While the regular season is winding down, it’s not time for March and the tournament’s just yet. There is still another couple of weeks worth of dual-action and, as is normally the case, the Big Ten has a handful of high-quality duals slated for Friday night.
Below are the four Big Ten duals this evening, how to watch them, noticed matches for which to pay extra attention, and previous meetings between the wrestlers involved.
#3 Michigan at Indiana – 7:00 (B1G+) Link: B1G+
133 lbs: #7 Dylan Ragusin (Michigan) vs. #10 Brock Hudkins (Indiana)
184 lbs: #2 Myles Amine (Michigan) vs. #17 DJ Washington (Indiana)
The biggest match of this dual takes place at 133 lbs as a top-ten clash is looming. Dylan Ragusin has been very consistent after dropping a pair of boots at the Michigan State Open, the first weekend of the season. Since then, he’s gone 12-2 and won the CKLV Invitational. His opponent isn’t a totally unfamiliar face, as he and Brock Hudkins met in dual action last year at 125 lbs. The true freshman, Ragusin, got the win 6-4 and it was one of only two matches for Hudkins all year. This season he’s been limited, but did score a huge 5-3 win over 2019 All-American Rayvon Foley in the Michigan State dual.
The bout at 184 lbs may not go off since DJ Washington appeared to suffer an injury in the Purdue dual (January 29th) and hasn’t been in action since.
Northwestern at #15 Michigan State – 7:00 (B1G+) Link: B1G+
133 lbs: #8 Chris Cannon (Northwestern) vs. #11 Rayvon Foley (Michigan State)
157 lbs: #2 Ryan Deakin (Northwestern) vs. #17 Chase Saldate (Michigan State)
197 lbs: #7 Cameron Caffey (Michigan State) vs. #29 Andrew Davison (Northwestern)
This will be the first half of a challenging weekend’s worth of action for Foley, who takes on All-American Chris Cannon on Friday and Ragusin on Sunday. Should Foley win either (or both), he’ll shake off the memories of the Hudkins loss and prove himself to be a key contender at 133. But for now, Foley will focus on Cannon, a CKLV runner-up to Ragusin and an AA as a freshman. Cannon has proven to be reliable in a close decision, which also means his opponents are typically in the match. Foley is 22-2 on the year and his loss to Hudkins was his only one since the first week of November.
Another Spartan with a gaudy record is Chase Saldate at 157 lbs. He has generally beat the guys below him in the rankings, but is looking for “that one” big win. Knocking off, undefeated #2 Ryan Deakin would certainly fit the bill. While Deakin’s bonus point percentage has been higher in past years, he has only had one opponent stay within three points of him this year. Though both were in the same weight class last season, they did not meet.
One of the hottest wrestlers at a difficult-to-predict 197 lb weight class is Cameron Caffey, a winner of six straight matches. All of which came against conference foes and two were ranked in the top ten (Max Dean – Penn State and Greg Bulsak – Rutgers). 9-6 Andrew Davison has been tasked with slowing down Caffey. In Davison’s last outing, he defeated Maryland’s Jaron Smith, who was fresh off a big upset, himself. While Caffey and Davison have never met, the Spartan beat Davison’s younger brother, Lucas, at the 2021 Big Ten Championships.
Illinois at #13 Wisconsin – 8:00 (B1G+) Link: B1G+
125 lbs: #6 Eric Barnett (Wisconsin) vs. #25 Justin Cardani (Illinois)
149 lbs: #7 Austin Gomez (Wisconsin) vs. #29 Christian Kanzler (Illinois)
165 lbs: #6 Dean Hamiti (Wisconsin) vs. #29 Danny Braunagel (Illinois)
184 lbs: #21 Zac Bruanagel (Illinois) vs. #27 Chris Weiler (Wisconsin)
285 lbs: #11 Trent Hillger (Wisconsin) vs. #15 Luke Luffman (Illinois)
Right off the bat, we should get the third installment of 125 lber’s Eric Barnett and Justin Cardani. Last year, Barnett started the year with a 3-1 loss to Cardani; however, he turned the table with a major decision at Big Ten’s. Who will be able to exert their will, the high-scoring Barnett or the defensive-minded Cardani? A solid weekend with wins over a pair of returning national qualifiers boosted Christian Kanzler into the national rankings for the first time in his career. He’ll have his hands full with one-loss Austin Gomez at 149 lbs.
