This is going to double as the preview for Marquette's Big East opener on Saturday, so let's get the details about the game out of the way before we get into the heavy lifting.
Big East Game #1: at Villanova (2-9, 0-1 Big East)
When: Saturday, April 2, 2016, at 11am Central
Where: Villanova Stadium in Villanova, PA
Audio/Visual: There is a video stream, but you're probably going to have to pay for it. Live stats will be here.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWLax
We're going to put together capsules for each team. You'll see the team name followed by their record and current RPI rank according to LaxPower.com. Under that is the statistical leaders for each team along with the stats for their goalie. Below that is the best win and worst loss for each squad, again determined by the RPI rankings.
One small note on RPI before we get going, though: There are just 111 teams that participate in Division 1 women's lacrosse, a far cry from the 351 that play men's basketball. As a result, 55 is the mid-point as far as a good team/bad team dividing point. Keep that in mind as we go...
Cincinnati (4-6, #60)
Goals Leader: Megan Bell, 19
Assists Leader: Megan Bell, 10
Points Leader: Megan Bell, 29
Draw Controls: Megan Bell, 35
Goalie: Meg Gulmi - 7.77 GAA, .469 SV%
Best Win: vs #83 Detroit, 13-5
Worst Loss: at #75 Stetson, 9-6
I dunno, is it good for one team to be so dependent on women named Meg?
Jokes aside, the Bearcats are heavily dependent on Megan Bell, and they're not the only Big East squad to see the same player's name pop up in all four of those first lines. Probably not coincidentally, the two teams that are that reliant on one player aren't particularly that good. You'll see what I mean when we get there.
The good news for UC is that they matched their win total from 2015 in their fourth game of the season and then doubled it in game #6. The bad news is that they've lost four straight games since then. Part of that was scheduled losses (at Ohio State and vs Louisville, both ranked teams), and part of that was just bad luck. In the two more winnable games for the Bearcats, they ended up taking one goal losses in both of them. They were two different kinds of losses, though. Against Niagara, Cincy had a 7-5 lead with 10 minutes to play.... and then lost 9-8 as the Purple Eagles ripped off four straight goals. Back in Ohio against Coastal Carolina, UC cut the score to 6-5 with two goals within 90 seconds with 10 minutes left..... and then no one scored again.
Any way you shake it, that's not the best way to head into league play. It's actually even worse than that, as Cincinnati was picked to finish last by the poll of the Big East's coaches. The Bearcats haven't won a conference game since April 28, 2013, when they wrapped up the regular season with a 9-8 win over Rutgers. That's also the only conference game that Cincinnati has ever won.
Connecticut (7-2, 1-0 Big East, #25)
Goals Leader: Katherine Finkelston, 31
Assists Leader: Jacqueline Jordan, 11
Points Leader: Katherine Finkelston, 35
Draw Controls: Alexandra Crofts, 21
Goalie: Shannon Nee - 8.16 GAA, .550 SV%
Best Win: at #22 William & Mary, 13-6
Worst Loss: vs #12 Massachusetts, 15-6
Coming into the week, the Huskies are still getting votes in the media poll. They had been up as high as #18 in the poll before losing that game to UMass earlier this season, but their three wins since then hadn't been enough to get them back in. Tuesday's 17-7 loss to #4 Syracuse isn't going to do them any favors with the voters, though.
It's not a surprise to see Katherine Finkelston atop the UConn leaderboard, and it's not surprising to see her leading the Big East in goals and points per game. Jacqueline Jordan isn't a surprise either, given that she was fourth on the team in points last year. However, Jordan's assists lead means that Grace Nolan didn't get mentioned, which is a little surprising since she was a preseason all-Big East honoree. Nolan is second on the team.... and the league.... in goals and points, and tied for third on the team in assists, so she's definitely on the scouting report for every opponent.
The most impressive thing about Connecticut's performance this year is that they're essentially doing it without the preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. Lauren Kwasnowski has only played in three games this season. She missed the first four games of the season, managed to make it in during the road trip to Rutgers (a 14-11 win), and then missed the next four games. Kwasnowski has played in the last two games for the Huskies, although she wasn't in the starting lineup. Either way, she obviously makes Connecticut better, so somehow they'll actually get better as she works her way towards the starting lineup.
