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Wrestling Preview: No. 1 Penn State vs. No. 25 Northwestern

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The Big Ten season continues as the Lions travel to Illinois to take on the Wildcats, but the matchup at 149 that many have been looking forward to since this season started may not even occur.

The Nittany Lions took down Nebraska on Friday, their toughest test at home this year, and it wasn't even that close--despite throwing in three backups into the lineup. They follow up that victory (in which they won 7 of the ten bouts) with a trip over to Evanston, which won't even be remotely the same.

A week ago, Iowa beat the Wildcats to a pulp in a record-breaking 54-0 dual. Returning NCAA champion Jason Tsirtsis, Northwestern's only ranked wrestler and who was #1 at 149 until his loss to Hawkeye Brandon Sorensen at the Midlands, forfeited that day, and hasn't wrestled since. It's still uncertain whether he'll be a go on Sunday versus Zain, who took his place atop the standings, and it might not be a good choice for interim Head Coach Matt Storniolo to send him out there if he's not 100%.

Compared to Friday night, which saw bonus points at a premium (thanks, Jason!) thanks, in part, to average officiating as well as the elevated level of opponents up and down the Huskers lineup, this dual meet should be scoring upon scoring for our Nittany Lions, and we should look to challenge that Hawkeye meet score.

How To Watch

What: #1 Penn State (9-0, 4-0 Big Ten) vs #25 Northwestern (1-6, 0-2 Big Ten)

Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena/Evanston, IL

When: Sunday, 2pm ET

Audio: Free Jeff "Ironhead" Byers, via GoPSUSports

Video: No regular tv;  internet tv is  BTN+

Projected Lineups

No. 1 Penn State WT No. 25 Northwestern
#4 - Nico Megaludis (Sr., Murraysville, PA) 125 UR - Garrison White (Sr., Concord, NC)
#5 - Jordan Conaway (Sr., Abbottstown, PA) 133 UR - Dominick Malone (Sr., Granby, CT)

#13 - Jimmy Gulibon (Jr., Derry, PA)

OR Kade Moss (So., South Jordan, UT)

141 UR - Jameson Oster (Sr., Homer Glen, IL)
#1 - Zain Retherford (So., Benton, PA) 149

#4 - Jason Tsirtsis (Jr., Crown Point, IN)

OR UR - Jason Isparides (Fr., Cedarburg, WI)

#3 - Jason Nolf (Fr., Kitanning, PA) 157 UR - Anthony Petrone (Fr., Orlando, FL)

#16 - Shakur Rasheed (Fr., Coram, NY)

OR Geno Morelli (Jr., DuBois, PA)

165 UR - Luke Norland (Fr., Okoboji, IA)
#1 - Bo Nickal (Fr., Allen, TX) 174 UR - Mitch Sliga (So., Fishers, IN)
#13 - Matt McCutcheon (So., Kiski Area, PA) 184 UR - Regis Durbin (Fr., Lake Forest, IL)
#1 - Morgan McIntosh (Sr., Santa Ana, CA) 197 UR - Jacob Berkowitz (Jr., Scarsdale, NY)

UR - Jan Johnson (Fr., Mohnton, PA)

OR UR - Wes Phipps (Jr., Grove City, PA)

285 UR - Conan Jennings (Fr., Centerville, OH)

125 LBS

If Gilman can pin White, what can Nico do? It likely depends on whether the Wildcat senior will wrestle, and how much Megaludis can do to get his offense going. I'm expecting big things from the PSU senior in this match, and this will springboard his confidence down the stretch for the rest of the year. This should start of the day big for Penn State.

Prediction: Nico by Pin

Score: PSU 6, Northwestern 0

133 LBS 

I see two scenarios in which Conaway doesn't win big on Sunday: one, he's looking forward to next Friday's dual at Illinois and gets too lackadaisical. Two, he takes a shot that's unsuccessful and doesn't recover quick enough, and Malone counters with a pin. The Wildcat senior has been very good at taking his opponents to their backs this year, but I've got to think that Cael and the rest of the coaching staff have had Jordan well prepared for this--and he'll be ready. I'm not prepared to go high bonus points here, but I definitely think the outcome will never be in doubt because the coaches won't let those one or two scenarios come into play.

Prediction: Jordan by Major

Score: PSU 10, Northwestern 0

141 LBS

It's been announced that Oster will medically forfeit this match, so I don't really have much to say here. It would have been nice to see Kade bounce back after the loss on Friday--but six points is six points.

Prediction: Jimmy or Kade by medical forfeit

Score: PSU 16, Northwestern 0

149 LBS - Match of the Meet (maybe)

This was the match that was circled on everyone's calendar preseason. Returning NCAA champ, and the dude who's killing all of his opponents.

