Coaches Pat Popolizio and Obe Blanc talk to Kevin Jack (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 8 NC State will "Tussle for the Troops" in Naples, Italy, on Friday. The event, which will also host four international freestyle matches, takes place at the Naples Naval Base. The dual meet features 14 ranked wrestlers and three matches between top-ten wrestlers. The following is a weight-by-weight preview of the dual meet. The lineups are a prediction of each team's best squad.
125: No. 8 Sean Fausz (NC State) vs. No. 3 Nick Piccininni (Oklahoma State)
Fausz has yet to compete in a dual meet match so far this season, but he is listed as the probable starter. He competed in both the Wolfpack Open and the Reno Tournament of Champions and built a 9-1 record. His only defeat came against redshirt Daton Fix (Oklahoma State) at Reno. Fausz's best win this season was an 8-3 decision over No. 6 Taylor LaMont (Utah Valley).
Piccininni has gone 11-1 this year and picked up bonus points in 50 percent of his wins. His only defeat was a one-point loss against No. 5 Ethan Lizak (Minnesota). In his last action, Piccininni defeated Drake Foster (Wyoming) via 15-1 major decision. Last season, the Cowboy wrestler finished fourth at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American for the first time.
Fausz is unusually tall for a 125-pound wrestler. This often gives him a defensive advantage in the neutral position. However, Piccininni has always been an above average takedown threat. This season, he has looked even better. This will be a close one, but Oklahoma State will get out to an early lead.
Prediction: Piccininni (Oklahoma State) dec. Fausz (NC State)
133: Tariq Wilson (NC State) vs. No. 5 Kaid Brock (Oklahoma State)
Wilson has gone 17-3 this season with two of his losses coming against teammate Jamel Morris. He has won all seven of his dual meet matches and picked up bonus points in all but one match. In his most recent action, Wilson reached the finals of the Reno Tournament of Champions before falling to No. 12 Montorie Bridges (Wyoming) in the final match and taking home second place.
Oddly enough Brock will also come into the match coming off a loss to Bridges. The Oklahoma State wrestler dropped an 11-10 decision in the team's dual against Wyoming. Despite the loss, Brock is still having a strong season. He has gone 13-2 with wins over No. 19 Zach Sherman (North Carolina) and No. 8 Mitch McKee (Minnesota). Last season, Brock bounced back from an injury shortened season and finished fifth at the NCAA tournament.
Common opponent is not always the best indicator in wrestling. However, for this bout it can be pretty informative. While both wrestlers recently lost to Bridges, Brock was able to show a lot more offense than Wilson. A similar scenario will play out in this match. Wilson will be able to hang early, but Brock is relentless with his scoring and will pull away.
Prediction: Brock (Oklahoma State) dec. Wilson (NC State)
141: No. 4 Kevin Jack (NC State) vs. No. 3 Dean Heil (Oklahoma State)
Over the past two seasons, Jack has gone 47-3 with two of those three losses coming against former teammate and rival No. 2 Bryce Meredith (Wyoming). Outside of a single loss to Meredith this season, Jack has won 12 matches including victories over No. 12 Alex Madrigal (Old Dominion) and No. 8 Chad Red (Nebraska).
Heil had won 55 matches in a row before running into Meredith in Oklahoma State's dual meet with Wyoming. Heil ended up losing the match 2-1 in the sudden victory. Despite the loss, Heil will try to regroup and get back on track to pick up his third-straight NCAA title. Heil has already defeated a pair of ranked wrestlers this season: No. 14 Luke Karam (Lehigh) and No. 10 Tommy Thorn (Minnesota).
Heil holds a pair of wins over Jack, but they last wrestled Dec. 6, 2015. Heil won their first match 12-6, but the second match was much closer. Heil took the edge 10-8. Both matches were relatively high scoring matches for Heil. Since that win over Jack, Heil's matches (not ending via fall) have averaged only 10.69 combined points per match. If Jack can make this make a shootout, he has a chance. That is easier said than done.
Prediction: Heil (Oklahoma State) dec. Jack (NC State)
149: No. 17 Beau Donahue (NC State) vs. No. 12 Geordan Martinez (Oklahoma State)
Donahue is coming off a strong performance at the Reno Tournament of Champions. He reached the finals with four victories before falling to former NCAA champion Jason Tsirtsis (Arizona State) to finish second. The fifth-year senior has never qualified for the NCAA tournament, but he is looking break through this year.
Oklahoma State could send out Boo Lewallen instead at this weight. The two have wrestled twice at open tournaments this year, and Lewallen has won both matches close. Martinez has had an up-and-down season so far. He holds wins over No. 10 Solomon Chishko (Virginia Tech) and No. 13 Ronnie Perry (Lock Haven), but he has also dropped matches against Troy Heilmann (North Carolina) and Sam Turner (Wyoming).
Donahue is a grinder and a competitor who is never an easy out. Martinez is the more skilled and gifted wrestler, but he has struggled in a few spots this year. Oklahoma State should pick up another win here, but this could end up being a swing bout for the overall dual score.
Prediction: Martinez (Oklahoma State) dec. Donahue (NC State)
157: No. 3 Hayden Hidlay (NC State) vs. Jonce Blaylock (Oklahoma State)
Over a three-day period in December, Hidlay announced his presence as a top contender at 157 pounds. On Dec. 15, he knocked off No. 9 Tyler Berger (Nebraska) in a dual match. Two days later, he defeated No. 4 Joey Lavallee (Missouri) in the finals of the Reno Tournament of Champions. The redshirt freshman has gone 13-0 with a 77 percent bonus rate.
