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Penn State wrestling: Nittany Lions vs. Michigan State, Illinois preview | Feb. 14, 2019

After back-to-back weekends with duals against top-10 opponents, Penn State wrestling will get a bit of a break this weekend with tilts against unranked Michigan State and No. 24 Illinois.

Combined, both opponents boast only six ranked wrestlers between them. But with just two weeks of dual competition left for most teams in the NCAA before the conference tournaments, time is limited for wrestlers to make final statements before seeds are released.

For Penn State, there’s still plenty of questions to be answered before the postseason rolls around.

Here are some things Penn State fans should watch this weekend:

Can Nick Lee avenge another loss from last season?

The biggest matchup of the weekend for the Nittany Lions is without question No. 2 Nick Lee vs. Illinois’ No. 5 Mike Carr. In addition to being a good test for both wrestlers, the bout could also have major implications for the Big Ten tournament.

As it stands, Carr, with no conference losses, is looking like a good candidate for the No. 1 seed at 141 pounds at Big Tens. A win over Lee would as good as seal the deal for Carr.

But should Lee win on Sunday, already having a head-to-head win over Ohio State’s Joey McKenna, he would move into a good position for that top seed. Getting the No. 1 seed would be huge for Lee’s chances at Big Tens, as Carr and McKenna would likely be on the opposite side of the bracket with the second and third seeds.

And a high placement at Big Tens should certainly help Lee when it comes to NCAA seedings.

Avenging last season’s loss to Carr this weekend might not seem like such a tall order after Lee just knocked off the then-No. 2 wrestler in front of 13,000 fans in Columbus — especially considering Lee also lost to McKenna last season — but Carr’s win over Lee last season was much more dominant than McKenna’s one-point decision over Lee. Carr, a two-time PIAA champ, churned out three takedowns and used a strong second-period ride to upend Lee 10-6 last season in the Big Ten semifinals.

Prior to his bout with McKenna, Lee had said getting out from bottom was an area he’d been working on. He didn’t seem to have much trouble in that position last weekend. Whether he can get out this weekend could be key in the match, and crucial to his postseason seeding.

Will Shakur Rasheed wrestle?

With no losses so far this season, Shakur Rasheed is ranked third at 184 pounds in the NCAA’s most recent round of Division I coaches rankings, released Thursday. However, having been sidelined with injury, the senior missed four duals and tilts with top-5 opponents No. 4 Taylor Venz (Nebraska) and No. 1 Myles Martin (Ohio State).

With Lehigh’s No. 7 Ryan Preisch being out of the lineup when the Mountain Hawks visited Rec Hall in December, Rasheed’s highest-ranked wins are against No. 15 Samuel Colbray (Iowa State), No. 18 Andrew McNally (Kent State), No. 28 Jelani Embree (Michigan) and No. 33 Kaden Russell (Duke).

Fortunately for Rasheed, he will have the chance to strengthen his case for a higher Big Ten seed this weekend, as he’ll be the lone Nittany Lion to face two ranked opponents. Should Rasheed wrestle this weekend, he’ll face Michigan State’s No. 16 Cameron Caffey and Illinois’ No. 6 Emory Parker.

Outside of Rasheed, Martin is the only ranked wrestler not to have taken a loss at 184 this season. But coaches rankings aren’t all that matters when it comes to determining seeds. The NCAA also released its Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings on Thursday, which is calculated based on results against Division I wrestler that have a minimum of 17 results vs. Division I opponents.

As he does not have 17 matches against Division I opponents, Rasheed is not eligible for an RPI ranking. If he wrestles both matches this weekend, that should get him up to 17.

This weekend could provide a good last-minute opportunity for Rasheed to strengthen his case — but only if he wrestles.

What’s Penn State going to do at 149 pounds?

After Brady Berge finished third at the Southern Scuffle in January, coach Cael Sanderson said the Junior World bronze medalist had “kind of established himself as the starter” over fellow redshirt freshman Jarod Verkleeren.

However, Verkleeren has wrestled one more match than Berge since then. Berge took off road duals against Indiana and Purdue for a reported “rest week.” But Sanderson said Berge was expected to return for the Michigan dual the following week, and he didn’t.

Sanderson has not disclosed the reasons for Berge’s absence from the lineup, but he said last week ahead of Ohio State that the freshman was ”ready to go.” It is well-known that Berge is making a pretty big cut from 157 pounds, and that could be a factor. He didn’t appear to be injured, as he was seen wrestling hard at practice last week.

With only three duals left, Penn State is running out of time to make its decision on which wrestler to send into the postseason. At 14-2, Berge has a better record than Verkleeren (14-6) and has wins over higher-ranked opponents. However, Verkleeren did wrestle No. 3 Micah Jordan tough last weekend in a 10-8 loss.

