2014 Big East Men's Lacrosse Tournament Semifinals Preview

Tyler Melnyk & Marquette are making their first post season appearance in their first year in the Big East. - Maggie Bean/MarquetteImages.com

OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY POST SEASON LACROSSE

It's an interesting collection of teams in the 2014 Big East semifinals.  The top two seeds are newcomers to the league. The #3 seed is the only team returning to the four team field from last year.  The #1 seed and #4 seed finished over .500 overall, while the #2 and #3 seeds have a losing record on the season. The #1 seed is the only team that can reasonably expect to earn an at large bid to the NCAA tournament, but they're also the prohibitive favorite in the tournament.

Thursday's semifinal games will be streamed FOR FREE on BigEast.com/allaccess, while Saturday's championship game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1.  The Big East has hired Ross Mobile Productions to produce the two semifinal games, and it sounds like they're ready to provide a restaurant quality experience with Pat O'Keefe on play by play and former Patriot League Coach of the Year Terry Mangan on commentary.

Semifinal #1: #1 Denver vs #4 Rutgers

When: Thursday, May 1, at 3:30pm Central
Audio/Visual: Live and free video streaming right here.
Previous Meeting: Denver won at home, 17-11

The Comparison (via Tempo Free Lax)
Team Rating Adj. Off. Eff Adj. Def. Eff. SOS Pace Poss% FO% Off. Clear % Ride %
Denver 79.96 45.51 29.41 54.71 67.71 50.25 44.77 88.56 8.65
Rutgers 57.13 33.76 34.54 46.61 68.07 52.89 58.96 87.79 14.44

Denver's the obvious heavy favorite to win the tournament, but if you had to pick a team that would give them the biggest fit, you could make an argument that it's Rutgers.  The 11 goals that the Scarlet Knights scored on their trip to Denver are the most that the Pioneers gave up in league play this season.  This game features the two best team offenses in the league, with these two going 1-2 in goals per game, points per game, and shooting percentage.  We're also going to get treated to five of the best individual goal scorers here, and five of the league's best assist men, too.

Unfortunately for Rutgers, four of those goal scorers wear crimson and gold.

Rutgers' Scott Klimchak is the best scorer in the game, averaging 2.47 goals per game.  Over on the other side, Jack Bobzien, Wes Berg, Erik Adamson, and Zach Miller all rank in the top 10 in the conference and combine to average 9.3 goals every time out.  That's a murderer's row of attack for sure.

Both of Denver's goalies were named to the Big East's all-conference First Team, and Jamie LaPlante, who starts games for the Pios and then leaves at halftime, was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Year.  With that said, LaPlante did leave Saturday's game against Marquette slightly before halftime with an injury, so it could be interesting to see who Denver head coach Bill Tierney trots out to the cage to start the game.

Speaking of Saturday's Marquette-Denver game, Rutgers will be looking to avoid falling into the same hole that Marquette did.  In the regular season meeting between Denver and Rutgers, the score was knotted at four after the first 15 minutes.  From there, the Pioneers scored six straight and 10 of the next 11 goals to take a 14-5 lead with just under a minute left in the third quarter.

Semifinal #2: #2 Marquette vs #3 Villanova

When: Thursday, May 1, at 6pm Central
Audio/Visual: Live and free video streaming right here.
Previous Meeting: Villanova won on the road, 10-8

The Comparison (via Tempo Free Lax)
Team Rating Adj. Off. Eff. Adj. Def. Eff. SOS Pace Poss % FO% Off. Clear % Ride %
Marquette 40.77 35.64 36.98 56.5 57.6 47.92 45.26 88.05 9.5
Villanova 51.19 30.97 26.73 60.65 67.69 46.7 49.01 80.75 8.92

While Marquette lost to Villanova in their home opener this season, I can make an argument that that the loss to the Wildcats is what spurred Marquette to their 4-2 record.

Through the middle of that regular season meeting, Marquette coughed up a 6-1 run to the Wildcats, putting the Golden Eagles into a 9-4 hole with 25 minutes remaining. From there, MU held Nova without a goal for almost the entirety of the remainder of the game, with only a last second toss by Tim Mulrenan into a net that Jimmy Danaher had vacated during a ride making the margin two goals at the horn.  It was a concerted effort by Marquette to lock down on defense and attack with ferocity that pulled the Golden Eagles within one goal with just over 2 minutes to play.  It was that kind of effort and devotion that had Marquette winning their next four conference games, including two in overtime, one in a 12 goal fourth quarter, and one without Tyler Melnyk, the Big East's second leading scorer.

While Marquette improved on defense as the season progressed to the point where sophomore defender BJ Grill was a unanimous selection to the all-Big East First Team, Villanova's no slouch, either.  As you can see from the two charts here, Villanova has the lowest and therefore the best adjusted defensive efficiency.  They're the 11th best defensive team in the country according to Tempo Free Lax, and that starts with the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year, John LoCascio.  The long stick midfielder ranks sixth in the country in caused turnovers at 2.33 per game and he snares just under five ground balls per game, too.

The work of LoCascio, Chris Conroy (1st Team All-Big East), and Chris Piccirilli (2nd Team All-Big East) on defense makes it all the easier for goalie Dan Willis.  The freshman from Moorestown, NJ, is the only full time goalkeeper in the Big East with a goals-against average under 10 per 60 minutes.  While Willis is only knocking down 48.9% of the shots he sees, Villanova's defensive corps does what they can to limit his exposure: Willis averages just 9.14 saves per game.

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