Alex Marinelli defeated Vincenzo Joseph in the Big Ten finals last season (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)
Heading into this season many college fans had already circled this weekend on the calendar. After a one-year hiatus, No. 1 Iowa and No. 3 Penn State would resume their series. Iowa brings what appears to be its best team over the last few seasons, while Penn State has been hit with some pretty significant injuries. The atmosphere is expected to be electric, and the action on the mat should match that level. The following is a match-by-match preview of the dual.
125: No. 1 Spencer Lee (Iowa) vs. Brandon Meredith (Penn State)
The two-time NCAA champion has been thoroughly dominant this season. He won his first match via major decision and then broke off nine straight falls and technical falls. Including points awarded in matches that ended via fall, Lee has outscored his opposition 135 to eight. In addition to his dominance on the collegiate mats, he also won the 2019 Senior Nationals in freestyle. Along the way he outscored the opponents 52-6.
Meredith jumped into a starting role after Brody Teske left the program and ultimately transferred to Northern Iowa. He has gone 11-3 in tournaments this year, but he has struggled to a 1-5 record in dual meet matches. He is currently riding a four-match losing streak, but he did go to overtime against Alex Thomsen (Nebraska) before dropping the bout via a sudden victory takedown.
Lee should have very little trouble picking up the victory here. The Penn State faithful would probably be thrilled if he held the former champion to a major decision, but even that will be a challenge. Look for Lee to get off to a hot start in front of his home fans and set the tone early.
Prediction: Lee (Iowa) technical fall over Meredith (Penn State)
133: No. 2 Austin DeSanto (Iowa) vs. No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State)
In his second season with the Hawkeyes, DeSanto has appeared to be in peak form. He has gone 12-1 on the season and split with No. 1 Seth Gross (Wisconsin). He has scored five technical falls in his 13 matches so far this season. In his last match, DeSanto surrendered the first takedown against No. 19 Jordan Decatur (Ohio State) before roaring back for the 27-12 technical fall.
Unlike last year Bravo-Young has not made his way onto ESPN with a dynamic highlight. However, he has gotten odd to yet another solid start. He has won all 13 of his matches so far including victories over Josh Kramer (Arizona State), No. 9 Sammy Alvarez (Rutgers) and No. 13 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska). His victory over Lovett last week was vital to Penn State's dual win over the Huskers, and it was his eighth win with bonus points on the season.
The two wrestled twice last year. In the first encounter, DeSanto pretty much had his way and finished with a 12-8 victory. In the rematch Bravo-Young literally resorted to putting his hand behind his back to avoid the control ties of DeSanto. The technique resulted in a lower scoring affair, but the Iowa wrestler still took the bout 7-2. Both wrestlers have been strong this season, but it is hard to see RBY keeping up with DeSanto's offense.
Prediction: DeSanto (Iowa) decision over Bravo Young (Penn State)
141: Carter Happel (Iowa) vs. No. 2 Nick Lee (Penn State)
It looks like No. 9 Max Murin will miss his second straight dual. Happel was a four-time Iowa state champion in high school and filled in for Murin last week against No. 1 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State). He dropped a major decision in that match, but he has proven himself to be serviceable throughout his career. He went to sudden victory with a pair of ranked wrestlers this year. He dropped a 6-4 match against No. 6 Ian Parker (Iowa State) and fell 3-1 against No. 12 Josh Heil (Campbell) at the Midlands.
Lee has pushed his way into the national title conversation this year. He has risen all the way to the No. 2 spot in the rankings on the back of his 12-0 record. Even though he has not faced that many ranked opponents, he has been able to put up bonus points in 11 of those 12 wins. In his last match, Lee scored a major decision over former high school rival in Nebraska's Chad Red.
Lee has the momentum and pace to take this match. Happel would only be on the bench at a place like Iowa, but he has been in and out of the lineup this year. Look for Lee to set the pace early and put up bonus points.
Prediction: Lee (Penn State) major decision over Happel (Iowa)
149: No. 3 Pat Lugo (Iowa) vs. Jarod Verkleeren (Penn State)
Against Ohio State, Lugo dropped his first match of the year. The defeat against No. 2 Sammy Sasso also forced Lugo out of the No. 1 spot for the first time in weeks. He will likely be looking to get back on track here against Verkleeren. Lugo has always played it pretty close, but he has been able to get past almost all of his opponents so far this year. He holds signature wins over No. 7 Jarrett Degen (Iowa State), No. 4 Austin O'Connor (North Carolina) and No. 12 Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa).
