Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 18 Marquette (Men)
Marquette was the Cinderella story of the NCAA Division I men's 2015 season, breaking into the national rankings after just 31 games as a program.
Will the Golden Eagles keep trending up in Year Four? A 19-member senior class would like to leave an even larger mark in Milwaukee.
Marquette is ranked No. 18 in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Top 20.
Marquette at a Glance
2015 Record: 10-6
3 Big Things
1. They are on the radar.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Marquette was one of three Division I men's teams last year to have a record above .500 despite allowing more goals than it scored. All of them were pretty close to even. Marquette let up 168 goals and scored 163 -- a -0.31 scoring margin -- by far its best ratio in the program's young history. Detroit put in 139 and allowed 143 and Bucknell scored 144 and gave up 149.
Last year, in only its third varsity season and second as a member of the Big East, Marquette started 7-0, cracked the Top 20 in the national rankings and was in NCAA tournament at-large consideration until the final week of the regular season. That's when the Golden Eagles lost to Georgetown in the Big East tournament semifinals. Joe Amplo, named a U.S. men's national team assistant coach in December, has built the program his way — taking the big step of having an entire team on campus for a full year, without playing any outside competition, before the team debuted in 2013. Four years later, Marquette has an experienced 19-member senior class that went through 5-8 and 6-10 seasons before last year's breakout 10-6 year. Marquette was nationally ranked after just 31 games as a program.
2. They are gritty.
Of those seven wins to start the season, four were of the one-goal variety. Sure, there was some luck involved but Marquette is a gritty group, too, and has built a reputation for putting together crazy second-half comebacks. Practices in 10-degree Wisconsin weather will harden a team. That said, the Golden Eagles went 3-6 down the stretch. But at the same time three of those losses coming to this year's preseason top three: Notre Dame, Denver and Duke. The rub? Marquette is ranked about where they should, but has potential to crack into the upper second-tier of the national pecking order. "The reality was we were probably a 10-6 team the whole year," Amplo said, "a team that was right in the Top 20, just in, just out and competing with that second level group of teams. The trick is for us is can we improve upon that this year."
3. They are chasing Denver.
Like the rest of the Big East, and most of the country, Marquette is staring up at the reigning big dog in the country, national champion Denver. There is ground to make up. Denver beat Marquette 18-11 in Milwaukee last spring. "I don't want to bring any kid on campus that I don't think can help us beat Denver," Amplo said. "It's as simple as that. We've got to align our thinking with going after the kids that we think can help us beat the best team in the country." Amplo said a couple of this year's freshmen typify that recruiting approach: attackman John Wagner (Cranbrook-Kingswood, Mich., swingman Josh Williamson (Redondo Union, Calif.) and long stick Brendon Connolly (St. Paul's School, Md.), though the latter two were under-recruited nationally. "Those kids have more to prove now," Amplo said. "That's what our senior class is now. Nobody knew about those kids five years ago either."
Jimmy Danaher (Jr.)*
* returning starters
Marquette's top returning scorer will be a marked man. The Yorktown, N.Y., native posted 39 points on 25 goals and 14 assists and was a second-team All-Big East pick.
A 6-foot-2 190-pound lefty could crack the starting lineup. He scored 50-plus goals the last three years for Cranbrook-Kingswood (Mich.) and also averaged 43 assists. "He's a potential stud," Amplo said.
The prototypical versatile long-stick midfielder was a team captain as a junior last year, when he had 52 ground balls and caused 26 turnovers. Byrnes was lightly recruited out of West Islip (N.Y.) five years ago.
Biggest Question Mark
Marquette's primary faceoff man from 2015, K.C. Kennedy, is gone. Gryphin Kelly, a junior, and Owen Weselak, a sophomore, shared the backup duties and went a combined 43.8 percent. More possessions would help the Eagles avoid some of last year's one-goal games.
Conor Gately, Marquette's top returning scorer, is part of the Golden Eagles' 19-member senior class. (Kevin P. Tucker)
What rival coaches say about the Golden Eagles
"Move over Donald Trump, Joe Amplo for President. Some new coaches make statements like, 'We want to build this program from within, the right way.' Amplo went a different route: Let's win now. He grabbed transfers (some from his former program at Hofstra) and he grabbed 5th years (Jordan Greenfield).
Amplo employed a good defensive "protect the hub" system and wham, the cardiac kids of Wisconsin beat everyone in their path for the first part of the season regardless of the score as the fourth quarter began."
"Phenomenal and the most unlikely story in our sport in 2015. Can they repeat it in 2016? Tough to match."
"Man, it must be cold outdoors in Milwaukee in February and March. Could be better and still take a step back with their record."
Seniors who will be playing their final season with the Golden Eagles, including three redshirt seniors and two graduate students. "I'm going to go on sabbatical next year when those guys leave," Amplo said.
March 26 vs. Georgetown
This will be the first conference matchup for both teams. It's a rematch of last year's Big East semifinal and a fiery regular-season matchup last spring at Georgetown, won by the Hoyas 10-9. The site this time is Milwaukee, where in 2013 the Eagles went on a 8-1 second-half run to beat the Hoyas 11-10. You can go ahead and call it a Big East rivalry game, and one that will figure prominently in the national and league landscape.
Five Home Games
The Golden Eagles are road warriors, so much so that only five home dates is cause for celebration. Marquette was only able to get three teams to come to Wisconsin last year, and two of them were required (Denver and St. John's in the Big East). Amplo's former boss at Hofstra, John Danowski, brought his Duke team for the third. Marquette also had five home games in 2014, and only two in its inaugural 2013 season.
Marquette won four one-goal games last year, but you know what they say: You make your own luck. This team is gritty like its Long Island-native coach.
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