photo courtesy of Cam Kramer
Here at The Open Mat, we try to be as objective and unbiased as possible, as we all were wrestling fans before covering the sport professionally. With the most anticipated dual of the college season only two days away, we decided to switch things up and get the fan’s perspective on the upcoming match between #2 Penn State and #1 Iowa. In that vein, we have asked Clay Sauertieg and Bryce Villa to show the blueprint to victory for each of their home teams. With Clay’s article already posted, we’ll move to Bryce, who has been the “utility-man” for TOM, but is also our DII-guru.
You read it here first, or second, depending on how TheOpenMat decides to present this preview, the Iowa Hawkeyes will beat the defending national champion and Big Ten dual champion Nittany Lions on Friday night and clinch the B10 Dual title. Listen, I like Clay, he’s a good guy. But if he says anything other than, “woe is me the Hawkeyes are going to win” in his preview, then he’s lying to you and deserves four Pinocchios! In preparing for this “Why Iowa will win” I actually struggled to name the Penn State starters off the top of my head. I cannot remember the last time that was the case. And that right there is the #1 reason why the Iowa Hawkeyes will hand Penn State their second dual loss of the season. It has been almost five years since Iowa defeated Penn State, you have to go back to February 8th of 2015. It has been nearly seven years since Iowa has beaten them in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. This is the Hawkeyes year, follow along with why I break down why.
#1 Spencer Lee
Spencer Lee is number one in the rankings, number one in Hawkeye fans hearts, and the number one reason that Iowa wins this dual. I am not sure where Cael wants to start this dual, but, if I were Tom, I know where I would. Spencer Lee is a monster. To steal a quote from A Knights Tale, how would I beat Spencer Lee? “With a stick, while he slept.” Penn State has no one and has not had anyone since Megaludis graduated who can or could keep him from scoring bonus on Friday night. If this match makes it out of the first period, I’ll be amazed. Spencer Lee has not allowed a point in Big Ten dual competition and only allowed an opponent out of the first period twice. Spencer Lee, you might as well just put five points on the board to start the dual and leave it at that. Frankly, a great move by Cael would be to simply forfeit the match and keep the Iowa crowd from getting rowdy. Think of it like when Buck Showalter intentionally walked Barry Bonds with the bases loaded and a two-run lead. It’s a smart move to limit the damage.
#2 Who are these guys?
Seriously I was not joking when I said I struggled to name the Penn State starters for this dual off the top of my head. Brandon Meredith? I know I have heard the Verkleeren kid’s name before, but I thought it was “Verkleen”. I thought Shakur Rasheed graduated or transferred? Mark Hall! I know that guy, Zahid Valencia smashed his guitar in Pittsburgh. RBY and Nick Lee were easy as was Vincenzo Joseph. But honestly, it was hard for me to figure out these guys. I know they are talented. They are wrestling for Penn State, they’re not some scrubs, but the only young guy name I recognized was Aaron Brooks. That kid is going to be very good and his match with Abe Assad should be all kinds of fun. Listen, this is not your Penn State lineup of the last five years. It still has the firepower of Hall and Joseph. It still has All-American talent in RBY and Nick Lee. It still has young talent like Aaron Brooks. But it is not the, “expect three to five finalists” team of the past. This season they are vulnerable and it is because the lineup has some guys that have yet to make a name. They can try Friday night, but I do not think it happens.
#3 Austin DeSanto is wrestling even better than before.
I am well aware that RBY dominated their last meeting at the national tournament. He made Austin DeSanto look tired and one dimensional. That was not in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The volatile DeSanto has lost just once at home in his season and a half wearing the Black and Gold. It seems like a long time ago when you look at what he has done since then. He follows Spencer Lee and he delivers. DeSanto appears to feed off his teammate and together, they are possibly the most dominant back-to-back wrestlers in the nation. Think about this, DeSanto has beaten Ethan Lizak, Seth Gross, and Nick Suriano in the last two seasons. Those are three finalists and two of them have national championships on their resumes. I just watched him give up a takedown in the first 10 seconds of the match and still earn match termination with a minute to go. He is wrestling smarter and keeping bad emotions in check. His mental toughness seems miles ahead of the past and that means he can focus for the whole seven minutes. When he does that, he is very tough to beat. He does struggle from the bottom, but RBY is not Seth Gross. If the Carver crowd starts to smell blood in the water, they will put DeSanto into a frenzy and then we all should lookout.