Blaylock moved into the 157-pound slot after All-American Joe Smith decided to redshirt. So far this season, he has gone 11-4 with signature wins over No. 12 Jake Short (Minnesota) and Kennedy Monday (North Carolina). In his last match, Blaylock dropped a 3-1 match against Archie Colgan (Wyoming).
This match will be Hidlay's to lose. In order for NC State to have a shot in this dual match, he will need to pick up bonus points.
Prediction: Hidlay (NC State) maj. dec. Blaylock (Oklahoma State)
165: Brian Hamann (NC State) vs. No. 8 Chandler Rogers (Oklahoma State)
Hamann has gone 13-3 so far this season. At the Reno Tournament of Champions, he reached the quarterfinals before falling against Connor Flynn (Missouri) and ended up finishing fifth. Hamann has faced only one ranked opponent for far this season and dropped a 9-3 decision against Isaiah White (Nebraska).
Rogers is back for his junior season after becoming an All-American for the first time last year. So far this season, he has gone 10-2. He defeated No. 18 Andrew Fogarty (North Dakota State) and No. 9 Nick Wanzek, but he also dropped bouts against No. 4 David McFadden (Virginia Tech) and Branson Ashworth (Wyoming).
Rogers should be the favorite in this match. He simply has too much offense for someone like Hamann. Rogers consistently goes for throws and turns, so he will likely end up with bonus points here.
Prediction: Rogers (Oklahoma State) maj. dec. Hamann (NC State)
174: Daniel Bullard (NC State) vs. No. 10 Jacobe Smith (Oklahoma State)
So far this season, Bullard has gone 11-2 and picked up bonus points in 64 percent of his victories. In his last action, he reached the semifinals of the Reno Tournament of Champions before losing to No. 4 Daniel Lewis (Missouri). In Bullard's only other matches against ranked competition, he picked up a win over No. 17 Forrest Przybysz (Appalachian State) and dropped a match against No. 13 Yoanse Mejias (Oklahoma).
Smith redshirted last year after transferring from junior college. He has gone 11-3 with two of his losses coming against top-ten wrestlers: No. 5 Jordan Kutler (Lehigh) and No. 9 Ethan Ramos (North Carolina). In his last match, Smith defeated Kyle Pope (Wyoming) via 8-7 decision.
From a rankings perspective, Smith is a big favorite. However, the match will likely be a lot closer. Bullard was a top recruit a few seasons ago, and he has looked solid so far this season. Smith will likely pull this one out, but it will be closer than their ranking suggests.
Prediction: Smith (Oklahoma State) dec. Bullard (NC State)
184: No.3 Pete Renda (NC State) vs. Keegan Moore (Oklahoma State)
Renda has been nothing short of dominant this season. He has won all 14 of his matches and picked up bonus points in nine of those matches. At the Reno Tournament of Champions, he won the title with four falls and a technical fall. Renda has already defeated a pair of ranked wrestlers this season. He defeated No. 9 Bryce Carr (Chattanooga) and No. 6 Taylor Venz (Nebraska) in dual meet matches.
Moore has gone 10-3 to start the season He has yet to knock off a ranked wrestler. He split his last two dual meet matches. First, he fell via major decision against Dylan Gabel (Northern Colorado). One day later Moore returned and defeated Chaz Polson (Wyoming) via 8-7 decision.
Not only has Renda been a man on a mission this season, but he also brings a unique skill set to the table. His ability to ride tough and score points from the top is a big difference maker, and it should be more than enough to pick up bonus points here.
Prediction: Renda (NC State) maj. dec. Moore (Oklahoma State)
197: No. 7 Mike Macchiavello (NC State) vs. No. 5 Preston Weigel (Oklahoma State)
Moving up to 197 pounds has proven to be a very smart decision for Macchiavello. He has begun this season with a 12-0 record, and he has already knocked off a pair of undefeated wrestlers. He defeated No. 15 Scottie Boykin (Chattanooga) in the first weekend in December, and he took home an 8-3 decision over No. 11 Corey Griego (Oregon State) on his way to a title at the Reno Tournament of Champions.
Weigel missed most of the first semester, but he returned towards the end of December. In his two matches this season, he defeated No. 18 Jacob Seely (Northern Colorado) via decision and picked up a technical fall over Cody Vigoren (Wyoming). Last season, Weigel went 22-8 and became an All-American for the first time.
The Oklahoma State wrestler is a very physical competitor who can hand fight with the best of them. In a vacuum, he would probably be the favorite in this match. However, Macchiavello has been having a breakout season so far and will ride that momentum to a victory.
Prediction: Macchiavello (NC State) dec. Weigel (Oklahoma State)
285: Malik McDonald (NC State) vs. No. 8 Derek White (Oklahoma State)
In his most recent action, McDonald lost in the semifinals of the Reno Tournament of Champions and ended up finishing fifth. He has gone 14-2 to start this season. He has not faced a ranked opponent yet this season.
White moved up to heavyweight this season after spending nearly his entire collegiate career at 197 pounds. He has gone 11-1 so far this season with his only loss coming when he dropped a 1-0 decision against No. 7 Mike Hughes (Hofstra). In his other matches against ranked opponents he defeated No. 12 Jordan Wood (Lehigh) and No. 13 Thomas Haines (Lock Haven).
White is a much more active wrestler than McDonald. He might struggle to score early in this match, but he will eventually wear down his opponent and pull out the decision.
Prediction: White (Oklahoma State) dec. McDonald (NC State)
Dual Meet Prediction: Oklahoma State 22, NC State 11