It seems like every match that Rutgers wrestles in this season is an absolute dogfight. The same will be true when the Scarlet Knights (8-5, 3-4) welcome Illinois (7-3, 4-2) to the RAC on Friday night.
Rutgers checks in at No. 25 in this week’s NWCA Coaches Poll, with Illinois unranked but receiving votes. However, according to Intermat’s dual meet rankings, Illinois is ranked No. 15 with Rutgers unranked.
What does this mean? Well for starters, Illinois has been better than Rutgers within the Big Ten, with wins over Michigan (who Rutgers lost to last weekend at MSG) and a win last week over then No. 21 Northwestern (NWCA ranking). They also come into this match with six ranked wrestlers compared to the Scarlet Knights’ four ranked grapplers.
This match on paper screams a 5-5 split in individual matchups, which means whoever secures more bonus points is going to come out on top victorious. Like any match, there are also a few critical toss-up matches that could very well make it a 6-4 bout split in favor of either team.
Let’s take a deep dive at each individual match starting at 125 pounds.
125 - No. 25 Nicolas Aguilar (18-7) vs. No. 21 Justin Cardani (12-6)
Aguilar comes into this match struggling to score, having dropped his last three bouts, including losses to Michigan’s Jack Medley and Purdue’s Liam Cronin. Cardani has recent wins over Medley and Cronin, giving him a slight edge on paper. This will be a critical toss-up match featuring two redshirt freshman who are very close in skill.
133 - No. 10 Sammy Alvarez (20-6) vs. No. 7 Travis Piotrowski (19-2)
The match of the night. The true freshman Alvarez will face another tough task in the loaded 133 pound weight class when he takes on the senior Piotrowski. Piotrowski is up from 125 pounds last season where he took 5th at that weight in the NCAA tournament. This match could go either way, making it another crucial toss up match that the Scarlet Knights need to snag.
If Aguilar and Alvarez can set the tone early by picking up wins over higher ranked opponents in toss-up matches, Rutgers will be in fantastic shape to win the dual moving forward. The same could be said for Illinois in this spot, which is why I believe the teams will split the matches here and we’ll have a 3-3 score heading into 141 pounds.
141 - JoJo Aragona (10-7) vs. No. 12 Dylan Duncan (15-6)
Aragona is still searching for that signature win of the season over a ranked opponent. Friday night would be a fantastic break-out match for Aragona, after resting last weekend due to illness. That being said, Duncan is the clear favorite on paper.
149 - Gerard Angelo (12-10) vs. Mousa Jodeh (2-12)
A match where Angelo of Rutgers is the clear favorite on paper. Angleo often goes for big moves, so anything more than a decision here would be big bonus points for the Scarlet Knights. At the very least Angelo should earn a decision.
157 - Mike VanBrill (16-12) vs. Eric Barone (8-11)
Another match where Rutgers will be the slight favorite on paper. VanBrill and Barone are both 5-4 vs. common opponents, so this should be a tight match. VanBrill has been wildly inconsistent at times throughout his career, but this is a match he needs to step up and win for his team.
165 - Brett Donner (15-11) OR Jackson Turley (11-5) vs. No. 14 Danny Braunagel (17-6)
The Illini wrestler is the clear favorite here. Braunagel is a tough redshirt freshman who should take care of business against either Donner or Turley. It will be important for Rutgers not to give up any bonus points here by way of a major decision.
174 - Willie Scott (7-5) OR Anthony Olivieri (5-1) vs. No. 23 Joey Gunther (13-5)
With Joe Grello still out due to injury, Scott or Olivieri will be asked to take on one of Illinois’ ranked guys. Same with at 165, no bonus points can be afforded to be given up here.
184 - No. 12 Billy Janzer (17-5) vs. No. 15 Zac Braunagel (15-7)
Zac is the twin brother of Danny at 165 pounds, and also a redshirt freshman. This will be a very close, interesting match-up, and one that Rutgers will likely need to win in order to win the dual. Both wrestlers are 1-1 this season against Michigan State’s Cameron Caffey, and both wrestlers have wins over Michigan’s Jelani Embree. The one difference is Janzer has a 5-4 win over Ohio State’s Rocky Jordan while Braunagel lost to Jordan by a score of 6-4. It is also worth noting that Janzer has a close 5-4 win over Indiana’s Jakob Hinz, while Braunagel earned a 18-3 tech fall over Hinz.
197 - No. 19 Jordan Pagano (19-6) vs. Matt Wroblewski (8-11)
A great spot for Rutgers to try and pick up some bonus points. Pagano is the clear favorite on paper.
HWT - Alex Esposito (15-11) vs Luke Luffman (13-6)
In what could be the final bout of the night, Esposito should have a close match with Luffman, the true freshman. Luffman is 3-3 in Big Ten duals, Esposito is 1-2. Slight edge to Luffman on paper in what should be a tight match that could decide the entire dual.
Without bonus points, this very easily could be a 15-15 tie match that would have to go down to criteria to decide a winner. I believe the team will split matches 5-5, but I believe Illinois will pick up bonus points in at least one match, and escape Piscataway with a 16-15 win.
After Friday night’s match, Rutgers will wrestle in-state rival Rider on Sunday night in their gym.