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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    The B1G Ten's B1G Ten Duals for 2022-23

    All-Americans Tony Cassioppi (top) and Greg Kerkvliet in the 2021-22 Penn State/Iowa dual (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriorscom)

    It's easy to forget how loaded the B1G Ten is when it comes to wrestling. I mean, we all know that it's historically the toughest conference, if you consider the fact that a Big Ten team won the last 15 NCAA Championships (not counting the COVID year, although Iowa was the favorite, so there's that) any indication that it is the best.

    In fact, in order to find a non-Big Ten national champ – not named Oklahoma State – you have to go back to 1988 when Bobby Douglas, Zeke Jones, Dan Severn, and that Arizona State team won their Team Title. In fact, only five teams from other conferences have placed second in the last 15 years. Additionally, five different Big Ten teams have placed second in the country in that same time frame. Wild times here in the Midwest.

    Anyway, the B1G Ten is the best. This is the way. But when you really take a look at some of the matches and who will be wrestling, you're reminded of just how much fun this season is going to be. For example, the weekend of Jan. 27th, we will get Ohio State against both Michigan and Michigan State, Iowa at Penn State, and Wisconsin at both Northwestern and Nebraska. That's just one weekend!

    Anyway, the following is our top 10 Big Ten duals to look forward to. In the true spirit of The Big Ten, Ten means Fourteen. Another fun fact, we did these in draft format. Lauren had the first pick, Kevin had second, and we tried to pick the most fun duals to look forward to, while including all teams. Let us know who picked the better seven duals!

    (Note: Team rankings are based on InterMat's preseason dual rankings; schedules and lineups are subject to change)

    #1) No. 2 Iowa at No. 1 Penn State
    When: Friday, Jan. 27 (Bryce Jordan Center)
    Last season's result: Penn State, 19-13

    Key matchup: Greg Kerkvliet (PSU) vs. Tony Cassioppi (Iowa) (Hwt): With Gable Steveson off to the WWE, the title of NCAA heavyweight champ will be up for grabs and both Kerkvliet and Cassioppi will be deep in the thick of the hunt for that title. While the Nittany Lion has the higher rank, it's the Hawkeye who owns the series, 3-0. The pair's last matchup was their closest yet, a 6-4 decision in sudden victory. This bout will not only be important for Big Ten seeding purposes, but it could very well also decide this dual.

    Synopsis: This was an easy pick. Jan. 27 should be circled on all wrestling fans' calendars, as the Hawkeyes will travel to State College seeking revenge for last year's 19-13 loss at Carver-Hawkeye. But it won't be easy, as the Nittany Lions will have the smoke-and-light show and full force of 16,000 fans behind them at the Bryce Jordan Center. This dual has the makings of another classic, highlighted by five total former NCAA champs in Iowa's Spencer Lee (125) and Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young (133), Carter Starocci (174), Aaron Brooks (184) and Max Dean (197). But seasoned fans will likely have their eyes on some of the lesser-known names, the highly touted underclassmen who will be looking to establish themselves this season.

    Key to deciding this dual could be the battle at 165 pounds between Iowa sophomore No. 17 Patrick Kennedy and Penn State redshirt freshman No. 23 Alex Facundo. A couple of other Penn State underclassmen in Beau Bartlett at 141 and Shayne Van Ness at 149 will get the chance to prove themselves against seasoned veterans Real Woods and Max Murin, respectively. If all goes to chalk, this dual could very well be decided by the big men. Get ready for fireworks as Cassioppi will be looking to extend his win streak over Kerkvliet to four in front of the hostile BJC crowd.

    #2) No. 4 Ohio State at No. 6 Michigan
    When: Friday, Jan. 27
    Last season's result: Michigan, 29-8

    Matchup to watch: I'm throwing a couple out here, because this dual has some awesome matches at a variety of weights. First of all, you'll get an intriguing matchup at 149 with Sasso against redshirt Freshman Chance Lamer. Then you get 157 and 165, where you have Paddy Gallagher jumping into the Buckeye lineup against second-ranked Will Lewan, as well as Cam Amine against Carson Kharchla. Each of these matches should be a war. Matches like this are especially fun when you consider these athletes will likely meet several times throughout the season.

