We have reached the midway point of the Big East schedule. Every team has played four matches, so the Friday/Saturday matchdays with all 10 teams in action is the pivot point in the nine match league slate. There will be just four matches remaining for Marquette after Saturday evening.
Just as it’s the pivot point for the schedule, it’s a pivotal moment for the Golden Eagles. Through four matches, Marquette is 1-2-1 in Big East play, giving them four points. That has the Golden Eagles in a three-way tie for seventh place in the league and two points behind a three-way tie for fourth place. Only six teams qualify for the conference tournament which starts in just three weeks. You can see how important three points off the Johnnies on Saturday could be for the Golden Eagles. They haven’t played in the Big East tournament since the 2014 season, so merely returning to the field would be a pretty big deal for Marquette, especially with their 1-8-2 overall record.
If it happens, it’s going to take a massive turnaround for a highly questionable defensive system. As the Marquette Wire’s Brendan Ploen pointed out earlier in the week, MU has already conceded 24 goals this year, one more than all of last season. Injuries to Martin Alba, Manuel Cukaj, and Steffen Böhm have not helped matters in that regard, but the marking has been lackluster with or without those guys. Over and over again, Marquette has been caught wildly out of position to defend opponents as the offense goes slashing past, around, or through them. It would be one thing if it was here or there. Instead, this has been happening over and over to the Golden Eagles, and they are going to need to turn that around over the next five matches if they want to finish in the top six.
Big East Match #5: at St. John’s Red Storm (5-5-2, 2-1-1 Big East)
Marquette is 2-2-3 all time against St. John’s. I have a lot of horrible memories of Belson Stadium, but they’re actually not that bad. The Golden Eagles are 1-1-2 in New York against the Red Storm, and the bad memories are tied to the fact that they’ve gone to a scoreless draw in each of the past two visits. This leads to the other fun fact about this series: Neither team has scored in the last 180 minutes of action, and Marquette has held the Johnnies without a goal for more than 400 minutes. St. John’s last scored against the Golden Eagles back in the 2010 Big East tournament, when MU got a 3-1 victory.
While SJU is right around .500 on the season, that’s the result of a rough go of things lately. St. John’s is winless in their last four matches, including a double-overtime 1-0 loss to Butler and a lightning shortened 2-2 draw with Creighton. That might not be a solid example of their season, but neither is the 3-0 smashing of an Xavier squad that was earning top 25 votes at the time.
Marquette’s defense may catch a break from a lackluster St. John’s offense. They’re averaging less than 12 shots per game, but the counter to that is that they’re allowing even fewer shots. Alistair Johnston has the team lead in goals (4) and points (9), but that’s slightly due to circumstances more than anything. Preseason all-Big East honoree Harry Cooksley (3G, 2A) has only played in seven of the Red Storm’s 12 matches this season, but that does include appearances off the bench in SJU’s last three matches.
Andrew Withers has been spectacular in net for St. John’s this season. He’s allowed just nine goals, leaving SJU tied with Georgetown for the fewest goals allowed this season. Withers has the best goals-against mark in the league at 0.73, and he’s the only keeper in the Big East with a save percentage north of 78%. It will take a monumental effort from the Golden Eagles to find a goal in this match, particularly given their recent history against the Red Storm.