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Marquette Men’s Lacrosse Preview: at #18 Denver

The Golden Eagles wrap up the regular season with their traditional final opponent: The nationally ranked Pioneers

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

While Marquette men’s lacrosse has already clinched a spot in the Big East tournament, there’s still some things on the line for the regular season finale beyond just pride. The Golden Eagles currently sit in fourth place in the Big East at 2-2, one game behind both Villanova and Denver at 3-1. If that holds, then MU plays Georgetown in the Big East semifinals. That’s kind of like signing up to get your head caved in, given how the Hoyas have looked all season but especially against Marquette and also because the tournament is hosted by Georgetown.

However, if Marquette wins on Friday night, things go up in the air a little bit. A win would give MU the tiebreaker against the Pioneers. If it comes down to just the two of them at 3-2, that makes Marquette the #3 seed, which sounds like good news……. But if Villanova beats Georgetown on Friday, before Marquette and Denver get started, then it’s the Hoyas as the #2 seed since they would tie with the Wildcats at 4-1 atop the Big East.

If Villanova loses — and let’s be honest and fair here, this is the likely result — then that could create a three-way tie for second place in the league. All three teams would be 1-1 against each other at that point, and all three would have lost to Georgetown, so I have no idea what tiebreaker would end up getting used, probably goal differential. It’s possible that Marquette could end up as the #2 seed in the conference tournament in this scenario, so that’s on the table if the Golden Eagles can figure out how to get a win in the mountains.

That’s not a gimme though, as you can see from Denver’s national ranking in the Inside Lacrosse top 20 poll. The Golden Eagles have played the Pioneers tight over most of the last several meetings, including an overtime game in Milwaukee last season. Marquette just made Villanova go the full 60 minutes to close them out last weekend, so the question becomes whether or not the Golden Eagles can find an extra gear past that to pull off the upset against the Pioneers to wrap up the regular season with a win.

Marquette might not know the result of Nova/Georgetown by the time they get started, but also the Hoyas might make it a bit obvious since they’re playing to lock up the #1 seed in the tournament that they’re hosting. We’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out, but that’s the fun of sports, isn’t it?

Big East Game #5: at #18 Denver Pioneers (8-5, 3-1 Big East)

Date: Friday, April 29, 2022
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, Denver, Colorado
Television: Altitude 2, if you’re in the area
Streaming: DenverPioneers.com, but it’s part of their pay package at $10 a month
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteMLax

Marquette is 2-10 all time against Denver. All 10 losses have come in the regular season, while the only two wins came in the Big East tournament. MU is 1-5 all time in games played in Denver, with the win coming in the Big East title game in 2016. Since Marquette beat the Pioneers in the 2017 conference semifinals, the Golden Eagles have held the Pioneers to 11 or fewer goals in every meeting except for last year’s Denver end of the home-and-home series. Denver has been ranked for each and every game in the series.

Denver is just 8-5 on the year, but they come in on a hot streak with wins in five of their last six games. The lone loss in there? 17-9 at home against Georgetown which was ranked #3 in the country at the time and is sitting at #2 at the moment. Not too shabby, and right in line with DU’s other four losses so far this season. Hard to say they’re having a bad year when they have three losses to top 10 teams, a fourth to #11, and a fifth to #19. That’s life when you’re trying to put together a schedule to maximize your RPI and put yourself in position for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.

With that said, Denver’s shot at that at-large spot is nearly non-existent at this point. Lacrosse Reference says they have just a 4.4% chance through Wednesday’s action, and I would presume that a loss to Marquette would effectively drop that number to zero. You can lose to other NCAA caliber teams and get in, but not tack on a loss to a team outside the national championship field, y’know?

Keeping in mind that Denver is on a hot streak in terms of wins and highly motivated to get this W, Marquette is going to be hard pressed to figure out how to solve the Denver attack. The good news is that Zach Granger made his return to the lineup on defense for Marquette last Saturday…. The bad news is that Mason Woodward did not. Kind feels like MU’s All-American defender is done for the year at this point, which is a problem when you look at what Denver brings to the table. They don’t have a superstar attacker, as no one has more than the 30 goals from JJ Sillstrop, and no one has outperformed Sillstrop’s 48 points on the year. However, the Pioneers do have four guys with at least 30 points this season and six who are north of 20. Every single one of the six has at least 10 goals and 10 assists, and that’s without even mentioning Richie Connell who “only” has 12 goals and four assists this year. That’s seven guys in the regular rotation for Denver who are averaging over a point per game this season. Feels like keeping track of all of them could turn into a problem for the Golden Eagles if they’re shorthanded on defense.

Jack Thompson has taken over the goalie duties for Denver this season after Cole French was the Day 1 starter. Thompson has started in 11 of DU’s games this year, racking up over 600 minutes played and stopping nearly 53% of shots on goal. While that sounds good, Lacrosse Reference rates out Marquette and Denver’s defensive abilities as nearly the same efficiency-wise this season, so maybe that’s some good news for Marquette in this one.