Commentary: Bonus points determine if Iowa wrestling is a contender

BY J.T. BUGOS | JANUARY 20, 2011 7:10 AM

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Bonus points are vital to winning wrestling meets.

That may seem like an elementary and obvious statement, but with a team such as Iowa — a perennial national-championship contender — bonus points sometime seem to have less value. Pins are celebrated, but a major decision doesn’t always receive enough attention. Often the Hawkeyes are expected to win more weight classes than they lose, so a victory is a foregone conclusion before bonus points even come to mind.

But when Iowa runs into similarly formidable opponents — Iowa State, Oklahoma State, or Minnesota — bonus points determine the outcome.

Head coach Tom Brands has always emphasized the need for bonus points — he did all of last season — but when you have All-Americans at almost every weight, such as Brent Metcalf, Jay Borschel, and Ryan Morningstar, bonus points aren’t always needed because a high percentage of matches will be won.

But for this Hawkeye squad, bonus points will be the difference in winning and losing — or in the case of Oklahoma State, tying.

For a good example, look at last year’s Iowa State match compared with this year’s dual against the Cowboys.

Against Iowa State, the two squads split five-and-five for weight classes won. The difference? Metcalf’s pin of Mitch Mueller. The Cyclones also received one bonus point victory from Jake Varner, who majored-decisioned Chad Beatty, but Metcalf’s fall put then-No. 1 Iowa over the top against second-ranked Iowa State.

On Jan. 16 against Oklahoma State, the weight classes won broke down the same way — five to each team. But in this case, not one match was decided by eight points or more, and the match ended in a tie.

In many matches, one team had a distinct advantage — Matt McDonough versus Jon Morrison, Jordan Oliver versus Tyler Clark, and Jamal Parks versus Matt Ballweg. None of the three wrestlers could pull off bonus point victories though to give their team a boost. Oliver came close — he won by seven — but Clark was scrappy and fought back from an early deficit to make sure the Cowboy 133-pounder didn’t secure any bonus points.

Was Clark aware that he needed to mount a comeback, not only to win but to avoid a major decision? I’m sure he was. Similarly, McDonough was certainly aware he might be Iowa’s best chance for a bonus point victory — and in turn, a team victory.

Still remaining on the Hawkeyes’ schedule are Penn State, Minnesota, and Northwestern. Both the Nittany Lions and the Golden Gophers rank ahead of Iowa (No. 1 and No. 5 respectively), and the Wildcats are right behind the 10th-ranked Hawkeyes at No. 12.

In order to pull out victories against these highly ranked opponents, Iowa grapplers will need to do more than just win — they’ll need to win by major decision or better.

Brands harped on bonus points frequently last season when he was coaching a proven and experienced team. It’s even more important now for a Hawkeye squad that doesn’t lack firepower but certainly lacks the experience of a year ago.

Bonus points will be vital for Iowa to keep their unbeaten streak alive.

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