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Wrestling Preview: No. 2 Penn State vs. No. 10 Illinois

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The Nittany Lions are back home, and there’s at least one really good matchup on the docket

2016 NCAA Wrestling Championships

Last week, the Nittany Lions faced arguably their toughest test to date and came out on top - but, of course, that toughest taste would have included Bo Jordan at 174. Instead, Penn State rolled over Ohio State, and roll home undefeated to face another good opponent.

Illinois comes to State College with seven ranked wrestlers in their lineup, yet they’ll likely only win eight bouts against the defending national champion—and that’s not even with bonus points coming into play. The Illini lost last year, bigly, to the Nittany Lions - including a showdown of two undefeated wrestlers at 157 when Jason Nolf pinned then-#1 (and eventual national champion) Isaiah Martinez. The two went on to meet twice more on the year - in the finals of both major tournaments - with Martinez having learned from his loss, and emerging victorious.

But what a difference a year makes. IMar is now up to 165, and Nolf is demolishing a relatively weak weight. Former Illinois wrestler Jered Cortez had season-ending surgery, so he won’t be able to go up against top ten-former teammate Zane Richards—but the score should still be more lopsided than last year’s 30-15 beatdown.

How To Watch

What: #2 Penn State vs. #10 Illinois*

Where: Rec Hall, University Park, PA

When: Friday, 2/10, 7 pm ET

Audio: Free, Jeff "Ironhead" Byers, via GoPSUSports

Video: BTN+

Lineup

No. 2 Penn State WT No. 10 Illinois
No. 2 Penn State WT No. 10 Illinois
#2 - Nick Suriano (Fr., Paramus, NJ) 125 UR - Travis Piotrowski (Fr., Crystal Lake, IL)
UR - George Carpenter (So., Chapel Hill, NC) OR UR - Triston Law (Fr., Windber, PA) 133 #6 - Zane Richards (Sr., Carbondale, IL)
#11 - Jimmy Gulibon (Sr., Latrobe, PA) 141 UR - Mousa Jodeh (So., Chicago, IL)
#1 - Zain Retherford (Jr., Benton, PA) 149 #19 - Eric Barone (Fr., Crystal Lake, IL)
#1 - Jason Nolf (So., Yatesboro, PA) 157 #12 - Kyle Langenderfer (Jr., Mokena, IL)
#4 - Vincenzo Joseph (Fr., Pittsburgh, PA) 165 #1 - Isaiah Martinez (Jr., Lemoore, CA)
#7 - Mark Hall (Fr., Apple Valley, MN) 174 #12 - Zac Brunson (Sr., Eugene, OR)
#2 - Bo Nickal (So., Allen, TX) 184 #12 - Emery Parker (So., Wadsworth, IL)
#9 - Matt McCutcheon (Jr., Apollo, PA) 197 UR - Andre Lee (So, Maywood, IL)
#3 - Nick Nevills (So., Clovis, CA) 285 #15 - Brooks Black (Jr., Dover, PA)

125 LBS

Nick Suriano tech falled, with the riding time point, a ranked wrestler last week in Columbus - what do you think he’s going to do to an unranked wrestler? I’m not expecting this to go the full seven minutes - whether it’s by fall or tech, it ultimately won’t be much different.

Prediction: Suriano by Tech Fall

Score: PSU 5, Illinois 0

133 LBS

Richards is a very good wrestler; he finished second last year in the Big Ten, and fourth at the NCAAs (behind Iowa’s Cory Clark in both). This year, he has to content with not only Clark, but also Ohio State’s NaTo, who’s up from 125. The reason we are talking only about Richards and the rest of the Big Ten field at this weight instead of this matchup is because, since Cortez is out, the result against a hammer at 133 is pretty much a foregone conclusion; the best home for PSU is to not get pinned. George Carpenter did a good job last week staying off his back, and I’m betting he does the same this week.

