Four thoughts on Iowa wrestling before the second-ranked Hawkeyes’ dual against No. 8 Michigan

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — Just two duals remain on the Iowa wrestling team’s 2022-23 schedule — this Friday night against No. 8 Michigan, then next Sunday, Feb. 19, against No. 16 Oklahoma State — which means Tom Brands is having to crunch some numbers.

Iowa has faced “bizarre circumstances” (Brands’ words) with injuries this year. Brands never gives specifics, but many guys — Brody Teske, Real Woods, Nelson Brands, Abe Assad, Jacob Warner and others — have missed time with various health issues.

That means the program’s depth has been on display. The results still look pretty good. Iowa is ranked No. 2 by InterMat and is 13-1 overall entering Friday’s dual against Michigan (9-3). But Brands has had to get creative with starting lineups.

“When we talk the day after competition to get ready for the next one,” Brands said this week, “you have to be ready to suit up and go, no matter who you are.”

Iowa freshman Drake Rhodes only has one more attached appearance remaining before he burns his redshirt.

Most notably, and perhaps most interestingly, Brands has enlisted his true freshmen this season — a new opportunity afforded by the NCAA, which allows true freshmen, and only true freshmen, to wrestle five attached dates while maintaining their redshirt. Any more than five dates burns the redshirt.

But this is where Brands must now problem-solve. He listed Drake Rhodes, a true freshman from Montana, as Iowa’s probable starter at 184 pounds for Friday’s dual. If he goes, it would be his fifth attached date, meaning the next one burns his redshirt.

“We’ve got to be really, really smart and figure something out,” Brands said.

Brands has leaned on many of his first-year guys throughout the season. In dual meets alone, he’s started Rhodes, Joel Jesuroga (vs. Chattanooga), Carson Martinson (Army West Point), Aiden Riggins (Purdue and Minnesota), Kolby Franklin (Wisconsin), and Bradley Hill (Minnesota). They’ve gone a combined 2-8.

Rhodes has been something of a utility man for the Hawkeyes this season. He’s 5-5 overall across three different weight classes — at 174 in Iowa’s 42-3 win over California Baptist in November; at 165 at the Soldier Salute in December; and now at 184 against Penn State, Wisconsin, and, presumably, against Michigan.

That Brands wants to keep Rhodes in redshirt so he can have him for another four seasons says a lot about how much he values Rhodes. He appears to be a key part of the Hawkeyes’ future.

On Friday, Rhodes is expected to wrestle Michigan’s Matt Finesilver, who’s 17-5 this season and ranked No. 8 nationally by InterMat. Another tough assignment in what’s become a season full of them. 

“It’s been all hands on deck,” Brands said. “Kirk Ferentz talks about next-guy-in, and that’s a really good, simple philosophy that everyone can understand, and there’s a lot of accountability in that philosophy.”

Iowa's Drake Rhodes has his hand raised after scoring a major decision during a NCAA wrestling dual against California Baptist earlier this season.

Iowa wrestler Abe Assad is clearly injured.

Brands saying he needs to “figure something out” with regards to 184 pounds this month says, indirectly, that Abe Assad, Iowa’s usual starter at 184, is clearly hurt.

Assad hasn’t wrestled since losing to Wisconsin’s Tyler Dow three weeks ago. He’s still 14-2 and ranked No. 12 nationally by InterMat. Brands never talks specifics on injuries, but basically said Assad is hurt without outright saying it this week.

“With the health and where we’re at there, we’ve got to be really, really smart,” Brands said.

Assad made the trip and sat on the bench with the team during the Hawkeyes’ 18-13 win over Minnesota last weekend. It stands to reason that Brands is holding him out until the Big Ten Championships, set for March 4-5 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

But having Assad out obviously complicates things for Brands.

Iowa's Abe Assad reacts after scoring a decision at 184 pounds against Nebraska earlier this season.

What are Iowa’s options at 184 after Assad and Rhodes?

Assuming Brands holds Assad out until the Big Ten Championships and Rhodes goes Friday, what does that mean for next week’s dual against Oklahoma State?

There are a few options.

Brands could dive deeper into his stable of true freshmen and start Mickey Griffith, a Des Moines Lincoln grad who has wrestled twice this season — at the Luther Open in November and the Soldier Salute in December. He’s 6-4 overall at 184.

There’s Aidan McCain, who’s 2-6 in two competitions this year. Brands could also bump up Jude Link, who’s wrestled once at 174 this year, going 0-2 at the UNI Open — but those losses came to Manny Rojas, one of Iowa State’s ballyhooed prospects, and Carson Babcock, who’s started some for Northern Iowa this year.

Perhaps Assad comes back to wrestle a match before the Big Ten tournament. That’s probably the best-case scenario here. Against the Cowboys, he’ll likely face Travis Wittlake, who’s 13-3 and ranked No. 10. That’d be an important match for NCAA seeding, too.

Iowa assistant coach Ryan Morningstar, left, associate head coach Terry Brands, center, and head coach Tom Brands watch a match duringa dual against Illinois earlier this season.

Against Michigan, big tests for Teske, Siebrecht, Kennedy, Cassioppi.

Here’s a quick glance at the probable starters for Friday’s dual between Iowa and Michigan, based on the probable lineups released this week:

  • 125: No. 1 Spencer Lee (IA) vs. No. 18 Jack Medley (MI)
  • 133: No. 16 Brody Teske (IA) vs. No. 12 Dylan Ragusin (MI)
  • 141: No. 2 Real Woods (IA) vs. No. 27 Cole Mattin/Pat Nolan (MI)
  • 149: No. 6 Max Murin (IA) vs. No. 22 Chance Lamer/Fidel Mayora (MI)
  • 157: No. 14 Cobe Siebrecht (IA) vs. No. 9 Will Lewan (MI)
  • 165: No. 7 Patrick Kennedy (IA) vs. No. 4 Cam Amine/Alex Wesselman (MI)
  • 174: No. 16 Nelson Brands (IA) vs. No. 28 Max Maylor (MI)
  • 184: Drake Rhodes (IA) vs. No. 8 Matt Finesilver (MI)
  • 197: No. 12 Jacob Warner (IA) vs. Brendin Yatooma (MI)
  • 285: No. 3 Tony Cassioppi (IA) vs. No. 1 Mason Parris (MI)

The biggest matchups are at 133, 157, 165, and 285 — but that’s assuming all the best guys wrestle.

Michigan hasn’t wrestled its full A-Team in its last few duals. Amine, a two-time All-American, has missed the last couple of duals. Both Lamer and Mattin have missed time on and off this semester, too.

But go ahead and circle 157 and 285 as perhaps the biggest ones for Iowa. Siebrecht, fresh off beating one past All-American in Minnesota’s Brayton Lee, gets another in Michigan’s Will Lewan. This will be another clash of styles, as Siebrecht is confident offensively and Lewan holds position well and wrestles a lot of low-scoring matches.

At 285, Cassioppi could really shake the Big Ten and, potentially, the NCAA seeds up by knocking off Parris, the No. 1-ranked heavyweight in the country. Parris is 3-0 all-time against Cassioppi during their college careers, and none of them have really been that close. We’ll see if Cassioppi has closed the gap at all on Friday night.

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