    Synopsis: An awesome dual every time we get to watch it. At the time of writing this, we have the 4th-ranked Buckeyes (according to the InterMat Dual Meet Rankings) and the 8th-ranked Wolverines. A top-ten battle is always fun, but then you throw in the fact that these schools are bitter rivals in absolutely every sport. So, there is the general dislike of the other program, the contrasting color schemes (it seems to have an impact when they seem to be diametrically opposed in every way), and the physical nature of this great sport. It always makes for a great dual even when the teams aren't evenly matched. In this case, they are evenly matched at just about every weight. Regarding the matchups, you'll get a good one right away with Medley v Heinselman. Each team has weights where they will be looking for bonus points as well, but 8/10 of these matches should be regular decisions. I expect this dual to come down to the last match, but Mason Parris has closed out duals against Ohio State in the past, and I expect he'll look to do that once more in Ann Arbor.

    #3) No. 1 Penn State at No. 4 Ohio State
    When: Friday, Feb. 3
    Last season's result: Penn State, 32-7

    Key matchup: No. 1 Carter Starocci (PSU) vs. No. 6 Ethan Smith (Ohio State) (174 pounds): One of the most interesting matchups is set to be between Penn State two-time NCAA champ Carter Starocci and All-American Ethan Smith. This will be the pair's first matchup. Starocci has lost just twice in his collegiate career, but Smith has the ability to give the talented sophomore a battle. Whether Smith can hold Starocci to a regular decision could be key to the outcome of this dual.

    Synopsis: Penn State ran away with this dual last year, but this year's iteration is poised to be much more competitive. The dual is set to feature nine ranked matchups and, as of InterMat's preseason rankings, the bouts are split evenly with each team favored in five. The problem with Penn State, however, is that its top-five wrestlers are typically more consistent and higher scoring than any other team's top-five, making them less vulnerable to upsets and more likely to earn bonus points. But the Buckeyes will have their own opportunities for bonus points, particularly with Paddy Gallagher at 157 and No. 3 Sammy Sasso at 149.

    For Ohio State to have a chance at the upset, it'll at the very least need to not give up bonus points against Penn State's murderer's row at the top four weights – and steal one, if they can. It won't be easy, as Aaron Brooks and Greg Kerkvliet earned major decisions over Kaleb Romero and Tate Orndorff, respectively, in their previous matchups. As mentioned above, 174 pounds could be an opportunity for Ohio State to hold off those bonus points. Another matchup to not sleep on is between Penn State's top-ranked Max Dean and Ohio State's No. 9 Gavin Hoffman. While Dean beat Hoffman 9-3 in their most recent matchup last March, the Buckeye pushed the Penn State transfer in last season's dual, making him earn a 5-3 sudden victory win. Hoffman also finished off his 2021-22 campaign strong, going 3-3 to finish sixth in Detroit.

    #4) No. 6 Michigan at No. 2 Iowa
    When: Friday, Feb. 10
    Last season's result: N/A

    Matchup to watch: Heavyweight. Both Iowa and Michigan have heavyweights who enter the year with a National Title as their main goal. Third-ranked Mason Parris and fourth-ranked Anthony Cassioppi, each in their senior seasons, and looking to go out with a bang! Parris has had Cassioppi's number in the past, but I'm sure Big Cass is motivated to flip the script on him in Carver-Hawkeye.

    Synopsis: Speaking of, Michigan beat Iowa the last time they were in Carver-Hawkeye, back in 2017-2018, so I'm sure the Brands brothers will be ready to bring it to the Wolverines this time around. You'll get to see another Jack Medley vs Spencer Lee matchup, Ragusin vs Schriever, Cassioppi vs Parris, Kennedy vs Amine, Lamer vs Murin, and we can see Matt Finesilver in some Big Ten competition with a chance to wrestle Abe Assad. There are only a couple of weights where there aren't ranked matchups (157, 174 and 197 are those weights) but who knows? Upsets happen, which is why they wrestle the matches. If you like tough wrestling, like I sure do, then you'll like this dual.

