Wrestling Preview: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 14 Minnesota

By Andy Vance on January 12, 2018 at 8:00 am
It's on.

For the first time this season, the word "OR" is gone from the Ohio State depth chart. Fully weaponized for the first time all year, the Buckeyes kick off the latter half of their dual-meet season hosting the Minnesota Golden Gophers, a team that fields six top-20 competitors.

With seven dual meets ahead, the team is in the meat of its schedule. It faces six ranked opponents and four in the top 10. Though the team technically has three home meets left, only two of them will be hosted in Columbus; the Buckeyes host Purdue at St. Paris Graham High School, home of the Jordan family wrestling dynasty.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
6-3, 1-0 Big Ten Conference

7 P.M. – FRIDAY, JAN. 12


To date, the Buckeyes have dominated the competition, winning eight meets in a row – including three in Big Ten action – by an aggregate score of 283-50. Only two teams have managed to score double digits, in fact.

That dominance, however, came without all 10 starters in the lineup:

  • Top-ranked 125-pounder Nathan Tomasello missed the first 13 weeks of the season due to an October injury and subsequent knee surgery;
  • Top-ranked heavyweight and reigning World Champion Kyle Snyder missed four duals due to his international freestyle training and competition schedule;
  • No. 3 Bo Jordan and 13 Te'Shan Campbell have each been held out of meets because they were "banged up" at one point or another; and,
  • No. 6 Joey McKenna missed two duals due to wrestling in the U23 World Freestyle championships, where he won the bronze medal.

The home crowd should be excited to see 10 potential All-Americans and several current, former and potential NCAA champions compete in the lineup at the same time. Consider that Ohio State is the top-ranked team in the country in every major tournament-based ranking, and you get an idea of the firepower head coach Tom Ryan brings to the Schottenstein Center Friday night.

Minnesota (6-3 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten) will be a good challenge. To date they've dropped three duals, an early-season drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, then a top-three team, and a pair of close contests at the South Beach Duals.

"We want to continue to be full-thrust, attacking, scoring points and starting to separate ourselves," Ryan said. "Overall, I feel like we're where we need to be," heading into the second half of the season.

Buckeye Breakdown

The Buckeyes won their two most recent meetings with Minnesota, a 24-20 road victory in Minneapolis last season and 22-13 triumph at The Schott in Feb. 2015. Though recent teams have narrowed the gap, Ohio State trails in the all-time series by a tally of 16-35-2.

There isn't much to say about the current Buckeye roster that hasn't already been said. Six of the 10 wrestlers in the lineup are ranked in the top three in the country, including three who are the top-ranked wrestlers in their class. Kyle Snyder, Kollin Moore and Myles Martin are all legitimate Hodge Trophy candidates, and Martin has recorded more tech falls than any wrestler in the country.

Counting tournament action, Micah Jordan has seven pins on the season, while elder brother Bo, Martin and Snyder each have four apiece. Snyder has won by fall in 100 percent of his matches thus far this season, a trend one might reasonably expect to continue if World No. 1 has any hope of wresting the Hodge Trophy away from reigning winner Zain Retherford of Penn State, given Snyder's limited NCAA schedule.

Seven Buckeyes recorded victories in their most recent dual at Rutgers. Tomasello, after earning his first victory of the season a week ago at Maryland, was held out at Rutgers to give him adequate time to recover given his recent return to the active roster; his backup, freshman Brakan Mead, yielded a tech fall to No. 2 Nick Suriano.

The two upsets of the night came from then-No. 5 Ke-Shawn Hayes at 141 pounds, and then No. 11 Te'Shan Campbell at 165. Both matches were decided in the third period, with Hayes giving up a pair of six-point moves to Eleazar DeLuca, who earned Big Ten Wrestler of the Week honors for the feat, and Campbell getting beaten on a flurry and giving up the go-ahead takedown.

"We had a couple of situations last week where, when things got a little hairy, we changed the way we wrestled," Ryan explained. "You can't change the way you wrestle: if you're not pursuing the next position and thinking about scoring points, and you're waiting for the clock to run out, you have some problems."

For Campbell, it's no rest for the weary, as he wrestles another ranked opponent in No. 9 Nick Wanzek in what Tom Ryan said will be one of the top matches of the night.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers

Head Coach: Brandon Eggum

Probably Matchups
Wt Ohio State Minnesota
125 No. 1 Nathan Tomasello (1-0) No. 4 Ethan Lizak (17-1)
133 No. 2 Luke Pletcher (18-0) No. 12 Mitch McKee (9-3)
141 No. 6 Joey McKenna (6-0) No. 11 Tommy Thorn (14-6)
149 No. 6 Ke-Shawn Hayes (18-2) Ben Branacle (8-5)
157 No. 6 Micah Jordan (16-2) No. 18 Jake Short (8-5)
165 No. 13 Te'Shan Campbell (14-3) No. 9 Nick Wanzek (16-2)
174 No. 3 Bo Jordan (15-2) Chris Pfarr (11-5)
184 No. 2 Myles Martin (18-0) No. 20 Owen Webster (8-3)
197 No. 1 Kollin Moore (14-0) Bobby Steveson (4-7)
HWT No. 1 Kyle Snyder (4-0) Rylee Streifel (7-6) -OR-
Nate Rose (9-4)

"We're going to wrestle a program that's entrenched in tradition," Ryan said in scouting the match. "Coach Robinson built a powerhouse there, and now Coach Eggum is continuing that."

