IOWA CITY, Ia. –In second-ranked Missouri, Iowa will have to overcome maybe its steepest challenge of the wrestling season to win its seventh National Duals title.
That's because Missouri is practically a mirror image of the top-ranked Hawkeyes.
Both teams feature a deep lineup. Both teams start five seniors. It's no wonder they've combined for a 40-0 dual record.
Someone will be handed their first dual loss a few hours after the 11:30 a.m. Sunday showdown begins at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It'll be televised on the Big Ten Network.
"I think it's awesome. I think the sport needed this," Missouri coach Brian Smith said. "We had to do our part to get here. I'm glad we did. And Iowa did their part. They had some battles, too."
Brian Smith relishes the challenge of winning at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The spotlight matchups begin right away, with top-ranked Alan Waters of Missouri battling No. 5 Thomas Gilman at 125 pounds. That's one of three bouts that the Tigers have an edge in the rankings, but there are several toss-ups that'll decide Sunday's victor.
One swing match might be at 149, where Iowa's second-ranked Brandon Sorensen will look to beat a top-five opponent for the fourth time since Jan. 4 in No. 4 Drake Houdashelt.
Or it might happen at 174, where it's Iowa's No. 4 Mike Evans vs. No. 5 Johnny Eblen.
These teams are so well-matched, two of the wrestlers with the most middling records meet at 165 — Iowa's 11th-ranked Nick Moore vs. Mike England. Same goes at 157 with Iowa's Michael Kelly vs. Joey Lavallee.
This one's just really even. Iowa won a dual at No. 3 Ohio State 18-14. Missouri won at Ohio State 20-19.
The Iowa heavyweight capped a 44-3 dual win by pinning Chattanooga's Jared Johnson. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
The Hawkeyes have clear advantages at 133 pounds with Cory Clark and heavyweight Bobby Telford, but that's about it.
"They're closing the gap on us. I heard that in W.I.N. Magazine. I saw that in my email box," Iowa coach Tom Brands said of the latest rankings. "They're closing the gap. They got votes. So, good."
Smith is confident his battle-tested group, at 23-0, can block out the rowdy fans here, saying his Tigers have to pretend they're cheering for them — not the hometown Hawkeyes.
"We've had some grueling road trips where we've had to wrestle a dual at night, then go wrestle Ohio State the next day in the afternoon," Smith said. "So I just know we're prepared for it."
The Iowa 125-pounder reacts after beating Cornell's Nahshon Garrett with a late takedown. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
PROBABLE LINEUPS: IOWA VS. MISSOURI
125: Iowa's No. 5 Thomas Gilman (24-2) vs. No. 1 Alan Waters (26-0)
Both coming off impressive wins: Waters over No. 2 Jesse Delgado; Gilman over No. 3 Nahshon Garrett.
133: Iowa's No. 5 Cory Clark (21-4) vs. Zach Synon (28-10)
Clark has corrected his sluggish starts and finds himself on a roll; Hawkeyes could use bonus points here.
141: Iowa's No. 10 Josh Dziewa (24-5) vs. No. 7 Lavion Mayes (29-1)
Up-and-down Dziewa's six-match win streak will be tested by Mayes, who scored two majors Saturday.
149: Iowa's No. 2 Brandon Sorensen (31-2) vs. No. 4 Drake Houdashelt (28-1)
Sorensen's 14-match winning streak includes victories over seven ranked wrestlers; this is another biggie.
157: Iowa's No. 8 Michael Kelly (20-7) vs. No. 10 Joey Lavallee (19-10)
Kelly can be exciting but unpredictable; this is Lavallee's eighth straight match against a ranked foe.
165: Iowa's No. 11 Nick Moore (19-7) vs. Mike England (20-10)
Native Iowans clash; England is from Centerville. Iowa City's Moore struggled to beat a 3-10 freshman Saturday.
174: Iowa's No. 4 Mike Evans (23-1) vs. No. 5 Johnny Eblen (25-3)
Eblen is 14-1 since moving down from 184 midseason. He pinned Illinois' Zac Brunson; Evans beat Brunson 2-1.
184: Iowa's No. 8 Sammy Brooks (23-4) vs. No. 10 Willie Miklus (25-6)
Brooks must rebound from loss to No. 1 Gabriel Dean vs. a former Southeast Polk star who lost twice Saturday.
197: Iowa's No. 5 Nathan Burak (17-2) vs. No. 1 J'den Cox (29-0)
Burak tends to win close matches in the third period; that'll be a challenge vs. Cox, on a 42-match winning streak.
Hwt: Iowa's No. 6 Bobby Telford (23-2) vs. No. 20 Devin Mellon (27-8)
Advantage Hawkeyes. Telford's only losses are in overtime; Mellon has one win vs. a ranked foe.