Florida (10-1, 1-0 Big East, #1)
Media Poll Ranking: #2
Goals Leader: Nicole Graziano, 24
Assists Leader: Shayna Pirreca, 11
Points Leader: Nicole Graziano, 33
Draw Controls: Nicole Graziano, 23
Goalie: Mary-Sean Wilcox - 8.29 GAA, .467 SV%
Best Win: at #2 North Carolina, 16-15
Only Loss: vs #2 Maryland, 14-4
Florida was set up to be the Big East favorite this season. That was pretty obvious. The Gators also scheduled themselves a really tough slate in the non-conference section, and, as it turns out, they've established themselves as a national championship contender as a result. 10 of their 11 games this season have turned out to be against top 40 RPI teams, and their only loss on the season through 11 games is to the only team that's currently ranked ahead of them in the media top 20, and those two squads are flipped around in the RPI. That's kind of surprising, given that Maryland's win over the Gators happened in Gainesville.
It is a little surprising to see Nicole Graziano leading the way for Florida. The Gators put two attackers and a midfielder on the preseason all-Big East team, and none of them are Graziano. In fact, UF is winning despite sub-par performances from two of those all-conference players. While Sammi Burgess is second on the team in points, Mollie Stevens has missed three games (although she has 17 goals in eight games), and Devon Schneider is averaging a point per game with just five starts in 11 games this season.
Georgetown (2-7, #32)
Goals Leader: Kristen Bandos, 18
Assists Leader: Three players with 7
Points Leader: Kristen Bandos, 19
Draw Controls: Kristen Bandos, 24
Goalie: Maddy Fisher - 12.06 GAA, .338 SV%
Best Win: at #21 Duke, 10-9
Worst Loss: vs #36 Johns Hopkins, 10-4
A small clarification note on Georgetown's goalie situation is required here. Fisher has started all nine contests for Georgetown, but she's only played 263 minutes this season. Megan McDonald has appeared in all nine games for the Hoyas, and she's actually played more minutes than Fisher has, and McDonald's GAA and SV% are both lower than Fisher's. Yet somehow, she's not the starter. For what it's worth to you, Fisher is a junior and McDonald is a senior.
For the record, Georgetown is not the other team dependent on one player, and that's not a cheap escape on my part. Kristen Bandos has just one assist on the season, so she's not one of the three in the tie for the team lead. On top of that, Georgetown might not be bad. Yeah, their record is terrible, but the lowest RPI ranked team they played so far this season was #55 George Mason. They might not be a good team, but when you stack your deck with a bunch of top 30 teams when you're not good, essentially the opposite of what Florida did, you end up with an ugly pile of results.
Marquette (3-7, #57)
Goals Leader: Julianna Shearer, 21
Assists Leader: Amanda Bochniak, 14
Points Leader: Amanda Bochniak, 25
Draw Controls: Julianna Shearer, 28
Goalie: Sarah Priem - 11.40 GAA, .418 SV%
Best Win: vs #38 California, 15-4
Worst Loss: at #53 Denver, 11-5
I think that Marquette has balanced out the loss of Claire Costanza, the program's all time leading scorer, to injury. Julianna Shearer has 21 goals already this season, which is the fourth best total in program history.... with seven more games to play. Amanda Bochniak has 14 assists, which is the fifth best mark in program history. Riley Hill has 11 assists, making her just the third player in program history to record 10 assists in a season. Hell, it makes Hill the third player to record six assists in a season.
The defense, though.... Well, on one hand, things are going well. MU is second in the Big East in caused turnovers per game, which is good. However, Sarah Priem's goals against average is nearly two goals up from her career low from last season, even though her save percentage would be a career best if the season ended right now. That would seem to imply that Priem's defenders are letting too many shots get to her, and the volume has boosted her saves but caused more goals to be going in as a result. Marquette has yet to win a conference game against teams not named Cincinnati, and they're going to need boosts from both the offense and the defense to accomplish that in 2016.
