Penn State wrestling opens 2nd half of season in Michigan with an uncertain lineup
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson will take his top-ranked Nittany Lions to Michigan for a pair of dual meets this weekend and will have a handful of lineup decisions on his mind. (Photo by Jim Carlson)
It would be difficult to say that Penn State’s season isn’t unfolding just as planned. The No. 1-ranked Lions’ schedule is tailor-made for gradual improvement, with no legitimate challenges in November, one classic rivalry (Lehigh) in early December and then one B1G dual that would offer little resistance.
The Southern Scuffle on the first two days of 2018 didn’t offer as strong a field as it typically does, but it offered multiple matches in a two-day span against mostly quality competition.
Now, a tough dual looms Friday at Michigan but ensuing matches against Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland will be nothing more than tune-ups for more rugged scuffles against Minnesota, Rutgers, Ohio State and Iowa, three of which are on the Lions’ home mat.
The lineup is far from solidified, with as many as three names being written in the official scorebook in pencil instead of indelible ink. And anyone who wanted to know that lineup from the man who owns that pencil will have to wait until 9 p.m. Friday against Michigan on BTN.
Will there be a new 125-pounder, such as a transfer from Boise State named Carson Kuhn, since he is enrolled in graduate school in international affairs, according to the University’s directory?
“Not really officially, not really no,” Sanderson said Tuesday in the Lorenzo Wrestling Complex. “There’s a kid trying to get into school here and it’s kind of back and forth, but when that happens we’ll let you guys know, if it happens. Obviously, we’re proud of the effort that our 125-pounders have given and we have big matches this weekend so they have to be ready to roll.”
OK, then, is the ankle injury Jered Cortez suffered at the Southern Scuffle of the season-ending variety, and will hotshot freshman Nick Lee appear in the lineup in Ann Arbor?
“I don’t think it’s season-ending but it just depends on how quickly he recovers,” Sanderson said about Cortez. “Some kids recover from an injury like this a lot quicker than others but it’s not quite as bad as we expected, which is good.”
What he said about Nick Lee is that he “wouldn’t say that.” Translation: “We have a couple guys we’re looking at in that weight class and certainly, just like from the beginning of the season we want to put our best team out there, and if that ends up being Nick we’ll see, we’ll find out,” Sanderson said.
“We have a tough decision to make there, too. We have some options. Luke Gardner is an option at 141; he has to get his weight down and be ready to go. We’re playing with that right now, also.”
And, what about 197, where three potential starters are in the room and all have been ranked at one time or another this season? Shakur Rasheed entered into FloWrestling’s rankings this week after winning the Scuffle in spectacular fashion while Anthony Cassar was beaten in the semifinals and Matt McCutcheon was injured and won’t compete this weekend.
“McCutcheon was ranked really high and Cassar’s wrestling well and Shakur had a great tournament so we have to figure that weight class out as we move forward,” Sanderson said.
How might he do that? “We’re open for suggestions,” Sanderson said with a laugh. “We want to establish who our guy is, but we’ll let them do that as we press along here. We’re confident in all three of those guys, we really are,” Sanderson said.
Tough decisions, all, according to Sanderson. “The team is first and foremost but these are also individuals who are putting their career in your hands and you have to make a responsible decision,” Sanderson said. “Are they physically ready? Are they mentally ready? Decisions aren’t easy and we don’t take them lightly.”
THIS WEEK IN THE BIG TEN: While Penn State (5-0, 1-0) tours Michigan, Oklahoma State will visit Iowa on Sunday and Minnesota heads to Ohio State for a Friday night dual at the Schottenstein Center. The Buckeyes will make back-to-back appearances in the Schott; they host Iowa on Jan. 21. … Tickets for Ohio State’s visit to Penn State’s Rec Hall on Feb. 3 are going for as much as $500 each on various online ticket sites. The Buckeyes have the only lineup in the country that could get the best of Penn State this season and clearly people know it.
LAST WEEK IN THE BIG TEN: Let’s face it, Spencer Lee was good for Pennsylvania wrestling and he’ll no doubt be good for University of Iowa wrestling and college wrestling in general. He has that special flair on and off the mat that makes him a fan favorite, clearly similar to some of the stars on Penn State’s team, particularly Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal. He made his Iowa dual-meet debut last week against Michigan State and recorded a first-period fall. If Lee can stay healthy, after battling shoulder, elbow and knee injuries during his Franklin Regional High School career, he’ll become another Iowa golden boy in short order.
That said, the potential B1G 125-pound tournament semifinals involving Lee, Nathan Tomasello, Ethan Lizak and Nick Suriano is highly appealing. … Ohio State handled Rutgers 29-11 during a nationally televised match on Sunday; the Buckeyes won seven of 10 bouts and are moving past Penn State in most tournament point index rankings. Rutgers’ Jan. 28 match against Penn State is an announced sellout; its match against Ohio State drew around 5,100.
THIS WEEKEND IN MICHIGAN: The Lions have nine matches remaining and five of them are set for a live broadcast on the Big Ten Network, including four in a row (Minnesota, Rutgers, Ohio State, Iowa). Michigan (5-1, 2-0) hasn’t faced any more competition than Penn State, but when the Wolverines went to Lehigh without two starters, they were thumped 27-8.
But they match up fairly well with Penn State. Michigan is legitimately favored at four bouts, unless Nick Lee enters the lineup. Two others – 165 and 197 – can be labeled toss-ups. Whether Penn State’s Vincenzo Joseph and Michigan’s Logan Massa will hold a NCAA semifinals rematch remains to be seen. Massa hasn’t wrestled since the Reno Tournament of Champions in early December, but he is listed this week along with Reece Hughes at 165. Matches at 157, 174 and 184 should be competitive as well, and Nick Nevills at heavyweight will face a hefty challenge against No. 2-ranked Adam Coon.
As for Michigan State, the Spartans have struggled the past few years. Although they have improved under new coach Roger Chandler, they are no match for Penn State. MSU will be favored at 125 and 141 possibly could be called a toss-up (again, depending on Lee’s status); scoring team points at any other weight class would be classified as an upset.
Projecting scores are most difficult because of Penn State’s lineup in flux. But taking a few hunches on who Penn State will use and who Michigan won’t use, let’s go with Penn State 26, Michigan 12, and Penn State 42, Michigan State 3.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m working on getting bigger. I’m light. Somewhere around five pounds under. (At the Scuffle), I was eating rotisserie chicken before the match. Big Ten, that’s the big picture. Scuffle, it was cool to win that but who cares, it’s all about Big Tens and nationals. It’s like playoffs, we’re getting there.”–Penn State’s Shakur Rasheed