The No. 9-ranked Oklahoma State wrestling team will close out their regular season with a rivalry dual against No. 1 Iowa on Sunday (7 p.m. Big Ten Network) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. To learn more about the Hawkeyes, Cowboys Ride For Free did a question-and-answer session Trez of SB Nation’s Iowa site, Black Heart Gold Pants.
[Related: Iowa Wrestling — Q&A with Cowboys Ride For Free]
BC: Iowa has two undefeated wrestlers in Spencer Lee (125) and Michael Kemerer (174). Everyone already knows about Lee — two-time NCAA champion — , but what can OSU fans expect to see from a reformed Kemerer against Joe Smith once again?
BHGP: Kemerer spent his first two years at 157 pounds before missing last season with an injury. Many of us were wondering how he’d actually look, size-wise, when he made his return and whether or not he looked the part.
The first thing you’ll notice is he looks the part: big, strong and deceptively quick. He loves hard collar ties and likes the near leg. He may not finish lightning fast like smaller guys, but he has the strength to pull the leg in and he’s rarely out of position.
Kemerer keeps his composure when someone is in on his legs. He doesn’t settle for a stalemate, but will try to generate his own offense from a bad position. He’s an underrated scrambler. He’ll often lull guys into a bad attempt and capitalize.
I think Smith will get in on a few attempts, but he has to be efficient and not turtle up. Otherwise that cradle is coming. Just ask Minnesota’s Devin Skatzka.
BC: The 184-pound match between Abe Assad and Anthony Montalvo is pretty intriguing as both guys have continued to improve throughout the season. What led to Assad’s redshirt being pulled and how would you describe how he’s done as a true freshman?
BHGP: I never thought Assad’s redshirt would be pulled! Iowa coach Tom Brands is playing every card he has in an attempt to get back to the top and that’s why Assad is in the lineup.
In Brand’s eyes, there isn’t much that separates Cash Wilcke and Assad, talent-wise. However, Assad seems to leave it all on the mat. If he’s going down, he’s going down swinging. At least the effort is there and at this point, it’s all about the effort. It’s the same in every sport: if you can’t score points, you can’t win. And at least Assad is out there laying it on the line and that’s why he’s getting the nod for the postseason. He may not out place Wilcke, but he has the higher upside for bonus points while getting there.
When you’re trying to run down the Penn State monster, two or three points can make all the difference. There aren’t too many true freshman out there that can make an immediate impact, but he’s one of them.
Assad has taken some knocks, but every freshman does. He was thoroughly dominated by Julien Broderson (Iowa State) early in the season at the Lindenwood Open, which was a bit of a wakeup call. From there on he made it to the Midlands final where he lost a contested match to Taylor Lujan (Northern Iowa). He’s knocked off four national qualifiers and a former All-American Taylor Venz (Nebraska) to boot.
After each rough match or a loss, he seems to rebound and learn from his previous mistakes. He’s in the midst of a two-match losing streak, so I’m anxious to see where his head is at when he squares off with Montalvo. Assad has all the physical tools, now it’s time to see where his mental fortitude is as the post season nears.
BC: The Dakota Geer-Jacob Warner match at 197 will be big for NCAA seeding and momentum heading into conference tournaments. How do you see this match playing out?
BHGP: Both guys have taken some questionable losses this season. During the past two duals Warner has looked perhaps the best he’s ever looked, while Geer has lost two in a row to guys he shouldn’t be losing to. So, what’s the bigger driving force: facing someone that’s peaking or battling someone that’s desperate for a win? I don’t know which is scarier.
A win here probably means more to Warner than it does Geer. Yes, Greer can shoot up the rankings, but a loss won’t push him any further down.
This is an absurd take, but hear me out! The biggest critique of Warner is his mental strength and momentum. As you pointed out, this is huge for both guys. Warner is someone that feeds off his own confidence and anytime that starts to falter, look out, the bottom is quickly approaching. If Warner drops this, he may struggle in the Big 10 tournament, which in turn won’t make Geer’s potential win any more impressive.
With that said, I can see this coming down to a late third-period takedown. Geer is coming into hostile territory, but I believe he’s going to be amped up and ready to go. Warner has to match his intensity right off the whistle and wrestle three full periods. If he can do that, I like his chances.
BC: The hype has cooled down a bit on the 149 match between Pat Lugo and Boo Lewallen since both guys are no longer undefeated, but they’ve won every match after their lone loss. How has Lugo looked in his matches since his loss?
BHGP: I’m one of the few Hawkeye fans that has loved watching Lugo. His lack of bonus points can be frustrating, but the kid knows how to win. He finds a way. He likes to keep the score low and close, which is definitely a roll of the dice, but that’s where he’s comfortable. He’s composed and steady under pressure and that’s going to pay dividends in March.
Lugo’s only loss was to Sammy Sasso (Ohio State), but was the aggressor and arguably looked better. He just couldn’t finish his shots. (Note: Sasso won without a takedown.)
Since then, Lugo lowered his attack rate a bit, but he’s become more efficient in the shots he does take.
Lugo might be the strongest 149 pounder in the country. He’s built like a brick outhouse and has some of the best hips and mat awareness of any Iowa wrestler. Like Kemerer, he isn’t afraid to let a guy in on his legs because the amount of top pressure he can apply will lead to a stalemate and that will eventually wear his opponent out.
This will be a one- or two-point match that could go either way. This may not have the hype it once had, but any true wrestling fan is going to be paying attention to it. These two could meet up again in the NCAA final.
BC: Which one of the three top-10 matches (125, 149, 165) are you most looking forward to and why? Which one(s) do you think OSU has the best chance of winning?
BHGP: Spencer Lee vs. Nick Piccininni at 125. These guys are absolute warriors and outside of Piccininni’s early season loss to Princeton’s Patrick Glory, he’s been about as dominate as anyone in the NCAA field. If this dual starts with these guys, it’s going to be fireworks and can’t miss TV. I can’t see them starting anywhere else. OSU coach John Smith will want to silence the Carver crowd as quickly as possible and nothing will get them to shut up faster than a Lee loss. If it’s the first match of the night, it will set the tone for the remainder of the dual.
I will never count OSU out of any dual/tournament, ever. There’s a reason they’ve won 34 NCAA team titles and that’s because they’re good. Always have, always will be. I can see a legit scenario where they take four, possibly five matches on the night: 141, 149, 157, 184 and 197. If that happens it’ll come down to bonus points where Iowa has a slight edge at 133 and 285.
The two most dominate teams in NCAA history battling it out at season’s end. This is wrestling at its very best. Iowa vs Oklahoma State!
Lineups: No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 1 Iowa
125: No. 4 Nick Piccininni (23-1) vs. No. 1 Spencer Lee (14-0)
133: Reece Witcraft (16-7) vs. No. 3 Austin DeSanto (13-2)
141: Dusty Hone (18-7) vs. No. 5 Max Murin (11-1)
149: No. 6 Boo Lewallen (18-1) vs. No. 2 Pat Lugo (17-1)
157: Wyatt Sheets (17-6) vs. No. 5 Kaleb Young (15-2)
165: No. 6 Travis Wittlake (25-1) vs. No. 2 Alex Marinelli (16-1)
174: No. 13 Joe Smith (7-3) vs. No. 1 Michael Kemerer (12-0)
184: Anthony Montalvo (19-5) vs. No. 9 Abe Assad (19-5)
197: No. 16 Dakota Geer (19-6) vs. No. 6 Jacob Warner (14-3)
285: Austin Harris (5-9) OR Cornelius Putnam (1-3) vs. No. 3 Tony Cassioppi (15-2)
*Rankings by Intermat