Fresh off of Penn State's upset of Ohio State, the Nittany Lions will take on the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday night. The dual will air live on BTN at 8:00 p.m. EST. To discuss a dual between the best and third best teams in the Big Ten, we asked Ross of Go Iowa Awesome some questions. If you are into balance and like to keep your enemies close, go ahead and follow him on Twitter. Here are his responses:
Rob: Spencer Lee has hit the ground running this season and appears to be a legitimate national title contender as a true freshman. What do you think his chances are of becoming a national champion?
ROSS: I think they're getting better by the week. I wanted to see how he'd handle Nathan Tomasello in his first encounter -- he beat him. I wanted to see how he'd handle other Top 10 caliber 125ers -- and he's responded with back-to-back technical falls over Michigan's Drew Mattin and Minnesota's Ethan Lizak (the defending NCAA runner-up). He didn't quite keep up that pace against Northwestern's Sebastian Rivera in his last match (just a 7-4 decision), but for the most part he's looked phenomenal against some very challenging competition. It seems like he's had a few hiccups in terms of cardio, weight cutting, and wrestling multiple matches in a weekend, but he also seems to be making adjustments and getting better each time out, too. I think as he gets more experience and gets adjusted to the rhythms of college wrestling, he's going to get better and better. His defense from neutral is top-notch and his skill on the mat is eye-popping. He does an incredible amount of damage from the top position; not only is he a vicious rider, but he's excellent at turning that advantage into points, thanks to his uncanny ability to turn guys and hit tilts. Once he gets a grip on you, it's very hard to get free. 125 is a challenging weight and the NCAA Tournament will be full of land mines, but if he continues to improve the way he has over the last month, he's going to be right there among the top challengers in Cleveland.
ROB: It has not been a great season for Phillip Laux or Vincent Turk so far. How do you like their chances against Corey Keener and Nick Lee?
ROSS: I expect Paul Glynn, not Phillip Laux, to get the call at 133, while 141 is a coin-flip between Turk and Carter Happel. Happel just recorded Iowa's best win of the season by far at 141 lbs with his last-second takedown (and pin) of Minnesota's Tommy Thorn last weekend, so his confidence ought to be high if he gets the call to start. I think he has the best ability of anyone for Iowa at 133 or 141 to pull an upset, if he wrestles the way he did versus Thorn. That said, from what I've seen of Lee he's very slick from neutral and his pace can be relentless, so I'd worry about Happel's ability to keep things close into the third period against him. Keener has had a very up and down year, but most of his recent losses have been against Top 20 133ers, which is not Glynn. And I was impressed with the way he battled #2 Luke Pletcher last week -- he didn't back down and was fighting for a winning takedown to the final whistle. I think a Glynn-Keener match would be pretty tight and low-scoring and likely come down to a takedown in the third period; my heart says Glynn could grind that out, but my head says Keener's more likely to get it.
ROB: Brandon Sorensen and Zain Retherford could possibly meet three times over the last month of the season with the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Championships as well. Zain seems to be as punishing as ever so far this season. Do you think Sorensen can beat Zain in the BJC?
ROSS: Do I think he can beat Zain? I do think it is conceptually possible, yes. He has wrestled Zain close in the past (okay, one time) and he's wrestling very well this year. Do I think he will beat Zain on Saturday? Nope. Zain is wrestling better than ever this year (which is, uh, saying something) and he has consistently proven to be a step or two ahead of Sorensen in all of their matches. I would very much like to see that change, but I don't have any reason to think that it will change based on the evidence. I don't think Sorensen will get pinned, though, like 15 of Zain's 21 victims this year. How's that for confidence, heh?
ROB: It's a shame we won't get to see Michael Kemerer vs. Jason Nolf in all likelihood, at least until March. Assuming a healthy Nolf, what has Kemerer been doing this season that makes you think he could be the one at the top of the podium come March?
ROSS: Kemerer's improved himself in all phases this season; if he was a RPG character, I'd say that he's leveled up. His attacks from neutral are even more varied and crisp, his defense from neutral is even stingier, and on the mat he's been adept at riding guys and, when the opportunity presents itself, looking for tilts and pins. I was looking forward to seeing how he matched up against Nolf, who looked like he'd learned a few new tricks himself and was as good as ever prior to his knee injury; I guess we'll have to wait until March to maybe see that showdown. I think Kemerer is wrestling with a great deal of confidence this year and he's doing a better job of separating himself from his opponents; he's not letting many matches get down to one or two moves and he's looking for bonus points far more frequently. I think that mindset can carry him far in March.
