Nick Piccininni warms up at the Southern Scuffle (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
The most celebrated rivalry in college wrestling returns for yet another edition this Sunday. No. 10 Oklahoma State may have won last year's match by 15 points, but No. 1 Iowa comes into this match as a heavy favorite. The Cowboys would need a variety of upsets to happen to take this dual, but stranger things have happened. The following is a weight-by-weight preview of the match.
125: No. 1 Spencer Lee (Iowa) vs. No. 4 Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State)
These two have wrestled four times in their college careers. Lee has won three of those matches, but when they last met in a dual meet, Piccininni picked up a shocking first-period fall. The Oklahoma State wrestler not only handed Lee his only bonus point defeat in college, but it also fueled the Cowboys to a team victory in the dual.
Of course, Lee went on to win the rematch at the NCAA tournament and become a champion for the second time. This year he has won all 10 of his matches and put up bonus points in all but one of those matches. He took time away from the season to get in some freestyle matches and won the 57-kilogram title at Senior Nationals. Lee holds victories this season over No. 18 Jack Medley (Michigan), No. 14 Alex Mackall (Iowa State) and No. 6 Devin Schroder (Purdue).
Piccininni ended up finishing fifth at the NCAA tournament last year to become an All-American for the second time. This year he has built a gaudy and impressive regular season record once again. On the year, he is 23-1 with victories coming over No. 15 Danny Vega (South Dakota State), No. 13 Jacob Schwarm (Northern Iowa), No. 11 Patrick McKee (Minnesota), No. 5 Brandon Paetzell (Lehigh) and Mackall. Last weekend Piccininni appeared to be fading late in the Bedlam match against Christian Moody (Oklahoma). However, he turned things around in a hurry and scored a late fall.
Piccininni showed in the dual meet match last year that he can certainly threaten Lee. However, in the rematch, Lee was able to control the match and win without being overly dominant from the top. Piccininni has to keep this match close in the first period, but that is easier said than done against Lee.
Prediction: Lee (Iowa) major decision over Piccininni (Oklahoma State)
133: No. 3 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) vs. Reece Witcraft (Oklahoma State)
DeSanto returned last weekend for the first time since suffering a knee injury and defaulting out of his bout against No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State). He came out sporting a large brace, but he was still able to score a 24-8 technical fall over Boo Dryden (Minnesota). DeSanto's only other loss on the season came against No. 1 Seth Gross (Wisconsin). Other than those two defeats, he has won 13 matches and picked up six technical falls.
Witcraft was pressed into the starting lineup early in his true freshman season. He has taken some losses along the way, but he has his fair share of impressive victories as well. His 16-7 season record includes victories over No. 16 Todd Small (Iowa State), No. 15 Anthony Madrigal (Oklahoma) and No. 12 Montorie Bridges (Wyoming).
DeSanto looked more or less like himself in running over Dryden last weekend. However, Witcraft will be much more of a test. If the Iowa wrestler is still dealing with an injury, an upset is certainly possible. However, it is hard to see Witcraft escaping with the victory here.
Prediction: DeSanto (Iowa) major decision over Witcraft (Oklahoma State)
141: No. 5 Max Murin (Iowa) vs. Dusty Hone (Oklahoma State)
Murin had not wrestled in nearly a month prior to last weekend. If you believe his post-match interview, he did not even know he was returning to the mat until the intermission break. However, he certainly made the most of his return experience. He came out without a shoulder brace for the first time this season and defeated No. 6 Mitch McKee (Minnesota) in overtime. McKee defeated Murin twice last season. Murin missed a lot of tough opponents on the year, but he is 11-1 on the year with wins over No. 10 Josh Heil (Campbell) and No. 8 Tristan Moran (Wisconsin).
Most people penciled Kaden Gfeller into the starting lineup at 141 pounds for this season. However, Hone got the shot early in the year and held onto the role the whole way. He has gone 18-7 during his redshirt freshman season. He entered last weekend's Bedlam match riding a four-match winning streak, but he dropped a 4-3 decision against No. 4 Dom Demas (Oklahoma).
Murin had one of his best performances of the season last weekend against McKee. If he has gotten healthier, he should be a tough out for some of the title contenders when it comes time for the NCAA tournament. Hone has been a solid starter for the Cowboys, and he has kept it close against some of the weight's top wrestlers. However, he has never really been able to break through for wins on this level.
