The No. 23 Wisconsin (7-4, 2-2 Big Ten) wrestling team faces a challenging weekend as it travels to Minneapolis to face No. 1 Minnesota Friday at the Sports Pavilion (16-0, 4-0) before returning home on Sunday to face Ohio State (5-8, 0-3) in its final home match of the season at the Field House.
The Badgers look to spoil the Gophers' celebration of head coach J. Robinson's 20 years of service by taking them down for the third consecutive year. Two years ago, the Badgers knocked off the Gophers at Williams Arena by a 17-16 margin. Then, last year at the Field House, the Badgers were able to prevail 18-17.
"[There is a lot of motivation facing Minnesota] especially this time because they are number one," senior Ed Gutnik said. "And it's a border battle, so every time you are wrestling them, it is a brawl. We have beaten them the past two years, so we can make it three in a row on Friday."
Wisconsin head coach Barry Davis thinks the team needs to wrestle smarter and be opportunistic when changes come their way.
"We have to wrestle smarter in certain situations and we have to be more offensive," Davis said. "We have been kind of waiting for the other guy to come back and initiate things. If you are not in good position on your feet, you are have to control the guys at the base, so showing guys base and getting on top again, pin him. If you pin a guy, ahead or behind, it doesn't matter — you win the match."
Davis also likes his matchups against Minnesota.
"We match up pretty good [against Minnesota]," Davis said. "It is going to come down to how we match up and winning the close matches."
The Gopher lineup only features two wrestlers that are not ranked in the top 15 in the country.
"I know [Tom] Clum has a tough match-up, [Tyler] Turner does too, same with [Craig] Henning, so they are all going to be real tight," Davis said. "The last one to score will probably win."
The sixth-ranked Clum faces a tough challenge at 133 pounds in third-ranked Gopher sophomore Mack Reiter, who will enter the match with a 23-2 record on the year.
However, Clum defeated Reiter 6-3 last year in Minnesota.
Ninth-ranked Tyler Turner will likely go up against No. 1-ranked Dustin Schlatter, who did not wrestle last weekend because of sickness, but is expected to compete tonight.
It does not get much easier for sixth-ranked sophomore Craig Henning at 157 pounds, where he faces the other Schlatter brother, C.P., who is ranked fourth in the nation.
At 174 pounds the Badgers are hoping to have the service of senior Kelly Flaherty, who has been out the past couple of weeks, but his status is unknown and listed as probable.
The Gophers also boast No. 1-ranked heavyweight Cole Konrad. The Wisconsin native has not lost a match this season and is 28-0.
After Minnesota, the Badgers host Ohio State at the Field House, but Coach Davis wants to take the weekend one step at a time.
"I want to get through Minnesota first and then we will deal with Ohio State," Davis said. "I mean we will look at both teams, but in the Big Ten you have to be ready match in and match out, win the close matches, hustle on the edge, and if you do all those things, you will have a good chance."
The Buckeyes, while winless in conference play, offer some interesting matchups for the Badgers.
Turner will face a difficult opponent in J Jaggers. The freshman is ranked eighth in the country and is 22-4 on the season.
Also at 174 pounds, the Buckeye's No. 14-ranked Blake Maurer could pose problems for either Flaherty or Mike Felling. The freshman is on quite a tear, winning his last four matches since returning from injury, including going 2-0 last weekend against 10th-ranked Gabriel Dretsch of Minnesota and eighth-ranked Donny Reynolds of Illinois.
The Badgers' senior heavyweight, Lee Kraemer, will have his hands full this weekend, as not only does he face Konrad, but the Buckeye's Kirk Nail is also the 10th-ranked heavyweight in the nation.