Illinois travels to Iowa City to wrestle the No. 2 Hawkeyes on Friday. The dual could feature as many as seven match ups of ranked wrestlers. RossWB of Black Heart Gold Pants talked Iowa wrestling and how the Hawkeyes will fair against the Orange and Blue.
1. Can you give us an update on how Cory Clark (133) and Mike Evans (174) have looked since their Midlands performances against their Illinois opponents?
ROSS: Clark's wrestled twice since knocking off Zane Richards in the Midlands final, losing a 7-5 decision to Ohio State's Johnni DiJulius and picking up an easy 10-5 decision win over Oklahoma State's Gary Wayne Harding. Against DiJulius, Clark gave up a pair of quick early takedowns to DiJulius and wasn't able to dig himself out of that hole, even though DiJulius didn't do much of anything the rest of the match. Clark built a big early lead against Harding and then spent the third period on the mat, trying to get back points. Clark has generally looked good -- other than the first period against DiJulius, really -- but Richards is going to be a tough test on Friday. It was a very tight match at Midlands and I suspect it might be the same at the dual meet. The key for Clark is going to be trusting in his shots and going to his offense early in the match. If he can get an early takedown, I like his chances of picking up a solid win. But if Richards can keep things scoreless after the first period, he'll likely have a chance to pull the upset in the third period (or overtime).
Evans has been more or less cruising since his narrow 2-1 win over Zac Brunson at Midlands. He had a pair of fairly easy decision wins against Rutgers and Ohio State (5-0 and 5-2) and steamrolled Oklahoma State's Jordan Rodgers to the tune of a 16-1 technical fall last week. Against Rodgers he got an early takedown and went to work on the mat, using a series of tilts and turns to rack up a slew of back points in a hurry. I think the gameplan for Evans is the same as it is for Clark: generate action out of neutral early. Brunson completely stymied Evans' attacks from neutral at Midlands, so this will likely be a tricky match for Evans and it could again come down to a takedown or reversal in the third period.
2. Among the lower weights (125-141), what's the match you're most looking forward to seeing? How do you think it plays out?
ROSS: Well, I was very much looking forward to seeing Thomas Gilman and Jesse Delgado go at it at 125 -- Gilman scored a memorable upset against Jesse Delgado at Midlands last year and I'm eager to see how he stacks up this year against one of the best at this weight -- but it sounds like Delgado is still out of commission for another week. So I'd have to pick Cory Clark and Zane Richards at 133 instead. It's a matchup of two top-10 opponents -- and two guys who just wrestled a very close match at the Midlands final just over two weeks ago. As for how it plays out... see above. If Clark can score points early, I think he'll pull out a solid decision win. If it stays close late, it's anyone's match.
3. Similarly, among the middle weights (149-165), what's the match you're most excited about? How do you think it plays out?
ROSS: I'm torn between 157 and 165 here. Mike Kelly has only lost two matches this year, but one of them was an absolute mauling at the hands of Illinois' Isaiah Martinez at Midlands. Martinez worked a takedown clinic on Kelly, smoking him in a 16-5 major decision. Kelly has been wrestling well since then, though, and has two wins over top-20 opponents (Rutgers' Anthony Perrotti and Oklahoma State's Anthony Collica). Martinez should be a big step up in quality from either of those guys, though, and I'm eager to see if Kelly has been able to close the gap on him at all. But I'm also very curious to see Nick Moore take on Jackson Morse at 165. Morse looked pretty good in beating Moore 5-2 at Midlands a few weeks ago. Moore has gone 1-1 in his two matches since then and has appeared to be in a bit of a funk much of this season -- a home match against a quality opponent (one who he has beaten in the past, no less) could be a good opportunity for him to start turning his season around. That's my hope, at least.
4. Finally, what about the upper weights (174-285), what's the match you can't wait to see? How do you think it plays out?
ROSS: Rankings-wise, the most interesting matchup is definitely 174, with No. 2 Evans and No. 6 Brunson squaring off. I already talked about that match up above, though, so I'm going to go with 184 here. In terms of the rankings, Sammy Brooks (#8) is a decent-sized favorite over Nikko Reyes (#20), but Reyes is a very solid wrestler who's been close to a few decent-sized upsets this year. Four of his five losses have been via two points or less, so he's definitely capable of keeping things close. Brooks has looked fantastic at times, but he's also been a bit inconsistent and a touch sloppy, too -- he eked out a 3-2 over Ohio State's Kenny Courts and lost a 9-6 decision to Oklahoma State's Nolan Boyd when he went for a big move, only for that to backfire and cost him big points. If Reyes can keep it close, there could be the whiff of an upset there.
5. Prediction time - how are things going to shake out?
ROSS: If Delgado was around and healthy, I think Illinois would have some pretty intriguing upset potential in this dual, to be honest. They match up pretty well with Iowa in the lower and middle weights. If Delgado had been healthy, there was a chance that Illinois could rattle off wins at 125, 133, and 141 to put Iowa in a hole from the get-go. Instead, I expect Iowa and Illinois to more or less trade wins through the first few matches (assuming the dual starts at 125) before Iowa pulls away with their superiority in the upper weights.
125: Gilman via MAJ DEC (Iowa 4-0)
133: Clark via DEC (Iowa 7-0)
141: Rodrigues via DEC (Iowa 7-3)
149: Sorensen via MAJ DEC (Iowa 11-3)
157: Martinez via DEC (Iowa 11-6)
165: Morse via DEC (Iowa 11-9)
174: Evans via DEC (Iowa 14-9)
184: Brooks via DEC( Iowa 17-9)
197: Burak via DEC (Iowa 20-9)
285: Telford via DEC (Iowa 23-9)
The dual is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT on Friday, with streaming coverage from BTN Plus ($$$).