#1 - Who's going to step up?
Here's the short version: Two of Marquette's three best attackers - Tyler Melnyk and Bryan Badolato - are seniors, as is the starting goalie, J.J. Sagl. I know, it seems odd in the second year of a program to be talking about the seniors, but remember: a lot of guys on the team came to campus and redshirted for the 2011-12 school year. Melnyk and Badolato are two of Marquette returning four players that reached double digits in points last season, and for the future development of the program, MU will need scoring to come from somewhere else this season.
Sophomores Kyle Whitlow and Conor Gately proved themselves to be talented with the stick last year, but they will need someone, or really, someones, to join them in moving the program forward. The likely candidates are Ben Dvorak and Henry Nelson, but keep an eye on freshmen midfielder Ryan McNamara and junior transfer midfielder Pat Townsend, as they both earned spots in the starting lineup for last weekend's scrimmage against Michigan. Freshmen attacker Andy DiMichiei earned special notice from head coach Joe Amplo from the first scrimmage of the season against High Point, so he's a likely candidate as well.
#2 - How can the team improve even if the record is worse?
Cards on the table here: last year's 5-8 record was crazy pants great. Marquette got their first win in program history by going out and just punching Air Force in the nose. Later in the season, they ran off a three game winning streak, including an overtime win against Bellarmine and All American goalie Dillon Ward.
But the odds of the matter are that Marquette will struggle to reach the five win plateau this season. The Golden Eagles will participate in a full Big East schedule, and there are seven preseason top 20 opponents on MU's 15 game schedule. It's not going to be seashells and balloons this season.
College Crosse (and really, why haven't you bookmarked them yet?) wrote an article focusing on the two second year programs this year. The important point for Marquette was that there are a lot of statistical measurements that are in game connections to basic lacrosse skills and that they were pretty good for a first year program at a lot of them. Most notable was Marquette's national ranking of #19 in shooting rate and #18 in ground ball margin. But Marquette ranked #53 out of 63 teams in faceoff percentage and #58 in unforced turnovers per 100 offensive chances.
The record at the end of the season might not improve on 5-8, but we can keep track of those two stats to see how Marquette is developing their team skills to improve in the long term.
#3 - Is Joe Amplo crazy for thinking this team can qualify for the Big East tournament?
First, the basics: Four of the seven teams in the Big East will qualify for the league tournament, which will be held at Villanova this year. As we discussed when the preseason coaches' poll was announced, Marquette was picked to finish last in the Big East this year.
However, Providence and Rutgers finished tied with each other just three points in front of Marquette in that polling. On top of that, Marquette had nine points in the polling, which clearly shows that there is a section of the Big East's coaches that thinks that Marquette is better than the Friars or the Scarlet Knights, if not both of them.
What if Marquette can snag victories over Providence and Rutgers this season? That might get them as high as fifth in the league standings. Last year, Marquette lost to St. John's 15-10 and to Georgetown 17-12. Both of those games were closer than the final scores appear, as both the Red Storm and the Hoyas pulled away late. What if the Golden Eagles can steal wins from one or both of those teams this season? Maybe asking for a win over national power Denver is a bit much, as Marquette lost to the Pioneers 17-4 last season. But if Marquette can improve on their glaring weaknesses from last year's campaign, sneaking a win against the upper tier of the league isn't out of the question.
I don't think Amplo is crazy. I think he's very optimistic. But he's the one running the show, and if he thinks he can motivate and game plan to get his men the wins in Big East games they'll need to finish fourth, I believe this team is capable of pulling it off.