    #5) No. 14 Nebraska at No. 4 Ohio State
    When: Friday, Feb. 10
    Last season's result: N/A

    Key matchup: No. 3 Sammy Sasso (OSU) vs. No. 4 Ridge Lovett (NEB) (149 pounds): This was an easy pick for two reasons: style matchup and Big Ten seeding implications. Lovett further established his status as a fan favorite last season, taking the postseason by storm by going from the No. 10 seed to the NCAA finals, while making it entertaining along the way. Sasso, on the other hand, has been the picture of consistency, putting together a 65-8 record (including his redshirt year) and finishing in the top-5 twice at NCAAs. The winner of this could be rewarded by getting to be on the opposite side of last year's champ Austin Gomez, of Wisconsin, at Big Tens.

    Synopsis: Ohio State's Big Ten home finale against Nebraska is set to not only entertain but it could also feature a few key matchups with important Big Ten seeding implications. All eyes will be on the 149-pound bout between No. 3 Sammy Sasso and No. 4 Ridge Lovett. The winner will likely earn one of the top two Big Ten seeds at the weight. This matchup will be fun, as the styles of the two wrestlers couldn't be more different. The Nebraska junior is known for “letting it fly,” while the Ohio State senior tends to be more conservative and disciplined, often earning his points as the clock winds down. Both Sasso and Lovett have been NCAA runners-up, with Lovett making it to last season's final and Sasso in 2021. The pair have surprisingly only met up once, which resulted in a 5-2 decision for Sasso in the 2021 Big Ten final.

    But Sasso vs. Lovett won't be the only interesting matchup. The 174-pound bout between Nebraska's No. 3 Mikey Labriola and Ohio State's No. 6 Ethan Smith could determine who gets to be opposite of defending champ Carter Starocci at Big Tens. Labriola leads the series between the two, 2-1, but Smith won their last matchup. Their last two were decided in sudden victory. Another matchup to keep an eye on will be between Nebraska junior No. 3 Peyton Robb and Ohio State freshman No. 22 Paddy Gallagher. Gallagher, the top-ranked 160-pounder in his recruiting class, still has to prove himself on the collegiate level. But all indicators point to the freshman quickly moving up in the rankings and establishing himself as a force at 157 pounds by the end of the season.

    #6) No. 7 Minnesota at No. 10 Wisconsin
    When: Saturday, Feb. 11
    Last season's result: Wisconsin, 21-15

    Matchup to watch: We get this one right away with Patrick McKee and Eric Barnett. Both are returning All Americans at 125. Barnett got the win in the dual last year, but McKee avenged that loss at NCAAs, eventually placing 5th while Barnett placed 7th.

    Synopsis: I'm high on both of these teams. Super deep lineups and a lot of heavy hitters with major bonus point potential, which will make this really fun. The dual last season went to Wisconsin, but there were some upsets in the dual for that to happen. Most notably Garrett Model over Brayton Lee, who begins this season ranked 1st at 157. I'm also excited to see Braxton Amos, who I believe will have a breakthrough season (more on that later this month). Additionally, it's a border war between Midwest states with tough winters (hit up Jason Bryant if you need to know the weather in New Brighton), and border wars are always fun. But more important than the geography, is the fact that these are two teams that feel that if their athletes wrestle at their best, then they should be competing for a Big Ten title, and therefore a trophy and NCAAs as well. Currently, Wisconsin is ranked 10th, and Minnesota is ranked 11th, so it should be a fun battle between two teams trying to showcase talent and take the next step with their program.

