Preview: No. 2 Ohio State at No. 12 Illinois

By Andy Vance on February 1, 2019 at 4:01 pm
Ethan Smith: On the hunt.

After a tough loss to Michigan in Value City Arena last week, Ohio State hits the road for a pair of dual meets in the state of Illinois. First up: The Fighting Illini.

2-5, 1-4 Big Ten Conference

9 P.M. – FRIDAY, FEB. 1

BROADCAST: Big Ten Network
STREAMING: FloWrestling

Ohio State holds a one-match advantage in the all-time series, winning 34 of 67 meetings since 1922. The Buckeyes have defeated Illinois four straight times and in six of eight duals during the Tom Ryan Era.

Illinois fields four ranked wrestlers, including three in the top-10 of their respective weight classes. Ohio State, on the other hand, will start eight who are currently ranked among the top-20.

A quick word about rankings...

The astute reader will note that Ohio State is still styled as the No. 2 team in the country atop this preview, despite our reporting earlier this week the Buckeyes had fallen to No. 6. As with other sports, there are multiple rankings used in wrestling, and in fact among media rankings a fan might follow, there are no fewer than six different outlets releasing their own sets of rankings (see Tweet below).

For its part, Ohio State uses the FloWrestling rankings in its social channels and marketing materials, at least in part because of Flo's partnership with the Big Ten on streaming meets.

What we reported earlier this week was the NWCA Division I Coaches Poll, which ranks teams based on their performance in the dual-meet season. The teams slotted in the five places ahead of Ohio State in that poll are all undefeated in dual meets this season.

Flo, and the other media outlets like them, rank teams based on their theoretical performance in postseason tournaments. Looking at the rankings, in other words, it's still the consensus that Ohio State is the second-best team in the country, behind Penn State, come the post-season tournaments.

This also explains why a 5-loss Illinois is ranked as high as No. 12 in the Flo standings. With three or four All America finishes likely, the Illini are a better tournament team than a dual team... something that is occasionally said about Ohio State, as well.

Lineup Adjustments

Probable Matchups
125 Malik Heinselman (14-5, Fr.)
-OR- Hunter Lucas (7-4, r-So.)
No. 11 Travis Piotrowski (13-7, Jr.) 
133 No. 6 Luke Pletcher (16-2, Jr.) Dylan Duncan (10-7, r-So.)
141 No. 2 Joey McKenna (14-0, Sr.)
-OR- Clay Ragon (6-6, r-So.)
No. 4 Mike Carr (9-2, r-So.)
149 No. 3 Micah Jordan (16-1, r-Sr.) Christian Kanzler (3-9, Jr.)
157 No. 7 Ke-Shawn Hayes (14-4 r-Jr.) No. 8 Eric Barone (15-8, r-Jr.)
165 Te'Shan Campbell (8-2, Sr.)
-OR- Kaleb Romero (7-5, r-Fr.)
Joey Gunther (15-9, r-Jr.)
174 No. 18 Ethan Smith (12-5, r-Fr.) Carver James (11-9, r-Jr.)
184 No. 1 Myles Martin (11-0, Sr.) No. 4 Emery Parker (11-1, r-Sr.)
197 No. 2 Kollin Moore (11-0, r-Jr.) Andre Lee (15-10, r-Sr.)
HWT No. 17 Chase Singletary (15-4, r-Fr.) Deuce Rachal (7-13, r-Sr.)

Through last week's dual versus Michigan, Tom Ryan and staff still had one major question in their starting lineup: Who gave the team the best shot at 174 pounds? Senior Te'Shan Campbell, last year's starter at 165, split time with redshirt freshman Ethan Smith all season long.

That arrangement is over. Ethan Smith will start this weekend at 174, and Campbell will drop back down to 165 in hopes of taking his old job back from the embattled Kaleb Romero. Neither Romero (7-5) nor Campbell (8-2) have much in the way of signature wins at this point, but if Campbell can manage the cut, his strength and experience could put the Buckeyes in a better postseason position than allowing Romero to continue on his current path.

Fans of Smith, who nearly upset No. 3 Myles Amine Friday night versus Michigan, has given fans no shortage of exciting moments this season. Aside from the strong showing versus Amine, in December he burst onto the scene with a big win over Wisconsin's Ryan Christensen, then the No. 9 wrestler in the class.

That win vaulted Smith into the rankings at 174, and his work since has earned him the starting job in a pair of tilts this weekend.

Notable Matchups

184 pounds: No. 1 Myles Martin vs. No. 4 Emery Parker

The biggest match of the night features two NCAA title contenders. Myles Martin is the prohibitive favorite to win the 184-pound crown in Pittsburgh, but Emery Parker is quite a talent in his own right... and the two have history.

It's been two years since Martin and Parker last wrestled, and the two rising stars split a pair of matches late in the 2016-2017 season. Martin won the first match in a major decision when the two teams met in the dual-meet season.

But the second match was a different story. Martin, hoping to become a two-time NCAA champion in his sophomore campaign, ran into Parker in the second round of the tournament and couldn't drag himself out of a deep hole late in the match.

Trailing 8-2 early in the third, the final period became a takedown bonanza, with both wrestlers trading scores en route to a 14-9 Parker decision, and one of the biggest upsets of the year.

Parker is a two-time All American and finished third at the NCAA Tournament in Cleveland last March.

157 pounds: No. 7 Ke-Shawn Hayes vs. No. 8 Eric Barone

For the second week in a row, Ke-Shawn Hayes draws another highly-regarded opponent in a match he needs to win to solidify himself as a legitimate contender in the class. Barone's record isn't impressive on its face at 15-8 this season, but he upended Hayes earlier this season at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in a 2-1 decision.

Last March at the Big Ten Tournament, on the other hand, Hayes flatlined Barone in a 12-1 major decision. Hayes should turn in a solid performance in this meet, presuming he ups his attack rate and goes on the hunt, rather than letting Barone dictate the pace of the action.

What about 141 pounds?

The other match that should be on this list is No. 2 Joey McKenna vs. No. 4 Mike Carr, but it's not happening. Ohio State listed McKenna and Clay Ragon both in this weekend's probable lineups, but assistant coach Tervel Dlagnev told reporters that McKenna is sidelines with an undisclosed injury.

As reported by The Lantern:

Ohio State announced that senior Joey McKenna, the No. 2 wrestler in the country at 141 pounds, is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

“The medical staff said it wouldn’t be in his best interest to wrestle this weekend,” Ohio State assistant coach Tervel Dlagnev said.

Dlagnev noted McKenna will face Cornell sophomore Yianni Diakomihalis, the No. 1 wrestler at 141 pounds, on Feb. 22 and did not give any timeline for his status moving forward.

Ohio State told Eleven Warriors that the staff is hopeful McKenna is back in action for the team's home dual versus No. 1 Penn State Feb. 8.

What to Expect

Ohio State will win this match, and should do so running away. This isn't a meet like the Michigan dual where the challenger presents a matchup problem for the Buckeyes' young starters. Illinois has talent, but not enough to overcome the stockpile Tom Ryan travels with from Columbus.

Things to watch include how Malik Heinselman fares against another top wrestler – although Heinselman is again listed with an -OR- by his name, and Hunter Lucas may get the call if the true freshman isn't feeling up to scratch after a brutal slate of January matches.

How Campbell handles the cut back to 165 and how Smith handles the spotlight as the official starter at 174 also present interesting storylines beyond the night's marquee matches.

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