Eggum will mark his first anniversary as the Gophers' head coach later this month. He lost the "interim" tag from his title midway through last season; Minnesota fired his mentor and collegiate wrestling coach J Robinson before the 2016-2017 season, saying that he failed to cooperate with a university investigation into prescription drug use among wrestlers in the program.

Prior to his ouster, Robinson had coached the Gophers for three decades, including three national-title-winning teams. Eggum was a three-time All-American under his tutelage, and served as an assistant for 17 years after his NCAA wrestling career came to an end.

Since taking the helm, Eggum has proven to be a worthy choice.

In his first season, Amateur Wrestling News named him its Rookie Head Coach of the Year, after the Gophers finished seventh at the NCAA tournament, the best finish by a first-year coach in school history. The team qualified nine wrestlers for the tournament, with four finishing on the podium and two wrestling in championship matches.

Ohio State will be the Gophers' biggest test thus far, and on paper at least, it looks like a favorable matchup for the Buckeyes. The only similarly ranked team the Gophers have faced thus far was the other OSU - Oklahoma State - and Minnesota only managed to win a single decision versus the Cowboys.

"Some guys got caught in the same positions several times in their matches," Eggum said of the mid-November loss. "There were some matches we lost in the third period, and it will be something we continue to talk about as we move forward this season."

Since that loss, the Gophers also dropped meets to a pair of ranked foes at the South Beach Duals: No. 24 North Carolina and No. 12 Cornell. Minnesota only won nine individual matches in those two losses.

Notable Wrestlers

No. 4 Ethan Lizak - 125 pounds

The Backpack. The Lizard. Call the redshirt junior whatever you like, but make no mistake: he's one of the most exciting wrestlers in the 125-pound class, and one of the best.

"Lizak had a tremendous year last year," Ryan said of the Minnesota grappler. "He's a tremendous wrestler in the top position. That's probably the premier matchup of the night."

Known as "The Backpack" because he has an uncanny ability to get his boots in an opponent and get them turned for bunches of back points, Lizak is 18-1 on the season, with a bonus rate of nearly 70 percent. He's notched four pins and five tech falls thus far this season.

Last season he came up a 6-3 decision short of his first NCAA title.

He'll be a stout test for Ohio State's former NCAA champ Nathan Tomasello, who faces The Backpack in only his second match of his senior season.

No. 9 Nick Wanzek - 165 pounds

If the 125-pound match is "the match of the night," as Tom Ryan put it, then 165 is a worthy undercard. Wanzek is a top-10 opponent looking to hand Te'Shan Campbell his second consecutive loss.

At 18-2 on the season, the redshirt senior holds a slightly better record than Campbell midway through the season (16-2 vs. 14-3 for Campbell), but a softer bonus rate (55.6% vs. 76.5% for Campbell). 

He has just one pin this season – like Campbell – and only two tech falls, where last year's ACC champion has four to his credit. If Campbell bounces back and manages to work better on his feet than he did at Rutgers, it'll be a good sign of his progress under Ryan's watchful care.

No. 12 Mitch McKee - 133 pounds

Ohio State sophomore Luke Pletcher finally inched his way from No. 3 to No. 2 in the rankings. It took him 18 matches to get there, when observers realized that a 4-2 decision was a fairly typical Pletcher score ... and that he's rarely on the wrong side of the ledger.

He faces a different test in rival sophomore Mitch McKee.

"McKee was on the U23 world team, and he's had a ton of success," Ryan said in scouting the Gopher grappler. "That will be a big one for us."

McKee lost his first-round match at the world freestyle championships in Poland, and has gone 9-3 in NCAA competition. Seven of those nine victories came by fall, and two of his three losses were close decisions to top-five competitors.

Match Outlook

In addition to Lizak, Wanzek and McKee, Minnesota also fields ranked opponents at 141, 157 and 184 pounds, though Ohio State's starter will be favored in each contest. Given Minnesota's inability to win matches versus a similarly-stacked Oklahoma State team, it seems like Ohio State should put on a clinic for the hometown crowd.

The dual marks one of two chances for fans to see a trio of senior All-Americans in home action: Kyle Snyder, Bo Jordan and Nathan Tomasello are each in their final season of collegiate wrestling. The only remaining home meet of the season at the Schottenstein Center comes Jan. 21 vs. Iowa.

Things to watch for: How does Tomasello look against an NCAA finalist after returning from surgery? How do Hayes and Campbell bounce back from third-period upsets? Does Kyle Snyder pin his fifth consecutive opponent?

Frankly, it will be a surprise if Ohio State is in jeopardy at any point during this dual, and although Rutgers stole a pair of victories last week, a 10-match sweep is well within the realm of possibility. 

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