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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    #1 Penn State at #3 Michigan Preview

    Nick Lee (left) and Stevan Micic (Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    This evening, one of the biggest duals of the year will go down. No. 3 Michigan will welcome No. 1 Penn State to campus for their conference match. The dual, which airs live on the Big Ten Network at 6:00pm ET, could feature as many as 15 top-10 ranked wrestlers across the 10 matches. The following is a weight-by-weight preview of the dual.

    125: No. 1 Nick Suriano (Michigan) vs. No. 7 Drew Hildebrandt (Penn State)

    After an extended hiatus from the college mats, Suriano made his return earlier this month. He started his career at Penn State and won a national title at Rutgers, but now will make yet another run at the top of the podium for Michigan. So far this year, he has won all three of his matches via bonus points. Suriano has scored major decisions over No. 31 Gage Curry (Pittsburgh) and No. 18 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State) and added a technical fall over Jake Staud (Army).

    Hildebrandt is also spending his final year of eligibility at a new home. After three NCAA-qualifying seasons and an All-American run for Central Michigan, he is now starting for the Nittany Lions. His Penn State campaign got off to a strong start with a fall over Zach Spence (Maryland), and he has since picked up decisions over Jacob Moran (Indiana) and No. 27 Dylan Shawver (Rutgers). Hildebrandt's win over Shawver required some last-minute heroics.

    Suriano should have a big advantage in the neutral position. He is large for the weight, and can dominate the hand fighting. Hildebrandt is dangerous in the top position and could make a difference there, but it is hard to see Suriano giving him that opportunity.

    Prediction: Suriano (Michigan) major decision over Hildebrandt (Penn State)

    133: No. 8 Dylan Ragusin (Michigan) vs. No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State)

    Ragusin moved up to 133 pounds this year after qualifying as a true freshman last season at 125. He is 12-3 on the season, including a strong performance at the CKLV Invitational. On his way to the tournament title, Ragusin picked up wins over No. 9 Chris Cannon (Northwestern) and No. 30 Dom LaJoie (Cornell). After that, he dropped a major decision against Michael McGee, but has since bounced back with a major decision over Will Betancourt (Ohio State) last weekend.

    Bravo-Young started this year as the number-one wrestler at this weight after upsetting No. 2 Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) in last year's NCAA final. So far this year, he has continued that undefeated streak with nine victories. Last weekend, Bravo-Young scored an 11-5 decision over No. 20 Joey Olivieri (Rutgers).

    None of Bravo-Young's results this year suggest he has fallen from his peak last season. A few wrestlers have escaped giving up bonus points, but those matches were not really in doubt. In terms of common opponents, the Penn State wrestler controlled McGee and took a 6-2 decision. On the other hand, McGee had a huge advantage over Ragusin. In the end, Bravo-Young's dynamic offense should be enough to take this bout.

    Prediction: Bravo-Young (Penn State) decision over Ragusin (Michigan)

    141: No. 4 Stevan Micic (Michigan) vs. No. 1 Nick Lee (Penn State)

    For the first time since the 2019 season, Micic returned to the folkstyle mats earlier this month. During his absence, Micic won medals at both the 2019 European Games and the 2020 European Championships, and he also represented Serbia at the Olympics. He got off to a strong start with an 8-6 decision over Julian Chlebove (Arizona State). However, he then suffered an upset against No. 20 Cole Matthews (Pittsburgh). Micic then bounced back with a 12-7 decision over No. 23 Dylan D'Emilio (Ohio State) last weekend.

    Lee has held the number-one spot this entire season after bringing home the NCAA title last year. He had a bit of a slow start to the year, as he only scored bonus in one of his first four matches. However, he is now on a four-match bonus streak. In his last match, Lee scored a 19-1 technical fall over Danny Bertoni (Maryland). He missed last week's match against Rutgers but is expected back for this dual.

    Micic has moved all the way up to 141 after starting his collegiate career at 125. This will certainly be one of the key matches in the dual, but it is hard to imagine Micic hanging with Lee for seven minutes. The pace will be on display as per usual, and it will likely get to the Michigan wrestler as the match goes on.