#4 Tom Brands is All-In
Tom Brands has been the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes for 14 seasons now and he was still able to surprise a lot of the fan base after the Midlands Tournament. Despite knowing that Penn State lost one of their big guns to injury, he still chose to pull Abe Assad from his redshirt at 184. The last time Tom started a true freshman like this, it was Spencer Lee. That decision has turned out pretty well so far. For the first fourteen years, Tom Brands, to my recollection, pulled 0 freshmen out of their redshirts, now he has done it twice in three years. Iowa could be set to make not just one run at the championship but two. If they win this season, and right now, they are the favorite, they could have an even tougher lineup next year. Abe Assad is a potential point difference of round of 12 to All-American as well as bonus points. If he is 10 points better than Nelson Brands or Cash Wilcke, this will turn out to be a great move. Brands appears to be leaving nothing to chance, I honestly believe that if they could have gotten Jaydin Eierman into the lineup somehow this semester, they would have just to make sure there could be no doubt about winning it all.
#5 Anthony Cassioppi
Why would I have a redshirt freshman on this list? Because if the dual comes down to heavyweight, Iowa will win. The redshirt freshman has been scary good this season, even better than the redshirt campaign that saw him win 20 matches, including 14 by fall. Cassioppi has won all 13 of his bouts this season, including five over wrestlers ranked in the top 20. He has avenged a loss 2018-19 to Matt Stencel at the Midlands and now he has a chance to be part of the first Iowa national championship team in nearly a decade. His smile is infectious and on this Iowa Hawkeye team, he may be the most significant change. He brings an attitude to the bench that makes his teammates engaged and excited. If DeSanto is your crazy sports dad, Cassioppi is the uncle who takes you out for ice cream with sprinkles after the tournament. The big man with the big smile might be my favorite wrestler in Black and Gold this season and if you watch him Friday, you will see why.
Iowa could have as many fans in Carver as the local fire marshall would allow. They have packed nearly 16,000 in there before and there might not be a better chance to do it again. Iowa fans will pack every seat and Black and Gold will be everywhere. The fans are truly the great equalizer and until you have seen and heard them at their loudest, you have no idea what heights they can push a Hawkeye wrestler to. I was there for the Brent Metcalf comeback against Bubba Jenkins. I was there when Tony Ramos hooked up the cowcatcher in the third period and took Jordan Conaway over for the fall. What will be the match that sends the Iowa Hawkeye fans through the roof and makes the rafters shake? There is almost always a match that goes Iowa’s way that should not and, take it from someone who has watched from the crowd and press row, the Iowa fans play a part in it. As an opponent wears down or slows down, you can sense them growing restless. When an opponent backs out of the circle or takes longer to walk back to the center, you feel the temperature rise. When the referee makes that first stall warning early in the third period, it gets too loud to talk to your neighbor. And then, when the Hawkeye scores the takedown to win the match, it is all you can do to remain seated in press row and not join in the celebration. You can ask Jason Bryant about the Ramos/Jordan Oliver match and I bet he would confirm. The crowd is indeed the great equalizer and I expect it to be packed. Heck, there were 13,400 fans last week with a snowstorm looming. The weather is supposed to be great this Friday. They will play a crucial role during Friday’s dual and they are a real difference-maker.
It has been so much fun watching this Iowa wrestling team run roughshod over the Big Ten so far this season. The Hawkeyes have won 44 out of 50 individual dual matches. They are averaging almost 33 team points per contest. Their average margin of victory is more than 31 points. These are video game numbers when you realize they have done that against four different top 10 dual teams. They are not just beating up on the bottom of the Big Ten; they are feasting on the best. A win over number two Penn State in convincing fashion could make this a team that Iowa fans talk about for a very long time. Iowa is hungry for a championship and this is their preview of March.