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Husker Wrestlers Face Stiff Test to End Dual Season

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No. 4 Nebraska travels to face No. 13 Minnesota Friday at 8 p.m.

Nebraska freshman Ridge Lovett, see here collecting nearfall points against Michigan on Feb. 14, looks to get his fifth-straight win Friday when Nebraska travels to face No. 13 Minnesota.
DYLAN GUENTHER / Corn Nation

Riding a five-match win streak, the Huskers look to take down another ranked opponent to close out the dual season on a high note.

The No. 4-ranked Nebraska wrestling team (10-3, 5-3 Big Ten) travels to Maturi Pavilion on Friday night to take on No. 13 Minnesota (9-7, 4-4) at 8 p.m. Since knocking off then-No. 3 Ohio State, the Huskers have beaten two more ranked foes in Purdue (No. 14) and Michigan (No. 22) and are looking to add the Gophers to that list. With the win, Nebraska will secure a third-place finish in the stacked Big Ten, slotting in behind just No. 1 Iowa and No. 2 Penn State.

Again, Nebraska has nine of its starting wrestlers ranked nationally by InterMat. This makes the Huskers one of the country’s deepest teams.

Scouting Minnesota

The Gophers are certainly one of the most dangerous teams in the country when healthy and all available. If it weren’t for an injury to a guy like No. 11 Patrick McKee (125 pounds) and the legal troubles of No. 1 heavyweight Gable Steveson, Minnesota would most assuredly sport a more impressive overall record and team ranking. Minnesota is a young team that will probably start six underclassmen on Friday against the Huskers, but the Gophers’ blend of experienced upperclassmen and talented youngsters make them a dangerous dual opponent.

The Gophers sport six ranked wrestlers, although one of them (Patrick McKee) is questionable to wrestle on Friday. After missing the past three duals due to a knee injury, I don’t expect to see the talented freshman out there Friday.

How to Watch

The Gophers play host to the Huskers Friday night with the action starting at 8 p.m. and being televised on ESPNU.

Match-By-Match Analysis

*Individual rankings according to InterMat

125 pounds

What happens at the 125-pound weight class may very well determine what kind of dual this turns out to be. Minnesota’s 11th-ranked Patrick McKee (17-6) has missed three straight duals after injuring his knee against Purdue’s No. 6-ranked Devin Schroeder. McKee led the match 5-3 before the injury and despite finishing the match, the freshman fell 20-5 by tech fall in the end. Throughout his absence, Minnesota has forfeited its 125-pound matches in all three duals. Although, Minnesota lists either McKee OR Jake Gliva (6-8) as their starter at 125 pounds this week. So in reality, it’s anyone’s guess who the Gophers put on the mat, if anyone.

Nebraska’s Alex Thomsen (9-12) is Nebraska’s lone unranked wrestler, but the freshman has proven to be serviceable. If Patrick McKee comes back from injury to face Thomsen, it would be a very steep uphill climb for the Husker to get the win. If Thomsen faces Gliva, the match could potentially go either way. After starting the season at 125 pounds, Gliva moved up to 133 to start the dual season in January, but the redshirt freshman went 1-4 in duals and was replaced by Boo Dryden. I can only assume that Minnesota has had to forfeit their 125-pound matches lately because Gilva was working his way back down to 125 pounds. So if he’s ready to go, he’ll pose a solid test for Thomsen.

So if Minnesota sends out Patrick McKee, Thomsen doesn’t stand much of a shot, but against Gliva, Thomsen should be a slight favorite. The other scenario, albeit unlikely considering the projected lineup released by Minnesota, is that the Gophers forfeit the match, giving Nebraska a six-point win. For the sake of predictions, I believe the most likely scenario is that Thomsen will square off against Gliva. Nebraska’s chances: 55%

133 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 14 Ridge Lovett (13-6) has been on a tear lately with a five-match win streak. The true freshman is coming off an impressive 11-0 destruction of Michigan’s Austin Assad. Lovett will face Boo Dryden (4-3) Friday night. The junior Gopher has lost three straight matches, including two straight tech-fall losses to No. 2 Roman Bravo-Young (Penn State) and No. 3 Austin Desanto (Iowa). Although Lovett also fell to RBY and Desanto, his losses were much closer. And considering the hot streak the freshman phenom is on, there’s no reason Lovett doesn’t grab another win and some more momentum going into the conference tournament. Nebraska’s chances: 80%

