Marquette hosts No. 5/5 Denver in regular season finale

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Photo by Maggie Bean/Marquette Images

Photo by Alicia Mojica

For the first time this season, the Golden Eagles won’t have to travel two weekends in a row, but that doesn’t mean it will be a smooth ride. No. 16/17 Marquette closes out its regular season Saturday when the team hosts the toast of the Big East, No. 5/5 Denver.

Denver has not lost a Big East game in its two years in the conference, and most of the Pioneers’ in-conference games this season haven’t been close. The preseason No. 1 ranked team has some impressive wins under its belt, including a 17-13 victory against No. 6/6 Duke and an 11-10 overtime triumph against No. 1/1 Notre Dame. The Pioneers only losses this season were to No. 10/11 Ohio State and No. 2/2 North Carolina.

The Pioneers’ roster features three Major League Lacrosse draft picks: senior midfielder Erik Adamson (Chesapeake Bayhawks), senior attackman Wesley Berg (Denver Outlaws) and senior defenseman Carson Cannon (Denver Outlaws). Sophomore attackman Connor Cannizzaro, who is playing in his first season after transferring from Maryland, leads the team with 60 points. He is fourth in scoring in Division I.

“They are as deep as any team we’ve played,” coach Joe Amplo said. “I just watched their St. John’s game this morning. They ran four midfields. All those players are very capable of making plays.”

The Golden Eagles will have to overcome one of the strongest faceoff men in the country, freshman Trevor Baptiste. He’s won 202 of his 273 draws this season.

“Faceoffs are probably going to be the biggest challenge,” redshirt junior long-stick midfielder Liam Byrnes said. “Their faceoff kid has been having his way with some of the best guys in the country … What he likes to do is win it to himself and move it up to the offense. If we’re able to tie him up and let the wing guys get in there, we might have a better chance of getting the ground ball.”

Denver has been a big challenge for the Golden Eagles in the past. The Pioneers won 15-4 and 17-9 in the two prior matchups. Then-sophomore attackman Jack Bobzien scored four goals for Denver in last year’s game.

“We’ve got to play defense with our offense,” Amplo said. “We’ve got to keep the ball away from them a little bit. (We have to) try and have good solid possessions and wear them down defensively so that we’re not playing a lot of defense.”

“I spoke to the Providence coach this morning,” Amplo continued. “He said they didn’t even go with a scouting report. They just focused on what Providence does, and they played better. We’re not going to go to that extreme.”

It is the second season in a row these two teams have ended their seasons playing against each other. Last year the stakes were clear: the winner would win the Big East regular season title and the first spot in the tournament. This year, things are a bit more muddled.

If Denver wins, they will hold both the regular season title and first spot in the tournament. If Marquette wins they’d have a share of the regular season title, but the seeding would be dependent on the result of the St. John’s-Georgetown game.

If Georgetown loses, Marquette and Denver would be the only teams with a 4-1 record. The Golden Eagles would have the advantage head-to-head, clinching the first seed. If Georgetown and Marquette both win, the three teams would all have the same record. Since all three have the same head-to-head record against each other, Denver would be the first seed with the goal differential tie-breaker.

As for the fourth seed, the three remaining teams are all still alive. Of the two teams with a 1-3 record, Villanova has the inside track, holding the head-to-head tiebreaker against St. John’s. The Wildcats travel to Providence this weekend.

If Marquette does not win this weekend, the team will likely need to win the Big East tournament to earn a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Denver would be the favorites to come out on the other side of the bracket.

“I’ve looked at it enough that it’s not the have-all be-all for us,” Amplo said. “If we are fortunate to win, I do think we knocked the door down into the NCAA tournament. If we don’t come out the right side, we’ll still be in the conversation.”

“It would establish ourselves as a top team and not just a middle of the pack contender,” Byrnes said.

No matter the result, it may be a dress rehearsal for a more pivotal matchup.

“We’ll definitely learn from what they’re doing,” junior midfielder Ryan McNamara said. “It can kind of be like testing the waters, seeing what works for if we possibly play them again.”

The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Hart Park and will be aired live on CBS Sports Network.

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