    #7) No. 6 Michigan at No. 1 Penn State
    When: Friday, Jan. 20 (Bryce Jordan Center)
    Last season's result: Penn State, 29-6

    Key matchup: No. 2 Greg Kerkvliet (PSU) vs. No. 3 Mason Parris (Michigan) (Hwt): There will be several interesting matchups throughout this dual but it's hard not to go with heavyweight. While Kerkvliet has won the pair's last three matchups, anyone who thinks Parris can't win this isn't paying attention.

    Synopsis: Michigan may have lost a lot of its star power from last season, but if the fact that Penn State scheduled two duals at the BJC this season – Iowa and Michigan – is any indication, the Nittany Lions aren't sleeping on the Wolverines. Even when the final scores have been lopsided, this dual has always featured some nail-biters. Last year's 3-1 win by Aaron Brooks over Myles Amine and Max Dean's 6-4 sudden victory win over Patrick Brucki immediately come to mind.

    There is plenty of potential for similarly close or exciting matchups this year, including between No. 15 Robert Howard and No. 16 Jack Medley, No. 23 Chance Lamer and No. 27 Shayne Van Ness and No. 5 Cam Amine and No. 23 Alex Facundo. But all eyes are going to be on the big men in what is slated to be a top-5 matchup between Kerkvliet and Parris. Parris definitively won the first matchup between the pair with a major decision, but it's been all Kerkvliet since. As was mentioned earlier about Kerkvliet and Cassioppi, Parris will also be in the hunt for that coveted NCAA heavyweight title. This bout could shed some light on who might be standing at the top of that podium at the end of the season, and carry important Big Ten seeding implications.

    #8) No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 6 Michigan
    When: Sunday, Jan. 15
    Last season's result: N/A

    Matchup to watch: For me, this is 165. Dean Hamiti showed out in his first year in the lineup for the Badgers, capping it off with a 6th place finish at NCAAs. Cam Amine had a super strong finish in Detroit as well, placing 4th, and getting a 7-5 decision over Hamiti on the back side of the bracket to get into the 3rd/4th place match. So yeah, this is it for me. Hamiti has such an aggressive style, firing off a lot of attacks and capable of taking advantage in scramble situations. Cam has such good positioning, and hand fights with the best of them, and has shown he's capable of some explosive takedowns as well. This match is what I'm most looking forward to, but it's the proverbial icing on the cake, for what will be awesome.

    Synopsis: Before I get to some other intriguing matchups, what is interesting to me is that Jon Reader is a Michigan native, and any wrestler I've ever spoken with always finds little ways to get extra motivated for matches/duals where they have some connection. So that adds some intrigue, for me at least. Then there's the fact that these teams didn't wrestle in a dual against each other last year, so some of these matches wouldn't have happened if they didn't cross paths at Big Tens or NCAAs. As far as other fun matches go, we'll get to see Mason Parris against Trent Hilger (also a native of Michigan actually, what's up Holly, MI), Garrett Model and Will Lewan at 157, newly transferred Taylor LaMont against Dylan Ragusin (someone is getting thrown here), and Eric Barnett versus Jack Medley at 125.

    #9) No. 24 Illinois at No. 9 Northwestern
    When: Friday, Jan. 20
    Last season's result: Northwestern, 26-13

    Key matchup: No. 3 Michael DeAugustino (NW) vs. No. 23 Justin Cardani (ILL) (125 pounds): It may not look like it right now on paper but this dual could certainly be within reach for the Illini to steal. A big upset – like Cardani over DeAugustino – could go a long way in making that a reality.

    Synopsis: Northwestern won six out of 10 bouts in this dual last season, including two pins and a technical fall. This season's matchup looks like it could be more of a battle. Of Northwestern's three bonus-point winners last season, NCAA champ Ryan Deakin (157) has graduated and super seniors Yahya Thomas (149) and Andrew Davison (197) – who both had pins – will be up against different opponents. Thomas, a two-time NCAA qualifier, will likely be up against Nebraska transfer Kevon Davenport, the 2019 Daktronics Open champ. No. 32 Davison will face No. 14 Zac Braunagel, who finished third at Big Tens last season, down at 184 pounds.

