Let’s just be honest about it: The season is on the line on Saturday.
Marquette is currently fighting for a berth in this year’s conference tournament, which will be held in Providence on May 6-8. The win over PC on Saturday put MU a half game behind the Friars for fourth in the league with two games remaining.
Only the top four teams will compete in the league tournament, so MU needs two wins its final games against VU and SJU, coupled with a PC loss to Georgetown on Saturday, to earn a semifinal berth. Should MU and PC finish with even league records, the Friars would hold the tie-breaker due to a three-goal advantage in their head-to-head meetings.
Because I know you’re wondering: Georgetown beat Providence in Rhode Island earlier this season by a score of 14-9. If the Hoyas go full Hoyas, they should probably win easily, but hey: Providence can clinch a Big East tournament berth with a win, so they’ll be motivated.
Anyway, we got here because Marquette picked up two thrilling overtime victories last week for their first two Big East wins of the season. MU snagged a 9-8 win over St. John’s on Wednesday, and then turned around and played the longest game in program history on Saturday out in Rhode Island. That one went four overtimes after the Friars scored four times in the fourth quarter, including Matt Grillo’s goal with nine seconds left, to tie it up at six goals each and force overtime. Devon Cowan provided the fireworks there with just three seconds left in the fourth extra session to put MU in a position to need to win their final two games and get some help from Georgetown to get into the Big East tournament.
Is it more or less stressful when you remember that Marquette was all tied up at 14 with eight minutes to play in their first meeting this season against Saturday’s opponent? What if Marquette had managed to shut the door against Villanova back on February 27th? That one game flip means the Golden Eagles would be trying to fend off the Friars for fourth place right now instead of crossing fingers and toes and hoping for good luck.
With the first contest against Villanova coming down to the wire, this game — and MU’s postseason future — might come down to which coaching staff makes the biggest and best adjustments from the first meeting. Who saw something that they know how to exploit this time? Who patched up their biggest holes from last time? How different are the two teams in the two months that have passed since they last squared off?
We’ll get some answers by sunset on Saturday. Let’s hope they’re good ones for the Golden Eagles.
Big East Game #9: at #18 Villanova Wildcats (5-3, 5-3 Big East)
Date: Saturday, April 24, 2021
Time: 11am Central
Location: Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pennsylvania
Streaming: Villanova.com, but it’s in their subscription only package.
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteMLax
Marquette is 3-5 all time against Villanova after the Wildcats won 16-14 at Valley Fields earlier this season. That gives VU four straight wins in the series.
As you can see, it’s been nothing but Big East contests for Villanova this season. Things have gone pretty much exactly how you would expect for the team that started off the year ranked as the third best team in the Big East but still a top 20 team since MU last saw them. They lost to Georgetown in their second meeting, but that one was much closer than the first meeting. It was 16-1 the first time, but just 8-7 in the second meeting on March 27th, and the Hoyas had to close the game on a 4-1 run to make that happen. Villanova also lost to Denver in their first meeting of the season, with a final of 17-10. VU’s two games against St. John’s and Providence all went into the record books as wins with the Friars giving them a much harder time (24-14 aggregate) than the Red Storm (43-16) did.
At this point of the season, Villanova is mostly just playing out the stretch. Georgetown has already eliminated the Wildcats from a share of the Big East regular season title, although it’s possible that they could end up tied with Denver for second place. VU can’t do any worse than third, though, as Providence’s six losses in Big East action are more than Villanova can get to with just two games left to go. It is possible that Villanova could be playing for a shot at the NCAA tournament, and as a top 20 team, they certainly have a case. A loss to Marquette, in other words a loss to a team that’s not obviously better than them like Denver and Georgetown, might take the Wildcats out of the running for an at-large berth.
Last time out against Villanova, the pairing of Keegan Khan and Matt Campbell was ultimately too much for the Golden Eagles to deal with. Campbell had five goals and two assists while Khan added three goals and three assists to the proceedings. That’s 13 of the 23 points that the Wildcats put together in their 16-14 victory, and it’s also not surprising. Khan leads VU in scoring this season, using his team high 22 assists to top the points column on the stat sheet with 40. He has “only” 18 goals, which means he comes in second to Campbell in that department, as Campbell has 22 markers to lead the Wildcats. Given the point differential between the two, I think the biggest issue has to be disrupting Khan’s distribution abilities. Then again, Marquette couldn’t stop Campbell from scoring last time around, so maybe the MU coaching staff will lean towards trying to take him out of the equation.
We do have a question to be asked about Villanova’s goalkeeping situation. Will Vitton started and played at least 40 minutes in each of VU’s first seven games this season. That changed last time out with Brendan Haggerty getting the start and going almost the entire way until Justin Clark got to play the final minute. The question is whether that’s head coach Mike Corrado giving Haggerty a start against a St. John’s team that VU dominated the first time around or if it’s Corrado being forced into a change because of an injury to Vitton. Haggerty’s 59 minutes of action against the Johnnies is more than half of the minutes he’s played this season and the senior from Manhasset, NY, only played in three games before this season. I’m expecting Vitton to be back in the lineup, but the door is at least open to Haggerty getting his second straight start between the pipes.