With the Penn State vs. Ohio State mega-dual in the books, the Nittany Lions are quickly hurdling toward the end of their regular season.
But with only two dual meets left, the Nittany Lions still have some major questions to answer before heading to the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
So let’s get right to this week’s mailbag:
Is Anthony Cassar definitely the new starter now? — Jay, via email
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I certainly would not say that. As crazy as it is to say that knocking off the No. 1 wrestler in your weight class might not be enough to earn the starting spot, that could be the case at Penn State.
According to reports, not yet confirmed by Penn State, Shakur Rasheed beat Cassar 7-4 in a wrestle-off two days before the Ohio State dual. But Rasheed was reportedly injured, clearing the way for Cassar to get the start. Cassar clearly stepped up to the challenge, taking No. 1 Kollin Moore down twice with riding time for a 6-3 decision. Cassar matched up well against Moore, both in terms of size and style, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he could beat him again. However, up to this point, Rasheed has looked every bit the better wrestler, pinning three ranked opponents.
But how can you argue with knocking off No. 1? The answer: bonus points.
Especially if Jason Nolf isn’t going to be at full health, the Nittany Lions are going to need all of the bonus points they can get to overtake the Buckeyes, who will likely be bringing 10 wrestlers, at NCAAs. Rasheed’s pins vs Cassar’s decisions and major decisions could give the Nittany Lions the extra team points they need to make up for the lack of points at 125 and 133 pounds.
The good thing is that Penn State will get another chance to test whomever they throw out at 197 on Saturday against Iowa’s No. 7 Cash Wilcke. If Rasheed is healthy, it would be good to see how he matches up against a top-10 foe. (He lost against the only other top-10 wrestler he faced this year, No. 3 Ben Darmstadt, at the Bearcat Open in November). And it would be equally interesting to see if Cassar can nail two big wins in a row.
One thing’s for sure, I most definitely would not want to be in the Penn State coaches’ shoes right now.
I know I’ve asked this before, but now that we’ve seen Carson Kuhn wrestle, what are his chances to qualify for NCAAs, and if he does, where does he place? — PSUSEAN, via email
Carson Kuhn came out against Nathan Tomasello on Saturday like a man possessed, taking the former NCAA champion down three times in the first period, including one that smashed the Buckeye right into the side of the scorers’ table, denting the plastic covering.
Kuhn wasn’t able to keep up the momentum for long, as could be expected for a guy who hasn’t wrestled in two years. But he showed flashes of potential against a three-time All-American that should be enough to excite any Nittany Lions’ fan.
But the competition for Kuhn won’t get any easier, as should he get the nod again Saturday, as he’ll wrestle another top-5 opponent in Iowa’s Spencer Lee. The main goals for Kuhn between now and the Big Ten tournament should be to wrestle as many matches as possible — if there are any end-of-season opens — and to work on his conditioning.
In order to win one of the NCAA bids allocated to the Big Ten at 125, he’ll have to knock off somebody. Unfortunately, 125 is one of the strongest weight classes for the Big Ten. Right now, the lowest hanging fruit is Illinois’s Travis Piotrowski, who’s 15-5 on the season. The good thing about the Big Ten having eight wrestlers ranked in the top 20, is the possibility for the conference to receive another another bid.
The way he wrestled in the first period against Tomasello, you’d think he has what it takes to get a good upset at Big Tens. As for NCAAs, it will unfortunately be an uphill battle. But, hey, having the potential to earn a few team points is better than none.
Will Jason Nolf really be back in time for postseason? — Sarah, via email
Coach Sanderson is famous for not giving away too much information when it comes to injuries, so it’s hard to truly gauge the injury status of any given wrestler. So whether or not Nolf will be back to wrestle in the postseason is anybody’s guess. Though Sanderson did say after Saturday’s match that Nolf is on crutches but weight bearing, and ahead of schedule.
Nolf technically would not have to wrestle again until March 15 at the NCAA tournament. He’s wrestled enough matches and should have a high enough RPI and coaches poll rank to earn a wild card bid to the NCAAs, so long as he steps onto the mat then forfeits, Nick Suriano style, at the Big Ten tournament. So he has about a month and a half until he has to wrestle again.
With that extra time, Nolf hopefully will be ready to roll come NCAAs. Knowing Nolf and the kind of competitor he is, he’ll be back in time for NCAAs. How his injury will affect his performance and conditioning, however, remains to be seen.