Wrestling Mailbag: A big three classic? Plus some early thoughts on the Midlands and Scuffle

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

The end of basketball's Big Four Classic — at least for the foreseeable future — left me thinking over the weekend.

What if wrestling did something similar?

My initial thought was a Big Three Classic, where Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa compete in a triangular. Host it in at Wells Fargo Arena or at any one of the school’s home locations, even on a rotational basis.

Iowa's Austin DeSanto, right, wrestles Iowa State's Austin Gomez at 133 during a NCAA Cy-Hawk series wrestling dual on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

How cool would it be to open the college season by traveling to either Iowa City, Ames or Cedar Falls and watching all three teams wrestle each other in a day? Call it the collegiate state duals tournament.

The action would be great, considering Iowa’s great history, Iowa State’s quick resurgence, and Northern Iowa’s steady progression. All three schools are ranked inside Trackwrestling’s top 20. As of this writing, there are 22 ranked wrestlers out of a possible 30, including all three at 141, 149 and 184 pounds. 

If you wanted to even keep with the Big Four theme, you could add in another team, like Grand View or Wartburg or Cornell College. I know those programs would love to take a crack at any of the big three.

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Iowa and Iowa State already compete every year in the Cy-Hawk series. Iowa State and Northern Iowa compete every year as part of the Big 12 Conference. So it’s just a matter of making a deal between Iowa and Northern Iowa, but those two haven’t wrestled each other since the 2011-12 season.

Before you ask, no, I haven’t done any reporting on this, so it could be in the works, but I suspect it isn’t. It’s just a fun idea to throw around. The Big Four Classic was always a fun fan experience, and I guarantee that it would be the same for wrestling.

Now, let's move to the wrestling mailbag. This will be the last one until after the New Year — specifically, until after the Southern Scuffle. I’ll be at the Midlands Championships, which runs Dec. 29-30, and watching the Scuffle (Jan. 1-2) remotely to follow Iowa State.

Please give me a follow on Twitter and I’ll keep you up to date on all things wrestling In Iowa.

This is an interesting discussion and the short answer is that there's a lack of options.

When you think about it, Midlands and the Scuffle are the two marquee midseason tournaments of the college wrestling season. The only other large tournament I can think of that isn’t a conference tournament or the NCAAs is the Cliff Keen Las Vegas in November. Another tournament, the South Beach Duals, is slowly rising.

The early portion of the season has a ton of open tournaments — Luther Open, Cyclone Open, Grand View Open, UNI Open, Lindenwood, Daktronics Open, Cowboy Open, and countless others.

Once you flip the page to January, you’re talking about the Pat Flash Flanagan Open, the Wisconsin-Eau Claire Open, and the Dave Edmonds Open in Sioux City. By February and March the focus is on the postseason.

Iowa's Spencer Lee (right) wrestles Princeton's Patrick Glory at 125 during an NCAA wrestle dual on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

No offense to any of those well-run events, but the only reason we’ll be watching them is to see if Tony Cassioppi can keep pinning people in the first period.

I’d like to see more tournaments throughout the season. They’re fun and can teach us a lot about teams and individuals. I love covering the Midlands. I’ve never been to the Scuffle, but I watch it every season.

Iowa State and Northern Iowa wrestled in Vegas and the Scuffle in past seasons. Iowa is pretty set on Midlands being its one midseason tournament. The Panthers will join them this year.

But outside of those, there really just isn’t that many options to pick from. Maybe Iowa will consider wrestling in Vegas in the future. I doubt it, but it’s always possible.

The Hawkeyes are pretty relaxed. Tom Brands released his wrestlers after finals last week for the holidays. But there were as many as 30 guys in the room for an optional workout on Monday morning.

There’s always excitement around Midlands, mostly because we get to see Iowa in a tournament setting. They’ve dominated the field in recent years, and this year may be no different, though there will be some tough teams attending like Arizona State, Northern Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota State, and Northwestern, to name a few.

The other thing I noticed is that Iowa finally gets a break. Those first few weeks of the season weren’t easy, despite Iowa’s 6-0 record. Brands said they beefed up the non-conference slate to help with the wrestlers’ RPI by the end of the year. It didn’t help, either, that they were banged up.

So they get a few weeks to heal before Midlands. I think they’ll come out and wrestle well. A few weights will be interesting to watch, like 141 pounds, and the redshirts will be in action, like Cassioppi and Nelson Brands.

I’ll have a couple of reports after Christmas. Stay tuned for those.

Obviously, it will depend on how he performs, but even then, my gut says no.

The Scuffle will be a chance for David Carr to emerge as one of the key faces of Iowa State’s resurgence. A slew of tough teams will be there, but the big one is obviously Penn State, which has Jason Nolf, the two-time defending NCAA champ at 157 pounds. 

