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#18 Marquette Men's Lacrosse Preview: at #1 Denver

No pressure, guys. Only the possibility of an at-large bid riding on the game, not to mention a Big East regular season title.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Let's not beat around the bush: Last week's 16-1 loss to Denver was a major blow to Marquette's lacrosse program.  I don't even mean to this season's NCAA tournament hopes, I don't mean to this season's overall record.

Marquette has spent the better part of the past two seasons ranked in the top 20.  They've slowly been closing the gap on national powers Duke, Notre Dame, and Denver over games against all three opponents each of the first three seasons of Division 1 competition.  Then, with Duke in what appears to be a major down year after a decade of dominance on a national level, MU got completely blasted off the field in Durham.  One goal from Kyran Clarke early in the first quarter, and then nothing for the remaining 50+ minutes of the game.

It was absolutely the last result I would have predicted to see from Marquette on that night.  Sure, they might lose, and sure, they might even lose in a lopsided fashion.  But to essentially not even show up on offense?  For one of the nation's best scoring defenses to get completely abused?  That was unexpected.

Now the Golden Eagles have to pick up the pieces from that in a hurry.  For the second time this season, they'll face a team ranked #1 in the country, and this time, the Big East regular season title is on the line.  Win, and you're the #1 seed in the tournament and perhaps handing Denver just their second loss of the season is enough to guarantee Marquette at least an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.  Lose, and it will almost assuredly take a Big East tournament championship and the resulting automatic bid to make it into the Big Barbecue.

Big East Game #5: at #1 Denver (11-1, 4-0 Big East)

When: Saturday, April 30, 2016, at 2pm Central
Where: Peter Barton Stadium in Denver, CO
Audio/Visual: CBS Sports Network has the broadcast, and live stats are right here.
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteMLax

Last year, Denver won their first ever NCAA championship in their fourth Final Four appearance in five seasons.  They apparently don't know the meaning of the word "letdown" in the Rocky Mountains, as the Pioneers are ranked #1 in the country with only a neutral site loss to Penn State marring their record this season.

Bill Tierney is one hell of a lacrosse coach, and that's probably an understatement.

For Marquette to defeat the Pios and secure the Big East regular season championship, they're going to have to hand Denver their first Big East loss.  Both Marquette and Denver joined the Big East at the same time, and Denver hasn't lost a conference game yet.  They're 15-0.  They've really only been under a real threat of losing twice, with both games coming as one goal victories while visiting Villanova.  The 2014 win was in overtime, while this year's victory was a result of a late comeback in a snowstorm.

Connor Cannizzaro is probably going to be the Big East's Offensive Player of the Year.  He ranks seventh in the country in both points and goals per game.  His points per game average leads the way in the Big East, and Cannizzaro trails Villanova's Jake Froccaro by a mere 0.17 goals per game in that column.  Shutting down Cannizzaro will be the key to the game for Marquette, but it's not going to be a guarantee of victory, either.  Denver has four more guys averaging at least a goal per game and a fifth just barely under that benchmark.  Four Pioneers average at least an assist per game, including Cannizzaro, and they've racked up 113 assists on 168 goals this season.  They've got no problem sharing the ball in order to win, and given how well Duke went to their secondary scorers against Marquette, that's not good news for the Golden Eagles.

Perhaps the most impressive part of what Denver's doing this season is the fact that they're running a freshman goalie out there while ranking #1 in the country and defending a national championship.  Alex Ready is probably the best goalie in the Big East this season, which is kind of nuts if you think about it.  Maybe if Marquette hadn't switched from Jimmy Danaher to Cole Blazer we could have an argument about MU's starter, but without that, it's hard to say someone has been better than Ready.  Amongst Big East keepers with at least 500 minutes played, he's leading the way in goals-against average (8.69) and save percentage (.544).