Saturday, Dean Hamiti suffered his first collegiate loss at the hands of Alex Marinelli. We’ll see how Hamiti rebounds against Danny Braunagel. The Illini veteran also represents the first collegiate opponent who has faced Hamiti twice. Can Braunagel and the Illini staff make the necessary adjustments to reverse a 10-0 major decision from the MatMen Open? Danny’s twin brother, Zac, also has a semi-familiar opponent in Chris Weiler (Wisconsin). The two clashed early in the 2021 season and it was Weiler who was victorious. Despite that result, Zac has been much more consistent than Weiler, who is looking to bring his season record up to .500.
We’ll close with perhaps the most competitive bout of the dual. Trent Hillger and Luke Luffman have met three times during college, with Hillger leading the series, 2-1. Luffman’s lone with came early last season and Hillger returned the favor with a first period fall at Big Ten’s. This is the front half of a weekend set with duals against #11 and #12 (Christian Lance) for Luffman. He’ll be pushing for a spot in the top ten with two wins.
#8 Ohio State at #14 Minnesota – 9:00 (Big Ten Network)
125 lbs: #9 Patrick McKee (Minnesota) vs. #11 Malik Heinselman (Ohio State)
141 lbs: #15 Jake Bergeland (Minnesota) vs. #20 Dylan D’Emilio (Ohio State)
149 lbs: #2 Sammy Sasso (Ohio State) vs. #30 Michael Blockhus (Minnesota)
157 lbs: #4 Brayton Lee (Minnesota) vs. #33 Jashon Hubbard (Ohio State)
174 lbs: #7 Ethan Smith (Ohio State) vs. #18 Bailee O’Reilly (Minnesota)
184 lbs: #6 Kaleb Romero (Ohio State) vs. #20 Isaiah Salazar (Minnesota)
285 lbs: #1 Gable Steveson (Minnesota) vs. #13 Tate Orndorff (Ohio State)
The rankings at 125 lbs are very volatile based on the depth of its competitors this season. Two of the more consistent components at the weight have been All-American Patrick McKee and Malik Heinselman. McKee’s 16-5 record shows that his third-place finish in St. Louis was no fluke. He is looking to bounce back after losing three of his past four contests. Seeing Heinselman could propel him back to his winning ways. Over the years, McKee has dominated his Buckeye counterpart, winning all three previous matches, with a 5-1 win being the closest of the three. Now, the two did not meet last year and Heinselman continues to improve so, he could break through and get his first win versus McKee.
The top-20 contest at 141 lbs may not occur since Jake Bergeland was out of the Gopher lineup last week. He’s had a breakout year with a win over Stevan Micic (Michigan) and a 15-5 record lined with no “bad” losses.
149 and 157 lbs are slated to include ranked wrestlers clashing; However, both feature possible national champions weights against opponents ranked in the 30’s.
After 125 lbs, maybe the match of the night will be at 174 lbs. Bailee O’Reilly has solidified this spot with a third-place finish at the Southern Scuffle and his only dual losses have come to All-Americans. He’ll see another this evening with Ethan Smith. Smith typically wrestles close matches against good competition, so I’d expect a close box.
Regardless of who Ohio State sends out at 184 lbs, they should make for a good match opposite Isaiah Salazar. Kaleb Romero has been banged up and Rocky Jordan stepped in the last weekend and knocked off All-American John Poznanski (Rutgers). He’ll face young Isaiah Salazar, who is looking to get back on the winning track after falling to Max Lyon (Purdue) Sunday. Last Friday, Salazar had his best win, to date, when he downed Zac Braunagel.
Tonight’s dual will mark the last home event in the illustrious career of Gable Steveson. The 2020 Olympic gold medalist has already cemented himself as one of the all-time greats of a Minnesota program that had prided itself on producing top-flight big men. Following the NCAA Championships, Steveson will follow former Gopher heavyweight Brock Lesnar’s footsteps and test the waters of the WWE. Before then, Steveson will have to contend with 2021 All-American Tate Orndorff. Orndorff is in the midst of a difficult last month that will see him face four of the top five 285 lbers in the nation. When he and Steveson met last year, the Gopher bested him 19-4 in a technical fall. With it being the final match in front of the home crowd, expect Steveson to post a similar score or push for a fall.