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Marquette Men’s Lacrosse Preview: at #4 Denver Pioneers

60 minutes to determine the #1 seed in the Big East tournament.

2014 NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship - Semifinals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles men’s lacrosse has 60 minutes left in the regular season, and they could finish anywhere from first to fourth in the Big East.

The good news, I suppose, is that they have already locked up one of the four Big East tournament berths, so at least all that’s on the line Saturday in Colorado is seeding.

Here’s the scenarios:

  • Marquette is the #1 seed in the tournament if they beat Denver. They’ll finish tied at 4-1 in league play with the Pioneers, and by way of the head-to-head victory, MU gets the #1 seed in the tiebreaker even though both teams will officially be co-regular season champs.
  • Marquette is the #2 seed if they lose to Denver AND Villanova loses to Providence. That would have MU at 3-2 and Providence beating VU in a tiebreaker at 2-3. Georgetown’s game against St. John’s is meaningless for Marquette in this scenario, as the Golden Eagles hold a tiebreaker over the Hoyas.
  • Marquette is the #3 seed if they lose to Denver AND St. John’s beats Georgetown AND Villanova beats Providence. That would put MU at 3-2, Villanova at 3-2, and the Hoyas at 2-3. Nova beat Marquette this season, so the Wildcats get the #2 seed in a tiebreak there.
  • Marquette is the #4 seed if they lose to Denver AND Georgetown beats St. John’s AND Villanova beats Providence. In this scenario, MU, GU, and VU all tie at 3-2, but MU takes the L down to fourth place because they are minus-4 in goal differential in that group of three.

The other two games will be ending right as Marquette and Denver start, so at the very least, we’ll know which of the final three options is on the table. If Marquette ends up as the #4 seed, they will play Denver in the Big East semifinals and yaaaaaaaay, won’t that be fun.

It’s not a secret that Marquette is fundamentally flawed as a team this season. They have six wins, and five have come by way of a John Wagner goal in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime. Even if they had five different goal scorers coming up huge in pressure situations, it would still speak to a fundamental flaw in this particular year’s team, as no team should be playing that many overtime games in one season. That’s not even counting the double-overtime loss to Bellarmine, either.

Still, even with this team with its particular problems, most notably the incredible amounts of youth on offense, they still find themselves a perfect 60 minutes of lacrosse away from the program’s first ever #1 seed in the Big East tournament and first ever regular season championship. All they have to do is beat Denver, a team that they have pulled out stunning upsets against in each of the past two seasons. Somehow, even though the Pioneers are ranked #4 in the country, beating them at Peter Barton Stadium is not the craziest possibility. I’ve seen MU beat Denver at PBS. It’s possible.

With Marquette’s noticeable difficulty scoring goals this season, the result of the game is ultimately going to rest on Zachary Melillo. Sorry, m’man, but I’m guessing you already knew this was the case. Melillo is Marquette’s face-off specialist, and he’s the best FO specialist in program history. The downside for him is that Melillo will spend Saturday jousting with Trevor Baptiste, who is currently winding down a four year career that has him currently set to break the career record for face-off winning percentage. Baptiste has won 71.4% of draws in his career, which is just patently absurd. The record of 70.7% has stood for over 30 years, and it’s almost assuredly going to fall.

Except.

Look, I’m not here to tell you that Melillo holds some sort of magic talisman that allows him to beat Baptiste at his own game. That is absolutely assuredly not the case. But. Over the past two seasons, Marquette has played Denver four times, twice in the regular season, twice in the conference tournament. Melillo has won 39.6% of his draws against Baptiste. That’s way, way off Melillo’s career mark of 56% and even further away from the 63% he’s thrown together this year. It’s also monumentally better than three-plus seasons worth of opponents against Baptiste.

Melillo doesn’t need to beat Baptiste. He just needs to fight him to a standstill. Marquette needs to keep the game within shouting distance to win, and that means they can not let Denver have the ball repeatedly. That’s going to fall on Melillo to make sure he’s putting the ball into MU’s sticks as much as he can on draws.

Big East Game #5: at #4 Denver Pioneers (10-2, 4-0)

Date: Saturday, April 28, 2018
Time: 2pm Central
Location: Peter Barton Stadium, Denver, Colorado
Television: Altitude Sports, if you’re out west
Streaming: DenverPioneers.com, but you’ll have to pay for the stream.
Live Stats: GameTracker
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteMLax

Marquette is 2-5 all time against Denver, and they’re acquired those two victories in quite the odd circumstance. MU has lost all five regular season meetings against the Pioneers, and usually the games haven’t been particularly close. MU’s smallest margin of defeat was 14-11 in 2016 when Marquette was ranked in the top 20 and on track for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They picked up their first ever win over Denver exactly one week later, stunning the Pios 10-9 in the Big East tournament championship. Marquette got rocked by eight goals in the regular season finale in 2017, but turned around and defeated Denver exactly one week later again in the Big East semifinals. Those two losses by Denver are their only two against Big East foes since joining the league, which means, yes, Denver is unbeaten against conference rivals in regular season contests. Y’know, contests like this one.

Well, where do you want to start with Denver? They’re on a six game winning streak, following an 11-9 road loss to Notre Dame. Their other loss on the year was a 15-12 affair also on the road, but this time against Duke. Kind of weird that DU overlaps non-conference scheduling so closely with Marquette, but that’s neither here nor there. Denver has had a few close calls in their 10 wins, including a 6-5 win over Georgetown and an 11-10 overtime victory against Towson in one of the wilder games you’ll ever seen. No one scored in the first quarter, Towson went up 5-1 on the first goal of the third quarter, Denver went on a 6 goal run to take a 9-6 lead, and then Towson scored four times in the final 10 minutes, including two in the final three of regulation to force overtime.

Marquette’s defensive focus will rely almost entirely on stopping Ethan Walker. The sophomore from Ontario leads the team with 41 goals with no one else even clearing 20 this season. Even through Austin French is a reasonably talented scorer (18 goals) and passer (26 assists), that only gives him 44 points on the season and leaves him still 15 points short of Walker. Just to give you some context stats: Walker is second in the country in goals per game, trailing only Duke’s Justin Guterding, and MU got an up close and personal look at what Guterding can do last week.

Denver’s goaltending situation is a little bit in flux, it seems. Alex Ready and Josh Matte have both played over 300 minutes this season, with Ready holding an 80 minute advantage right now as well as the starting nod to open the season. However, Matte has started the last six contests for head coach Bill Tierney, so it seems like he’ll be bringing his 6.98 goals-against average and 43.5% save percentage to the party on Saturday. Ready has come on in relief in the last three games, so if it was a injury situation that put Matte into the lineup, Ready is, well, ready to go.