Ohio State is a really good wrestling team. The Iowa Hawkeyes – their Friday night opponent – are an exceptional wrestling team.
It's been two years since the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes faced each other on the mat, and this year's meeting is almost a mirror image of that 2018 dual. That year the top-ranked Buckeyes were on the hunt for a national title and hosted Iowa in front of a near-sellout crowd at the Schott; this season the Hawkeyes are the prohibitive favorite to win at all and host the No. 4 Buckeyes in what's likely to be a capacity crowd in Iowa City.
7-0, 4-0 BIG TEN
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
9 P.M. – FRIDAY, JAN. 24
IOWA CITY, IOWA
|BROADCAST: Big Ten Network|
Undefeated on the season and fielding a nationally-ranked wrestler at all 10 weight class – with 9 of 10 men ranked inside the top four – this is the best team Iowa has put on the mat since their 2010 national championship.
Ohio State is only truly favored to win two matches this evening, with Luke Pletcher ranked No. 1 at 141 pounds and Kollin Moore ranked No. 1 at 197. There's an outside chance the Buckeyes pick up four matches on the night, but the odds of what one Iowa beat writer described as a "transitional" Ohio State team leaving Carver-Hawkeye Arena with their eighth win of the dual-meet season are vanishingly slim.
That's no shade at Ohio State, but rather a nod to what a special roster Iowa is wrestling this season.
The Iowa Hawkeyes
Head Coach: Tom Brands
Malik Heinselman (9-11, So.) -OR-
Hunter Lucas (6-4, r-Jr.)
|No. 1 Spencer Lee (9-0, Jr.)|
|133||No. 20 Jordan Decatur (9-4, Fr.)||No. 2 Austin DeSanto (11-1, Jr.)|
|141||No. 1 Luke Pletcher (18-0, Sr.)||No. 3 Max Murin (10-1, r-So.)|
|149||No. 6 Sammy Sasso (16-2, r-Fr.)||No. 1 Pat Lugo (13-0, Sr.)|
|157||Elijah Cleary (13-7, r-Jr.)||No. 4 Kaleb Young (10-2, r-Jr.)|
|165||No. 12 Ethan Smith (13-7, r-So.)||No. 2 Alex Marinelli (13-0, r-Jr.)|
|174||No. 8 Kaleb Romero (13-2, r-So.)||No. 3 Michael Kemerer (7-0, r-Sr.)|
|184||No. 23 Rocky Jordan (22-4, r-Fr.)||No. 9 Abe Assad (18-3, Fr.)|
|197||No. 1 Kollin Moore (18-0, r-Sr.)||No. 4 Jacob Warner (10-3, r-So.)|
|HWT||No. 23 Gary Traub (17-3, r-Jr.)||No. 3 Tony Cassioppi (12-0, r-Fr.)|
It feels like a while since Iowa was at the top of the heap, but that has more to do with Cael Sanderson's wizardry in State College than it does with any shortcoming of Tom Brands in Iowa City. Brands is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year who led his team to back-to-back-to-back NCAA Championships from 2008-2010; his best team since was probably 2015, when Iowa split the Big Ten title with the future NCAA Champion Buckeyes.
This season's Iowa squad could end up with 10 All Americans if the chips fall right in Minneapolis in March. True freshman Abe Assad is the only man on the roster currently ranked outside of the top four in his class, and the way he's wrestled lately he could absolutely end up on the podium, too.
Led by two-time NCAA champ and noted Pokemon enthusiast Spencer Lee, the team has plenty of veteran talent showing up in big matches this season. With only one senior in the starting rotation in No. 1 Pat Lugo at 149, this is a roster that could be dangerous for a couple of years.
I talked at length about the Hawkeyes with Go Iowa Awesome wrestling guru RossWB, so I'll encourage you to read his comments for a deep dive into what this Iowa team is all about, and where Ohio State has a shot or two at pulling off an upset tonight.
There are four top-ranked wrestlers in this meet, perhaps the most No. 1 guys we'll see in a single dual meet anywhere in the country this season. For that reason alone, those four matches are notable right off the top.
Luke Pletcher faces No. 3 Max Murin and Kollin Moore faces No. 4 Jacob Warner; I expect Ohio State to hold serve in both of those bouts.
Lee is the top man in the country at 125, and Malik Heinselman will have his hands full to keep that match to a major decision. But the fourth match, on the other hand...
149 pounds: No. 6 Sammy Sasso vs. No. 1 Pat Lugo
This is the third "winnable" match of the night for Ohio State. Sammy Sasso stumbled in a big way versus Virginia Tech early in the season, which is the only reason he is currently outside the Top 5 in the class. Lugo has been very good this season, no doubt, but they have similar records against common opponents, and Sasso has a win over Lugo from last year's Midlands tournament.
Sasso probably woke up this morning feeling dangerous, and he'll likely feed off the intensity of the Carver-Hawkeye crowd and give Lugo all he could handle. Lugo can certainly win this one, but no one will be surprised is Sasso pulls off the upset in this bout, either.
184 pounds: No. 23 Rocky Jordan vs. No. 9 Abe Assad
This is a match that Iowa writer RossWB highlighted as one Ohio State could steal from the Hawkeyes, and I agree. Jordan started the season looking pretty flat down at 174, coming off of an injury-canceled season last year. Since moving up to 184 he's looked like a different guy, and picked up a pair of victories over Big Ten opponents last weekend.
Assad, meanwhile, is a true freshman who has dropped a few matches this season, and has wrestled in some close contests this season since coming out of redshirt. If Jordan wrestles to his strengths, this is another one the Buckeyes could pick up to stave off a runaway on the road.
This is the first time all season I don't honestly expect Ohio State to come home for the win, and as I said above, that's no shade to this team but a tip of the cap to Iowa. The Hawkeyes are perhaps the prohibitive favorite to win it all this season, and they're built like Ohio State was a few years ago – with potential All Americans at every. single. weight.
If the meet starts at 125, the Buckeyes could well be down 8 or 9 points after the first two matches; Malik Heinselman will have to wrestle his best to keep Lee from getting 5 or 6 in that bout, and Austin DeSanto is probably more than Jordan Decatur can handle if Decatur hasn't been 100% on point with managing the cut this week (he has the talent to scrap with the best of them otherwise).
So the biggest questions are what happens between 157 and 174. I'm not calling for upsets there, although RossWB mentioned in the Q&A that he thinks Elijah Cleary could make some noise against Kaleb Young at 157. And when you look at the stats, Cleary is 5-3 versus common opponents and Young is 5-4, so if Cleary comes in with some confidence after going 2-0 last weekend, that may be an interesting match to watch.
Ethan Smith has hard duty going up against Ohio native Alex "The Bull" Marinelli, and I'm really interested to see how sharp Kaleb Romero looks against Michael Kemerer. That last match could be one that surprises us, because Romero has been on a really nice trajectory this season, and has been wrestling with a lot of confidence and energy.
My official prediction is that the Buckeyes win three, with Moore getting in the bonus, but Iowa holds serve on the home mat and gets the win, 26-10.
If you need a little more reading materials before tonight's matches get underway, click here to see what I had to say when queried about the Buckeyes by RossWB over at Go Iowa Awesome. Oh, and you have to read this feature about everyone's favorite heavyweight: