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|Preview: No. 1 Iowa vs. No. 2 Oklahoma State|
By Jason Bryant USA Wrestling
When the Oklahoma State Cowboys step on the mat inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday night to take on the top-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, history will stand in the balance.
It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2, but a little bit more is on the line.
For Iowa, which will likely extend its unbeaten streak to 84 matches with a Friday victory over Indiana, it’s a chance at setting a benchmark of dominance. The last time Iowa suffered a loss was against Oklahoma State, nearly 1,100 days ago.
Iowa’s coming off a sound Midlands performance as the program won its 22nd championship. Oklahoma State is fresh off wins over Wyoming and Boise State after starting the Winter Break with an expected championship at the Reno Tournament of Champions.
Iowa head coach Tom Brands wasn’t entirely pleased with the Hawkeyes 1-4 record in the finals at the Midlands.
“When you don’t win with exclamation points, it shows vulnerability,” Brands told Andy Hamilton of the Des Moines Register on December 30. “Then it shows up in the next round or it could show up any time because you’re leaving things to chance.”
Don’t expect a repeat of last year’s anticlimactic 15-15 tie. The NCAA rules were tweaked in the offseason to send all matches, whether it be in an advancement tournament or not, to be decided by criteria should they end in a tie.
Oklahoma State would have stopped the streak last year via the third criteria, total match points (47-42) if the current rules were in place.
Matt McDonough of Iowa topped Jon Morrison 7-3 last season and with the way McDonough has performed since his shocking loss to Illinois’ Jesse Delgado, there’s no reason why he can’t at least eye the major decision. McDonough’s won seven in a row and over half of his matches have ended with him picking up a fall. Morrison is 11-2 and has reeled off seven wins in a row. Despite the rankings, McDonough will be a heavy favorite.
The hype surrounding a Jordan Oliver-Tony Ramos matchup might have waned in the wake of Ramos’ Midlands loss to Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter, but the matchup is still most intriguing to many who don’t follow Iowa or Oklahoma State. Save his unofficial win over B.J. Futrell at the All-Star Classic, no one’s been more dominant than Oliver this season. He’s stepped on the mat 10 times and registered 10 falls. Ramos is 15-1 this season with 11 bonus victories. Last year, Iowa elected to send out Tyler Clark against Oliver and the matchup paid off, as Oliver was unable to register bonus points. Ramos has a dominant victory over Futrell, where Oliver struggled, despite it being the first time Oliver was down to weight. Oliver’s the favorite, but it’s unlikely his pin streak will continue against a wrestler as solid as Ramos.
Iowa’s Montell Marion might have been upset in the finals of the Midlands by Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple, but the Des Moines native was sluggish throughout the championship. But Marion’s probably got a little wiggle room in case he’s not fully 100 percent because Oklahoma State’s Josh Kindig comes in 8-3 but hasn’t beaten a top-ranked opponent all season (with apologies to Josh Strait and Nate Pennesi). Despite the Midlands loss, Marion has to remain the favorite. Bonus might be off the table, but a Marion victory won’t be.
All-American Jamal Parks hasn’t drawn many fans with his seemingly picky wrestling style, but this season has been different. Parks comes in 15-0 with nine of his matches coming via bonus. His top win has been a Reno finals victory over Air Force’s Cole VonOhlen. Iowa will introduce Mike Kelly into the dual-meet lineup for the first time after he made the weight at the Midlands and competed at 149 for the first time. Kelly made the most of his time in the weight, wrestling seven matches and picking up a forfeit along the way. Kelly wrestled eventual Midlands champ Jake Patacsil close, but struggled against Edinboro freshman David Habat. It’s tough to predict Parks scoring bonus points against anyone in Division I, but he’s done it three times this year. Don’t think it will happen in CHA. Parks is a heavy favorite, but along the lines of a 7-2, 7-3 type of win.
Without Derek St. John in the lineup, Iowa has to fill the hole with Nick Moore, a highly-touted recruit out of Iowa City West still looking to make an impact in the Hawkeye program. This could be his opportunity. Moore will take on Oklahoma State’s Albert White, a wrestler just as highly-touted as Moore coming out of high school. White finished a disappointing fifth at Reno, while Moore was seventh at Midlands with a pair of quality wins over Edinboro redshirt John Greisheimer and Princeton’s Daniel Kolodzik. Experience favors White, but the home environment could be the difference maker here. Moore will be called upon to deliver the upset, which could help continue their unbeaten streak.
Along with 157, this weight could be one of the two swing matches within the dual. The Iowa faithful are high on Mike Evans, while Oklahoma State’s Dallas Bailey has been unimpressive, with a 5-6 record against Division I foes this season. Evans best win at the Midlands was against Wisconsin’s Ben Jordan before ultimately finishing seventh. Bailey’s top win was against Appalachian State’s Kyle Blevins in Reno by fall, which is a sign of how dangerous Bailey is with his throws and funky stepovers. Evans is wrestling better right now, but Bailey might implore the Wade Schalles theory of wrestling – “I might not be able to beat you, but I can pin you.”
It’s expected that Chris Perry will be making his way to 174 pounds for the first time. He’ll face Ethen Lofthouse of Iowa, the Midlands runner-up. What to expect? Who knows. Perry here makes him a contender whereas at 184, he’d be stuck in a deeper weight. Lofthouse’s loss to Lee Munster of Northwestern in the Midlands finals was a bit of a surprise, at least on paper. Lofthouse’s win over Mike Benefiel was huge in last year’s dual. But will the first competition at the new weight affect Perry coming off the scale? This one might be too close to call. Had we seen Perry here a week or so prior, it would have given a better indication of what to expect.
Sometimes when you look at a dual meet, it’s the least-accomplished opponents that have the most important task. The expected matchup between Oklahoma State’s Chris McNeil and Iowa’s Vinnie Wagner is just that. McNeil’s a modest 10-4 at 174 pounds, but failed to place at Reno. Wagner might have emerged as the Hawkeye starter after outplacing teammate Jeremy Fahler at the Midlands. Wagner’s a senior who has spent years toiling away in the Iowa room. A win here would not only make the Osage native a hero, it could be a career match depending on the situation. Clear toss-up to many, but Wagner’s a slight favorite at home despite a 4-4 record this season.
A seventh-place finish at the Midlands isn’t what many expected out of Grant Gambrall this season, but up a weight, the Iowa City native has struggled to find a groove. A 6-2 record doesn’t appear to be marginal, but Gambrall will likely be wrestling one of the hottest wrestlers in the nation right now – Oklahoma State’s Blake Rosholt. A winner in Reno over teammate Cayle Byers, Rosholt’s contending for the starting spot with Byers, a transfer from George Mason who started the year ranked in the top five. In this case, the “backup” is the favorite as Gambrall is still small for the weight.
Two trimmer, more athletic heavyweights come into the bout likely not to repeat last year’s sudden victory snoozer between Rosholt and then-Iowa starter Blake Rasing. Alan Gelogaev has returned to the lineup after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. His attacking, throw-filled arsenal could work well against a green opponent like Bobby Telford. A Midlands runner-up, Telford has emerged as an All-American contender early, but what will the sneaky Russian pull out of his bag of tricks? Gelogaev is an easy favorite.