Well, here we are. Marquette has played 11 games this season, carrying a record of 9-2. They've been ranked in the top 20 in the country for the majority of the season, and maybe, even after last Tuesday's loss to Bellarmine, Marquette has a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
But all of that has been prelude.
Starting today, Marquette has four games left on the schedule. Three of them, including today's contest against #1 Notre Dame, will be against teams currently ranked in the top 8 of the Inside Lacrosse poll. This isn't surprising, by the way. This schedule, with Notre Dame, Duke, and Denver in the final four games, was always going to be this difficult. Marquette will be tested, that much is for sure, and since the Duke and Denver games will be at Hart Park in Wauwatosa, this might be the most difficult test of the three.
Marquette can not be shy if they want to beat Notre Dame. The Irish have trailed for just 11 minutes and six seconds through their first eight games. If that wasn't bad enough, ND has outscored opponents 32-9 in the first quarters of games this season. Second quarters have been worse for their foes, with the Irish taking a 60-24 advantage in the second stanza. The Golden Eagles have struggled with falling into deficits early this season, having to rally from a four goal hole on multiple occasions to win. If they do that against Notre Dame, attempts at recovering from that hole may be futile.
Game #12: at #1 Notre Dame (7-1, 3-0 ACC)
7-1 is an impressive record, and the Irish have some impressive wins along the way. They've defeated four ranked teams this season, one in each of their last four games, and all four of those opponents were all ranked in the top 10 in the country. Unsurprisingly, Notre Dame themselves haven't been ranked lower than #4 in the country all season long, starting the year at #2 in the country and only dipping to #4 because they lost to Denver back on March 7th. Even that game needed more than regulation to finish, as Denver got a goal from Zach Miller on the first possession of overtime to send the Irish to a loss.
The ACC is a ridiculously deep conference, with all five teams currently ranked in the top 7 in the most recent Inside Lacrosse poll. I wanted to make that point perfectly clear so you get the full value of understanding what it means when I say that Notre Dame was the favorite to win the ACC in the voting of the league's coaches. It was a two-horse race between Notre Dame and Syracuse, as the Irish ended up with 3 first place votes and 23 points, while the Orange snagged 2 first place votes and 22 points. North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia all have legitimate chances to win the national championship this season, but none of them could manage more than the 13 points that the Tar Heels racked up. Go figure, huh?
Speaking of the depth of talent in the ACC, Matt Kavanagh was the only Notre Dame player to make the 13 player preseason all-ACC team, even though the Irish were the pick to win. He's very clearly deserving, as he's racked up 17 goals and a team high 19 assists this season after scoring 42 goals and 33 assists a year ago. I specifically bring up Kavanagh's stats from last year because he didn't score a goal against Marquette at Uihlein Park last April. Now, he did have 3 assists as Notre Dame scored three goals in the final five minutes to win 12-7, but the point remains that B.J. Grill and the MU defense already have Kavanagh figured out.
As I mentioned, Kavanagh's leading ND in assists this season, and senior Connor Doyle is the only other Irish player to crack double digits in helpers thus far this season with 11. Freshman attackman Mikey Wynne is exploding in a big way for Notre Dame, accruing 26 points on 24 goals and two assists to start his collegiate career. Sophomore Shane Doss takes care of the Irish net, and he's coming off of a career best performance. He stopped a career high 17 shots against Duke back on Saturday as the Irish came away from Durham with a 15-10 win. Doss ranks sixth in the country in save percentage at .596 and 11th in the nation in goals-against average at a miniscule 8.01 goals per 60 minutes.