether he takes top when it his choice. If Lee can win the neutral battle, he should win comfortably. If Piccininni can earn a takedown or two while not allowing Lee to get one, this one will be very interesting. Don’t rule out Piccininni getting a turn himself if he gets a chance on top. That is well within his capabilities.
Prediction: Lee by Decision
#7 Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State) vs. #10 Alex Marinelli (Iowa), 165 pounds, Sunday, Jan. 14th, 4:00 pm, at Iowa
Beyond the fact that it could decide the dual, the Rogers/Marinelli clash could have significant seeding implications down the line. Marinelli remains undefeated with three ranked wins on the season, including two over Richie Lewis (Rutgers). This will be his first clash with a top-10 foe, however, presenting the redshirt freshman with an opportunity to add to a promising resume. Rogers was an All-American last year and presents a unique set of problems for those he wrestles. He did take a surprising loss to Branson Ashworth (Wyoming) in Cheyenne, but should be right in this one. Marinelli’s dogged, hard-nosed style combined with Rogers’ willingness to engage and big move potential could produce fireworks either way. I don’t expect to see this one decided in the 3-2 range, but it is difficult to say which man will be able to win the majority of the exchanges. This could be Marinelli’s coming out party or Rogers could put the breaks on the bandwagon a little. It should be fun to watch.
Prediction: Rogers by Decision
#3 Sam Stoll (Iowa) vs. #11 Derek White (Oklahoma State), 285 pounds, Sunday, Jan. 14th, 4:00 pm, at Iowa
Stoll comes into this one undefeated and looking, as he always has when healthy, like a top-eight type. White has had a great deal of success since moving up from 197, losing just once, to Mike Hughes (Hofstra) at the Journeymen Classic. White’s ceiling is difficult to determine, but this will be an excellent test for him. Against heavyweights close to his size, White has shown to be a dangerous man with good neutral offense and a good ability to ride. However, Stoll presents some unique challenges with his size and upper body ability. In last season’s Iowa/Oklahoma State dual, a similar clash between Stoll and Austin Schafer, another bulked up 197, saw the Cowboy struggle to stay in bounds, being forced to fire off leg attacks to keep from being warned for stalling. It will be interesting to see if White can do a better job holding his ground, though many 285s have found that challenging against Stoll. That could be a problem for Derek as he has done well with slide-bys this season and I’m not sure the sort of swinging outside singles that Schafer was able to use to escape trouble are his forte. If White can stay even on his feet, it will be interesting to see if Stoll can get away from him. That might be the path to an upset if there is to be one. Stoll’s win over Tanner Hall (Arizona State) and losses by Nick Nevills (Penn State) at the Scuffle pave the way for the big Hawkeye to earn a top-three seed down the road. He could see Kyle Snyder (Ohio State), Adam Coon (Michigan), and Nevills still in the regular season in addition to the Big Ten tournament which will give him the opportunity to earn it, but if two or three of the top heavyweights split matches among themselves, being undefeated in other bouts could win the day. Stoll needs to hold serve here.
Prediction: Stoll by Decision