Well, it’s official. This season no longer makes any sense whatsoever.
After opening the season 3-0 and capping that run with a win over a top 10 ranked Ohio State team, Marquette went out and lost their next three games. Two of those losses were in essentially non-competitive fashion, as both Robert Morris and Michigan jumped all over Marquette early and that was pretty much that.
Things were not looking good for the Golden Eagles heading into their Big East opener last week Saturday, especially with Georgetown Hoyas bringing a #18 ranking to Milwaukee for the contest.
And then Marquette beat the Hoyas in overtime after spending most of the game with a lead of a goal or two.
That’s a Georgetown team ranking in the top 15 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to Lacrosse Reference, and Marquette ground them to dust with a sub-50 ranked offense (and there’s only 71 Division 1 teams) and a #36 defense according to LR again. After two straight awful first quarter performances that led to two awful final scores, MU went out and played the kind of lacrosse that Golden Eagles fans have gotten used to seeing from Joe Amplo’s teams: contentious, tenacious, there at the end, and, as it turns out, winning by just one goal.
But hey, they only require you to win by one goal.
Last week’s game was the only contest in Big East play so far this season, so the Golden Eagles have a leg up on the rest of the league. It’s never a bad thing to be alone in first place, even if you’re the only team to have won a game so far. Things are just going to get more difficult from here for Marquette, as they go from teams at the bottom of the top 20 or teams playing their way into the top 20 (hello, RMU & Michigan this week) to playing teams in the top 10 in the country. The good news? This means that Marquette has the chances to earn the wins they need for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The bad news? Marquette is going to need the kind of all-out effort kind of performances that they got against the Hoyas if they want to get those wins.
One step at a time....
Big East Game #2: vs #8 Villanova Wildcats (7-2)
Marquette is 3-3 all time against Villanova. The two teams have met in each of the past four seasons, as required by membership in the Big East. We’ve gotten to six games, as two contests — one in 2014, one in 2016 — were a part of the Big East tournament. Villanova won last year’s meeting, 10-9 in overtime, to snap a three game Marquette winning streak. This is the fourth straight meeting where Villanova will come into the game with a top 20 ranking.
If you just look at the Lacrosse Reference efficiency rankings, this game is probably a mismatch. Point blank: Villanova has a top 20 offense, and while defense is MU’s stronger end of the field right now, they’re going to struggle to contain guys like Christian Cuccinello (22G, 11A) and Danny Seibel (22G, 5A). Perhaps more impressively, Villanova has gotten a helper on more than half of their goals this season, tallying 53 assists on 100 goals. Three guys, led by Cuccinello, average at least one assist a game, and there’s another three guys with five on the year.
Where things might end up working in Marquette’s favor is on the other end of the field. Yes, MU’s very young offense is still very much a question mark and not particularly explosive. That’s also Villanova’s weaker end of the field, ranking just 45th in efficiency. They’ve given up at least 11 goals five times so far this season in just nine games, and that includes four times in their last five games. Two of those games were losses, although in fairness, the most recent loss was to #2 Maryland and was by just two goals, 13-11. The flipside of that coin is that they had to go to overtime to beat Fairfield at home last Saturday. Villanova gave up five straight goals at the end of the third and the start of the fourth to the Stags, letting the visitors go up 9-8. VU rallied to go up by two with 88 seconds remaining, but allowed two goals in the next 32 seconds to allow things to go to the extra session.
The point is that they’ve got big questions on defense, and maybe, just maybe, that’s enough for Marquette’s offense to find some seams.
Nick Testa is the likely choice to show up in net for Villanova. The junior started the season on the bench, but after transfer Matt Barrett suffered a knee injury six minutes into the season, Testa has played almost every minute since then. He’s making saves at a decent rate, stopping 49% of shots on goal. His goals-against average is just a shade over 10 goals per 60 minutes, which may tell us a bit more about the field defenders and scheme in front of Testa more than it tells us about the netminder.