2017 Big East Men’s Lacrosse Championship Game
#3 Providence Friars (10-6) vs #4 Marquette Golden Eagles (7-7)
YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles find themselves back in the Big East championship game for the second straight year after pulling a stunner of an upset against Denver on Thursday. After losing 16-8 to the #2 ranked Pioneers at Valley Fields back on Saturday, MU headed out to Rhode Island, never let the Pios get more than two goals in front of them, and dominated them defensively for a 10-8 shocker in the Big East semifinals.
This will be the first ever Big East championship appearance for Providence, as Thursday’s victory over Villanova was their first ever Big East tournament victory. Now, if you’re saying, “wait, Marquette’s 4th year program got a tourney win before Providence, a founding member of the conference,” that is a fair point. Believe it or not, the Big East did not sponsor lacrosse before 2010 and there was not a Big East tournament before 2012. Go figure, given that Syracuse is one of the blue blood programs of college lacrosse. The win was an upset of sorts for the Friars as well, as Villanova came into the game ranked #15 in the country in the media poll. On top of that, the Wildcats came into Anderson Stadium the previous Saturday and gave PC the business to the tune of 15-7, including an 8-1 lead midway through the second quarter.
Marquette is 3-1 all time against Providence. The downside of that record is that the loss happened three weeks ago, and worse yet, it happened on the very same field that the Big East title game will be played on, since the Friars are hosting the event this year.
If you want to find good news from that 9-7 loss to the Friars, it’s this: Marquette dominated the shooting in that game, outfiring the Friars 39-27, both of which are better than average numbers for MU’s offense and defense respectively. The bad news, of course, is that Providence’s Tate Boyce made just eight saves in the game, so only 15 of those shots actually found their way on frame.
Boyce is one half of the defensive duo that Marquette will have to deal with on Saturday. Boyce was named Big East Goalkeeper of the Year on Wednesday after leading the league in goals-against average and save percentage. There is at least some part of Boyce’s performance this season that was improved by having Jarrod Neumann playing in front of him. See, Neumann was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and you can’t have the best goalie and best defender on the same team without each one helping the other one at least a little bit. Either way, Boyce and Neumann are reasons #1 and #2 why PC led the Big East in caused turnovers per game and goals-against average this season.
Providence provides an interesting situation for Marquette’s defense to solve. On one hand, MU only allowed nine goals to this PC team earlier this year. On the other hand, that was with Nick Hatzipetrakos in the lineup, and the sophomore missed Thursday’s semifinal game. Presuming that he won’t be available for Saturday either, that will tilt how the Friars attack at least a little bit. Granted, Hatzipetrakos was scoreless on three shots in the regular season, and Brendan Kearns, PC’s leading scorer (30G, 11A), was held to just one goal, so maybe this just plays even further into Marquette’s scheme.
The Golden Eagles scored in a variety of ridiculous ways against Denver, and if it takes that kind of creativity and showmanship to beat Providence, so be it. The high point of the game was obviously John Wagner exploding for a career best four goals. The Canadian sophomore clearly has the physical tools to be a dominant force for Marquette, but he was barely averaging one goal per game coming into the Big East tournament. If defenses are going to be able to neutralize Ryan McNamara — and they very clearly have been able to do that this season — then Marquette will need another big game from Wagner in order to make their second straight NCAA tournament.