Verkleeren is also coming into this match off a loss. Last week against Nebraska, he was trailing by a single point when he entered a scramble with No. 14 Collin Purinton. He looked to be working towards a score, but he ended up caught on his back and pinned. It was Verkleeren's third loss of the year and dropped his record to 12-3. Despite the impressive record, the competition has not been overly difficult, and his best win probably came via a 7-3 decision over Nick Santos (Rutgers).
It certainly seems like Lugo should be able to take care of business here. His squad would almost certainly like to tally some bonus points in this bout. However, running up the score has not been a strong part of Lugo's conservative game. The Penn State fans are hoping that Lugo is experiencing a bit of a hangover, but even if that is the case, he should be able to walk away with a win.
Prediction: Lugo (Iowa) decision over Verkleeren (Penn State)
157: No. 5 Kaleb Young (Iowa) vs. Brady Berge/Bo Pipher (Penn State)
Young had a tough stretch to start of the season, as he started 2-2 with losses coming against No. 4 Quincy Monday (Princeton) and No. 3 David Carr (Iowa State). However, since dropping the match against Monday, he has gone on a nine-match winning streak. During the stretch he won the Midlands and knocked off Elijah Cleary (Ohio State), No. 16 Peyton Robb (Nebraska) and No. 7 Kendall Coleman (Purdue) twice.
It is unlikely that Berge is going to take the mat this weekend. The presumed starter for Penn State reportedly suffered an injury at the U23 World Championships and has wrestled in only one match this season. Pipher has filled in recently. He has an 8-9 record that includes a surprising fall over No. 13 Markus Hartman (Army). However, he has gone 0-4 in the team's last four duals.
Young has to be considered the favorite here. Pipher proved he can score an upset against Hartman, but the results recently have been less than solid. With that being said, he has only given up bonus points once in the last two seasons, and it was against former teammate and multiple-time NCAA champion Jason Nolf.
Prediction: Young (Iowa) decision over Pipher (Penn State)
165: No. 2 Alex Marinelli (Iowa) vs. No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (Penn State)
For the past two seasons this has been a marquee matchup. Even though Joseph has had the better results at the NCAA tournament, Marinelli has owned the head-to-head. They first met in a dual in 2018, and Marinelli scored the 9-6 upset. They rematch came in the Big Ten tournament final. This time Marinelli widened the gap and won 9-3.
For the third straight season, Marinelli has started the year with an extensive winning streak. He has gone 14-2 and picked up seven victories via fall. Last weekend he took a 14-10 decision over No. 14 Ethan Smith (Ohio State), and he has also scored ranked victories over No. 4 Isaiah White (Nebraska), No. 17 Phillip Conigliaro (Harvard), No. 18 Zach Hartman (Bucknell) No. 3 Evan Wick (Wisconsin) and No. 5 David McFadden (Virginia Tech).
Joseph has wrestled sparingly this season, but he has been dominant when on the mat. He has built a 7-0 record that includes one technical fall and three falls. For his senior year he is looking to pick up his third NCAA title and fourth straight finals appearance.
It is hard to unsee Marinelli's seemingly unique ability to get to Joseph. Normally, the Penn State wrestler is able to control clinch positions with an over hook. However, Marinelli has almost always gotten the best of that position. Whoever wins this match will be the favorite for the NCAA title, but this is certainly not going to be the last time these two meet this year.
Prediction: Marinelli (Iowa) decision over Joseph (Penn State)
174: No. 2 Michael Kemerer (Iowa) vs. No. 1 Mark Hall (Penn State)
The story on Kemerer early in the season was that he looked great moving up two weight classes, but he had not really been tested. Over the last few weeks, he has been tested, and he has passed those tests. Some of the matches have been close affairs, but he has won three matches in a row over ranked opponents. The run includes wins over No. 4 Dylan Lydy (Purdue), No. 6 Michael Labriola (Nebraska) and No. 7 Kaleb Romero (Ohio State).
Going into his senior season, Hall had been to three straight finals and lost a total of five wrestling matches in college. He has looked to be in prime form this year as he has won all 16 of his matches and picked up bonus points in all but one of those matches. Hall's lone decision came against Jordan Kutler (Lehigh). He has also bested Labriola, No. 9 Joey Gunther (Illinois) and No. 10 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State).