141 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 9 Chad Red Jr. (14-6) will finish off the dual season against another top-10 foe in Minnesota’s No. 6-ranked Mitch McKee. The senior Gopher is having an incredible season, racking up a record of 22-5. However, as of lately McKee has hit some speed bumps while facing the upper echelon of competition in the Big Ten. McKee is 1-3 in his last four matches with losses to No. 1 Nick Lee (Penn State), No. 2 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) and No. 5 Max Murin (Iowa). Red has only lost to ranked wrestlers with the Husker junior having already faced six of the top eight wrestlers in the country (faced No. 2 Pletcher twice) with McKee representing the seventh. Red has struggled against elite competition this year, as he’s 1-6 in matches against those six wrestlers in the top-8 with his lone win coming over Iowa’s Max Murin (Murin’s lone loss, as he’s 11-1 on the year). So, Red has proven he can compete with the best, but he hasn’t figured out how to do it consistently. And considering Red lost to McKee last year in both their dual and at the NCAA tournament, I see this being a tough matchup for the Husker. Nebraska’s chances: 40%

149 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 16 Collin Purinton (13-8) has had a difficult stretch lately, as he’s lost his last two matches. Things don’t get easier for the Husker senior as he gets set to face his fifth-straight ranked opponent when he takes the mat against Minnesota’s No. 7-ranked Brayton Lee (21-4). Purinton is 1-3 during this stretch of ranked opponents, with his lone win against then-No. 18 Griffin Parriott of Purdue. Lee has been an impressive freshman this season, going 4-2 in his last six matches with a 3-2 loss to No. 2 Pat Lugo of Iowa his last time out. Purinton has what it takes to keep this one close, but Lee is just too talented. Nebraska’s chances: 25%

157 pounds

Nebraska’s Peyton Robb, seen here facing Michigan’s No. 9 Will Lewan, will face a tough test Friday night against Minnesota’s Ryan Thomas.
DYLAN GUENTHER / Corn Nation

Nebraska’s No. 19 Peyton Robb (16-5) has had an up-and-down conference season and comes into the regular-season finale off a 4-3 loss to Michigan’s No. 9-ranked Will Lewan. Robb will face fellow redshirt freshman Ryan Thomas (15-8) on Friday night. Thomas has been solid all year, with a couple wins over ranked opponents even. Both wrestlers sport similar resumes this season, as Thomas is 4-3 in Big Ten duals while Robb is 5-3. Both wrestlers fell to Iowa’s Kaleb Young in similar fashion. This match feels like a toss-up to me, but I’ll give Robb the slight edge, as he’s yet to lose back-to-back matches all year. I don’t see him starting now. Nebraska’s chances: 55%

165 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 5 Isaiah White (15-3) will take on Minnesota’s Bailee O’Reilly (20-8) Friday night. White seems to be peaking at the right time, as he’s won his last two matches by pinfall. The Husker senior’s three losses all came to wrestlers ranked in the top-4 of the country. O’Reilly didn’t wrestle last weekend against Iowa due to an illness, but his last time out he lost 14-5 via major decision to Penn State’s top-ranked Vincenzo Joseph. This match may be fairly close, but I see White as being the better overall wrestler with the better resume. Nebraska’s chances: 75%

174 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 6 Mikey Labriola (17-6) will face another highly-ranked opponent on Friday when he takes the mat against No. 8 Devin Skatzka (24-8). These two are no strangers, as it will be their seventh time wrestling in college. The series is deadlocked 3-3 right now, with Labriola winning 7-5 in sudden victory in their only meeting this season. Labriola brings a two-match win streak into this match, while Skatzka has lost four of his last five. Those four losses came to elite competition, all ranked in the top-7, with his last two matches being a loss to No. 2 Mark Hall (Penn State) and a loss by pinfall to No. 1 Michael Kemerer (Iowa). Although this matchup will inevitably be a close one, I think Labriola has been the more impressive wrestler recently. Nebraska’s chances: 52%

