A glance at this past weekend’s scores, and it seemed like just another few days of Penn State dominance — but an injury in “Murderers’ Row” changed all that.
Returning national champion Jason Nolf sustained a right knee injury Sunday, which opened another question mark in Penn State’s lineup and for fans. Here are some below:
What does Penn State do if Nolf is out for the season, and how much does that hurt their national title hopes? — Jay, Email
One thing that benefited me in answering this question is that Penn State coach Cael Sanderson had his weekly coaches show Monday night, which is not its usual day. The good news is Nolf’s injury wasn’t as bad as they thought it could be, but Nolf probably won’t be in any of the Nittany Lions’ three remanining duals. They’re hoping to get him back in time for the postseason.
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Sanderson said they will not start pulling redshirts. So that takes Brady Berge and Jarod Verkleeren off the table. That leads me to believe his replacement is down to just two guys — Bo Pipher, which got the start in the Lehigh dual at 165 pounds, or Luke Gardner.
However, the Nittany Lions do have a wildcard in Jered Cortez — yes, the guy that Nick Lee replaced at 141 pounds. Just last week, Cortez was seen in the wrestling room in his wrestling shoes and gear. It was a surprising sight to see after Cortez was in a walking boot just three weeks ago. Picture this — Penn State rolls out Lee or Cortez at 141, Lee or Cortez at 149 and Zain Retherford at 157. We will all get to see on Saturday night for the Ohio State dual inside Rec Hall.
If Nolf does, in fact, come back for the postseason, I’d think the Nittany Lions can still win with a 75 percent Nolf but they’d almost have to put Shakur Rasheed in at 197. With all those cross-face cradles, Rasheed would be able to help offset the bonus-point production, Penn State might lose with Nolf not at full strength. I feel they’d also need those four remaining healthy champs to all reach the finals again and win at least half of them.
How much difference could Rasheed’s pins make compared with Anthony Cassar’s major decisions come March? — PSUSean, Email
On Monday night, Sanderson also mentioned there was no update at 197 pounds. He and his staff are still unsure of who their starter should be. The worst part about it is they don’t have too much more time left to decide.
But, obviously, you’d take Rasheed’s pins over Cassar’s major decisions. It is especially important now with the Nolf injury. When it comes to tournament scoring, teams receive two points for fall victories as opposed to one for a major decision win. As I mentioned earlier, Rasheed’s bonus-point potential could help offset what Penn State might not be able to get from Nolf since he might not be 100 percent.
If I had to guess, whoever gets the start against the Buckeyes’ Kollin Moore on Saturday will end up being the starter the rest of the regular season and into the postseason. Moore is the top-ranked wrestler in the weight class and was a third-place finisher a year ago. However, Sanderson has been known to change his mind at the last minute before — see Jimmy Lawson and Jon Gingrich a few years ago.
(Iowa’s) Spencer Lee proved that (Ohio State’s) Nathan Tomasello is not indestructible. Could keeping the Buckeye off the podium in March be key to a Nittany Lions victory? — PSUSean, Email
This obviously would be huge for the Nittany Lions’ chances of earning the three-peat. Let’s face it, they aren’t going to have an All-American at 125 pounds or even a wrestler at all in Cleveland at the weight class. As much as fans might not like Nick Suriano for skipping town to Rutgers, Penn Staters may want to be rooting him on come March. One could argue that the 125-pound weight class is just as stacked as the 141-pound weight class — so anything can happen. Besides Lee, Tomasello and Suriano, there is also Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak, Lehigh’s Darian Cruz (reigning NCAA champion) and Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni. “March Madness” is meant for basketball, but “March Matness” is meant for wrestling as anything can happen at the NCAA championships — like American’s David Terao reaching the 125-pound semifinals of the 2016 NCAA Championship in New York as a 15-seed.