Penn State wrestling did as expected this past weekend, putting up dominant performances against Michigan State and Illinois.
With just Sunday’s tilt against Buffalo left on this year’s dual schedule, it’s no surprise many people have already started thinking about what’s next — the Big Ten tournament.
Here’s what we’ve got in this week’s mailbag:
Are Iowa or Ohio State really threats to PSU winning the Big Ten title?
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In the past three seasons (going on four) Penn State has been the most dominant team in college wrestling. However, the one low point on the Nittany Lions’ resume — which includes three undefeated dual seasons, three NCAA team titles and 11 total individual national titles during that span — is that it contains just one Big Ten title (2016).
Is this the year the Nittany Lions can reclaim the Big Ten championship trophy from the Buckeyes? After doing a quick rundown of possible Big Ten champs for each team, it appears the odds are certainly in Penn State’s favor. It would essentially take everything going wrong for the Nittany Lions and everything going right for everyone else to tip the odds.
Going off the belief that Penn State could realistically have 2-5 Big Ten champs (Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal virtually being locks), here’s what would need to happen to put the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten hopes in jeopardy:
The best way for other teams to keep the tournament competitive is to limit the Nittany Lions to no more than three Big Ten champs (bonus points if the teams holding back Penn State’s potential champs are Iowa and/or Ohio State). The most likely way for this to be accomplished is if Ohio State’s Joey McKenna wins the 141-pound title over Penn State’s Nick Lee, and if Iowa’s Alex Marinelli takes 165 over Vincenzo Joseph.
But just that won’t be enough for Ohio State or Iowa. The Buckeyes have a very good chance for another Big Ten champ in Myles Martin at 184, and Iowa a good chance with Spencer Lee at 125. However, Penn State also has Mark Hall at 174.
To match Penn State in conference champs, Iowa and Ohio State will need Hall to lose — his toughest opponent will be Michigan’s Myles Amine, who’s ranked No. 4 — or their teams to get a third champ. Iowa’s most-likely chance for a third title individual looks like Austin DeSanto at 133 pounds and Ohio State’s Micah Jordan at 149.
But between placement points from other wrestlers and bonus points, the Nittany Lions would likely still have the edge even if Ohio State or Iowa were to match them in champs.
When it comes down to it, no other team can match what Penn State has in healthy Nolf and Nickal this season, and everything else Penn State wrestlers might do at Big Tens will just be icing on the cake.
Now that Berge’s back, is he the guy we can expect at Big Tens and nationals?
When asked this question after the Michigan State dual on Friday after “backup” Jarod Verkleeren turned in a solid 12-3 major decision over Michigan State’s Jaden Enriquez, head coach Cael Sanderson said that the 149-pound starter is still something that the coaches need to evaluate.
At 15-2, Berge boasts a better record than fellow redshirt freshman Verkleeren (15-6) and has higher-quality wins, but has wrestled four fewer matches.
It’s still unclear exactly why Berge missed those five duals from Jan. 20-Feb. 15. Sanderson said after Berge missed duals against Purdue and Indiana that they just wanted to give Berge the weekend off, and there was “nothing wrong with him at all.” But then he missed the next dual, against Michigan, which Sanderson explained was a day-of decision.
Reporters saw Berge wrestling in the practice room on Feb. 5 as the junior world bronze medalist didn’t appear injured, and Sanderson said Berge was “ready to go,” while deflecting questions about whether his weight might be an issue.
In his return to the mat after nearly a month on Sunday, Berge slapped a 15-4 major decision on Illinois’ Christian Kanzler in a performance that included four takedowns and a bow and arrow for four near-fall points. Although Berge has held a slight edge over Verkleeren for most of the season, the 2015 Cadet World Champ showed more of an offensive spark with his victory Friday, and his hard-fought battle against No. 3 Jordan the week prior.
The decision of which wrestler will represent the Nittany Lions at 149 pounds this postseason will likely come down to how confident the coaches are that Berge can overcome whatever has been keeping him out of matches. Since we don’t know exactly what that is, it’s hard to say either way.
There is a good chance, however, that whichever wrestler takes the mat in the final dual against Buffalo on Sunday, just like with Shakur Rasheed and Anthony Cassar last season at 197 pounds, could be the one moving forward to the postseason.
We will soon find out.
What do you think has been the biggest surprise so far in this PSU wrestling season?
Besides the advent of Cassar at heavyweight, which has already been talked about at length in previous mailbags, another surprise for Penn State this season is that 125 pounds is still a problem.
Just a few months ago, Penn State looked to have an overabundance of wealth at its lightweights. This past summer, Penn State had three four-time national champs in Roman Bravo-Young, Gavin Teasdale and Brody Teske entering the program, and four-time New York state champ Adam Busiello verbally committed to join the Nittany Lions in 2019. Since then, Teasdale has left the program and Busiello flipped his commitment to Arizona State.
Bravo-Young has seen success so far this season as the 133-pound starter for the Nittany Lions, while Teske has been redshirting. Teske, who went 175-1 in his career at Fort Dodge High School, has seen limited action during his redshirt year. He went 2-1 at the Southern Scuffle at 125 pounds, medically defaulting out of the tournament after losing by technical fall to Lock Haven’s Luke Werner. He just won the Last Chance Open in Iowa this past weekend, going 2-0 at 133 pounds.
Assuming he can make weight next season and is healthy, Teske should be a solid option for the Nittany Lions at 125 pounds. Bergen Catholic’s Robert Howard, ranked No. 1 by FloWrestling at 126 pounds, is also expected to join the Nittany Lions in 2020, projecting at 133 pounds.
Although those two additions should help Penn State at the lower weights, uncertainty still remains at a weight class some thought would have been figured out by now.