No. 1 Penn State is now on a 55-match winning streak following their destruction of No. 6 Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center last Friday. However, No. 2 Ohio State easily poses the biggest threat to Penn State's dual streak this season. The tilt will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network at 8:30 p.m. EST. Penn State and Ohio State wrestled one of the most memorable duals of all time last year at Rec Hall, which the Nittany Lions won 19-18.
Ohio State's team is weaker than last season, but they still will pose a dangerous threat. What makes the Buckeyes such a difficult matchup for Cael Sanderson's team is their strength from 125-149, and potential health concerns could allow for some bonus point opportunities for Ohio State. No. 15 Roman Bravo-Young has not wrestled since suffering an injury a loss against Ben Thornton (Purdue) at the end of January, and No. 11 Brady Berge has missed time as well. Bravo-Young and Berge were listed on Penn State's match notes for Ohio State, but they were also listed last week and neither wrestled.
The key to this dual for Penn State is they need their heavy hitters and favorites to show up in a big way. Jason Nolf, Vincenzo Joseph, Mark Hall, Bo Nickal, and Anthony Cassar are all going to be favored heading into their respective matches, so it's vital for Penn State that these five can hold serve and wrack bonus points.
Nolf will be a considerable favorite over No. 6 Ke-shawn Hayes, who is a game combatant, but will likely be unable to keep Nolf off of his legs. Joseph will be a considerable favorite over No. 12 Te'shan Campbell, but Campbell has a particularly negative style and is a pretty strong rider in the top position. He could easily keep this matchup to a simple decision. Hall will be a huge favorite over No. 18 Ethan Smith, and it's hard to see anything but Hall coming out on top. Smith does not have the kind of output to really put Hall in danger. Cassar will be a big favorite over No. 19 Chase Singletary as well, especially after his major decision win over No. 8 Mason Parris last week. Cassar's neutral wrestling has been particularly impressive at heavyweight, and he has a strength and speed advantage over most of his competition. It is hard to imagine Singletary overcoming that.
Despite Penn State being a big favorite in those four matches, there is still No. 1 Nickal vs. No. 2 Kollin Moore to consider. In last year's dual, Penn State was able to hold on for a win due to Cassar's upset over Moore. Moore is a very accomplished folkstyle wrestler and has placed in the top four in his freshmen and sophomore seasons. He's a very active wrestler in neutral, and undoubtedly he's had Nickal circled on his calendar since the schedule was released, looking for redemption from a year ago.
It's one thing to have Nickal circled on a calendar, it's entirely another thing to actually go out and beat him. Nickal has been dominant at 197 pounds, winning 12 of his 18 matches this season by fall. What poses Moore a ton of problems will be Nickal's creativity and fluidity. Nickal is comfortable in dangerous positions, and that was never more evident than last year's NCAA Championships against Myles Martin.
Moore is going to have to combat someone who will risk pinning himself to pin his opponent. That kind of thing just can't be recreated in the room, and Nickal is the favorite for his ability in all positions to be dangerous. Expect this one to possibly be close in Columbus, but Nickal is simply too strong.
Despite these advantages for Penn State, Ohio State is going to be the favorite to sweep the first four matches. At 125, Malik Heinselman will likely be too much for Devin Schnupp. Schnupp has gotten better as the season has gone along but, Heinselman is a talented freshman who will hold the advantage.
Even if Bravo-Young goes for Penn State, he's still going to be an underdog against No. 6 Luke Pletcher. Pletcher is basically the new Jason Tsirtsis in a lot of ways, as he just constantly finds himself in close matches. If Bravo-Young goes, he's going to have a chance due to his agility and his top game. Pletcher was turned quite a bit against No. 1 Stevan Micic (Michigan), and those openings are there for Bravo-Young to take. However, Pletcher will be a considerable favorite against Scott Stossel or whoever else Penn State puts out there for 133, possibly for bonus points as well.
No. 2 Joey McKenna and No. 5 Nick Lee will do battle again. This match was very close in Rec Hall last season, but McKenna might arguably be better now than he was a year ago. He has since won the 2018 US Open at 65 kg, he's placed third at NCAAs and really has not looked threatened at all this season. He's simply elevated himself in Tom Ryan's program. Lee was able to silence some critics last week with a routine 10-4 decision over No. 6 Kanen Storr. However, Lee still has yet to prove that he belongs in the elite national contending title tier at 141. McKenna deserves to be there with a very strong top game and very tough defense. The question is whether Lee can find offense like he did in Rec Hall last season.
No. 3 Micah Jordan is going to be the favorite over either No. 11 Brady Berge or Jarod Verkleeren. Jordan's biggest deficiency by far is his ability to escape from bottom, but he is going to possess a big edge in neutral against either Berge or Verkleeren. Unless Jordan gets caught in something, it's hard to envision anything but a Buckeye win at 149.
No. 1 Myles Martin and No. 2 Shakur Rasheed will do battle at 184 pounds, and quite simply this one will be very interesting to see how Rasheed stacks up at this weight. Rasheed has had a great season so far, but Martin has simply been on another level. He has made this weight class his own this season, and Rasheed is going to have to wrestle the match of his life to win. Martin's athleticism and fundamentals should see him as a comfortable favorite here in this 1 vs. 2 matchup.
Prediction - Penn State 17, Ohio State 16 - This dual could swing in a variety of directions considering bonus points, but I have Penn State edging this one. If the Nittany Lions go 5-5 in this dual, they should have the edge to come out on top. The Buckeyes will need a big bonus point victory from somewhere should the teams win 5 matches each. Simply, this is a "trust Nolf, Joseph, Hall, Nickal, and Cassar to get more bonus than Heinselman, Pletcher, McKenna, Jordan and Martin" bet. However, this dual could easily swing on one match.
Even with this close prediction, it's important to remember that this will not be a reflection of the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State does not have the depth in their lineup that Penn State does, and even if Ohio State prevails on Friday, Penn State will still be a massive favorite in March.