The Ohio State Wrestling team kicks off the Big Ten portion of its dual meet schedule today at 2:00 p.m. at St. John Arena against the Iowa Hawkeyes. It's a matchup between two teams that most expect to contend for the national title and it is expected to be very close. Since it's such a big match, we decided to bring in some help in the form of RossWB (@RossWB on Twitter) of Black Heart Gold Pants, SBNation's home for all things Hawkeye. I asked Ross a handful of questions that will give LGHL readers an idea of what to expect this afternoon (Note: For my perspective on what to watch for, check out this very similar Q&A that I did for BHGP).
Again, today's dual meet begins at 2:00 p.m. and tickets are still available. If you can't make it down to campus, you can stream it live on the Big Ten Digital Network ($$$) or follow me on Twitter (@_VestDJ_) for live updates.
Can you give us an update on the injury situation? Iowa was without a few guys against Rutgers on Friday night like Cory Clark at 133 and Brody Grothus at 149. Nathan Burak has also been a long-term absentee at 197 for Iowa. What's the health situation look like for Iowa on Sunday?
ROSS: I think Burak is the only significant question mark. Clark seemed to be just rested on Friday night (Iowa is in the middle of a very busy stretch of the schedule -- they wrestled at Midlands on Monday and Tuesday of this week, at Rutgers on Friday night, and now at Ohio State on Sunday afternoon) and I haven't heard anything about him missing more meets. I think he'll be good to go on Sunday. Grothus is dealing with an ankle injury he sustained at Midlands, but he may not have been the starter anyway; he and Brandon Sorensen have been locked in a tight battle at 149 and Sorensen seems to have edged ahead with a 3rd place finish at Midlands and some strong performances in recent duals. That just leaves Burak and his status is as much a mystery to me as it is you. He's been dealing with a knee issue all season and Brands has been coy about his condition -- but he certainly seemed to be just fine physically at Midlands (where he finished 1st at 197). Brands wants to preserve the possibility of a redshirt for him this season, but I think he'll wrestle for Iowa this season. Iowa needs him to seriously contend for Big Ten and NCAA championships. As for whether or not that means he'll also wrestleon Sunday... maybe? I certainly hope he does, though -- Burak versus Snyder could be one of the matches of the dual.
Among the lower weights (125-141), what's the match that you're most looking forward to seeing? How do you think it plays out?
ROSS: It has to be 125, I think. Logan Stieber is going to win at 141 -- the only question is how many bonus points he accrues and how much pain he puts Josh Dziewa through in the process. Cory Clark-Jonni DiJulius is an intriguing match at 133, but the real fireworks down low should be at 125, between Iowa's Thomas Gilman and Ohio State's Nathan Thomasello. This is their first meeting in college, but these are hardly unfamiliar with one another -- they've met each other several times in the last year or two, most notably in some big freestyle clashes in the offseason. Gilman alluded to those in an interview with BTN on Friday night and mentioned that there's no love lost between himself and Thomasello. Gilman's bested Thomasello in those freestyle matches and while folkstyle is different, I think his experience there helps Gilman edge Thomasello in this match. But these two figure to go at it several more times in the next few years -- this could become one of the Big Ten's best rivalries.
Similarly, among the middle weights (149-165), what's the match that you're most excited about? How do you think it plays out?
ROSS: I'm really torn between 149 and 165. 157 could be a key match in terms of the dual -- an upset for Iowa there could be a huge swing in the dual -- but neither Mike Kelly nor Josh Demas have a lot of juice, frankly. The other weights could feature four wrestlers who will be vying for All-America honors come March. At 149, a win for Brandon Sorensen over Hunter Stieber would be enormous in terms of his confidence and future seeding. Sorensen has looked good this year (and last year while redshirting), but a win over Stieber would be his biggest win by far. 165 looks like a big collision between the future (Bo Jordan) and the present (Nick Moore). Jordan has been out for a lot of this season, but his results while redshirting and his recruiting hype have labeled him as one of the hottest names for the future at this weight. Nick Moore is walking cautionary tale that not all big-time recruits have illustrious careers. Moore's results have been hit-or-miss this season and he's particularly struggled against other top-10 competition; a win over Jordan could be the boost of confidence he needs to get his season heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, I tend to be a pessimist where Nick Moore is concerned and I expect Jordan to take a decision win here by 3-4 points.
And finally, what about the upper weights (174-285), what's the match you can't wait to see? How do you think it plays out?