Then Tsirtsis went and lost to a Hawkeye, and got injured. Now it's anyone's guess whether he'll wrestle, and if he does, whether he'll be up to his full strength. No matter who goes here, Zain wins--of that, I am supremely confident, especially after Friday's major decision over Nebraska's #5 Sueflohn. But the question comes down to bonus points. If the Wildcats go with Isparides, that's a pin for Zain, and it's likely a question of which period he gets the freshman on his back. If Jason Tsirtsis is a go, I doubt he's at 100% this quickly after the injury--so I'd pick a major decision, with a lot of pain for the junior. Of course, there's always the chance that the Wildcats forfeit this weight too--saving face for their returning starter, and giving him the opportunity to face Zain for the first tim at the Big Ten tournament instead.

I'll go conservative here.

Prediction: ZPain by Major

Score: PSU 20, Northwestern 0

157 LBS

Bryce Brill was listed in Penn State's prematch notes as getting the nod for the Wildcats here, but it was released by NU that he was having season-ending surgery this week. His replacement, a true freshman, got tech-falled by Iowa's Edwin Cooper in the first period last week. Jason Nolf is much better than Cooper.

Prediction: Nolf by Pin

Score: PSU 26, Northwestern 0

HALFTIME

With the numerous potential pins and forfeits, how long into the dual will halftime be? I'm taking bets. Let me know yours in the comments.

165 LBS

This weight was the closest weight for the Wildcats a week ago, and that's partially because Iowa's entrant at this weight, Patrick Rhoads, just isn't that great this year. I expect more from whomever gets the nod in the blue and white singlet.

Morelli went for the Lions on Friday, but didn't do much on offense against his ranked Nebraska opponent, and that can't have made the PSU coaches happy. That puts me fully on #TeamRasheed and I'm calling for him to go on Sunday, and if he does, to score the bonus here. His opponent is a true freshman (like much of the Wildcats' young lineup) and is 3-7 on the season. It should be a fairly easy one.

Prediction: Rasheed by Major

Score: PSU 30, Northwestern 0

174 LBS 

In the article I linked to at 141 above, Mitch Sliga was interviewed as one of the few Northwestern wrestlers who wasn't pinned by an Iowa Hawkeye--he was only techfalled, and failed to score a point. Ouch. And now he faces Bo? Sliga's not a bad wrestler (11-5 on the year), but when your header photo on your team page shows you in a lot of pain and you're facing the number one wrestler in your weight class, it might be a bad day for you. Bo barely missed the major on Friday, and that's gotta be under his skin.

Prediction: Bo by Pin

Score: PSU 36, Northwestern 0

184 LBS

I'm so glad to see healthy Mouse back, and finally climbing back up in the rankings. When he's been healthy this year, he's been a treat to watch--and Friday's match was no different. This weight class is stocked this year and if he keeps wrestling his style McCutcheon'll be able to make a run. Sunday, though, won't be one of those matches--his opponent will be undoubtedly overmatched, as Durbin is a redshirt freshman (albeit an Illinois state high school champion) coming in with a 4-9 record on the year who was pinned by Sammy Brooks. Mouse has a ton of confidence that you could hear through the radio even all the way in DC on Friday night, and it only grows from here.

Prediction: Mouse by Tech Fall

Score: PSU 41, Northwestern 0

197 LBS

A lot of fans give Morgan flack for the seemingly casual way he wrestles. Not this gal. Why? This year, he just gets it done. He's undefeated for a reason, and while not all of his matches are as pretty and exciting as some of the lower weights his contributions to the Penn State wrestling program cannot be stated enough. His opponent on Sunday lost to Burak of Iowa by major, and frankly, I don't see Morgan letting it get that close two dual meets in a row. We haven't seen the bow and arrow in a while, and Sunday's as good a time as any for it to be brought out of the closet.

Prediction: Morg by Pin

Score: PSU 47, Northwestern 0

285 LBS

We hadn't seen Wes Phipps in a few years when he got the start on Friday night--barely over 200 pounds, when we last saw him wrestle at 184. He did admirably for a bit, before weight won out, and he lost a major decision. We'll see who gets the go on Sunday; both Phipps and Johnson have good technique, but Johnson has over twenty pounds on Phipps, with Wes having years in the wrestling room on the freshman. Either way, I like technique over size here--because if there's ever a time for a PSU heavyweight to get a victory, it's this dual meet. Jennings has a number of baffling losses on the year (as well as being pinned by some very good heavies), and it's been a trial by fire for the redshirt freshman in a very good weight class in a tough conference. He's lucky he's not facing Nick Nevills on Sunday.

Prediction: Penn State wrestler by decision, because why not

Score: PSU 50, Northwestern 0**

Side note: Intermat currently has Northwestern ranked #25 in their tournament rankings only--not ranked in dual rankings.

**If Tsirtsis doesn't go, I'm picking this to be 52-0, naturally.