    Prediction: Lee (Penn State) decision over Micic (Michigan)

    149: No. 16 Kanen Storr/Cole Mattin (Michigan) vs. No. 19 Beau Bartlett (Penn State)

    Storr was expected to be the starter at this weight this season. However, he suffered an injury against No. 25 Michael Blockhus (Minnesota) at the CKLV Invitational and has not returned to the lineup since. Mattin has been the one filling in for the three-time NCAA qualifier. Against Pittsburgh, he scored a 9-4 decision over Dan Mancini, and he held tough against No. 2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) before ultimately falling 9-4.

    Bartlett appeared to still be growing into the 149-pound weight class last season, but he certainly looks the part so far this year. He has an 8-3 record on the season, including impressive wins over No. 22 PJ Ogunsanya (Army), No. 24 Anthony Artalona (Penn) and No. 9 Kyle Parco (Arizona State). Things came back down to earth a bit last weekend as he dropped a rideout match against No. 17 Mike Van Brill (Rutgers).

    One of Bartlett's biggest improvements since his true freshman season has been his ability to control the pace and win close matches. That will likely come in handy against Mattin. Five of Mattin's 15 matches this year have been decided by two points or fewer. Look for this one to be close early, but Bartlett will likely be the one with his hand raised at the end of the match.

    Prediction: Bartlett (Penn State) decision over Mattin (Michigan)

    157: No. 15 Will Lewan (Michigan) vs. Tony Negron (Penn State)

    This will be Lewan's third-straight season in the starting lineup for Michigan at 157. He earned a trip to the NCAA tournament in both of his previous seasons, and he appears to be on the way yet again this year. Lewan is 8-2 on the season, and he has already picked up victories over No. 20 Andrew Cerniglia (Navy) and No. 21 Elijah Cleary (Pittsburgh).

    Negron has been a surprise starter for Penn State this year. His previous experience came at the club level while he was enrolled at NC State, but he has started six of 11 duals. His only win on the year came against Maryland, where he scored an 11-2 major decision over Lucas Cordio. In his last match, he went to sudden victory but ultimately came up short against Robert Kanniard (Rutgers).

    Lewan should be the clear favorite in this match. Negron has kept it tight with some top wrestlers like No. 3 Jacori Teemer (Arizona State) and No. 8 Josh Humphreys (Lehigh), but in the end, he has failed to pick up that signature victory. Lewan is vulnerable, but he should be able to do enough for the decision.

    Prediction: Lewan (Michigan) decision over Negron (Penn State)

    165: No. 10 Cameron Amine (Michigan) vs. No. 16 Brady Berge (Penn State)

    Amine broke through with a seventh-place finish at the last NCAA tournament to become an All-American for the first time. He has returned this season with a 7-2 record so far. He scored a pair of victories over No. 12 Phillip Conigliaro (Harvard) at the CKLV Invitational and also holds a win over No. 21 Josh Ogunsanya (Columbia).

    Berge seemingly retired from college wrestling after injury defaulting from the 2021 NCAA tournament. He left Penn State and took a coaching job at South Dakota State. However, he recently returned to the Nittany Lions and made his season debut last weekend. For his first match back, he moved up to 165 pounds and bested Andrew Clark (Rutgers) via a 5-1 score.

    Penn State fans would likely want this one, but it might be too much too soon. He did not look overly rusty last weekend against Rutgers, but this will be a step up in competition. At the same time, Amine has been out of action since the CKLV Invitational, so he might not be ready to go for this dual. If this match happens, look for Amine to pull out a close decision.

    Prediction: Amine (Michigan) decision over Berge (Penn State)

    174: No. 6 Logan Massa (Michigan) vs. No. 1 Carter Starocci (Penn State)

    Massa first became an All-American as a redshirt freshman in 2017. He found his way onto the podium against last season with a fifth-place finish. He has returned to Michigan for one last run. Massa has started the season with an undefeated 7-0 record. The season began with a first-place result at the Cleveland State Open. Massa then won a pair of dual meet matches over Hunter Kernan (Pittsburgh) and No. 7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State).

    As the returning champion at this weight, Starocci has been as dominant as expected. He has won all 11 of his matches on the year and picked up bonus points in nine of those matches. One of his opponents to escape giving up bonus was No. 14 Chris Foca (Cornell). The bout was tied going into the final period, and Starocci rode out the period to ice the match.

