TheMat com Dual of the Week Oklahoma State at Minnesota

By John Fuller | Jan. 01, 2003, 12 a.m. (ET)
Oklahoma State vs. Minnesota
Jan. 3, 2003 Target Center Minneapolis, Minn.
Ever since Minnesota started winning national titles, it seems like everyone is their rival. First Iowa, then Oklahoma State. This year the Gophers have battled through the same thing that many championship teams in all sports battle: injuries. All-American Damion Hahn has not yet wrestled a match, and two-time All-American Garrett Lowney had shoulder surgery following the Iowa dual. Both have been cleared to wrestle against top-ranked Oklahoma State this weekend. In other words Gopher haters, this team is here to stay and they want to three-peat. Even the L.A. Lakers have their ups and downs, but when playoff time rolls around this year, who do you think will be favored to win the title? Coming into this season the Cowboys were the last team to beat the Gophers. That changed when Minnesota lost to Iowa, but this dual meet has major implications on the national picture. Who wins the dual meet is not as important as who wins the individual battles. Now that the new year is upon us, it is time to start thinking about NCAA seeding. J Robinson is once again using his marketing genius to make this dual as big as possible. It will be held at the Target Center, sight of the first Border Brawl. Oklahoma State's wrestlers have never been a part of an event where this much production is involved. This could weigh heavily on the Cowboys. If they are awestruck in the least way, then it will be time for a Gopher feeding. Rankings are from Division I Coaches Individual Poll 125 - #6 Skyler Holman (Oklahoma State) vs. Bobbe Lowe (Minnesota) Holman is clearly one of the top wrestlers in the nation, but he has had trouble distinguishing himself against many of the other top wrestlers. In other words, he hasn't figured out how to beat them yet. He is tough on his feet and has a solid counter defense. Lowe has not yet lived up to his off-season hype. After a very slow start, he has gotten back on track. He can score some points, but he defense is blotchy. He must tighten up his stance. It almost seems as if he is moving himself into bad position trying to get in on his opponents. He needs to force his opponents to work to score their points, something he has gotten better at. If not, Holman will score takedowns at will, which could lead to a major decision. Prediction: Holman 133 - #1 Johnny Thompson (Oklahoma State) vs. #3 Ryan Lewis (Minnesota) These two met twice last year. Once was in this dual meet when Lewis pinned Thompson. The other time was when it counted - at the NCAA Tournament. Thompson won that match after catching Lewis in his famed "snake" throw. This match will have a lot of fireworks, but one thing that remained constant in both matches last year was that Thompson appeared tired in the third period both times. Thompson has never been known for his stamina. He is known for pinning. He loves to lock up and throw his opponents. Lewis is one of the few wrestlers who can match Thompson's strength, and getting thrown last year has helped him this year. If Lewis does the same things offensively in this match that he did in last year's NCAA Tournament, he should come out on top. He needs to stay aggressive and continuously shoot low on Thompson. This could wear Thompson out in the third period. This match is so important because the winner's team will have the upper hand to win this dual. Prediction: Lewis 141 - #2 Zack Esposito (Oklahoma State) vs. Tommy Owen (Minnesota) Esposito has become the savior this season for the Cowboys. While Okie fans are having visions of John Smith, other fans are already putting Cael Sanderson-like pressure on this true freshman. The amazing thing is that he has not been phased by any of this. He is lightning-quick and fast, making him hard to score on and hard to stop. He is also strong, but his weak point is definitely in riding. He can turn anyone in the nation, but sometimes he rides too high and gets himself into vulnerable positions. Owen is going to have to hope for a situation like that. While Owen has been solid this year, he has not been the wrestler coaches have expected him to be. He does not score a lot of points and has a tendency to give up nearfall points in his losses. This does not bode well for Gopher fans. Owen may be best fit to try to win this match on his feet, and when it is his turn to choose the position, he should choose neutral. Immediately, half of Esposito's offense could be taken away. But, with so much ability, talent and skill, Esposito is going to be looking for blood in his first major dual meet. Prediction: Esposito 149 - #5 Jerrod Sanders (Oklahoma State) vs. #2 Jared Lawrence (Minnesota) Sanders has been a different wrestler this season. He has improved both his offense and his defense. He is not the best technician in the country, nor is he the best athlete, but he is consistent in all areas, which makes him a threat to win any match. Sanders is best on his feet. He picks good points in the match to gamble. Simply put, he wrestles a smart match. Lawrence is the returning NCAA champion. He has suffered one loss this season, but pound-for-pound he may still be the best wrestler in the nation. He has a longer body than the other 149-pounders in the nation, which is why it is so tough for opponents to score on him. He has a nice single-leg and he knows how to finish it as well. Oh yeah, and his lungs are huge. For Sanders to win this match, the pace must be slowed down. If Lawrence gets in a frenzy in front of his home crowd and begins shooting and re-shooting, Sanders is in trouble. Look for Lawrence to do just that, and expect Sanders to tie up a lot or at least keep a hand on Lawrence's head at all times to try to force Lawrence into a bad shot. Prediction: Lawrence 157 - #4 Shane Roller (Oklahoma State) vs. #1 Luke Becker (Minnesota) Roller wrestles one of two matches: he wins ugly or he loses ugly. Roller likes to roll around and use a lot of funk in his matches. It is like the "live by the blitz, die by the blitz" theory. He is usually successful against opponents who will roll around with him. Becker is not that type of an opponent. Becker is strong and in incredible shape. Offensively, he can be shut down by an opponent who wants to use underhooks and tie-up a lot, but thankfully for him, Roller is not that type of wrestler. Becker will want to stay the course in this match. He cannot afford to get in funky positions with Roller, or he will be in big trouble. Becker needs to avoid tie-ups, but also try to get in on double-legs. This will neutralize Roller's defense. If Roller is to win, he has to try to frustrate Becker in the first period with a head-pounding style, then open up in the second and third periods, hoping Becker tries to go along with it. These two met last year with Becker winning 13-6 with some wild scrambles. This match could easily be the other way around this year. Prediction: Becker 165 - #2 Tyrone Lewis (Oklahoma State) vs. #3 Jacob Volkmann (Minnesota) Lewis has continued to be the dominant force that everyone thought he would be coming into this season. His great mix of speed, quickness, size and strength mold perfectly with his born athletic ability and talent. Lewis has a great ankle-pick, and when all else fails, he will go to it. The same goes for when the pressure is on late in a close match. He is tough from t