Okay, so Marquette men’s lacrosse lost to the #2 team in the country. Such is life.
Marquette has to move on. They have an important task in front of them: Qualifying for the Big East tournament. My math on this might not be perfect, but it looks like the Golden Eagles are, at the very least, on the edge of locking up a top four spot and thus getting one of the spots in the quarterfinals. The worst that MU can do in the standings right now is 2-3, and Providence and St. John’s — who still have to play each other! — are 0-3. Only one of them is coming away from the season finale with a win, so it’s not a gimme that Marquette will get the tiebreaker with the one that does win.
So crossing your fingers isn’t a solid plan. What is a solid plan, however, is winning a game to guarantee a 3-2 finish in the standings at worst. Getting one more win gets the Golden Eagles there, and they get a chance at Valley Fields to do exactly that on Saturday. It’s not going to be a picnic, as Marquette’s schedule shook out to give them four straight games to end the season against teams earning votes in the Inside Lacrosse top 20 poll, but the chance is there. Which would you rather have: Two wins in the back pocket already confirmed and a chance to beat a very good team to lock it up OR desperately needing to beat Providence and St. John’s down the stretch to salvage a top four finish? Feels like this one is the more fun option.
What might not be fun is what Marquette does on defense on Saturday. Mason Woodward, Marquette’s All-American defenseman has missed both of the last two games after averaging 4.9 ground balls and 1.7 caused turnovers in MU’s first 10 games. The Golden Eagles were already shorthanded on defense, as Zach Granger hadn’t played since the Michigan game on March 1st.
In fact, there’s been a whole bunch of “oh, he’s getting big minutes now?” going on with the Golden Eagles over the last six weeks. Every game seems to bring along a new name that hasn’t popped up before. Head coach Andrew Stimmel may just be stapling together a useable roster on a week by week basis at this point of the season depending on who’s healthy enough to play anywhere on the field. That’s not the best possible situation when you need to play your best possible lacrosse to beat one of the two top 25 teams on your schedule to end the season, but it’s the hand that Stimmel and his staff have been dealt.
One 60 minute game at a time. Let’s get through Saturday, and then we’ll worry about what next Saturday brings when we get there.
Big East Game #4: vs RV Villanova Wildcats (7-4, 2-1 Big East)
Marquette is 3-7 all time against Villanova. The Wildcats have won the last five encounters in the series, including both meetings last year. Only one game between the two — the most recent meeting last season in Pennsylvania — has been decided by more than five goals.
The good news for Villanova this season is that they don’t play in the Ivy League. They started out the season 3-3 because they went 0-3 against Yale, Brown, and Penn. To be clear, they had more working against them than merely playing Ivy teams, as all three squads are currently in the top 15 of the Inside Lacrosse poll and in the top 20 of Lacrosse Reference’s team rankings. Heck, two of those games were on the road, and the third one was against the team that’s just a couple of miles down the road. That’s just intentionally challenging yourself as a team and coming up short. It’s not bad, but it’s also not great for you either, and that’s why Nova is only 7-4 on the year.
Since the loss to Penn, the Wildcats have gone 4-1, which is good, and the loss was by just two goals to traditional league and national power Denver. Even then, Villanova was up 7-6 at the half and down just 10-9 with 10 minutes to play. They were running right there with the Pioneers, it just didn’t come out in their favor this time.
If Marquette’s defense isn’t fully staffed for this game, it’s probably going to be a long day for the Golden Eagles. Villanova has Lacrosse Reference’s #16 offense in terms of efficiency and three of the 10 best goal scorers in the Big East. Matt Campbell (36G), Brett Baskin (26), and Patrick Daly (25) are all averaging over two goals per game this season, with Campbell averaging a hat trick per outing. This past Saturday’s game against Providence was the first time in six games where he didn’t have a hat trick, and that includes a seven goal game against Delaware.
Part of Villanova’s efficiency comes from the fact that neither Baskin nor Daly are #2 on the team in points. Luke Keating’s team high 25 assists on the year combine with his 21 goals (one short of averaging two markers a game!) to put him second in points behind Campbell, while J.P. Basile (18G, 13A) comes in between Baskin and Daly on the points chart. All four of Nova’s top point getters are averaging an assist per game this season, and the team has 98 helpers on 155 goals. Forcing them to make plays one-on-one might be MU’s best opportunity for victory.
Will Vitton has taken up all but 24 minutes across two games in net for Villanova this year. His 11.60 goals-against average is second in the Big East amongst regulars, or at least amongst goalies with at least 300 minutes played. I don’t know how you want to feel about Georgetown’s Michael Scharfenberger playing 200 minutes while Owen McElroy was out hurt, but Vitton is “only” third best behind the two guys playing all the minutes for the Hoyas if you want to think of it that way.
That might be more of a compliment to Villanova’s field defense and potentially their pace of play (#52 in the country out of 73 teams per Lacrosse Reference) than anything else, though. Vitton is stopping less than 49% of shots on goal this season, which makes him fourth in the Big East amongst starting netminders. If MU’s offense can get clean looks at Vitton, they should be able to score at a decent clip. They’re allowing more than 11 goals a game and LR has them at just #50 in the country in defensive efficiency.