And now, a brief respite from Big East play to bring you a nationally televised game against Marquette’s closest geographic rival.
At least the season never gets boring, right?
Marquette comes into Wednesday’s rivalry game with wins in two of their last three games, all of which were in league play. It was a nice bounce back for the Golden Eagles after dropping three straight games. Two of the losses have become explainable here in mid-April, as Michigan and Robert Morris have played their way into the top 20 rankings since beating Marquette. No one is going to confuse Marquette’s 5-4 record with a fantastic season, but when you turn around and say, “hey, a team with an incredibly young and not very deep offense got smacked by two teams playing their way towards an NCAA tournament berth,” you can’t really complain about how that turned out.
This is the second to last home game for Marquette as they head into the end stage of the 2018 season. This one, against a non-conference opponent, doesn’t have anything truly at stake for the Golden Eagles other than bragging rights and attempting to beat Notre Dame for the first time in program history. There is, however, bigger thematic ideas on the line for Marquette. At 2-1 in Big East play, they’ve put themselves in position to qualify for the Big East tournament, and winning that automatic bid for the second straight season will be MU’s only avenue to the NCAA tournament. Right now, they’re in second place in the league, and only the top four teams get a spot in the field. MU still has to play first place Denver and fourth place Providence, and going 1-1 in those games will likely be enough to clinch a postseason berth. However, beating Denver is easier said than done, even for a Golden Eagles squad that has dropped the Pioneers in the Big East tournament in each of the last two seasons.
The point here is that Marquette could benefit greatly down the stretch from a strong performance against the Irish, particularly given that Notre Dame is going through a bit of a struggle themselves right now. Put up a good fight against ND — maybe even pull the upset at home? — and that could propel the Golden Eagles forward to a win on Saturday against Providence. That could just be enough for that Big East tourney spot, and that would be a pretty satisfying way to close out this transitional season of lacrosse in Milwaukee.
Game #10: vs #15 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-4)
This will be the seventh meeting all time between Marquette and Notre Dame, and the Irish have won all six previous encounters. That includes games decided by just one goal in each of the last two regular seasons as well as last year’s NCAA Tournament game in South Bend. This is just the second time that ND has come to Wisconsin to play Marquette.
This season isn’t particularly going the way that Notre Dame would have wanted it to go. They came into the campaign with a preseason #6 ranking in the Maverik media poll, and things were looking pretty good for them through the middle of March. They were 4-1 with wins over Denver and Virginia, and the only loss was to then #2 Maryland, and even that one was only by two goals and on the road.
And then they lost at home to Michigan.
The loss to the Wolverines was the first in a string of three losses in their last four games coming into Wednesday evening. The win in there came against a scuffling Ohio State program that hasn’t won since the Midwest Lacrosse Classic, and in fairness to the Irish, the two most recent losses were to Duke and Syracuse in ACC play. Both of those squads are currently ranked in the top 10 of the media poll, which is probably why Patrick Stevens still has them as a #8 seed in the NCAA tournament in his bracketology projection that was published yesterday.
However, it’s not the losses themselves that are the problem. Notre Dame has mustered just eight goals in the losses to Duke and Syracuse, including a meager two markers against the Blue Devils in South Bend this past Saturday. To a certain degree, that’s something close to business as usual for Notre Dame this season, as they’re now averaging under nine goals a game. The counter to that is that they’re only allowing nine goals a game, and those two things probably tell you a lot more about Notre Dame’s methodical pace this season than anything else. It probably also tells you to expect a 7-6 game from Valley Fields, which means that it will probably be 15-14 in somewhat hilarious fashion.
Bryan Costabile is Notre Dame’s primary attacker this season, leading the team with 17 goals on the season. However, the sophomore was out of the lineup with an injury against Duke, and it’s unclear as to whether he’ll be back here, although it does seem unlikely. It also seems unlikely that Brendan Gleason will make his return from an injury that kept him out of the game against the Blue Devils, and he’s recorded 12 goals and seven assists for ND this season.
That means Marquette will have to focus on shutting down two familiar names: Ryder Garnsey and Mikey Wynne. The duo are the only other players on the Notre Dame roster to have tallied at least 10 goals this season at 13 each. Garnsey is actually leading the team in points at 20, even though head coach Kevin Corrigan has only put him into the starting lineup in three of their nine games.
We should be in for a hellacious battle on face-offs in this one. ND’s John Travisano has won 59% of his draws this season while taking all but 31 face-offs on the season, while MU’s Zachary Melillo has won 63% of his draws. Melillo did miss three games due to injury this season, but has stepped right back onto the field without any signs of difficulty in his area of expertise.