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Marquette Men’s Lacrosse Preview: vs #10 Denver

We have reached the point where the Golden Eagles no longer control their own destiny for the Big East tournament.

2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship - Semifinals
I have been using this same picture of the Denver mascot for nearly a decade. Please, will someone please take a new picture of the mascot?
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Well, the good news for our previewing purposes here is that we found a new part of the horse that isn’t dead yet.

As soon as Marquette men’s lacrosse lost to Providence, we told you that the Golden Eagles’ path to one of the four spots in the Big East tournament was dependent on getting a win over one of Georgetown, Villanova, or Denver. Given that all three teams were ranked at the time, back at the beginning of April, this has turned out to be exactly as difficult as it was expected to be at the two-thirds mark. Marquette had a lead on both Georgetown and Villanova in the fourth quarter, but ended up with an overtime loss to both squads.

That brings us around to Friday’s regular season finale against Denver, but because Marquette has not already acquired the win they need and because they lost to the Friars, MU is no longer in charge of whether or not they get into the Big East tournament.

The Golden Eagles still have to beat Denver, that much is clear. If they lose, Providence gets the #4 seed in the tournament, the end. If Marquette finds a way past the Pioneers.... well, that means that Marquette and their brand new 2-3 record will need 1-3 Providence to not reach 2-3 as well. After all, the Friars hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Providence’s regular season finale will not be until Saturday afternoon, so if MU wins on Friday night, they will have to wait to see if they end up in the top four. Providence’s opponent, aka the team that MU’s hopes are pinned on right now? St. John’s. 0-4 in the league St. John’s. 0-13 St. John’s. Lost 19 in a row dating back to last season St. John’s. Lost 20-14 to Providence last year St. John’s. Lost 20-10 to Marquette earlier this season St. John’s.

Marquette needs that St. John’s team to beat Providence on Saturday AND they need to beat Denver at home on Friday. Otherwise, the 2023 Big East tournament will be held on May 4th and 6th at Valley Fields without the Golden Eagles disturbing a single blade of grass in the Valley and MU’s season will come to an end.

This wasn’t a secret, this was known information before Marquette went into the Providence game, and long before they fell behind 7-2 in the first 18 minutes. MU’s current predicament could have been avoided, they could be 2-2 right now, holding a 2 game lead on 0-4 Providence and St. John’s and already clinched into the field. But their season long inconsistency plagued them then, and now it looms dangerously over how their season will end.

Big East Game #5: vs #10 Denver Pioneers (8-4, 3-1 Big East)

Date: Friday, April 28, 2023
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Valley Fields, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloSports with Scott Sudikoff and Eric Simon calling the action
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteMLax

Marquette is 2-11 all time against Denver. MU’s only two wins over the Pioneers have come in postseason play, first in a 10-9 victory in the 2016 Big East championship game and then 11-8 one year later in the Big East semifinals. Other than that, it’s been 11 straight regular season losses to the Pios. They’ve had some near misses, falling by just one goal in Milwaukee in 2019 and again in 2021, but the last two meetings have gone in Denver’s favor by 10 and eight goals respectively. Both of those were in Colorado, though.

Denver comes in on a four game winning streak, and all four of those wins came in a 13 day period. After beating then-#9 Villanova, 12-6, at home on April 8, the Pioneers ventured to the east coast for a Thursday evening contest at Towson where they were up 5-0 at the end of the first but leading by just one when the fourth quarter started. They figured out how to get the 12-10 win there, and then went north to Queens where they fell behind 3-1 in the first eight minutes against a winless St. John’s team. The Johnnies led 10-7 late in the third before Denver scored the final five goals of the game to sneak out of town with another 12-10 victory. Six days later, they were back at home to host Providence in the home finale. That contest was much more in DU’s control the whole time, as they went up 8-2 at halftime and coasted to a 13-6 win.

That leaves them at 8-4 overall with only a local rivalry loss to Air Force in their second game of the season going in the books as a loss to an unranked team this season. Denver is also 3-1 in the Big East, which means that they have clinched a spot in the conference tournament, but will be officially playing for a shot at a share of the regular season championship on Friday night. If Villanova beats Georgetown, also on Friday evening, then that opens the door for VU and GU to join DU at 4-1 if the Pioneers are successful in defeating Marquette in Milwaukee. Denver’s also far from guaranteed to win the Big East’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, so they’ll be motivated to secure this win in head coach Bill Tierney’s final regular season contest to give them a shot at one more NCAA tournament appearance for their legendary head coach.

As befitting an offense that’s middle of the country in efficiency and middle of the country in turnover rate according to Lacrosse Reference, Denver doesn’t have a knock your socks off option on offense. JJ Sillstrop is their top point man, but he has just 34 points on 29 goals and five assists in 12 games this season. Stephen Avery is DU’s #2 goal scorer this season, and at 23, he’s the only other guy on the roster with more than 17 goals to his credit.

While Denver may not be a particularly potent offense, they are a crafty offense. The Pioneers have recorded 85 assists on 138 goals this season, and they have four guys with at least 11 assists on the stat sheet. Richie Connell is the leader with 16, but Michael Lampert (15) and Noah Manning (14) are right behind him. Mic Kelly is the guy with 11 helpers, and thus the guy who’s falling juuuuuuust short of averaging at least an assist per game.

I presume we’re going to see Michael Kleban in net for Denver on Friday night. He’s played in every game this year for the Pioneers, and has been starting as of late. Kleban hasn’t been finishing, though, playing all 60 minutes just three times this season and only once since mid-March. He also didn’t start against St. John’s two weeks ago, but had to come on in relief of Jack Thompson for the final 36 minutes. In any case, Kleban has played the majority of the minutes for DU, and he’s got the better stats with a goals-against average of just 8.95 and a save percentage of .510. Both numbers are miles better than what Thompson has given the Pios this season, and since this is a must-win game for Denver to a certain extent, it makes sense that Tierney would go with the more proven commodity.