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The 2019 Marquette Men’s Lacrosse Season Preview: Three Questions

There’s probably a lot more than three, but these are the important ones right now.

John Wagner
Can John Wagner lead the Golden Eagles to NCAA tournament success?
Facebook.com/MarquetteLacrosse

Last stop on the season preview train!

We’ve already taken stock of the returning guys on the Marquette men’s lacrosse roster and taken a peek at what head coach Joe Amplo has waiting for him in the new guys on the team this year. If you haven’t gotten a chance to read those, go do that now! Just click the links and off you go.

With that cheap plug out of the way, we head onwards into the questions.....

Question #1: Will last year’s struggles pay dividends for Marquette in 2019?

Last year, Marquette played 14 games. Only 10 men appeared in all 14. Remember, between the face-off unit, offensive midfields, and defensive midfields, you could have as many as 16 players as “starters” even though they’re not acknowledged as such. 16 starting spots, 10 men appearing in all 14 games. That doesn’t sound particularly great. For comparison purposes, MU had 14 guys appearing in every game back in 2017. You can see the dropoff here.

Quite obviously, some of Marquette’s struggles while going 6-8 and needing to win 5 games in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime can be directly attributed to the near-constant churn in MU’s rotation for various injury-related reasons. It’s hard to perform at high levels as a team when you barely know who is going to be out there on a day-to-day basis.

The upside of all of this is that a lot of guys on the roster last year earned a little bit extra experience that maybe they would have not gotten if MU had stayed healthy all year. As a result, head coach Joe Amplo and his staff might know a little bit more about what they have on their roster, and can make more informed — not better, just more informed — decisions about who to deploy when and where. Mix in what amounts to the addition of two experienced scorers in Andrew Romagnoli by transfer and Tanner Thomson by return from injury as well as a quality goalie transferring into the program in John Hulsman, and maybe, just maybe, last year’s pain turns into this year’s prosperity.

Question #2: How does the shot clock affect Marquette’s playing style?

For the 2019 season, Division 1 men’s lacrosse will be using an 80 second shot clock. No more stall warnings, no more arbitrary decisions from the referees. From the moment you gain possession of the ball, no matter where you are on the field, you have 80 seconds to fire off a shot that 1) goes in the net for a goal, 2) is saved by the goalie, either by catch or deflection, or 3) hits the crossbar or upright posts of the net. If you do one of the last two and maintain possession, you get a fresh 80 seconds to work with on offense.

This may not be the best thing ever for Marquette, as they have been, to put it gently, a deliberate team. Perhaps partially because of their shifting lineup as mentioned above, MU ranked #65 out of 71 teams in Division 1 in adjusted pace of play according to AnalyticsLacrosse.com. That’s obviously really slow, relative to the rest of the country. What will having just 80 seconds to shoot do to how Marquette wants to operate on offense? Will the return of Tanner Thomson to the lineup have more of an impact on the offense than merely his skill set? Will having more scoring options allow Marquette to adjust to the shot clock with relative quickness?

On the flip side, this might be really good for Marquette’s defense. The Golden Eagles are known as a strong defensive team under the guidance of head coach Joe Amplo. It’s entirely possible that by forcing teams to shoot it quicker against Marquette that the Golden Eagles will end up earning an advantage on the defensive end and thus start giving their offense more opportunities to put goals in the net.

There are obviously a lot of questions to be answered here as the season goes along. All I know is that I’m never again going to be in danger of my eyes rolling out of my head at Notre Dame fans who think literally every stall warning decision from the referees is the wrong one.

Question #3: Is Joe Amplo going to need to use his pre-packed bag for Championship Weekend?

Did you see this? Did you hear about this? Marquette head coach Joe Amplo has a bag packed to take to Philadelphia on Memorial Day weekend for the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament Final Four and national championship game. Not because there’s a lacrosse coach conference that weekend or something like that, not because every D1 coach gets four free tickets or something. No, Amplo has his bag packed and sitting by his desk in his office to be ready to take this 2019 Marquette team to the Final Four to play.

Yeah. He’s seriously doing this. Thus, yeah, he seriously thinks his team has what it takes to make it to Philadelphia.

It’s a little crazy.

Look, Marquette has been to two NCAA tournaments in the program’s six year history of competition, earning their way in by way of back-to-back Big East tournament titles in 2016 and 2017. The Golden Eagles then lost their first round games in the tournament both times. The mere act of making it to Philadelphia would require MU to either win the Big East tournament again or earn an at-large bid and then win two games in the tournament after having never won one at all before.

Can they win the Big East tournament? Sure. It’s happened before, it can happen again. They’ve shown that they can beat anyone in the league — yes, even Denver — when the trophy is on the line.

Can they earn an at-large bid? Well, that’s up for debate. Marquette needed to win the Big East tournament to get one of their two NCAA bids, and they probably would have earned an at-large bid on the other if they hadn’t won the tournament. So it’s possible. The roadblock to doing this is, as always, three of the last four games of the season. For whatever reason, it’s now appears to be official tradition for Marquette to finish up the year with Notre Dame, Duke, and Denver in three of their final four regular season games. All three teams are perennial NCAA tournament contenders if not national championship contenders as well. Getting a win against those three goes a long way towards putting Marquette into the NCAA tournament field.

They’ve also never done it.

Marquette is 0-6 all time against Notre Dame and Duke, and they are 2-6 all time against Denver, with both wins coming in the Big East tournament and all six losses coming in the regular season.

Can Marquette get an at-large bid without beating any of the three? Yeah, maybe. I think they would have done it in 2016. Does it require amassing a record that puts them into the tournament before playing those three? Yep, and that’s really hard to do, especially against the schedule that Joe Amplo has set up for the Golden Eagles this season.

Can Marquette get to Philadelphia for the Final Four if they don’t beat Notre Dame, Duke, or Denver? I mean, never say never, of course, but the ability to beat one of those three teams in the regular season is going to be an incredible measuring stick as to whether the Golden Eagles can win their first two NCAA tournament games ever.

There’s a lot of lacrosse to play between now and late April, so we’ll see how it goes between now and then. But Amplo has goals here, and reaching those goals starts in earnest on Saturday afternoon.