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  • Photo: Photo/Mark Beshey

    Photo: Photo/Mark Beshey

    Matchups to watch at South Beach Duals

    Gable Steveson defeated Jordan Wood in the third-place match at the 2019 NCAAs (Photo/Mark Beshey, The Guillotine)

    While the Midlands and the Southern Scuffle continue to be the highlight of winter break for college wrestling fans, the South Beach Duals have been presenting some top matches over the last few seasons. This year, the field is expected to feature multiple ranked teams and could provide some intriguing individual matches. The following is a weight-by-weight preview of the top bouts from the event.

    125: No. 6 Brandon Paetzell (Lehigh) vs. Patrick McKee (Minnesota)
    When: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET

    After qualifying for the NCAA tournament last season and finishing with a 15-13 record, Paetzell has taken a step forward and worked his way into the top 10 of the rankings. He has started his junior season with a 5-2 record, which includes wins over Alex Thomsen (Nebraska) and No. 11 Killian Cardinale (Old Dominion). Paetzell's last defeat was a sudden victory loss against No. 3 Patrick Glory (Princeton).

    McKee has fallen out of the rankings during his first year in the starting lineup for the Golden Gophers. He is 10-4 on the season and only one of those losses came against an unranked wrestler. In late November, McKee pushed No. 4 Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State) but ended up dropping a one-point match. In his last action, he scored a 6-4 victory over three-time Fargo champion Danny Vega (South Dakota State).

    This should be an interesting indicator match heading into the second semester of competition. Paetzell has worked his way up the rankings, while McKee has fallen out. However, the schedule gets tougher for both starting here. McKee has looked solid when he is able to score. His struggles have come against wrestlers with staunch defense. Paetzell is normally solid defensively, but if McKee turns up his pace he should be able to score this upset and find himself back in the top 20.

    Prediction: McKee (Minnesota) decision over Paetzell (Lehigh)

    133: No. 6 Chaz Tucker (Cornell) vs. No. 7 Montorie Bridges (Wyoming)
    When: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 11 a.m. ET

    This will be a rematch of the finals of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. In the match, Bridges was clearly the more aggressive wrestler through the first two periods, but he only held a 1-0 lead heading into the third. Tucker tied it up with a quick escape to start the final period. He then scored on his first shot of the match with a deep single leg. Tucker then proceeded to ride out the match for the 4-1 victory.

    That was Tucker's most impressive victory on the season. He got a bit of a late start after representing the U.S. at the U23 World Championships, but he has now built a 12-0 record on the season. Tucker also owns a ranked win over No. 14 Todd Small (Iowa State).

    Outside of his loss against Tucker, Bridges' only other defeat came against current redshirt Theorius Robinson (Northern Colorado). He finished second at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and recently won the Reno Tournament of Champions. Bridges holds current season victories over No. 13 Mosha Schwartz (Northern Colorado), No. 12 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska) and No. 11 Noah Gonser (Campbell).

    Tucker's lack of height really plays into his defensive style. He is very hard to score on since he stays very low in his stance. This gives a lot of wrestlers trouble, and it hurts Bridges especially considering his offense consists of a lot of ducks and slides. This will likely be another close match, but Tucker will be able to take it with his conservative style.

    Prediction: Tucker (Cornell) decision over Bridges (Wyoming)

    141: No. 10 Grant Leeth (Missouri) vs. No. 15 Sa'Derian Perry (Old Dominion)
    When: Monday, Dec. 30 at 11 a.m. ET

    Leeth has missed multiple seasons with injury. He is currently in his sixth season of collegiate wrestling at his third school, and he is still widely considered to be a junior. With that being said, he has only wrestled in three matches this season. He is 2-1 on the season with his only defeat coming against No. 9 Tristan Moran (Wisconsin). If he is healthy, he has the ability to be a player at this weight. In his last complete season in 2018, Leeth finished sixth to become an All-American.

    Perry transferred to Old Dominion for last season after being left without a program at Eastern Michigan. He qualified for the NCAA tournament for the second time last season, but he failed to duplicate his All-American finish. So far this year, he has gone 7-2 with bonus point victories in three of those matches.

    This should be an interesting test for Leeth. As previously stated, if he is healthy, he can go on a run at this weight. Perry has been a consistent scorer in most of his matches so far this season. At this point, it is hard to bet on Leeth being able to defend against Perry for the full seven minutes. This might be a late takedown match, but Perry's persistence should carry him to a victory.

