#10 Notre Dame at Marquette
Uihlein Park - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Despite their record, the Marquette men's lacrosse team, at 4-7, has essentially overachieved this season at this point.
I give their team and Head Coach Joe Amplo a lot of credit. The Golden Eagles played their first seven games of the season away from their home field in Milwaukee. While they went 2-5, one of those wins was at Hofstra, the #16th-ranked team in the country and current CAA conference leaders.
However, as good as the win at Hofstra was, they have laid some eggs. Marquette laid an egg in Jacksonville, losing by one goal to the 2-7 Dolphins and dropping a home contest to a relatively mediocre Bellarmine team.
I wrote in my preseason primer that Marquette would rely on the Canadian duo of Tyler Melnyk and Kyle Whitlow, and to an extent, they have overrelied on one of them. Melnyk (32g, 14a) has been the workhorse for the Golden Eagles and his 46 points are almost double that of Whitlow, who has 16 goals and 9 assists on the season.
Behind them, three players have double digit points, and that's it.
At attack, Amplo has cycled through lineups to surround Melnyk with talent and has settled with Redshirt Senior Brian Badolato (13g, 6a) who is 3rd on the team in points and Sophomore Conor Gately (10g, 8a), tied for 4th on the team in points. Both are talented, but are prone to turnovers. In addition, Melnyk has a head-scratching amount of penalties for an attackman. His five penalties for 3.5 minutes lead me to believe that he either rides too aggressively or he gets frustrated and gets reckless. At the same time, the Marquette attack isn't that efficient either. They take a lot of shots, but not many are on net. Regardless, I expect Irish coach Kevin Corrigan to put O'Hara on Melnyk and give the Senior Captain a chance to redeem himself after his lackluster performance against Duke.
Marquette's midfield is balanced and plays well together, but Amplo, like with his attack unit, is searching for a lineup that works. His top-line of middies has two players locked-in, with Whitlow and Freshman Ryan McNamara (13g, 5a) leading the way. The #3 could be a number of players, as Amplo has started three different players on the top line in the past three games (Andy DeMichiei (1g, 7a), Blaine Fleming (5g, 0a) and Jordan Green (0g, 2a)). DeMichiei started their most recent game, but Fleming has more starts on the season, so it is difficult to say how Amplo will go. Something else to note: 7 different Marquette middies have played in every game this season and multiple others have seen action. Not the talent level of Duke's midfield, but a deep one that could tire you out.
The Golden Eagles' FOGO situation is somewhat ugly. Marquette has played three different FOGO's and they're all certainly beatable on paper. Paul Riportella and Cullen Cassidy have taken roughly the same amount of faceoffs this season and both are hovering around 50%, with K.C. Kennedy taking a hundred less faceoffs and is a not-so-great 39%, but none of the three have played in every game this season. Amplo seems hesitant to rotate FOGO's and will ride with one all game, no matter the cost.
Defensively, the Golden Eagles are vulnerable, namely, because none have started every game, as Amplo has been trying to find a lineup that worked. He appears to have settled on Dan Mojica (6'3, 195), Logan Tousaw (5'10, 185) and B.J. Grill (5'7, 155). Other defensemen that have seen action include Nicholas Eufrasio (6'0, 180) and Brian Porter (6'2, 200). This is a group that is relatively disciplined, as none have more than three penalties each on the season but outside of Grill, none of Marquette's longpoles are adept at causing turnovers.
In net, the Golden Eagles are relying on the stick of Freshman Jimmy Danaher. His 45% save percentage isn't that great and his 61-saves on the season is pretty paltry.
Marquette was picked to finish last in the Big East in it's inaugural season the Catholic Conference and as of now, they are defying expectations. By virtue of the Golden Eagles' wins over Rutgers and St. Johns and the tiebreakers in the conference, Marquette currently sits at 3rd in the Big East. They have shown that they can win the big game and that they can do it on the road as well.
However, they haven't won at home yet and their last game, two days ago, was a 2OT thriller win at St. Johns in New York. Marquette runs the risk of being tired and sore and facing an Irish squad that has an extra day of rest.
At the same time, Notre Dame finds themselves at a crossroads. As they enter this non-conference portion of their schedule, they have to decide what kind of team they want to be. The key to an Irish win is through attackman Matt Kavanagh, as ND hasn't figured out how to win without him yet on the season. Take ND's wins. In the four Irish victories on the season, Kavanagh averages 4 goals and 4 assists but in their four losses, Kavanagh averages roughly a goal and an assist. Clearly, the Irish need to get Kavanagh in the offense or alternatively, find someone to step up beyond Conor Doyle, who while talented, can't carry the offense on his own.
Netminding was also ugly for the Irish on Saturday. Doss had trouble early and was replaced by Kelly, but Kelly didn't show me that he deserved his old job back. If Doss starts, he has to buckle down and focus.
If the Irish are able to get Kavanagh back in the mix, shut down Melnyk, get some nice saves out of Doss and control the ground ball game, I see the Irish winning this one easily. I am inclined to think this will happen but the 2014 ND lacrosse team continues to surprise me in good ways and bad.