Coming off a weekend sweep at Northwestern and Wisconsin, No. 16 Minnesota (9-7, 5-3) will wrap up its Big Ten regular season at Huff Hall on Friday night when the Gophers take on No. 12 Illinois (12-5, 3-5).
Minnesota had won two of its previous three duals heading into last weekend but had not yet won away from the Twin Cities this season. Picking up its first two road wins of the season not only extended Minnesota’s recent hot streak — the team has now won four of its last five duals — it also propelled Minnesota into the top-five of the Big Ten standings. Sitting on five conference wins, the Gophers have an opportunity to reach six Big Ten wins for the seventh consecutive season, which would be tied for the longest streak in program history. A win would also give Minnesota its first three-match winning streak since early November.
Illinois is coming off a weekend split in which they lost 30-10 in Lincoln on Friday but returned home to defeat Northwestern, 25-24. Just as Minnesota broke through with its first road wins of the conference season over the weekend, the Illini’s home victory on Sunday over Northwestern was its first in Big Ten competition this season. Also like Minnesota, Friday’s dual will wrap up the Big Ten season for the Illini. A win would give Illinois back-to-back Ws for the first time since late November and would end a stretch of alternating wins and losses that dates back to a loss against Iowa on Jan. 8. Including that dual, Illinois is 4-4 in its past eight matches.
These two teams last met 13 months ago and put on a thrilling show at the Sports Pavilion. Minnesota took six of the night’s 10 matches, but the Illini scored bonus points in all four of their wins (two major decisions, a tech fall and a pin) to keep the dual close. The difference-making match came at 133 pounds, where Chris Dardanes roared back from a 7-1 deficit with four third-period takedowns against Zane Richards, tying the match at 10 before scoring a takedown early in overtime to win. That swing proved critical as the Gophers took the dual, 20-19.
Friday’s contest will be the 57th all-time between the Gophers and the Illini. Minnesota holds a 32-22-2 edge in the series and, including last year’s one-point victory, has won five straight. Illinois last defeated Minnesota late in the 2007-08 season.
The Illinois lineup should look very familiar to Gopher fans, as seven of the Illini’s starting 10 from last year’s dual will be on the mat this Friday, though two will be at new weights (Jeff Koepke down to 184 from 197, and Steven Rodrigues up to 165 from 141). The only new names are freshmen Francis Edelen, Mousa Jodeh and Andre Lee, at 125, 141 and 197 pounds, respectively.
Three Gophers are back, but only No. 9 Michael Kroells competes in the same weight class as last season (Brett Pfarr and Nick Wanzek are the other returning Gophers).
Kroells wrestled Illinois’ heavyweight, Brooks Black, three times last season. In their first collegiate meeting, Kroells picked up a 9-1 major decision in last year’s dual. He went on to defeat Black at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, 2-0 and 5-1, respectively.
The only other potential rematch on the card would be Brad Dolezal and No. 2 Isaiah Martinez at 157 pounds, a match that ended with Martinez picking up the tech fall at last year’s dual. That rematch seems unlikely though, as Dolezal has bumped up to 165 pounds for all three of his dual matches this year.
Despite the presence of four ranked wrestlers in each lineup, none of Friday’s matches will pit ranked wrestlers against each other. Viewed in another way, this means eight of Friday’s matches will feature a ranked competitor.
Fans can stream all the action from Friday night’s dual live on BTN Plus, starting at 7 p.m. Central. Mat-side updates also will be available throughout the dual by following Gopher Wrestling on Twitter.