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  • Photo: Sam Janicki

    Photo: Sam Janicki

    Friday Night in the Big Ten

    (photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

    It's Friday, so you know what that means! It's time for a Big Ten Network doubleheader! Once again, back-to-back Big Ten duals will kick off a fun weekend of action in the conference. This week, top-ranked Penn State opens up the Bryce Jordan Center for a “white-out” against rival #8 Ohio State at 7:00pm. Following that match is a tilt between #3 Michigan and #12 Nebraska.

    Also on the Big Ten family of channels is #16 Michigan State at Maryland and #11 Minnesota at Illinois. Both matches can be fought on BIG+.

    Here's a primer on some of the top bouts to watch in each dual:

    #16 Michigan State at Maryland - 7:00pm (B1G+) Link: BIG+

    Must-Watch Matches:

    184 lbs: #13 Kyle Cochran (Maryland) vs. #23 Layne Malczewski (Michigan State)

    197 lbs: #8 Cameron Caffey (Michigan State) vs. #28 Jaron Smith (Maryland)

    Maryland's veteran upperweights have been a pleasant surprise this season. Kyle Cochran won 14 of his first 15 bouts this year, a streak that included a title at the Southern Scuffle. Jaron Smith is fresh off an overtime win over then-sixth ranked Patrick Brucki (Michigan) in his last outing. He'll face a hot Cameron Caffey, who is riding a seven-match winning streak and handed Max Dean (Penn State) his first loss of the year two Sundays ago. The 2020 Big Ten finalist is now 21-4 on the year for the Spartans. 184 lber Layne Malczewski posted the most significant win of his career against Rutgers when he stepped over returning All-American John Poznanski for a fall.

    The performances from both schools have to be encouraging this year, as Michigan State has surged into the rankings after defeating Purdue and Rutgers. Maryland has had success outside of the Big Ten with five dual wins. The strength of the Terrapin lineup is in its upperweights, so for Maryland to pull an upset, they'd likely need to win both of these bouts.

    #8 Ohio State at #1 Penn State - 7:00pm (Big Ten Network)

    Must-Watch Matches:

    125 lbs: #6 Drew Hildebrandt (Penn State) vs. #10 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State)

    149 lbs: #2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) vs. #18 Beau Bartlett (Penn State)

    165 lbs: #4 Carson Kharchla (Ohio State) vs. #11 Brady Berge (Penn State)

    174 lbs: #1 Carter Starocci (Penn State) vs. #7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State)

    184 lbs; #1 Aaron Brooks (Penn State) vs. #6 Kaleb Romero (Ohio State)

    197 lbs: #2 Max Dean (Penn State) vs. #21 Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State)

    285 lbs: #5 Greg Kerkvliet (Penn State) vs. #13 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State)

    This dual doesn't have the same cache as Penn State's last two opponents or in years past when Ohio State was an NCAA title favorite, but there's still plenty to watch. Right off the bat, the 125 lb contest will be an interesting contrast of styles. Drew Hildebrandt can do damage on the mat, while Malik Heinselman is slick on his feet. Both picked up wins over Iowa in their most recent matches. At 149 lbs, Beau Bartlett tends to keep it close with his competition, so will he be able to nullify Sammy Sasso?

    The 165 lb contest features a pair of wrestlers who have recently met three-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli (Iowa). Carson Kharchla used a slick drag to stun the veteran late, while Brady Berge felt the wrath of a fired-up Marinelli and fell via major decision. Despite the point total between their common opponent, expect a close one here. Speaking of close, the next two bouts could come down to the wire, despite the Nittany Lions having top-ranked wrestlers. Both Ethan Smith and Kaleb Romero tend to limit their opponents offensively and are rarely “out” of a match. #2 Myles Amine (Michigan) needed extra time and a lot of great scrambling to prevail over Romero.

    At 197 lbs, we'll see if Max Dean can build off of his comeback win over two-time NCAA All-American Jacob Warner (Iowa). His opponent, Gavin Hoffman, has generally beaten the guys you'd expect him to defeat, while losing to higher-ranked competition. For any OSU upset hopes, they'll probably need to take 197. The dual closes with a battle between two returning AA's, Greg Kerkvliet and Tate Orndorff. Despite being limited at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Kerkvliet still managed to major Orndorff.