    That riding skill set that Starocci has shown this year will likely be on display here. Massa has struggled at times in his college career working from the bottom position. If he does not score an early takedown, he could find himself working from behind throughout the contest.

    Prediction: Starocci (Penn State) decision over Massa (Michigan)

    184: No. 2 Myles Amine (Michigan) vs. No. 1 Aaron Brooks (Penn State)

    After sitting out the 2020 season with an Olympic redshirt, Amine returned very late in the season last year and bumped up to 197 pounds from 174. He went on to finish third at the NCAA tournament. Amine then represented San Marino at the Olympics and brought home a bronze medal. He returned to Michigan this year for one last run at an NCAA title. His new home is at 184, and he has started the year with 11-straight victories. Along the way, he bested his former Penn State rival Mark Hall via a 4-2 score.

    Brooks won the NCAA title last year at this weight, and he appears to have taken a step forward this season. He has won all nine of his matches to start the year. The only opponent to avoid giving up bonus points was No. 4 Parker Keckeisen (Northern Iowa), and Brooks controlled the match throughout. Last weekend, the Penn State wrestler dominated No. 5 John Poznanski (Rutgers) on the way to an 11-2 major decision.

    Brooks is the more dynamic offensive wrestler in the neutral position. However, Amine can certainly score his points via scrambles. In order to pick up this signature victory, Brooks will need to find a way to score clean takedowns and avoid falling into Amine's game. This might make for a slower-paced match, but in the end, Brooks should be able to get it done.

    Prediction: Brooks (Penn State) decision over Amine (Michigan)

    197: No. 8 Patrick Brucki (Michigan) vs. No. 2 Max Dean (Penn State)'

    Brucki transferred to Michigan after three seasons at Princeton. He finished fourth in 2019 to become an All-American. So far this year, he has gone 12-2, with his only defeats coming against No. 7 Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming) and No. 12 Jake Woodley (Oklahoma). Brucki has had strong results recently as he bested No. 9 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh) on Jan. 9 and returned last weekend with a 5-2 decision over No. 20 Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State).

    This is Dean's first season at Penn State after multiple years at Cornell. He made the finals in 2018 and was a two-time All-American for the Big Red. There was some question early in the season about whether Dean would hold down this spot or Michael Beard would retain the role. Dean answered those questions right away and has been a revelation for Penn State. He has won all 11 of his matches and picked up bonus in eight. He dominated No. 10 Kordell Norfleet (Arizona State) back in December and recently scored a 9-6 decision over No. 6 Greg Bulsak (Rutgers).

    Brucki is at his best when he is able to lean on a physical advantage over an opponent. However, he will not have that luxury against Dean. He has been an overly physical presence so far this season, and he remains dangerous on top. Look for Dean to score an early takedown, make a difference in the top position and cruise to a decision victory.

    Prediction: Dean (Penn State) decision over Brucki (Michigan)

    285: No. 2 Mason Parris (Michigan) vs. No. 4 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State)

    The heavyweight division is extremely deep this year, and one of the reasons for that is Parris. He finished as the NCAA runner-up last season, and he has won his first seven matches to start this year. All of his victories have come with bonus points. Last weekend, he scored a first-period fall over No. 12 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State).

    Kerkvliet is also undefeated on the year, and he has scored bonus points in eight of his nine matches. His only opponent to escape giving up extra points was No. 18 Lewis Fernandes (Cornell), and that was a dominant 5-0 decision. In his last match, Kerkvliet scored a first-period fall over Alex Esposito (Rutgers).

    Parris and Kerkvliet hit at last year's Big Ten tournament. The contest belonged to Parris from start to finish, and he took home an 11-3 major decision. While that is their only folkstyle match to date, the two-faced off again at the recent Olympic trials. This time Kerkvliet reversed that result and took a 4-4 victory on criteria. While history would favor Parris in this match, Kerkvliet was clearly not healthy last season. He has looked more like himself and might surprise folks with an upset bid here. With that being said, Parris is still the second-best heavyweight in the country until someone not named Gable Steveson knocks him off. He is undefeated against all other opponents since 2019.

    Prediction: Parris (Michigan) decision over Kerkvliet (Penn State)

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