184 pounds

Nebraska’s Taylor Venz, seen here controlling Michigan’s Jelani Embree, will face Minnesota’s No. 20 Owen Webster Friday night in a ranked showdown.
DYLAN GUENTHER / Corn Nation

Nebraska’s No. 11 Taylor Venz (15-7) looks to run up his three-match win streak against Minnesota’s No. 20 Owen Webster (20-8). Fresh off a 16-6 major decision against Michigan’s then-No. 20 Jelani Embree, Venz seems to be hitting his stride after a very up-and-down season. Webster and Venz are both 5-3 in conference duals with very similar resumes. Earlier in the season, Venz defeated No. 6 Aaron Brooks of Penn State 9-5, while Webster fell to Brooks by major decision 13-3. Now, while that doesn’t always mean much (for example, Webster beat Ohio State’s Rocky Jordan, while Venz lost to him. So this argument could theoretically be made both ways), comparing how two wrestlers compete against a shared top-tier opponent does sometimes help to decide a potential coin-flip match, especially when the outcomes were so different (Against Jordan the outcomes were much closer, with Webster beating Jordan 5-4, while Venz lost 3-2). Venz should be a very slight favorite, but with it being at Minnesota this match could go either way. Nebraska’s chances: 52%

197 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 4 Eric Schultz (20-3) has been a stud all year for the Huskers. The junior has won three straight since his lone conference setback at the hands of undefeated top-ranked juggernaut Kollin Moore of Ohio State. Schultz wrestled Moore about as close as anyone has all season in the 5-2 decision loss. Schultz will face one of two wrestlers on Friday night. Minnesota will either send senior Hunter Ritter (23-8) or redshirt freshman Garrett Joles (9-11) to meet the Husker All-American. The two have been alternating starts for weeks, with Ritter losing to Iowa’s No. 5 Jacob Warner 13-4 last time out. Joles wrestled No. 16 Shakur Rasheed of Penn State close in a 6-5 loss his last time out. To give perspective as to what Moore usually does to his opponents, the senior Buckeye beat Ritter in their matchup 19-3 by tech fall. And from the looks of the current rotation, it looks like it’s Joles’ turn. He may be auditioning to be the Gophers’ starting 197-pounder in the postseason and could win the job with an impressive performance. Whoever takes the mat for the Gophers will be looking to prove himself, but I expect Schultz to be his dominant self. Nebraska’s chances: 80%

285 pounds

It’s apparent that the job at heavyweight will be No. 15 David Jensen’s (13-4) for the remainder of the season. The Husker senior won three straight conference matches before losing by pinfall to Michigan’s No. 2-ranked Mason Parris. This week, Jensen will have to face off with top-ranked Gable Steveson (11-0) in a rematch of last year’s season-ending dual where Jensen fell by major decision 13-5. Although I don’t think it’s likely, I could see a scenario where fellow senior Christian Lance (10-6) would get the nod in an attempt to give two guys who shared the starting spot all year one last audition apiece against the best in the country, the Nos. 1 and 2 guys. Then assess and decide who you’ll go with going to the conference tournament. Either way they go, it’s a loss. Guaranteed. I never give 0% or 100% for a team’s chances, because I don’t really think there are many “100% guaranteed” wins or losses in college wrestling, but Gable Steveson against anyone outside of the top 5 is as close as you get. Nebraska’s chances: 0%

Final Prediction

I really do think this is Nebraska’s biggest test since the Huskers knocked off No. 3 Ohio State. The way things match up in this one sets up a lot of interesting matchups of strength vs. strength. There are two top-10 matchups with five total matches between ranked opponents. This one could go either way with at least four matchups being toss-ups, but I think the Huskers’ overall depth will be too much for Minnesota. This of course is considering the Gophers don’t forfeit 125-pounds again. If they forfeit at 125, I don’t see the Gophers being able to climb out of that hole.

Score Prediction: Nebraska wins 21-16

Score Prediction (If 125 forfeited): 27-13