Prediction: Murin (Iowa) decision over Hone (Oklahoma State)
149: No. 2 Pat Lugo (Iowa) vs. No. 6 Boo Lewallen (Oklahoma State)
This will be the match of the dual. Both wrestlers have spent time in the No. 1 spot in the rankings this year, and this bout could easily be a preview of the NCAA finals at 149 pounds.
Lugo has gone 17-1 on the season with his only defeat coming against No. 1 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) in rideouts. He has won several matches extremely close, but he has passed the vast majority of tests so far. Lugo holds ranked wins over No. 17 Jarod Verkleeren (Penn State), No. 16 Collin Purinton (Nebraska), No. 15 Graham Rooks (Indiana), No. 11 Jarrett Degen (Iowa State), N0. 10 Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa), No. 9 Kanen Storr (Michigan), No. 7 Brayton Lee (Minnesota) and No. 3 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina).
Lewallen has not faced nearly as many ranked wrestlers as Lugo has this season, but he has been able to build an 18-1 record. His lone defeat on the year came in sudden victory against No. 5 Brock Mauller (Missouri). Lewallen has gotten back on track with three straight major decisions wins since that defeat.
This might be a popular upset pick, but the path to victory for Lewallen is not entirely clear. Lugo likes to play matches close against high-level opponents, but if he is able to get to his underhook, he should be able to control the neutral position. In the past, Lugo was simply a standup wrestler, but he has made strides on both top and bottom this season. It has become an underrated part of his game.
Prediction: Lugo (Iowa) decision over Lewallen (Oklahoma State)
157: No. 5 Kaleb Young (Iowa) vs. Wyatt Sheets (Oklahoma State)
At times this season, Young has reverted to his defensive style and engaged in low scoring matches. That was on display last weekend as he went to overtime before besting Ryan Thomas (Minnesota) via a 5-4 decision. Despite slowing the pace down in some matches, Young has been outstanding on the year. He holds a 15-2 record with his only losses coming against No. 3 David Carr (Iowa State) and No. 4 Quincy Monday (Princeton). Since dropping a one-point decision against Monday in early December, Young has won 13 straight matches.
Sheets has been on the cusp of the rankings for most of the season. He has put together a 17-6 record and put a scare into many ranked wrestlers. Sheets is currently riding a five-match winning streak that has been him upset No. 14 Jarrett Jacques (Missouri) and No. 20 Justin Thomas (Oklahoma).
This was a 9-5 match in the dual meet last year, and a similar score seems like the likely outcome. When Young has gotten to his offense, he has been able to extend the score, but he seems content to win close as well.
Prediction: Young (Iowa) decision over Sheets (Oklahoma State)
165: No. 2 Alex Marinelli (iowa) vs. No. 6 Travis Wittlake (Oklahoma State)
Outside of the rivalry match against No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State), Marinelli has been perfect on the season. He has won his 16 other matches and put up bonus points in nine of those matches. Since the loss against Joseph, Marinelli has bounced back with a major decision over Reece Hughes (Michigan) and a technical fall over Kasper McIntosh (Minnesota).
Wittlake was a blue-chip prospect coming out of high school. He took some questionable losses during his redshirt season, but he has looked beyond solid as a starter this season. Wittlake has put together a 25-1 record with his only defeat coming against No. 3 Shane Griffith (Stanford). His schedule has not been particularly tough, but he does hold ranked wins over No. 20 Ebed Jarrell (Drexel), No. 14 Jake Wentzel (Pittsburgh) and No. 9 Thomas Bullard (NC State).
Since the Southern Scuffle, Wittlake has not had a lot of trouble getting to his offense. Over his last 10 matches he is averaging 13.1 points per match. With that being said, he will likely struggle to get out of the power ties of Marinelli. Not only does the Iowa wrestler do a great job of controlling the tie-ups, but he also wears on an opponent over time. This might be close early, but look for Marinelli to pull away late.
Prediction: Marinelli (Iowa) decision over Wittlake (Oklahoma State)
174: No. 1 Michel Kemerer (Iowa) vs. No. 13 Joe Smith (Oklahoma State)
These two wrestled twice back in 2017 when they were both 157-pounders. Kemerer won a one-point match in their first meeting and then scored a 7-1 victory via a six-point move in sudden victory at the NCAA tournament.
After sitting out last year with an injury, Kemerer has moved up to 174 pounds and looked tremendous. In only 12 matches this year he has knocked off five of the top-eight wrestlers at this weight class. His most impressive victory came when he scored an 11-6 victory over No. 2 Mark Hall that propelled Iowa to a victory over Penn State.
