Wrestling Preview: No. 4 Ohio State Hosts Illinois to Cap Weekend of Big Ten Competition

By Andy Vance on January 19, 2020 at 10:41 am
Covelli Center
Ohio State University Athletics

The Big Ten is college wrestling's premier conference, and although Ohio State wrestled one of the toughest out-of-conference schedules in the country this year, this is the time of year when the competition is turned all the way up to 11. After a thorough beating of the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers Friday night in Madison, the Buckeyes return to Covelli Center Sunday afternoon to host Illinois.

4-2, 1-1 BIG TEN

1 P.M. – SUNDAY, JAN. 19


The Fighting Illini aren't ranked in the Top 25 at the moment in the NWCA Coaches Poll, but it would be a mistake to dismiss them on that datapoint alone. Seven Illinois wrestlers are currently ranked nationally by FloWrestling, including No. 8 Travis Piotrowski at 133 pounds, Jordan Decatur's fourth-consecutive Top-15 opponent since joining Ohio State's starting lineup.

Piotrowski is a true senior wrestling up a class this season after a journeyman career at 125. He’s done rather well, going 15-2 and racking up plenty of wins at the Michigan State Open and at the Midlands Championships. He doesn’t have a signature win over a top-ranked opponent yet, as his losses have come to marquee opponents Austin DeSanto and Micky Phillippi, so this is a solid opportunity for Decatur to add a second win over ranked competition to his resume.

One question for the Buckeyes this afternoon is if Quinn Kinner makes his debut at 157. Elijah Cleary wrestled an outstanding match in Madison Friday, winning his first dual-meet victory since November and snapping a five-dual losing streak. That win might have been enough to keep him in the lineup to face No. 22 Eric Barone, but if the staff thinks Kinner has more upside potential, this might be the time to find out how he'll fare against Round-of-16-type competition.

One class that appears to be settled now is 184 pounds, where Rocky Jordan posted a tech fall Friday night against an unranked opponent. The match itself wasn't the reason I say this appears to be settled, but rather the news Sunday morning that Gavin Hoffman is wrestling an open tournament in Alliance, Ohio this afternoon... as a heavyweight.

Prior to this season the plan for next year was for Chase Singletary to move down and pick up Kollin Moore's mantle. Assuming that's still the case, maybe Hoffman sees more opportunity to bulk up and go big next year. I'm more than a little curious to see how he fares in the Open this afternoon.

The top-ranked tandem of Luke Pletcher and Kollin Moore should put on a show for the Covelli crowd. Pletcher faces a ranked opponent, but after wrestling a major decision against the No. 4 guy in the class and making it look easy, it's looking more and more like this is Pletcher's class to lose, as he now has wins over five of the current Top 10 in the class already this season.

Moore, who earned his 100th career victory Friday night, will be on the hunt for another tech fall. He's hitting the bonus in more than 82% of his matches this season, with seven of those coming via tech or fall.

The Illinois Fighting Illini

Head Coach: Jim Heffernan

The Illini split their first two Big Ten duals of the season last weekend, losing a tough battle at No. 4 Penn State, 22-16, then blowing the doors off Indiana at Huff Hall, 32-3. Penn State this season isn't the same Penn State that won the last umpteen national titles, but coming that close to the Nittany Lions inside Rec Hall is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Probable Matchups
125 Malik Heinselman (9-10, So.) No. 24 Justin Cardani (9-5, r-Fr.)
133 Jordan Decatur (9-3, Fr.) -OR-
Dylan Koontz (8-8, r-So.)
No. 8 Travis Piotrowski (15-2, Sr.) 
141 No. 1 Luke Pletcher (17-0, Sr.) No. 12 Dylan Duncan (12-5, r-Jr.)
149 No. 6 Sammy Sasso (15-2, r-Fr.) Mousa Jodeh (2-8, r-Sr.)
157 Elijah Cleary (12-7, r-Jr.) -OR-
Quinn Kinner (5-4, r-Fr.)
No. 22 Eric Barone (8-7, r-Sr.)
165 No. 13 Ethan Smith (12-8, r-So.) No. 14 Danny Braunagel (15-4, r-Fr.)
174 No. 9 Kaleb Romero (12-2, r-So.) No. 16 Joey Gunther (11-3, r-Sr.)
184 Rocky Jordan (21-4, r-Fr.) No. 11 Zac Braunagel (13-5, r-Fr.)
197 No. 1 Kollin Moore (17-0, r-Sr.) Matt Wroblewski (7-8, r-So.)
HWT Gary Traub (16-3, r-Jr.) Luke Luffman (11-4, Fr.)

Ohio State’s last loss to Illinois came in 2011. The Buckeyes are riding a five-dual winning streak which has also pushed them ahead in the all-time series, 35-33.

With teams like Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State in the same conference, a program like Illinois gets lost in the shuffle at times, but they've had plenty of talent in the program over the past two decades. Head coach Jim Heffernan is in his ninth season as head coach after serving as an assistant on the staff for 17 years. During that time Illinois has finished in the top 10 at the NCAA championships 13 times, and in the top 15 in 17 of the last 19 seasons.

Buckeye Breakdown

Ohio State's 11th Man is back in action Sunday: the Covelli Center crowd has been a difference-maker for the Buckeyes this season, providing an electric atmosphere that the team has clearly fed on. The legend of Gas Tank Gary Traub, for example, is built in no small part because of the hometown crowd's infectious enthusiasm for the one-time walk-on and his irrepressible spirit and love of the sport.

This meet is one where Ohio State should win at least seven matches and post plenty of bonus points. Jordan Decatur has a winnable match against a ranked opponent, and Elijah Cleary has an opportunity to win two in a row if he comes out of the tunnel this afternoon.

Action streams live on BTN Plus, and gets underway at 1 p.m.

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