As Penn State is looking like the heavy favorite heading into NCAAs, the decision shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the end result in the team race. But whoever takes the mat in the two duals this weekend could hint as to where Penn State is leaning in its decision.

How healthy is Roman Bravo-Young?

The true freshman standout surprised many when he took the mat against Ohio State last weekend, having sustained an leg injury just two weeks prior.

Bravo-Young did end up getting the big upset over No. 6 Luke Pletcher in overtime, but was visibly not as active offensively as usual. The reason for that might’ve been because he was trying to match Pletcher’s more conservative style, or possibly because he was protecting his knee.

If Bravo-Young takes the mat this weekend, it could provide insight into how the injury might affect him in the postseason. On Sunday, Bravo-Young will get the chance to face Illinois’ Dylan Duncan, who’s ranked No. 21 in the coaches poll. Duncan fell out of the InterMat rankings this week after losing to Wisconsin’s Jens Lantz.

Bravo-Young is ranked 10th in the latest coaches poll and is seventh in RPI. A win over Duncan won’t make too much of a difference in the rankings, but every win will matter when seeding one of the toughest weight classes in the Big Ten.

Can Bo Nickal catch Jason Nolf in pins?

One of the more exciting storylines for Penn State fans to watch this season has been the pin race between seniors Nolf and Nickal.

During the Southern Scuffle, Nolf surpassed David Taylor, Josh Moore and Zain Retherford to become the all-time pins leader in Penn State history. With 56 pins, he’s still the all-time leader, but Nickal is rapidly catching up with 54.

With 13 pins on the season, Nickal is averaging 5.37 team points per bout, making him the Most Dominant Wrestler so far this season, according to the NCAA’s most recent awards standings, released Wednesday. Nolf is next with 5.15, followed by fellow teammate Vincenzo Joseph with 4.94.

Against two unranked wrestlers this weekend, Nickal has the opportunity to tie Nolf. However, Nolf will surely be looking for the pin as well against No. 10 Eric Barone (Illinois) and unranked Jake Tucker (Michigan State).

In addition to deciding who will end their carer as Penn State’s all-time pins leader, falls this weekend could strengthen both wrestlers’ cases for the Hodge Trophy, for which both are largely considered to be the frontrunners.

Michigan State (9-6, 3-4 Big Ten) at No. 1 Penn State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten)

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Rec Hall

Radio: ESPN 1450 AM,

Online: FloWrestling (paid subscription)

Nittany Lions vs. Spartans
125: Devin Schnupp (6-12) vs. No. 7 Rayvon Foley (27-2)
133: No. 11 Roman Bravo-Young (16-2) vs. Anthony Tutolo (16-11)
141: No. 2 Nick Lee (21-1) vs. Austin Eicher (13-9) OR Alex Hrisopoulos (18-8)
149: No. 11 Brady Berge (14-2) OR Jarod Verkleeren (14-6) vs.

Jaden Enriquez (13-16)

157: No. 1 Jason Nolf (20-0) vs.

Jake Tucker (19-12)

165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (18-0) vs.

Austin Hiles (11-12) OR Logan Ritchie (11-13)

174: No. 1 Mark Hall (20-0) vs.

Drew Hughes (22-9)

184: No. 2 Shakur Rasheed (15-0) OR Mason Manville (7-7) vs.

No. 15 Cameron Caffey (25-3)

197: No. 1 Bo Nickal (19-0) vs.

Brad Wilton (16-10) OR Shwan Shadaia (6-7)

285: No. 3 Anthony Cassar (18-1) vs.

Chase Beard (15-8)

No. 1 Penn State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) at No. 24 Illinois (2-7, 1-6 Big Ten)

When: 2 p.m., Sunday

Where: Huff Hall, Champaign, Ill.

Radio: ESPN 1450 AM,

Online: FloWrestling (paid subscription)

Nittany Lions vs. Fighting Illini
125: Devin Schnupp (6-12) vs. No. 12 Travis Piotrowski (15-7)
133: No. 11 Roman Bravo-Young (16-2) vs. Dylan Duncan (10-9)
141: No. 2 Nick Lee (21-1) vs. No. 5 Mike Carr (11-2)
149: No. 11 Brady Berge (14-2) OR Jarod Verkleeren (14-6) vs.

Christian Kanzler (3-11)

157: No. 1 Jason Nolf (20-0) vs.

No. 10 Eric Barone (16-9)

165: No. 1 Vincenzo Joseph (18-0) vs.

Joey Gunther (16-10)

174: No. 1 Mark Hall (20-0) vs.

Carver James (12-10)

184: No. 2 Shakur Rasheed (15-0) OR Mason Manville (7-7) vs.

No. 7 Emery Parker (12-2)

197: No. 1 Bo Nickal (19-0) vs.

Andre Lee (15-11)

285: No. 3 Anthony Cassar (18-1) vs.

Deuce Rachal (8-14)

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