ROSS: In terms of pure entertainment, it's definitely Sammy Brooks' match at 184. Brooks is one of the more exciting upper weight wrestlers I've seen in a while at Iowa: he wrestles an exciting, fan-friendly style that features a wide range of attacks from his feet. He's not content to just lay on guys on the mat, either -- he's usually working to turn guys and rack up nearfall points or, better still, a pin. But as exciting as Brooks can be, the match I'm most curious at these weights is the one I'm least sure that we'll get to see: Nathan Burak versus Kyle Snyder. As noted above, Burak's health situation (and redshirt status) is still very much a mystery and I have no idea if he's going to wrestle or if his understudy, Kris Klapprodt, will get sent out in his stead. But a Burak-Snyder match would be enthralling. Both guys are well-versed in freestyle (especially Snyder, who's been a terror there) and I could see that match having a lot of action when both guys are on their feet. The match would also be a great test for Burak and a good measuring stick for Snyder, so I really hope we get to see it. If it does happen, I favor Snyder with a decision by 2-3 points. Burak looked a little rusty at times at Midlands and I think some of Snyder's slick takedowns could trip him up.
This looks like a very evenly-matched dual that could come down to one or two swing matches -- what are the key swing matches for Ohio State in your opinion?
ROSS: I like to break things down into three categories: big favorites, slight favorites, and toss-ups. If we do that for this dual (and we assume full-strength lineups for both teams), I think it looks like this:
Big Favorites: 141 (Ohio State), 174 (Iowa), 285 (Iowa)
Slight Favorites: 125 (Iowa), 133 (Iowa), 149 (Ohio State), 157 (Ohio State), 184 (Iowa)
Toss-Ups: 165, 197
Outside of an injury, there's basically no chance that Logan Stieber loses at 141 for Ohio State. I don't think Mike Evans or Bobby Telford are quite as big of favorites at 174 and 285, respectively, in part because they aren't as dominant as Stieber and in part because their opponents are better than Dziewa. But they're still very likely to win those matches. But there are seven other matches in this dual where the result could go either way and I wouldn't be terribly surprised -- these are two very evenly-matched teams. But I really think the key swing matches are in the middle weights. That's where most of Ohio State's strength resides and they likely need to rip off a string of wins from 141-165 in order to win this dual meet. They very easily could do that -- I think they'll be favored at all of those weights -- but an Iowa win at those weights could definitely shift the balance of power in the meet to Iowa.
OK, prediction time -- how are things going to shake out?
ROSS: Right now I have Iowa and Ohio State wrestling five matches apiece and dual coming down to bonus points -- with Ohio State coming out on top there thanks to a major decision for Logan Stieber over Josh Dziewa at 141. I am a bit curious about that match, though. To my surprise, Dziewa and Stieber have never wrestled before in college (as best I can tell). When Dziewa loses, he tends to do it via decision -- over the last two years, only one of his 12 losses has involved bonus points, when he got stuck by Mitchell Port last year. Stieber is obviously very capable of doing just that or racking up enough points through takedowns and turns to get bonus points in this match -- he's the Hodge Trophy frontrunner for good reason -- but Dziewa is very skilled at sucking the air out of matches. That's usually a detriment, but against Stieber it could be an asset.
Iowa's best shot at bonus points is probably Sammy Brooks at 184. Brooks has a variety of attacks, is adept at turning guys on the mat, and has great cardio, so it's possible to see him wearing down Courts and getting a major decision of his own. Beyond that, I don't see a lot of good spots for Iowa to get bonus points. Gilman and Clark are capable of racking up points, but they're both wrestling pretty stingy wrestlers. Evans and Telford should win their matches, but they're not always offensive dynamos, especially against quality opposition. Their best bet is to take the match to the mat and hope that they can get some back points.
125 - Gilman OVER Tomasello (dec.) 3-0 IOWA
133 - Clark OVER DiJulius (dec.) 6-0 IOWA
141 - L. Stieber OVER Dziewa (maj.) 6-4 IOWA
149 - H. Stieber OVER Sorensen (dec.) 7-6 OHIO ST
157 - Demas OVER Kelly (dec.) 10-6 OHIO ST
165 - Jordan OVER Moore (dec.) 13-6 OHIO ST
174 - Evans OVER Martin (dec.) 13-9 OHIO ST
184 - Brooks OVER Courts (dec.) 13-12 OHIO ST
197 - Snyder OVER Burak (dec.) 16-12 OHIO ST
285 - Telford OVER Taveanello (dec.) 16-15 OHIO ST
As I said before, I think the middle weights here are the key swing matches for the dual. If Ohio State holds serve there (and Logan Stieber is able to do most of his normal Logan Stieber things), I don't think Iowa will be able to make up enough ground at the lower and upper weights to catch Ohio State. But if Sorensen, Kelly, or Moore can grab an upset -- a not-impossible goal by any means -- then this dual could definitely swing in Iowa's favor. Either way, it should be a lot of fun to watch.
So there you have it, even the Iowa guy expects the Buckeyes to win. Let's just call it a match and move on. Our thanks to Ross and BHGP for the answers and be sure to stay tuned to both Black Heart Gold Pants and Land-Grant Holy Land for all of your Big Ten wrestling needs.