ROB: The dual's feature bout is arguably at 165 with Vincenzo Joseph and Alex Marinelli. Vincenzo has built on last season's national championship campaign and seems to have separated himself from the pack a little bit. How do you think Marinelli stacks up with Vincenzo? Do you think he can pull off the upset?
ROSS: I'm extremely curious to see how Marinelli matches up with Joseph. Marinelli has impressed me more and more each time out this season -- but he also hasn't faced the best of the best at 165 yet, either. His best wins are over Minnesota's Nick Wanzek, Oklahoma State's Chandler Rogers, and Michigan's Logan Massa. Wanzek and Rodgers are probably more bottom of the podium guys at 165 and Massa has looked a little off this season. Joseph will definitely be his toughest test. The most impressive thing about Marinelli this season has been his ability to work a very physical, punishing style. He's good at dominating the center of the mat, pushing forward, keeping pressure on opponents with very hard tie-ups, and making them uncomfortable. His offense hasn't been too explosive so far this season against tougher opponents, but he's been able to get takedowns when he needs them. He also has some very impressive hips that have helped him get out of danger on multiple occasions. That said, Joseph has some very slick offense and I think he's going to be a handful for Marinelli to slow down. I think Marinelli needs to get an early score to have a good shot at pulling off the upset. I suspect this is the first of many showdowns between Marinelli and Joseph that we'll see over the next few seasons and my gut says that Joseph will win this first one, though I hope my gut is wrong.
ROB: Do you think Joey Gunther or Mitch Bowman will be able to prevent bonus points against Mark Hall and Bo Nickal?
ROSS: Kaleb Young is also an option for Iowa at 174 but, honestly, I don't think it really matters -- no, I don't really expect them to keep Hall and Nickal from bonus points. I think Gunther/Young probably has the best chance of avoiding bonus points, if only because Gunther is good at slowing matches down and tying up opponents and Hall hasn't been quite as much of a bonus point machine as some of his Penn State teammates. Of course, that's splitting hairs -- he's got bonus in almost 75% of his wins this season and the guys who have slowed him down have tended to be Top 10 guys, and neither Gunther nor Young are that caliber. I think there's a chance they might be able to hold him to something like a 10-3 or 11-4 decision, but that's about it. I think Nickal is too good and too slick for Bowman. I think he'll be all over Bowman's ankles and I see Bowman spending a lot of time on the mat. I just hope he can stay off his back.
ROB: Cash Wilcke will get to take on one of Anthony Cassar or Shakur Rasheed, yea we don't know which one either. How do you think Wilcke stacks up here?
ROSS: I'd much rather see Matt McCutcheon here -- is that an option? Heh. Rasheed's ability to get cradles and pin guys (11 pins in 16 wins) scares the heck out of me. But Cassar impressed the hell out of me against Kollin Moore. That was a tough match and Cassar didn't back down an inch and kept the pressure on Moore all match. He looked pretty tough in all positions and finished well when he had the opportunity. So far this season has shown that Wilcke doesn't have the offense to compete against the top guys at this weight. He couldn't do a thing against guys like Preston Weigel or Kollin Moore, which is a bit of a problem. Wilcke is solid enough defending from neutral that I think he'll probably be able to keep things fairly close on Saturday night; but even if he does that, I don't have high hopes in his ability to finish his offense and get the scores he needs to actually win the match.
ROB: Nick Nevills and Sam Stoll will probably not be lighting up the scoreboard much on Saturday night. However, this match is going to likely be very close. What do you think Sam needs to do to pull out the victory?
ROSS: Take -- and finish -- more shots. Stoll has a tendency to be pretty conservative on offense, especially against top-tier opponents. He's never going to be Kyle Snyder when it comes to offense from neutral, but he needs to have a few more solid shots and be able to get to his opponents legs a bit more often. If he can do that against Nevills, I think he has a great chance of getting the win because he's pretty tough to score on.
ROB: Prediction time - Who do you think wins the dual?
ROSS: Penn State. I've thought that all season and nothing I've seen recently makes me think otherwise. Nolf's absence is a notable swing -- that could be at least an 7-8 point swing in Iowa's favor, depending on bonus points -- but all that does is change the margin of victory for Penn State in my opinion. Penn State is a heavy favorite at 174 and 184 in my book and a solid favorite at 141, 149, 165, and 197. I expect them to get bonus points at 174 and 184 and bonus points at those other four weights wouldn't shock me either. Iowa has to get as many bonus points as possible at their favored weights (125, 157), pick off the toss-up weights (133, 285) and try and score some upsets somewhere along the way. Oh, and do it all in front of almost 16,000 Penn State fans screaming for blood. I just don't see that happening. I see Penn State winning by something like a 25-10 score.
Thank you to Ross of Go Iowa Awesome for indulging me in my questions. You can read my responses to his questions at the link here.