Smith got off to a late and slow start to the season. He made his season debut at the Southern Scuffle and then lost two of his first four matches. Smith then got it together and went on a five-match winning streak that saw him knock off No. 14 Sammy Colbray (Iowa State). However, last week in the Bedlam match, he was upset against Anthony Mantanona. Smith held a late lead but surrendered a six-point move in the final seconds to drop a 10-5 decision.
Kemerer should be able to handle this match. He had the advantage when Smith seemed to be closer to his peak. On top of that, Kemerer's pace and persistence could easily give Smith a lot of problems.
Prediction: Kemerer (Iowa) decision over Smith (Oklahoma State)
184: No. 9 Abe Assad (Iowa) vs. No. 14 Anthony Montalvo (Oklahoma State)
Assad joined the starting lineup after an impressive runner-up performance at the Midlands. He won his first four matches as a starter, but he then dropped back-to-back bouts against Aaron Brooks (Penn State) and Cameron Caffey (Michigan State). Assad has been out of action since the Feb. 2 match against Caffey, but the reports are that he will return to the lineup for this dual.
Montalvo has a 19-5 record on the season, but he has performed much better recently. Since the Southern Scuffle, he has put together a 9-1 run that has seen him only come up short against No. 4 Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa). Montalvo also picked up ranked victories over No. 16 Zach Carlson (South Dakota State) and No. 7 Nino Bonaccorsi (Pittsburgh).
Assad had a hot start to his run in the starting lineup, but he has certainly cooled off since. He will have to shake the rust off soon as he returns against a live opponent. Montalvo has certainly been playing with fire recently as some of his matches have been razor close. However, he comes into this match with the momentum and will likely be the one scoring the takedown in crunch time.
Prediction: Montalvo (Oklahoma State) decision over Assad (Iowa)
197: No. 6 Jacob Warner (Iowa) vs. No. 16 Dakota Geer (Oklahoma State)
Warner has wrestled his way to a 14-3 record on the season. Early in the year it looked like he was going to hold down one of the top spots in the rankings after winning his first four matches and knocking off No. 3 Patrick Brucki (Princeton). However, he has since dropped a rematch against Brucki as well as matches against No. 8 Jay Aiello (Virginia) and No. 4 Eric Schultz (Nebraska). Since losing to Schultz he has bounced back with four straight victories. Last weekend, he scored a major decision over Hunter Ritter (Wisconsin).
Geer also had a solid start to the season, and he still holds an impressive 19-6 record. However, he enters this match with very little momentum. Geer has dropped back-to-back matches against Stephen Buchanan (Wyoming) and Jake Woodley (Oklahoma). In his first match against Woodley, he was able to score a 4-2 decision, but in the rematch the Sooner took home a 10-9 decision.
So much of Warner's offense relies on his ability to counter an opponent's leg attacks. Geer is normally solid when he is able to lead in matches, and he should be prepared to avoid Warner's counters. This would be an upset, but Geer's style and length could give him the advantage.
Prediction: Geer (Oklahoma State) decision over Warner (Iowa)
285: No. 3 Anthony Cassioppi (Iowa) vs. Austin Harris (Oklahoma State)
Prior to the last two weekends, Cassioppi had an undefeated record. However, in consecutive weekends, he dropped matches against No. 2 Mason Parris (Michigan) and No. 1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota). Despite those losses, he has cemented himself as the No. 3-ranked wrestler with another 15 wins including victories over No. 17 Seth Nevills (Penn State), No. 16 Gary Traub (Ohio State), No. 14 Carter Isley (Northern Iowa), No. 13 Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State), No. 6 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin) and No. 4 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan).
Harris has been undersized throughout the entire year, and he has taken some lumps on the way to a 5-9 record. However, in those nine losses he has only surrendered bonus points three times. He comes into this match with some momentum as he scored his first bonus point victory of the year. In the Bedlam dual, he took a major decision over Collin McCoy (Oklahoma). With that being said, Harris will really be up against it here.
Cassioppi came into this season with the reputation of a pinner. He has scored five falls this year, but eight of his wins have been regular decisions. Harris has been sounded defensively in terms of giving up bonus, but it is hard to see him staying off his back here.
Prediction: Cassioppi (Iowa) fall over Harris (Oklahoma State)
Dual Meet Predicted Score: Iowa 29, Oklahoma State 6