Ayrton Breckenridge

No. 3 nationally ranked 285-pound Iowa’s Tony Cassioppi wrestles No. 11 nationally ranked 285-pound Wisconsin’s Trent Hillger during a wrestling dual between No. 2 Iowa and No. 16 Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Field House in Madison, Wis. on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. Cassioppi defeated Hillger by decision, 4-1. The Hawkeyes defeated the Badgers 19-18. After the dual, one point was awarded to Iowa for criteria for most match points to break the tie.

Point/Counterpoint | Will Iowa men’s wrestling win the 2023 NCAA title?

Two Daily Iowan staffers debate the legitimacy of the No. 2 Hawkeyes’ championship hopes.

February 7, 2023



It’s widely known that regular season dual meets mean virtually nothing in college wrestling anymore. Iowa grapplers have said from the beginning of the season that they’re preparing for what’s most important — the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in March.

Well, it’s about that time, and Iowa has only put its highest-ranking starting lineup on the mat once this season in a 34-6 victory against No. 10 Nebraska on Jan. 20. Because of the lingering injuries and inconsistency throughout Iowa’s lineup this season, the Hawkeyes will not leave Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 18 hoisting the first-place trophy.

Iowa 174-pounder Nelson Brands missed the first four dual meets due to collarbone surgery and has been in-and-out of the lineup since his return. Brands showed he can compete with the best, as he narrowly fell to Penn State’s top-ranked two-time NCAA champion Carter Starocci, 2-1, on Jan. 27.

Hawkeye Abe Assad hasn’t seen the mat since getting pinned by Wisconsin’s unranked Tyler Dow on Jan. 22. Despite the loss, Assad is Iowa’s best bet for a podium finish at 184 pounds.

Iowa’s 197-pounder Jacob Warner has had some tough losses lately, including a 2-0 loss to Penn State’s reigning national champion Max Dean and a buzzer-beating defeat to Minnesota’s unranked Michael Foy. Warner also missed two Big Ten dual meets.

Warner showed his potential with a runner-up finish at the NCAA’s last season, and he started this season more aggressive than I’ve ever seen him in a Hawkeye singlet. So if Warner regains his confidence, anything can happen.

But the absence of these three would be detrimental to Iowa’s title hopes. It’s also important to note that the replacements for Brands, Assad, and Warner have been true freshmen, which would be less than ideal in such a tough tournament setting.

Iowa’s 125-pounder Spencer Lee, who is on the hunt for his fourth individual NCAA title, is the only champion lock in the starting lineup, and it’s going to take a lot more than that for the Hawkeyes to bring home the title.

The Hawkeyes showed they could compete with the reigning national champion Nittany Lions when they won four bouts and came within two points or fewer in four of the matches they lost in their dual meet on Jan. 27. But Penn State is the obvious favorite going into March with four returning individual national champions.

Iowa’s margin for error en route to a 2023 NCAA title is incredibly small. Of course, it’s not impossible, but the Hawkeyes will need everyone to chip in bonus points and have several reach All-American status. It would also help if at least one other wrestler besides Lee found their way to the top of the podium.


Do I believe in miracles? For the purposes of this article, yes.

As my colleague Kenna said, the Iowa men’s wrestling team’s path to a 2023 NCAA team title this March in Tulsa is a narrow one — think a mountain biking trail where even the slightest mistake could be catastrophic.

But the Hawkeyes’ chances still exist, no matter how slim they may be.

First, as every Iowa wrestling fan knows, Spencer Lee has to earn his fourth 125-pound title for the Hawkeyes to have any shot at team glory, and he is a heavy — pun intended — favorite to do so.

Then, Northern Iowa transfer Brody Teske will have to attain All-American status at 133 pounds. He qualified for the NCAA championships twice at 125 pounds for UNI and is currently ranked 17th in the nation at 133. He has only wrestled in five matches this season at Iowa.

At 141 pounds, Stanford transfer Real Woods will likely have to win an individual title. He is currently No. 2 in the nation, at 11-0 on the year.

Max Murin will have to earn All-American status at 149 pounds, as he did in 2019-20. He is currently sixth in the country.

At 157 pounds, 15th-ranked Cobe Siebrecht will likely have to win two matches at the NCAA tournament. Siebrecht is 8-3 in his first year in the regular starting lineup.

Patrick Kennedy will need All-American honors at 165 pounds, too. The seventh-ranked sophomore is 13-2 this season.

At 174 and 184, No. 16 Nelson Brands and No. 12 Abe Assad will each have to reach the quarterfinals. Brands is 14-4 this season, and Assad is 14-2. Assad, however, has missed Iowa’s last two duals after being pinned by unranked Tyler Dow against Wisconsin on Jan. 22.

At the last two weights, to have any shot to dethrone defending national champions Penn State, Iowa will likely have to win two individual titles.

197-pounder Jacob Warner placed second at the 2022 NCAA championships, losing to the Nittany Lions’ Max Dean in the title bout. He will probably have to beat him on his way to a championship this year.

Warner is ranked seventh, and Dean is fourth this season, and Dean defeated Warner, 2-0, on Jan. 27.

At heavyweight, No. 3 Tony Cassioppi will have to beat out Michigan’s No. 2 Mason Parris and Penn State’s top-ranked Greg Kerkvliet for the individual championship.

Cassioppi lost to Kerkvliet, 4-1, on Jan. 27, and will face Parris when the Hawkeyes welcome the Wolverines to Iowa City on Feb. 10.

Cassioppi is 3-1 all-time against Kerkvliet and 0-3 against Parris.

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