In theory Kemerer has historically shown the type of pace that Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) used to give Hall fits in the past. However, he has had trouble finishing against higher level competition at this higher weight. He will get fewer chances against Hall. The Penn State wrestler has always had a knack for depending on his defense and scoring at the right moment. The home crowd will get behind Kemerer, but it might not be enough.
Prediction: Hall (Penn State) decision over Kemerer (Iowa)
184: No. 6 Abe Assad (Iowa) vs. No. 9 Aaron Brooks (Penn State)
Iowa pulled Assad's redshirt after he finished second at the Midlands. In the bracket, his only loss came against No. 4 Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa), and he defeated the likes of Travis Stefanik (Princeton), No. 19 Tanner Harvey (American) and No. 13 Zach Braunagel (Illinois). After joining the starting lineup, he has continued his winning ways and picked up his biggest win of the season over No. 8 Taylor Venz (Minnesota).
Brooks also came out of redshirt this year. He won his first seven matches on the season before dropping a match against Venz last weekend. Brooks' best two wins came against Braunagel and No. 16 Chris Weiler (Lehigh). The former top recruiter also competed in open competition last year while training as part of the Elite Accelerator Program. Brooks went 6-1 with wins over Ben Harvey (Arny) and Tate Samuelson (Wyoming).
This might be one of the closer matches in this dual. Both of these talented freshmen have the ability to win the match. There should be a slight edge given to Assad since Brooks still appears to be getting used to some of the finer points of folkstyle. His highest level of competition often took place in freestyle before college. However, nobody should be shocked with either wrestler winning this one.
Prediction: Assad (Iowa) decision over Brooks (Penn State)
197: No. 7 Jacob Warner (Iowa) vs. No. 18 Shakur Rasheed (Penn State)
This has been an up-and-down season for Warner. He has picked up several impressive wins over the likes of No. 3 Patrick Brucki (Princeton) and No. 8 Christian Brunner (Purdue). However, he has also dropped matches against Brucki, No. 9 Jay Aiello (Virginia) and No. 6 Eric Schultz (Nebraska). Warner can clearly hang with the best in the country at this weight, but consistency has been an issue.
Rasheed is back up at 197 pounds after spending last season at 184 pounds and finishing in the round of 12. He has dealt with injuries this year and did not make his season debut until Jan. 10. He has split four matches on the year. Rasheed picked up wins over Matt Wroblewski (Illinois) and No. 19 Jordan Pagano (Rutgers), but he dropped matches against No. 17 Lucas Davison (Northwestern) and Schultz.
Warner certainly has the talent to win this match. However, if something in the match goes the wrong way, he usually struggles to regain momentum. Rasheed has appeared to be working his way back into shape, but a conservative approach might help him here. Warner relies on his ability to counter to score in the neutral position. If Rasheed slows down the pace, it should also hinder Warner's offense.
Prediction: Rasheed (Penn State) decision over Warner (Iowa)
285: No. 3 Anthony Cassioppi (Iowa) vs. No. 15 Seth Nevills (Penn State)
In his redshirt freshman season Cassioppi has looked the part of an up-and-coming heavyweight. He has edged out his toughest competition and blown overmatched opponents out of the water. He has gone 13-0 on the season and already bested the likes of No. 14 Gannon Gremmel (Iowa State), No. 11 Carter Isley (Northern Iowa), No. 4 Matt Stencel (Central Michigan) and No. 5 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin).
Nevills won a pair of open tournaments before it was announced that returning NCAA champion Anthony Cassar was ending his season early due to injury. Nevills joined the starting lineup on Jan. 10 and has been the starter ever since. He has won four straight matches as a starter and in his last bout, he picked up his biggest win of the season over No. 16 Christian Lance (Nebraska).
The Penn State heavyweight has been mostly untested so far this year, but during a greyshirt year last season, he picked up some impressive wins over Youssif Hemida (Maryland) and No. 18 John Borst (Virginia Tech). It is entirely possible that he has the skills to take out Cassioppi. However, the Iowa heavyweight has certainly shown more on the year.
Prediction: Cassioppi (Iowa) decision over Nevills (Penn State)
Predicted Dual Meet Score: Iowa 23, Penn State 10