Back to the Mats: Lions Head to Michigan for Two Big Ten Matches

By Rob Dougherty on January 12, 2018 at 10:30 am
Zain Retherford will look to pile on bonus points to give the Lions the edge on Friday.

Joe Maiorana - USA Today Images

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No. 2 Penn State (5-0, 2-0) restarts its Big Ten schedule tonight against No. 4 Michigan (5-1, 2-0). The dual will air live at 9 p.m. EST on Big Ten Network.

The Lions are coming off a dominating Southern Scuffle performance earlier this month, with six champions crowned in Chattanooga. They look to keep their momentum going against a Michigan team that is well-rounded and features six top-10 wrestlers at their respective weights. The Wolverines, if healthy, post a serious threat to be on the podium at NCAAs. 

Penn State will also travel to Michigan State (4-4, 0-2) on Sunday for a dual at 1 p.m. EST; it will air on BTN Plus. 

No. 8 Nevills looks to rebound against No. 2 Coon

Nick Nevills is coming off a poor performance at the Southern Scuffle. He lost in the quarterfinals to North Carolina State backup Michael Boykin, and lost in the third-place match to No. 7 Nathan Butler (Stanford). Nevills saw his ranking dip from third to eighth after the Scuffle. The seeding implications could be critical if he has to face Kyle Snyder in the quarterfinals. However, a great opportunity is in front of him in No. 2 Adam Coon. 

Coon has taken over the graduated Connor Medbery's role this season. Coon has had the No. 2 ranking since the beginning of the season and does not appear to be ready to relinquish it anytime soon. He's won 11 of his 16 matches by bonus, good for a bonus rate of 69 percent. That's a real nice tally, and shows why he has separated himself from the non-Kyle Snyder division at heavyweight. 

Nevills has not been the highest scoring wrestler, but his ability to ride out opponents cannot be understated, and it makes him dangerous. However, if Coon gets away, Nevills is going to need to find something in his bag of tricks to beat him. A win and Nevills could get his season back on track, and climb the rankings once again. 

Is No. 5 Logan Massa Healthy? 

The biggest question for the Wolverines right now is whether Massa, last season's third-place finisher, is going to be healthy in time for a match-up with No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph. These two squared off once last year, and it was a nail biter. Joseph secured the winning takedown in the final 30 seconds in the NCAA semifinals to secure a 5-4 win.

However, Massa has not wrestled since the Cliff Keen Invitational in early December due to injury. Massa's health is a serious issue for Michigan's potential competitiveness in this dual. A potential Joseph-Massa match-up could tear the house down though, and will be must see television on Friday night. 

Will Nick Lee Wrestle? 

The release that Penn State sent out for this dual does not include Lee as a potential starter at 141 pounds. Instead, the release lists Jered Cortez and Luke Gardner. This is no reason to be alarmed that Lee is not wrestling this season; last year, Mark Hall was not listed as a potential starter for the Iowa dual. It's not like the release is etched in stone and unchanged. If Lee does wrestle, expect him to run up the score on Sal Profaci - and that's no disrespect to Profaci. Lee is just an animal and further along in his development at this moment in time.

The more intriguing potential match-up for Lee this weekend is No. 20 Javier Gasca of Michigan State. Gasca should be familiar to Penn State fans as someone who was a consistent thorn in Jimmy Gulibon's side. Gasca is an impressive athlete and, when healthy, is a very difficult wrestler to defeat. Lee would face a legitimate round of 12 threat if he goes this weekend. 

However, perhaps the most promising part of the release is Cortez being listed. That does not mean that Cortez is injury-free, but he suffered what looked to be a serious ankle injury at the Scuffle. It would be good news to see he is able to compete again. 

How Does Michigan Stack Up At 149, 157, 174, and 184? 

Penn State should expect a lot of points on Friday from No. 1 Zain Retherford this weekend against Malik Amine. However, the key for Michigan to remain competitive in the dual is preventing significant damage from No. 1 Jason Nolf, No. 2 Hall and No. 1 Bo Nickal.

Nolf takes on No. 5 Alec Pantaleo, who is a very talented wrestler, but one who has struggled against really strong riders in the past. Nolf is not the strongest rider, but his ingenuity means he can turn an opponent into a pinning position quickly. Nolf has been the most dominant man in the NCAA this season and Pantaleo has been pinned before, most notably by Retherford. Pantaleo has some quality wins this year over No. 6 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) and No. 8 Tyler Berger (Nebraska), but do not expect him to be able to stop Nolf from doing Nolf things. 

Hall and Nickal will take on No. 6 Myles Amine and No. 5 Dominic Abounader, respectively. For Hall, the matchup with Amine should be a rather interesting one. Amine has two close losses to Zahid Valencia, Bo Jordan and Jordan Kutler, all guys who have given Hall some problems recently. However, Hall is just a different level of talent from Amine; expect Hall to win. The score may be closer than some would like, but Hall's defense should prevent him from being scored on.

