Analysis: Is Iowa ready for NCAA wrestling title run?

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. – The duals are over. Months of hard-fought results are available for analysis.

It's that time of the college wrestling season when everyone's cards are pretty much on the table.

A deep Iowa team with 10 nationally ranked wrestlers held slight favorite's status for the March 19-21 NCAA Championships much of the season. But with Sunday's 18-12 loss to Missouri in the National Duals final, the Hawkeyes lost a bit of their shine.

Missouri is the new No. 1, replacing Iowa this week for the first time of 2014-15 in the coaches' poll.

So with just the March 7-8 Big Ten Championships between now and St. Louis, it's fair to wonder: Are these Hawkeyes equipped to win their first NCAA crown since a three-peat title in 2010? Or are they wobbly entering the most important stretch of the year?

There are some red flags. The Hawkeyes' highest-ranked wrestler nationally is No. 3 Brandon Sorensen at 149 pounds.

On one hand, there's concern that Iowa might not have a big-point-producing national finalist. On the other, the Hawkeyes have behind Sorensen three guys ranked fourth, one fifth, another sixth and another eighth.

"You're not going to get me to say that we're going to define our season or continue to spiral," Hawkeye coach Tom Brands said after the Missouri loss.

Mark Ironside, a two-time NCAA champion for Iowa in the late 1990s, is in his 14th season as radio analyst for Hawkeye wrestling. His analysis is sharp and candid. He uses "we" when talking about Iowa, a reflection of his passion for the program for which he competed.

One of the most action-packed wrestlers in Hawkeye history, Ironside would like to see this senior-laden lineup step up its offense with legacies on the line. Iowa accumulated six total takedowns in the Missouri loss, two coming at heavyweight.

"If everybody (else) goes out and wrestles the (NCAA) tournament of their lives, we have the team to overcome and win the entire tournament still," Ironside said this week. "We're that good. Now, it's just a matter of, are we going to be able to do that or not? Are we going to put things together when it really counts?"

That largely depends on what transpires between the ears of 10 college kids and on eight mats in the Scottrade Center in three weeks. asked Ironside to analyze Iowa's lineup entering the postseason. He did.

125: Thomas Gilman (soph.)

Ranking, record: No. 4, 24-3

His season: Has a tendency to dominate inferior opponents but get engaged in tight bouts against ranked foes. All three losses have come in overtime.

Ironside's take: "He needs to take charge and put himself in control so if the referee makes a bad call or if he does get ridden out for 30 seconds, it's not going to matter, because he went to his offense early and often."

133: Cory Clark (soph.)

Ranking, record: No. 4, 22-4

His season: Showed firepower by winning the Midlands title, then went into a first-period funk that led to four losses in seven bouts. He says he's learned from his mistakes, and has won five in a row going into a Big Ten meet with eight 133-pounders ranked in the top 13.

Ironside's take: Says Clark can't allow opponents to control his wrists and needs to gun for major decisions rather than settling for 7-2 wins. "That might be the difference in a national team championship down in St. Louis. He's still getting better, but he's not there."

141: Josh Dziewa (sr.)

Ranking, record: No. 10, 24-6

His season: The ability is there. Began the year ranked No. 4 but has been handily defeated when facing top-end talent, including 13-6 to Missouri's No. 7 Lavion Mayes. Had won six in a row before that.

Ironside's take: Noted that Iowa's three fifth-year seniors at 141, 157, 165 have zero all-America (top-eight) finishes. "It's going to be really dissatisfying to them and disappointing if they don't mentally attitude-wise go into the postseason ready to go."

149: Brandon Sorensen (fr.)

Ranking, record: No. 3, 31-3

His season: Impressive ascent from a three-way in-house battle to knocking off some of the nation's top foes, including defending NCAA champ Jason Tsirtsis. Had 14-match win streak snapped by Missouri's Drake Houdashelt 2-1.

Ironside's take: "Our best chance at a national championships from an individual standpoint, just based off his consistency. His positioning is so strong in all areas. His offense is good when he goes to it. He's good on the bottom, he's good on the top. He's got great defense."

157: Michael Kelly (sr.)

Ranking, record: No. 11, 20-8

His season: The senior from Cedar Falls has the heart of a lion but hasn't scored signature wins. His run of five losses in eight bouts began when he had then-No. 1 Dylan Ness on the ropes but lost 11-9.

Ironside's take: "The thing about Kelly is the kid goes out and wrestles hard every time. He just needs to be a little bit smarter about his wrestling … and not get caught up in the hand-fighting."

165: Nick Moore (sr.)

Ranking, record: No. 12, 20-7

His season: Thought to be a strong all-America candidate preseason, the Iowa City native owns a 1-6 mark against top-11 wrestlers. High point was opening the dual at Minnesota with a second-period pin.

Ironside's take: "I don't think he knows how tough he is. If he figures out how tough he is between now and Big Tens, they're going to see a side of Nick Moore that they've never seen before. And it's really going to shock the rest of the wrestlers in that weight class."

174: Mike Evans (sr.)

Ranking, record: No. 4, 24-1

His season: Finds himself in a tough weight class, but capable of beating anybody. Has been in several tight matches, including Sunday's 4-1 win over Missouri's No. 5 John Eblen.

Ironside's take: "He wants to whip some tail, so to speak. But he's just not doing it on the scoreboard. … Evans is such a great scrambler. If he could just get some shots to create some scrambles, he's going to come out on top."

184: Sammy Brooks (soph.)

Ranking, record: No. 8, 23-4

His season: May have cost himself the No. 1 seed at Big Tens with a 3-2 loss to Michigan's Domenic Albounader. A high-action, fan favorite in a weight class that's wide open nationally.

Ironside's take: "As the season progressed, he kind of got caught up in a little bit of what the rest of the team is doing. He lost his offense. He lost his momentum. He lost his mojo. Not totally, but he needs to get that back."

197: Nathan Burak (jr.)

Ranking, record: No. 5, 17-3

His season: Slowed by injury early in the season, he's wrestled a lot of matches that end 3-1, 3-2, 2-1. A 7-1 loss to No. 4 Morgan McIntosh of Penn State was troubling.

Ironside's take: "He needs to go out and treat every match like a wrestling match, not a chess match. We're just stiff. We're just not very fluent. We're pretty one-dimensional, almost like a robot out there. Go out and wrestle, let the fur fly a little bit."

Hwt.: Bobby Telford (sr.)

Ranking, record: No. 6, 24-2

His season: The only Hawkeye to be ranked No. 1 this year suffered his only losses with late-match mistakes (vs. Northwestern and Michigan). One of the nation's best hand-fighters owns surprising quickness at 270-plus pounds.

Ironside's take: "If there's one guy on the team that's mentally and attitude-wise ready to go, it's (Telford). I feel extremely confident every time he steps on the mat. … He's got to do a better job in finishing his shots and getting to them more often."