    But if Illinois wants to win this dual, a big upset at 125 could be key. At No. 3, Northwestern's Michael DeAugustino holds a sizable rankings advantage over No. 23 Justin Cardani, but matchups between the two have always been close. DeAugustino won their last three bouts by a combined five points and Cardani won their first meeting, 4-2, in 2020. An upset at 125 could suck the air right out of Welsh-Ryan Arena.

    #10) No. 1 Penn State at No. 10 Wisconsin
    When: Friday, Jan. 6
    Last season's result: N/A

    Matchup to watch: It's 197 for me! Not that there is a whole lot of Braxton Amos stock to buy, but I'm excited to see what he's going to be able to do against the defending National Champ Max Dean. Dean is so good on top, and is no slouch on his feet either, as National Champions tend to be. Another interesting one to see is going to be 125 with Eric Barnett taking on Robbie Howard who is looking to get back into the lineup after some injuries that he was dealing with. He was a big recruit coming into PSU, and showed flashes his first year in the lineup, so seeing him against a veteran like Barnett will be interesting.

    Synopsis: As I mentioned earlier, Wisconsin is a team that feels like they should be fighting for a team trophy in March, and what better measuring stick than the defending National Champion Nittany Lions. Penn State looks to be loaded, and reloading at many weights with highly recruited guys, but at the same time, this dual has some matches that won't be closely ranked guys, and bonus points should be aplenty. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Austin Gomez, because he's awesome and someone who tends to show up for the big moments. Taking on the defending champs in their home opener on the season seems like one of those moments. So that'll be fun. Scared money don't make money.

    #11) Indiana at No. 27 Purdue
    When: Saturday, Jan. 28
    Last season's result: Purdue, 17-16

    Key matchup: No. 14 Parker Filius (PUR) vs. Cayden Rooks (IND) (141 pounds): This hasn't so far been much of a match, as Filius has rolled to major decisions in their past two meetings. But if Indiana wants to make things interesting, this is the type of bout it'll have to steal or at least deny bonus points.

    Synopsis: While this intrastate rivalry has been pretty lopsided of late, with Purdue riding a 12-dual win streak, last season's clash was decided by just one point. The lineups will look a little different this season. Of note, talented Purdue sophomore Matt Ramos will be down at 125 pounds, after the graduation of Devin Schroder, to take on Indiana junior Jacob Moran in what should be a lively match. Ramos is coming off a successful summer, winning the U.S. Open at 57 kg in Las Vegas and placing fourth at U.S. Senior World Team Trials. Both wrestlers have a history of taking out ranked opponents and could find themselves climbing in the rankings this season.

    One matchup that should be the same but that Indiana will be hoping for a different result is No. 14 Parker Filius vs. Cayden Rooks. Filius won both of the pair's previous two matchups by major decision. Rooks, however, has topped ranked opponents, including then-No. 4 Chad Red, of Nebraska, at Big Tens last season. Red is now in the wrestling room with Rooks as a volunteer assistant and resident athlete in the Indiana RTC. Indiana made a few key changes to its coaching staff and RTC over the summer. A more competitive result in a match such as this could be an indication of the program heading in the right direction.

    #12) No. 2 Iowa at No. 7 Minnesota
    Where: Friday, Feb. 3
    Last year's result: Iowa, 22-10

    Matches to watch: Any chance to watch Spencer Lee I'm taking, especially if it's against some solid competition in Patrick McKee. We've seen this march before, but we haven't seen Spencer back yet, which is going to be super interesting. I mean, we kind of have, because he's been hurt before and it hasn't been a problem for him, but this seems different for some reason. Either way, a match with the first and fourth-ranked guys is always one to watch, but especially with the extra intrigue of Spencer in his final season.

