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Denver vs Drexel Mens Lacrosse May 18, 2014 NCAA quarterfinal Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan big east
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College Lacrosse Conference Preview: Big East

The Big East men’s lacrosse conference should be rock solid this year, as the conference is home to a national title contender and a couple of other programs well positioned to make a jump in the NCAA D1 men’s lacrosse landscape. Rutgers has departed from the conference and joined the Big Ten, but there are still teams in the Big East and that means there is a highly coveted AQ bid on the line!

Editor’s Note: For this edition of our 2015 College Lacrosse Conference Preview, Connor Wilson takes a look at the Big East teams playing men’s lacrosse, and how these teams stack up for 2015. Sean Christman has already previewed the America EastColonial Athletic Association, and the Independents (there are two!) and Connor Wilson tackled the mighty ACC and the Patriot.

Last year, Denver went 6-0 in league and 16-3 overall on their way to a Final Four season. They’re still the top dog in the conference, but squads like Marquette, St. John’s and Villanova are all showing serious signs of life, and Georgetown and Providence can never be overlooked. 2015 looks like a great year for the Big East!

Denver has to be the resounding favorite to win the Big East. They return a ton of talent all over the field and have truly reached elite level program status. Wes Berg and Jack Bobzien will be a dangerous duo down low at attack and Denver has a number of younger gun slingers who can step in, and one of the big ones is Connor Cannizzaro who came to DU from Maryland. That’s a huge pick up. Their midfield is also quite potent and will be led by Erik Adamson and Zack Miller. This unit moves the ball well, knows their role on the team, and executes.Denver vs Drexel Mens Lacrosse May 18, 2014 NCAA quarterfinal Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

Defensively, Denver is good to go with Ryan LaPlante back in goal. LaPlante proved last year that he can carry a team, but he’s far from alone on defense. Brandon Mullins and Carson Cannon will lead the poles down low and this is a big, athletic group. I have really liked Denver’s defensive cohesion in the past, and this should be a strong point for them this year, but there are only ten poles on Denver’s roster, so depth could be an issue if the injury bug bites hard.

Last year, Denver did a nice job of limiting transition, working for goals and quality shots with their possessions and still playing fast and loose. If they can keep that up again in 2015 the Pioneers should be golden, and if Chris Hampton can knock his draw numbers up a bit (I think he might!), Denver could be looking pretty all season long.

Georgetown is an interesting team to watch. They return 7 starters from 2014, and have a good core of offensive guys to rely on. Reilly O’Connor and Bo Stafford are consistent producers on attack Peter Conley and Charlie McCormick will put up points at the midfield and move the ball around to newer guys like freshman Craig Berge, a highly touted newcomer.big east lacrosse

Bryson Craft is another newcomer and the Grad Student is now playing for his 3rd D1 team. He started out at UMass, trasferred to Lehigh, and is now at Gtown. Bryson Greene returns on D and should provide good leadership early on. Nic Mahaney is another older guy who could see additional time down low, but goaltending is a major issue for Georgetown with only two keepers on their roster, and neither carrying much experience at the D1 level.

Marquette is definitely on the up and up. Their trajectory is high and if there is a team that could surprise Denver, I actually like Marquette as the team to do it. Do I think it will happen? No. But who knows?

The Golden Eagle return plenty of key players in good spots. Liam Byrnes will wreak havoc as the team’s LSM, Jimmy Danaher is looking to be the starter again in goal, and BJ Grill and Logan Tousaw both return on defense. Defensively, Marquette looks strong. Add in a solid group of returning midfielders in Ryan McNamara, Jacob Richard, and Kyle Whitlow and you have a solid group between the lines.marquette_lacrosse-e1359849464691

Conor Gately also comes back at the attack spot, and he could be joined by some younger faces, but don’t be surprised to see Grad Student Jordan Greenfield (Fairfield) step in and get time as well. Speaking of newcomers, Marquette has a couple more. Gryphin Kelly comes in to takes draws (from Hobart) and at least two of the Marquette freshman should push for time on the offensive midfield.

This group is still far from set, or going 100%, but when they do, they have the talent to surprise some people.

Providence has long been considered one of the weaker programs in all of men’s D1 lacrosse, but that does seem to be changing. Chris Gabrielli has done a wonderful job at changing the culture of the Friars, and a big part of this seems to be captains, specially underclassman captains.Patriot League Mens Lacrosse - Providence College at Boston University

This year, Providence has four captains and one of them, Jarrod Neumann, is only a sophomore. You’d think this might be rare, but Greg FitzMaurice is a senior captain, who was also a team captain as a junior. Gabrielli is finding young leaders and empowering them. To me, this is almost always a positive sign for a program hoping to rise.

The other two captains for Providence are attackman and defenseman Buck McLure and Billy Haas. Both have experience and lead by example, and the two should help solidify the Friars at both ends of the field. Will Mazzone transferring in at the attack position from Army should boost Providence’s scoring. Goalie a definite position of concern for Providence, but they have three solid candidates on the roster. This is a position that they will need to shore up if they want to continue to improve.

St. John’s will still play Rutgers this year. Don’t worry, the rivalry is intact even though Rutgers mas moved to the Big Ten. That’s a good thing for both programs. SJU has done the same thing with Cuse as well and that game will be played in Atlanta, which is neat.Syracuse St Johns Lacrosse

On the field, St. John’s has a lot of work to do. Stefan Diachenko and Eric DeJohn will be back down at attack after a year in the midfield, and Mark DiFrangia will need to be good on the other side of the ball playing defense. Goaltending will be huge for St. John’s and it looks like they have two good options, but not one clear cut starter. As we’ve seen with other programs, two good goalies can be a blessing if you do it right.

If guys like LSMs Chris Fisher and Kyle Skamkro and get it going early, St. John’s could do ok when it comes to face offs, but this is an area of concern for now.

Villanova has a thin senior class (with only six players) and younger players will need to make an immediate impact if this team wants to see success in 2015. Jack Curran and John Kluh are two of those guys, and the junior and sophomore will both need to take leading roles in the Wildcats midfield this year. Dan Willis is another returner with experience, and the sophomore goalkeeper will be leaned on heavily at times.villanova_lacrosse

Johnny Gallaway gives ‘Nova a good option down at attack, as does Devin McNamara. There should be some hearty competition for that third spot. Overall, Villanova is going to be young all over the field. They are also smaller than many of the other D1 programs out there with less than 40 guys on the roster and less than half the team standing 6’ tall.

Injuries could really hurt this team, and they will need to be in great condition to have a good year. It’s a tall order for Villanova in 2015, and they have a long season ahead of them.

Big East, Big Picture

Denver is the obvious favorite here. They are loaded with talent, and the expectations are high. Other programs seem to be vying for second place to a certain extent, but that still makes for an exciting season. And in the playoffs, anything can happen! I will be keeping a particularly close eye on Marquette this year but I think any of the other 4 programs could see success as well.

Let’s play knock the King off the mountain! Denver, everyone is coming for you!