Temple (8-2, #28)
Goals Leader: Megan Tiernan, 21
Assists Leader: Rachel Schwaab, 13
Points Leader: Megan Tiernan, 32
Draw Controls: Morgan Glassford, 54
Goalie: Jaqi Kakalecik - 6.20 GAA, .519 SV%
Best Win: at #34 UMBC, 19-9
Worst Loss: vs #29 Delaware, 10-4
If you have questions about Temple's record and standing going forward this season, that's fair. The Owls were 8-1 in non-conference play a year ago, then went 2-5 in Big East action, with the wins coming against Marquette and Cincinnati, the bottom two teams in the standings. They had squeakers against Villanova and Georgetown, but lost the other three matches by pretty wide margins.
So here they are at the start of league play this year, with pretty much the exact same record. They've played two top 30 RPI teams, and lost both times. They might look like a dominant offense at this juncture, as they lead the Big East in goals per game. But: 13-2 vs La Salle. 17-6 vs Lafayette. 16-9 vs Rutgers. 16-4 vs Saint Joseph's. Those are all bottom half teams, and they ran up the score on them. They have huge wins over UC Davis and California, too, and while those two are in the RPI top 30, you have to remember that Marquette eviscerated Cal easily.
Kakalecik's stats might be a mirage, too. She leads the Big East in goals against average and is second to Connecticut's Shannon Nee in save percentage. But if those numbers are built on a foundation of blowing out bad teams, then you have to ask whether she's allowing so few goals because Kakalecik and the Temple defense is good or whether the Temple offense just had the ball the whole time. She ranks just fourth in the league in saves per game even with that high percentage of stops, so part of it is that shots just aren't getting to her anyway for sure.
Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-1 Big East, #33)
Goals Leader: Kelly Chandler, 25
Assists Leader: Jill Doherty, 14
Points Leader: Kelly Chandler, 26
Draw Controls: Margaret Fee, 18
Goalie: Callahan Kent - 11.80 SV%, .473 SV%
Best Win: vs #31 Elon, 10-9
Worst Loss: at #44 Boston University, 14-13
I don't know if I have anything interesting to say about the Commodores. They're just.... there. Easily crushed in their four games against RPI top 15 teams, easily rolling to victories against two bottom half RPI teams.... they look exactly like a team that was picked to finish fourth in an eight team league.
They're the only team in the Big East with fewer than 10 draw controls per game, they're second to last in ground balls per game (12.5), and they're sixth out of eight in caused turnovers per game. That's kind of a weird combination of lack of possession. In VU's defense, they have the second fewest turnovers in the conference, as only they and Florida turn it over fewer than 14 times per game.
With all of that said, Chandler and Doherty are two of the best offensive players in the league. Chandler trails only the two UConn women in goals per game, and Doherty's assist per game average is second only to Marquette's Riley Hill. Now, if only they could so something about Callahan Kent having the worst GAA in the league amongst primary goalies...
Villanova (2-9, 0-1 Big East, #68)
Goals Leader: Jackie Froccaro, 22
Assists Leader: Jackie Froccaro, 7
Points Leader: Jackie Froccaro, 29
Draw Controls: Jackie Froccaro, 28
Goalie: Julia Michaels - 11.31 GAA, .410 SV%
Best Win: at #59 Bucknell, 12-8
Worst Loss: vs #69 Navy, 12-9
Sorry I made you wait all that time to find the other team with one player in the top four lines, but we're going in alphabetical order here, so the Wildcats had to be last. Like I mentioned with the Bearcats, VU is heavily dependent on Jackie Froccaro, and perhaps as a result of that, they're not a very good team this season.
It's not surprising that they're depending on her, though. She was named the preseason Offensive Player of the Year, but I don't think she has much of a chance of getting the postseason version. She's in a tie for eighth in goals per game this season, and her seven assists so far this season keep her in the top 10 for points per game right at #10. That's good, but it's not "best in the league" worthy.
I should add a minor note about Villanova's goalkeeping. Michaels has started each of Villanova's last three games after replacing Jaclyn Fraum before 15 minutes had elapsed in each of the two games previous to that. Michaels has played more minutes than Fraum now, but they're only 17 minutes apart. Fraum has the better goals-against average, but Michaels has the better save percentage.