Nickal faces his second top-five match-up of the season against Abounader, who has not had the strongest schedule to this point in the season. However, he's taken advantage of it. His only losses are to Myles Martin (Ohio State) and Ryan Preisch (Lehigh) - both respectable. However, Nickal thrives in hostile environments, as we've seen in the past - whether it's pinning Sammy Brooks in Iowa, beating Myles in Ohio State or pinning Nolan Boyd in Oklahoma State. Nickal is not afraid of crowds. Expect him to separate himself from Abounader. 

Who Starts At 197 and 125? 

Penn State's release lists No. 10 Shakur Rasheed, Anthony Cassar and Matt McCutcheon as potential starters against Michigan and Michigan State. However, with Rasheed winning the Scuffle earlier this year, it seems like he would be in the driver's seat to start against No. 11 Kevin Beazley. Can Rasheed hit another cross-face cradle against a top-20 wrestler? It will be fun to get the answer to that if he is called upon.

Cassar never got his opportunity to face Rasheed in the Scuffle finals, so he will be chomping at the bit to get back into the lineup against a ranked wrestler. A Beazley win at this weight could at least make Penn State sweat the final score of the dual. 

Penn State had some news this week in the addition of graduate senior Carson Kuhn to challenge for the 125-pound slot. Kuhn was at Boise State, which has shut down its wrestling program, and Kuhn was among the wrestlers at Boise State given a waiver to transfer anywhere in the nation.

Devin Schnupp has been the starter all season, but despite his best efforts, he has not had the best results. Schnupp was not supposed to be in this role so early into his college career, but that has not stopped him from standing in there against the best. This experience should help him get a lot better, whether Cael Sanderson decides to start Kuhn or not. 

Kuhn offers Sanderson another option at a weight class Penn State is currently lacking. Cael's choice will face No. 15 Drew Mattin (Michigan) and/or Rayvon Foley (18-5). Both match-ups are going to be a challenge, considering the talents of both guys. Mattin will be an NCAA qualifier and Foley has the potential to be one as well. If Kuhn beats any of these two, Penn State could start to feel a little more comfortable that he can really contribute moving forward this season. 

No. 2 Penn State vs. No. 4 Michigan Projected Lineups*

  • 125 pounds - Devin Schnupp (1-9) vs. No. 15 Drew Mattin (13-6)
  • 133 pounds - Corey Keener (9-2) vs. No. 6 Stevan Micic (10-2)
  • 141 pounds - Luke Gardner (6-4) or Jered Cortez (11-1) vs. Sal Profaci (9-6)
  • 149 pounds - No. 1 Zain Retherford (14-0) vs. Malik Amine (10-6)
  • 157 pounds - No. 1 Jason Nolf (14-0) vs. No. 5 Alec Pantaleo (9-2)
  • 165 pounds - No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (9-0) vs. No. 5 Logan Massa (9-1)
  • 174 pounds - No. 2 Mark Hall (15-0) vs. No. 6 Myles Amine (12-3)
  • 184 pounds - No. 1 Bo Nickal (14-0) vs. No. 5 Domenic Abounader (13-2)
  • 197 pounds - No. 10 Shakur Rasheed (12-2), Anthony Cassar (12-2) or Matt McCutcheon (5-3) vs. No. 11 Kevin Beazley (11-2)
  • 285 pounds - No. 8 Nick Nevills (15-2) vs. No. 2 Adam Coon (15-0)

No. 2 Penn State vs. Michigan State Projected Lineups*

  • 125 pounds - Devin Schnupp (1-9) vs. Rayvon Foley (18-5)
  • 133 pounds - Corey Keener (9-2) vs. Matt Santos (4-6)
  • 141 pounds - Luke Gardner (6-4) or Jered Cortez (11-1) vs. No. 20 Javier Gasca (11-4)
  • 149 pounds - No. 1 Zain Retherford (14-0) vs. Jwan Britton (9-7) or Austin Eicher (5-3)
  • 157 pounds - No. 1 Jason Nolf (14-0) vs. Jake Tucker (15-9)
  • 165 pounds - No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (9-0) vs. Austin Hiles (9-11) or Logan Ritchie (9-13)
  • 174 pounds - No. 2 Mark Hall (15-0) vs. Austin Hiles (9-11) or Logan Ritchie (9-13)
  • 184 pounds - No. 1 Bo Nickal (14-0) vs. Nick May (5-13) or Shawn Shadaia (7-11)
  • 197 pounds - No. 10 Shakur Rasheed (12-2), Anthony Cassar (12-2) or Matt McCutcheon (5-3) vs. Nick May (5-13) or Shawn Shadaia (7-11)
  • 285 pounds - No. 8 Nick Nevills (15-2) vs. Matt Lloyd (6-9) 

* - Indicates the names listed on Penn State's release for the duals

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