By my count, Carr will be in a field potentially featuring six ranked wrestlers — Nolf, Stanford’s Paul Fox (13), Gardner-Webb’s Tyler Marinelli (16), Columbia’s Dan Reed (18), Oklahoma State’s Andrew Shomers (19) and Virginia Tech’s BC LaPrade (24).

That’s a tough field and will be an opportunity for Carr to prove himself. If he wins the thing convincingly, maybe that’ll force coach ISU Kevin Dresser’s hand.

Iowa State Wrestling's David Carr poses for a photo on the team's media day, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, on the Iowa State campus.

Iowa State is good, but I still think they’re a year or two away from seriously contending for an NCAA trophy — and I say that fully believing that, with their lineup as is, they can have anywhere from four to eight All-Americans this season.

Eight would obviously push them into that trophy contender conversation. I think Austin Gomez, Ian Parker, Jarrett Degen and Willie Miklus are surefire All-American contenders, but the jury is out on guys like Alex Mackall, Marcus Coleman, Sam Colbray and Gannon Gremmel, at least nationally.

The same can be said for Carr, mostly because he’s still a true freshman, but he can shift that conversation with a strong showing at the Scuffle.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Dresser from Iowa State’s media day in November:

“The Southern Scuffle will be a good test,” he said. “… What do you do as a coach if he goes and has a great, great weekend? Do you sit him? Or what do you do? 

“Right now, I can tell you we’re 98 percent sure that we’re going to keep him where we’re at, and I say that meaning it. Common sense tells you that 20-year-old David Carr as a freshman is going to be better than 19-year-old David Carr as a freshman.”

Below is Iowa’s tentative Midlands roster — in my wonderful penmanship — based on the notes I received Monday morning.

The redshirts, presumably, are Nelson Brands and Cassioppi, though I’m not sure Iowa can officially take all of those guys. I’m sure some will compete unattached just so Iowa follows the Midlands’ official rules for entries.

Tom Brands also mentioned they’re looking at taking one more guy, so maybe Aaron Cashman, Joe Kelly or someone else will make the trip.

This might be the best question I’ve been asked since I started doing a mailbag. Thank you, Brian Fitzpatrick.

Mitch Bowman stands for a portrait during Iowa wrestling media day Monday, Nov. 5, 2018.

According to Apple Maps, walking from Carver-Hawkeye Arena to the Sears Centre Arena will take roughly three days. But if I’m Mitch Bowman, I’m probably in shape and feeling a little lighter than usual, so we’ll say two days and eight hours.

That means I’ll start my journey on Dec. 26 at noon. That’ll put me in Hoffman Estates by Dec. 28 at 8 p.m. Get to bed by 9 p.m., wake up at 5 a.m., and that gives me three hours to shave off any extra weight to get to 174 pounds.

As for snacks, I would probably load up on water weight. I’d bring some fruit, maybe some celery and a little bit of deli meat, like chicken or turkey.

The answer probably doesn't live up to the question, but I'm trying my best.

Thomas Gilman. He’s made in the mold of Tom and Terry Brands, and those who don’t know him view him in that light. But when you get to know him, he’s pretty funny, honest, and I could easily see him being a solid recruiter.

He’s also a technician on the mat and could easily transfer knowledge to wrestlers of any size.

The hard part about this question is that so many former Hawkeyes are coaches in some capacity — Brent Metcalf and Derek St. John (both at Iowa State), Matt McDonough (Wisconsin), Tony Ramos (North Carolina) and many others.

But I’d go with Gilman. He gets intense watching Iowa’s duals inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. I’d love to see him in the corner someday.

I wouldn’t say complacent, but the one thing wrestling continually struggles with is bringing in new fans and introducing them to the sport and, in turn, retaining them.

Wrestling does a really good job marketing and catering to wrestling people. You see it in the ads and the way some of us cover and talk about the sport.

I’m guilty of this at times. Sometimes, only wrestling nerds like myself will fully understand some of the takeaways I have from an event. I’ve worked with editors about that issue.

One thing wrestling can and should do is reach those outside of the immediate wrestling circle. I didn’t see a picture of that North Carolina and Nebraska dual, but I’ll bet if you walk along the streets in either Chapel Hill or Lincoln and ask random people about the school, basketball and football will be the first things they speak of.

That's disappointing, because Nebraska is currently ranked No. 15 in the country by Trackwrestling, and North Carolina is 23rd and making waves on the recruiting trail. That dual was great, too — Nebraska stormed back from a 13-3 deficit to win 22-15.

I’m sure wrestling fans watched that dual and came away impressed and entertained. But it was an event that people in Lincoln and Chapel Hill should’ve been following.

Complacent isn’t the right word, but we can definitely do better.

It’d probably be easier to figure out who would take third.

(I'm just kidding, Nomad. You’re my favorite)

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.