    #11 Minnesota at Illinois - 8:00pm (B1G+) Link: B1G+

    Must-Watch Matches:

    125 lbs: #9 Patrick McKee (Minnesota) vs. #25 Justin Cardani (Illinois)

    133 lbs: #6 Lucas Byrd (Illinois) vs. #27 Jake Gliva (Minnesota)

    141 lbs: #4 Dylan Duncan (Illinois) vs. #15 Jake Bergeland (Minnesota)

    184 lbs: #18 Zac Braunagel (Illinois) vs. #22 Isaiah Salazar (Minnesota)

    285 lbs: #1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) vs. #16 Luke Luffman (Illinois)

    The first bout here should feature a good contrast of styles. Patrick McKee can light up the scoreboard and throw the kitchen sink at his opponents, while Justin Cardani works from a knee and tends to slow down the opposition. That worked to an extent last season as Cardani limited McKee to only four points; however, he still lost a 4-2 contest. After a strong Cliff Keen Las Vegas performance, Jake Gliva has taken some lumps during the conference portion of his schedule. He's trying to reverse a stretch that has seen him go 1-4 against Big Ten opponents, though Lucas Byrd is not someone you'd hope to meet during that skid.

    The most intriguing bout of the evening will take place at 141 lbs between 2020 All-American Dylan Duncan and Jake Bergeland. Duncan saw his first action of the year on Sunday and showed no rust in a 9-2 win over Frankie Tal-Shahar (Northwestern). His level of competition will rise tonight with Bergeland, who is fresh off a 5-2 win over Stevan Micic (Michigan) on Friday. Bergeland has solidified himself as an outside AA threat and should be a dangerous proposition for a still-returning Duncan.

    Hopefully at 184 lbs, Minnesota will send out freshman Isaiah Salazar. Salazar has been impressive at 10-2, with wins over Chris Weiler (Wisconsin) and Malczewski, but he has missed some time. Two-time qualifier Zac Braunagel will represent another solid test for the young Gopher. Braunagel has been pretty consistent this year and is coming off of consecutive conference wins.

    Any time we get to see Gable Steveson on the collegiate mats is a treat. If Gable goes for Minnesota, he'll face an opponent in Luke Luffman that is ranked 16th in the nation and sports a 12-4 record. Despite this, Steveson only needed :35 seconds to dispatch the Illini big man during their 2021 dual meet.

    #3 Michigan at #12 Nebraska - 9:00pm (Big Ten Network)

    Must-Watch Matches:

    141 lbs: #8 Chad Red Jr. (Nebraska) vs. #11 Stevan Micic (Michigan)

    157 lbs: #5 Peyton Robb (Nebraska) vs. #13 Will Lewan (Michigan)

    174 lbs: #5 Mikey Labriola (Nebraska) vs. #6 Logan Massa (Michigan)

    184 lbs: #2 Myles Amine (Michigan) vs. #9 Taylor Venz (Nebraska)

    197 lbs: #3 Eric Schultz (Nebraska) vs. #10 Patrick Brucki (Michigan)

    285 lbs: #3 Mason Parris (Michigan) vs. #12 Christian Lance (Nebraska)

    The nightcap on the Big Ten Network doubleheader has some of the most juicy dual matchups of the week. Starting at 141 lbs, Chad Red Jr. is on an incredibly difficult run to finish the season (as are some of his Nebraska teammates). All four of his remaining opponents have finished in the top-five at nationals at least once in their careers. Tonight it will be Micic, who is looking to bounce back after his loss to Bergeland. With six of the top 11 wrestlers in the nation at 141 lbs from the B1G, Micic can't afford to drop another conference bout.

    Despite the disparity in their current rankings, #13 Will Lewan holds the only career win over #5 Peyton Robb during collegiate competition. That victory came in 2019-20, before Robb moved up to 165 lbs last season. Expect this one to be tactical and close. Expect some more familiarity at 174 lbs, between two-time AA's Mikey Labriola and Logan Massa. The two met at the conference championships last year and Labriola dominated, to the tune of 11-3.

    There is no-such history at 184 lbs as Myles Amine spent the first three years of his career placing no lower than fourth at 174 lbs. Last year he jumped up to 197 to prepare for the Olympic Games and took third again. He also returned with a bronze medal for San Marino. Taylor Venz has been at 184 for his entire career. Venz was fourth as a freshman and has lost in the Round of 12 twice in the years that followed.

    While 197 lbs has generally been chaotic across the country, Eric Schultz has quietly been pretty consistent. Schultz's only loss of the year came in the CKLV finals to returning AA Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming). Against top-flight competition, he rarely lights up the scoreboard, so I'd expect a low-scoring, close bout again. Patrick Brucki has been one of those 197 lbers that has contributed to an ever-changing set of rankings at the weight. While also losing to Buchanan in Vegas, Brucki has dropped bouts to Maryland's Smith and Penn State's Dean, both in sudden victory. On the other hand, Brucki already has downed the 2021 national runner-up, Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh), 6-3.

    Though both are ranked in the top-15 at heavyweight and have been constants in their respective lineups for the last couple of years, you have to go back to 2019-20 to find the previous meeting between Mason Parris and Christian Lance. In that contest, Parris cruised to a 6-1.

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