    Synopsis: These two teams have been some of the best in college wrestling for the last 30 years. They're constantly in the hunt for team trophies and have Championship individuals, year after year. Additionally, they are in recruiting battles for some of the top talent, which is always fun. Like I said before, Minnesota believes they should be competing for a trophy this year, and Iowa is currently ranked second with some heavy hitters, so it'll be a fun dual. Another HUGE match will be Real Woods, the transfer from Stanford now competing for the Hawkeyes, against Jake Bergeland of Minnesota. Currently ranked 2nd and 3rd at 141, this will be a clash of titans for sure. Woods has been a title contender it seems for most of his career, whereas Bergeland just broke into the Golden Gophers lineup last season, to the tune of an All-American finish. You'll also get a war at 149 with Murin and Blockhus. Really that's the big thing here. The styles for both of these teams are to beat up the other guy. To get into deeper waters, for longer, than most can handle. That's what will make this such a battle.

    #13: No. 26 Rutgers at Maryland
    Where: Saturday, Feb. 4
    Last season's result: Rutgers, 31-13

    Key matchup: No. 28 Jaxon Smith (MD) vs. No. 31 Billy Janzer (RUT) (197 pounds): While both currently have lower rankings, it wouldn't be surprising if they both are closer to the top by the time this dual rolls around. Both wrestlers have something to prove this season and this bout could go a long way in doing that.

    Synopsis: This East Coast clash could feature a lot of young talent. While Rutgers lost a lot of its star power from last year, with both of its NCAA qualifiers in Sebastian Rivera and Greg Bulsak graduating, it's bringing in a top-10 recruiting class and has some younger talent that's ready to emerge. Junior Sammy Alvarez will be back at his more natural weight of 141, and sophomores Andrew Clark and Connor O'Neill are also expected to drop down. A transfer Joe Heilmann, from North Carolina, and Joey Silva, from Michigan, could make things interesting at 133 pounds for the Scarlet Knights.

    As for Maryland, the Terrapins have four InterMat preseason-ranked wrestlers, three of whom are freshmen – Braxton Brown (125), Ethen Miller (149) and Jaxon Smith (197). Smith is coming off a successful summer during which he won the U.S. Open and the Pan-American Championships and competed at the Junior World Championships in Bulgaria. Smith will likely face junior Billy Janzer in a bout that's a must-win if the young Terrapin wants to establish himself as a threat in the weight class. For Janzer, who missed all of last season due to injury, this season – and this bout – will be an opportunity to prove he can pick up where he left off after a successful freshman campaign in 2020.

    #14) No. 25 Illinois at Michigan State
    When: Sunday, Feb. 5
    Last season's result: N/A

    Matches to watch: This has yet to be confirmed, so bare with me, but I want DJ Shannon versus Edmond Ruth. Shannon recently transferred from Illinois to MSU, and Edmond recently enrolled at Illinois and is the likely starter at 174. DJ Shannon has looked very good while with Illinois, but Ruth has been impressive as well in his opportunities to compete. If that's not enough intrigue for you, then I don't know what to tell you. How about this, Kevon Davenport, another new acquisition for Illinois recently transferred from Nebraska. He was a 4x State Champ in Michigan, and I believe would have been in the Nebraska lineup if it weren't for Ridge Lovett being the second-best wrestler at that weight in the country. He will be ready to show out in this role, and I expect him to do just that. That being said, he'll have a tough opponent in Peyton Omania in this dual. I expect this one to be fireworks as well, nonetheless.

    Synopsis: At the time of writing this, Illinois is ranked 24th in Dual Meet rankings and MSU isn't ranked. However, I believe both of these programs have enough big names and consistent performers to make this an undeniably fun dual. Of course, 133 is going to be fun, with Lucas Byrd and Rayvon Foley, but what was more intriguing to me is what was listed above. That being said, this match will be fun! Additionally, we'll get Cam Caffey and Zac Braunagel at 197. There's too much to look forward to with this dual for it to not crack the top ten (14). Another fun fact is that MSU keeps snagging recruits out of Illinois. Many teams do, because Illinois is an excellent wrestling state, nonetheless, interesting enough to include here.

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