    Prediction: Perry (Old Dominion) decision over Leeth (Missouri)

    149: No. 2 Brock Mauller (Missouri) vs. Jimmy Hoffman (Lehigh)
    When: Monday Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET

    After finishing sixth to become an All-American as a true freshman, Mauller has quickly worked his way up the rankings this year. He has already built an 11-0 record, but he has not faced the highest level of competition. Mauller is not currently scheduled to face a ranked wrestler at the South Beach Duals, but he should get a tough test when the Tigers face off against Lehigh.

    Hoffman is not currently ranked, but he has gone 12-4 on the year. All of his losses have come against quality competition. So far this year Hoffman has knocked off Josh Maruca (Arizona State) and scored a sudden victory win over Jarod Verkleeren (Penn State).

    Clearly Mauller enters this match as the favorite, but he should not look past Hoffman. He has tested No. 14 Mike D'Angelo (Princeton) and No. 12 Collin Purinton (Nebraska) this year. The Lehigh wrestler dropped both of those matches, but each one was decided by only one point.

    Prediction: Mauller (Missouri) decision over Hoffman (Lehigh)

    157: No. 7 Larry Early (Old Dominion) vs. No. 14 Jarrett Jacques (Missouri)
    When: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 11 a.m. ET

    This has been an interesting start to the season for Early. After finishing as an All-American last year, he has wrestled only five matches on the year. In his last action he dropped a match against then-unranked Justin Ruffin (Southern Illinois Edwardsville) in rideouts. Early is holding onto his ranking due to his work in previous seasons, but he will need to get right in a hurry.

    Jacques opened his season with a sudden victory defeated against BC LaPrade (Virginia Tech). However, he has since turned things around. He won his next 13 matches and finished first at three open tournaments.

    Last year Jacques scored an upset over Early at the MAC Championship. Early was favored to win the bracket, but the Missouri wrestler knocked him off via a 3-1 score. This match might end up going the same way. Due to his lack of activity, it is hard to see how Early is in his peak form. Jacques has been active and running up the score.

    Prediction: Jacques (Missouri) decision over Early (Old Dominion)

    174: No. 3 Jordan Kutler (Lehigh) vs. No. 8 Devin Skatzka (Minnesota)
    When: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET

    The top three at 174 pounds seems to be pretty much cemented at this point with Kutler firmly planted in the third spot. He gave No. 1 Mark Hall (Penn State) a bit of a scare with a near pin, but Hall took the match via a 7-2 score. Outside of that match, Kutler has won all seven of his matches and picked up bonus in five.

    After two seasons as an NCAA qualifier for Indiana, Skatzka transferred to Minnesota prior to last season. In his first year in the Twin Cities, he finished eighth to become an All-American. Skatzka has taken some head-scratching losses this year, but he has also bested the likes of No. 9 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State), No. 18 Brandon Womack (Cornell) and No. 12 Kaleb Romero (Ohio State).

    Kutler holds two career decision victories over Skatzka. This bout will likely turn out the same way. However, Skatzka has been known to pick up an upset or two along the way. If Kutler dominates this bout and puts up bonus, it might signal that he is ready to work his way into the conversation for a national title.

    Prediction: Kutler (Lehigh) decision over Skatzka (Minnesota)

    184: No. 7 Ben Darmstadt (Cornell) vs. No. 17 Owen Webster (Minnesota)
    When: Monday, Dec. 30 at 11 a.m. ET

    Darmstadt surprised a lot of people during his freshman season and ended up finishing sixth at the NCAA tournament. He then missed the entire 2019 season due to injury. While a large portion of the Cornell squad is out on redshirt this season, Darmstadt has gotten back in the lineup. He has gone 13-4 with victories over Gavin Hoffman (Ohio State) and No. 11 Sam Colbray (Iowa State).

    Webster was expected to start for Minnesota over the last two seasons, but he was never really able to hold down the spot. He finally appears ready for primetime this season. He has gone 11-4, and he picked up some very impressive victories this year.

    These two met at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, and Webster scored a one-minute fall over Darmstadt. The Cornell wrestler shot in and ended up in a cradle. Webster took full advantage and turned it for the fall. This result might not be replicable, but the Minnesota wrestler will get a chance to prove it.

    Prediction: Darmstadt (Cornell) decision over Webster (Minnesota)

    285: No. 2 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) vs. No. 11 Jordan Wood (Lehigh)
    When: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET

    Steveson is back in action after a resolution to his legal issues, and it is only fitting that he return to action against his longtime rival Wood. These two have wrestled in college, at high school all-star events and in freestyle. Steveson has always had the upper hand, but the matches have almost always been exciting. Wood has taken a pair of unexpected losses on the year against No. 7 Tate Orndorff (Utah Valley) and No. 10 Demetrius Thomas (Pittsburgh), but he should be able to turn it on for this one.

    Prediction: Steveson (Minnesota) decision over Wood (Lehigh)

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