Prediction: Richards by Tech Fall

Score: PSU 5, Illinois 5

141 LBS

Why stop now, right? Jimmy is wrestling his best self (despite a rough start last week, he kept up his attack and pulled out the decision against the very talented, young Luke Pletcher). Jodeh is having a better season this year than last, when he was beaten relatively easily by Jimmy. Will it be enough? And which Jimmy will show up this week?

Prediction: Jodeh by Decision

Score: PSU 5, Illinois 8

149 LBS

Zain hasn’t had a fall in a few weeks. I know that Barone is technically ranked - but so was Rutgers’ victim. And Micah Jordan was #5, and Zain teched him. This should be mercifully quick.

Prediction: Zain by Pin

Score: PSU 11, Illinois 8

157 LBS

I’m sure Jason would much prefer to be facing IMar this week, but Langenderfer, who is ranked, will have to do. It won’t help him, as Nolf is on an absolute tear. The only question on this one is how long it will last.

Prediction: Nolf by Pin

Score: PSU 17, Illinois 8

165 LBS - Match of the Meet

Last year, none of the so-called experts gave Nolf a shot against IMar. He was too explosive, had too much offense - and Martinez himself said that Jason wouldn’t be able to keep up, because he was a scoring machine. Not to say that IMar didn’t (and doesn’t) have offense, and isn’t the polar opposite of the other most recent Illinois national champion in that respect, but he and his coaches obviously didn’t scout Nolf the way they should have - if they had, they would know that Nolf played the same game, catch and release, high scoring with a ton of takedowns. Jason is a better wrestler on top this year, but up at IMar’s new weight is a freshman who redshirted last year - and has some darn good firepower of his own.

Though often overshadowed by his undefeated teammates, Cenzo Joseph is quietly putting together a lot of scoring and demolishing lower ranked competition in a really difficult conference weight. Half of his wins have been by bonus, and his two losses were a very close almost (should have been) win against the number 3 wrestler in the nation, and a near-comeback against a ranked wrestler who caught him in a bad countermove. That’s a pretty darn good first attached season - and this match, which could preclude either the semis or finals of the Big Tens, could make it better. It’ll be a good one, lower scoring than both wrestlers are used to, and should come down to the wire.

Prediction: IMar by Decision

Score: PSU 17, Illinois 11

174 LBS

Zac Brunson finished the season on a down note last year after coming in second at the Big Ten tournament to Bo. He was better last year - and Bo pinned him in the third. Brunson is a good wrestler, but Hall is better, and coming into his own. I’m not expecting a cement mixer every time out, but I do expect him to dominate from the first whistle on - and the score will reflect it.

Prediction: Hall by Major

Score: PSU 21, Illinois 11

184 LBS

Up a weight from last year, this is Parker’s first year of full-time starting for the Illini, and he’s got a rank out of it. But he’s up against a man on a mission, and he’s lost to nearly every good wrestler he’s faced (Rutgers’ Gravina notwithstanding). He’ll come out firing against Bo, maybe even log the first takedown if Nickal can’t scramble out of it, but he’ll pay for it. They always do.

Prediction: Bo by Pin

Score: PSU 27, Illinois 11

197 LBS

McCutcheon took a tough lost last week against a very good freshman with a bright future ahead of him. This week it’s a different story; he’s up against a wrestler with only one big ten win on the season. This matchup favors Mouse, heavily, and he should be fairly dominant. The score differential may be low, but the outcome won’t ever be in doubt.

Prediction: Mouse by Decision

Score: PSU 30, Illinois 11

285 LBS

Nevills got dominated by Kyle Snyder last week, but who doesn’t? As a redshirt sophomore, he’ll learn from that loss and PA boy Brooks Black is the unfortunate recipient of that learning. Black beat football player Jan Johnson last year by a simple decision, and though he may be ranked this year, he’s avoided all of the difficult, ranked wrestlers in the conference. That ends on Friday, where he runs into Nick Nevills - who isn’t your mother’s PSU heavyweight.

Prediction: Nevills by Major

Score: PSU 34, Illinois 11


*As this is a dual meet, I’m using the Intermat Dual Team rankings. In the Intermat Tournament rankings, Penn State is up to #1, and Ohio State is #11.