Photo courtesy of The Denver Post
Everything looks like smooth sailing for the #2 University of Denver Pioneers. Following a 12-2 thumping of Providence last weekend at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium and a certain #1 seed for the BIG EAST tournament, the final regular season game against Marquette (6-6, 2-2 Big East) feels almost anticlimactic. Denver coasted to their 4th straight conference #1 seed and still have never lost in regular season BIG EAST play. Add to that, the Pioneers are assured of facing the Golden Eagles again the following week in the Big East tournament semifinals at Villanova.
This is the classic trap game.
Last season, the #1 ranked Pioneers defeated Marquette, 14-11, at Peter Barton to finish the regular season at 12-1 heading into the BIG EAST Tournament. While Denver won by 3 goals, they easily dominated the contest and looked to have an easy path in league tournament play. A week later in the semifinals, the Pioneers crushed Providence 17-8 to cruise into the conference finals. Then, Denver looked tired and slow as they fell to the underdog Golden Eagles, 10-9. The Pios’ struggles continued the following weekend in the NCAA Tournament when Towson rolled into Denver and upset the listless Pioneers by the same score, 10-9.
It was a shocking end to the 2015-2016 season that had so much promise.
The scenario feels eerily similar this year – except Denver seems to be improving the final quarter of the season. Goalkeeper Alex Ready is getting more comfortable in the cage. Freshman attack Ethan Walker has become a major factor on offense, replacing the loss of Zach Miller. Tyler Pace’s return from injury has stabilized the midfield and the defense is getting healthier and taking shape. And of course, per usual, Trevor Baptiste has been a dominant force at the X.
But make no mistake – Saturday’s game, 2:30 pm MT is a trap game for Denver. Marquette’s stadium is sold out and the Golden Eagles will be looking for a confidence builder against the favorites in Milwaukee. It will be Senior Day for Marquette – it seems like every game is Senior Day for BIG EAST foes when they face Denver. Also, instead of playing at friendly Peter Barton, Denver will be finishing their BIG EAST regular season and tournament games on the road (Marquette is 5-1 at home this season) to earn their seed for the national tournament.
Does Denver go all out in Milwaukee and show Marquette everything they have while facing them again only a week later? Bill Tierney on his radio show stated that the Pioneers will be going all out in Milwaukee. But there will be psychology at play as well. This matchup will be much more than a meaningless regular season finale. Marquette will be looking to shake Denver’s confidence and loosen their grip on BIG EAST dominance. Denver needs to hold the momentum and continue their improved play heading into tournament play and avoid the classic trap.
The Pioneers and Golden Eagles faceoff at 2:30 PM MT on Saturday. It will be televised on CBS Sports Network.