MLAX Minute: Denver Eyes Conference Tourney Bid

Danny O'Connell and Villanova look to rebound off Friday's loss when they visit Rutgers Saturday night.

Danny O'Connell and Villanova look to rebound off Friday's loss when they visit Rutgers Saturday night.

April 8, 2014

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NEW YORK – Denver’s overtime victory at Villanova Friday night in front of CBS Sports Network’s national audience gave the Pioneers sole possession of first place entering the week. At 3-0, Denver stands one full game ahead of Marquette and the Wildcats, who are both 2-1, while holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over the latter.

The two other BIG EAST game last weekend had significant impacts on the standings. Georgetown erupted for eight straight goals and then held off a late Providence rally to down the Friars 10-8 in the nation’s capital Saturday. The win allowed the Hoyas to stay alive for the BIG EAST Tournament at 1-3 in the conference. On Sunday in Queens, N.Y., Marquette never trailed before watching a late St. John’s surge tie the game at 10-all and force overtime. The Golden Eagles found the back of the net in the second OT period to take an 11-10 win and plant themselves firmly in the hunt for a BIG EAST tourney spot.

Rutgers fell 15-11 to Princeton on Saturday in non-conference play.

Marquette will have its hands full in the only non-conference game on the slate before the weekend when No. 10/9 Notre Dame comes to town Tuesday for a 5 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Central face-off. The Golden Eagles will be back on the field Saturday for a noon Eastern tilt with Providence.

BIG EAST men’s lacrosse hits national television again Saturday when Denver hosts St. John’s at 4:30 p.m. Eastern/2:30 p.m. Mountain. A win would clinch the Pios a berth in the BIG EAST Tournament.

Villanova visits Rutgers Saturday at 7 p.m. in a critical BIG EAST matchup, while Georgetown takes on No. 20/19 Lehigh in a non-league battle at 7 p.m.

BIG EAST Notebook

In addition to Marquette’s battles with Notre Dame Tuesday and Providence Saturday, there are two supremely critical conference tilts set for Saturday. Fifth-ranked Denver hosts St. John’s at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS Sports Network. A win puts Denver into the BIG EAST Tournament while simultaneously handing St. John’s a defeat that would devastate its postseason chances. On the other hand, a Red Storm win would suddenly reignite their chances at the BIG EAST Tournament while potentially creating quite a logjam near the top of the standings. Elsewhere Saturday, Villanova heads to Rutgers for a 7 p.m. tilt. The 2-1 Wildcats lead the 2-2 Scarlet Knights by one-half game in the standings. Georgetown is idle from BIG EAST play but has a challenge in taking on No. 20/19 Lehigh Saturday evening.

Denver moved up one spot in both major national polls released Monday. The Pioneers, who were ranked No. 6 in both last week, are up to fifth in the USILA coaches top 20 and the Warrior Inside Lacrosse media voting.

The NCAA’s first RPI ratings of the season are out. Denver is the highest-ranked BIG EAST team at No. 8, while Villanova is next at No. 24 and St. John’s at No. 26. Rutgers (39), Marquette (41), Georgetown (44) and Providence (53) round out the rest of the list.

Denver’s home game against St. John’s on Saturday will air nationally on CBS Sports Network at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. It’s the last BIG EAST game scheduled for national TV this season until the conference championship game on Saturday, May 3 at Villanova on FOX Sports 1.

While Denver is the only team this week that fully controls its destiny for the BIG EAST Tournament, Villanova and Marquette could plant themselves on the doorstep. The Wildcats look to rebound off Friday’s loss to the Pioneers when they visit Rutgers, while the Golden Eagles are home for Providence. Wins for either would put them at 3-1 and no worse than one game behind first-place Denver with two BIG EAST games left.

So much can change in just seven days. This time last week, St. John’s was a team that controlled its own destiny. With games against Rutgers and Marquette upcoming, the Red Storm knew that two victories plus a little help from Georgetown against Providence would make them the first team in the BIG EAST Tournament. But two losses later by a total of four goals (and one of them in double overtime), St. John’s is tied for fourth and, if the season ended today, on the outside looking in at the BIG EAST tourney. St. John’s looks to put new life into its postseason chances when it visits Denver on Saturday.

Redshirt senior Tyler Knarr has long been a force at the X, but it seems as though his game has gone to an even higher level this season for Georgetown. Knarr went 16-of-20 on face-offs Saturday against Providence, helping the Hoyas control possession and rattle off an 8-0 stretch in the eventual 10-8 victory. With 10 ground balls, Knarr also broke his own single-season record in the stat. He has 118 and counting, surpassing last year's mark of 112.

Entering its first season in the BIG EAST, Denver was tabbed the preseason favorite in January in voting conducted by the league's seven head coaches. With two appearances in the national semifinals in the last three seasons, the Pioneers topped the poll with 36 points and six first-place votes. St. John's was next with 31 points and the last first-plate ballot. The rest of the poll was filled out by Villanova (25 points), Georgetown (22), Providence (12), Rutgers (12) and Marquette (9).

Villanova University will host the 2014 BIG EAST Men's Lacrosse Tournament on Thursday/Saturday, May 1/3 from Villanova Stadium. The top four teams in the regular-season standings will advance to the tournament, with the semifinals playing out Thursday. The two advancing teams will meet on Saturday with the conference title and automatic NCAA Tournament berth on the line. FOX Sports 1 will televise the championship game at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Upcoming Schedule
Tuesday, April 8
No. 10/9 Notre Dame at Marquette, 5 p.m.

Saturday, April 12
Providence at Marquette *, 1 p.m.
St. John's at No. 5/5 Denver *, 4:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Villanova at Rutgers *, 7 p.m.
Georgetown vs. No. 20/19 Lehigh, 7 p.m. (Folsom, Pa.)

All times Eastern
* - BIG EAST game