2022 Big East Preview

(Photo Courtesy of Georgetown Athletics)

Since the advent of the modern-day Big East, there have primarily been two teams who have dominated on the lacrosse field: Denver and Georgetown. The Pioneers won the conference title in 2014 as well as in 2015 when they won the national title. In recent years, the Hoyas have become the team to beat as they have won the past three conference titles (2018, 2019, 2021) and will be the favorite coming into 2022. You can practically pencil in a Denver-Georgetown Big East title game meeting at this point.

Here is a look at how the Big East shook out last season where the conference had every team play each other twice:

*Big East Regular Season and Tournament Champs

  1. Georgetown – 12-2 (9-1)*
  2. Denver – 12-4 (9-1)
  3. Villanova – 7-5 (6-4)
  4. Marquette – 4-8 (3-7)
  5. Providence – 4-9 (3-7)
  6. St. John’s – 1-10 (0-10)

Georgetown, Denver, Villanova, and Marquette advanced to the Big East Tournament. The Hoyas and Pioneers each made it to the NCAA Tournament, where the Denver fell to Loyola in the first round and Georgetown fell to Virginia in the quarterfinals.

Now let’s turn the focus towards the 2022 season.

Denver Pioneers

Last season: 12-4 (9-1), Big East Runner-up, NCAA First Round

Key Departures: Ethan Walker (A), Jackson Morrill (A), Lucas Cotler (M), TD Ierlan (FO), Colin Squires (D), Danny Logan (SSDM), Kyle Smith (SSDM)

Key Returners: Alex Simmons (A), Jack Hannah (M), Ted Sullivan (M), Alec Stathakis (FO), AJ Mercurio (LSM/D), Jack Thompson (G)

Transfer Additions: Caleb Kueber (A), Richie Connell (A)

You can almost count on a fourth Denver-Georgetown Big East title game to take place in 2022, but it will be a Denver team that looks a bit different than they did a year ago. Last season, Denver relied heavily on the transfer portal, grabbing a trio of Yale grad transfers in Jackson Morrill, Lucas Cotler, and TD Ierlan. Those three are gone, as well as attackman Ethan Walker, who was a starter all five seasons of his career. Their top defenseman, Colin Squires, and SSDMs Danny Logan and Kyle Smith have also moved on. That’s a lot to replace, but this team still has talent and a legend in Bill Tierney serving as head coach.

With the loss of Morrill and Walker, senior Alex Simmons (31G/24A) will take over the keys of the offense as the Pioneers’ top returning attackman while Jack Hannah and Ted Sullivan will headline things at the midfield position. Hannah put up 47 points off 37 goals and 10 assists as the Pioneers’ top midfielder last season. Sullivan had 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points. J.J. Sillstrop, who was a starter in 2020, Mercyhurst (DIII) grad transfer Caleb Kueber, and Richmond transfer Richie Connell are also three guys to watch on offense. Simply put, I am not worried about the Denver offense, just as I am not worried about the faceoff dot with this team as Alec Stathakis (191-for-301, 63%) returns. But defensively, there is reason to be a bit more skeptical.

LSM/D AJ Mercurio (19GB/11CT), defensemen Jack DiBenedetto (21GB/11CT) and Adam Hangland (17GB/4CT), and goalie Jack Thompson (56% save percentage) all return with a wealth of experience after two seasons as full-time starters and should be good again in 2022. However, Squires was a multi-year leader on the back end while Logan and Smith were two of the most impactful players on either end of the field for Denver in 2021. You can’t replace those players, but filing those holes will likely be crucial to this team’s success on the back end, even with the majority of their top-15 defense returning from a year ago, in 2022.

Georgetown Hoyas

Last season: 12-2 (9-1), Big East Champs, NCAA Quarterfinalist

Key Departures: Jake Carraway (A), Nicky Petkevich (A/M), Joe LiCalzi (D)

Key Returners: TJ Haley (A), Graham Bundy, Jr. (M), Declan McDermott (M), Gibson Smith (D), Owen McElroy (G), James Reilly (FO)

Transfer Additions: Connor Morin (A, Notre Dame), Alex Trippi (A, North Carolina), Will Bowen (D, North Carolina)

Georgetown has been the class of the Big East and that doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon. The Hoyas have won each of the past three Big East Championships, and while they do lose their top scorer, Jake Carraway, and one of their top poles in Joe LiCalzi, this is still a team that can four-peat as conference champions and possibly push to make their first Championship Weekend appearance since 1999.

Defense has been the crux of this Hoyas team over the past few seasons. They ranked first in DI in scoring defense (8.31 goals allowed per game) and first in man-down defense as they came up successful in .829% such situations last season. The Hoyas could very well stay atop college lacrosse defensively in 2022 with Gibson Smith returning for a fifth season and Will Bowen transferring in from North Carolina to give the Hoyas the best defense tandem in the sport. Additionally,  junior James Donaldson and sophomore Will Tominovich also return at close, and LSM Alex Mazzone and SSDMs Zachary Geddes and Jack Leary return to lead the way for that rope unit. In between the pipes where Owen McElroy returns for a fifth season of college lacrosse. He has started each of the last 38 games for the Hoyas and asserted himself as one of the best keepers in the nation.

This Hoyas team is loaded even beyond defense. TJ Haley is their top returning point-getter following a freshman campaign in which he played and started in all but one game and was the Hoyas’ second-leader in points with 54 (5G/49A) and was named the Big East Freshman of the year. Midfielders in Graham Bundy, Jr., (36G/12A), Declan McDermott (24G/9A), and Dylan Hess (17G/7A), who shined as a two-way threat last season, all return as well. And that’s just scratching the surface of the depth this offense returns. James Reilly returns as the Hoyas’ primary option at the faceoff dot after going 179-for-307 (.583%) last season. That included a 66% performance against Denver, where Reilly was tasked with going against Alec Stathakis and TD Ierlan.

Marquette Golden Eagles

Last season: 4-8 (3-7 Big East), Big East Semifinalist

Key Departures: Griffin Fleming (A), Ryan Fazio (A), Connor McClelland (M)

Key Returners: Devon Cowan (A), Mason Woodward (D), Zach Granger (D), Sean Richard (G)

Transfer Additions: Luke Blanc (A, UMass), Gabe Souza (M, Jacksonville), Mitch Salanty (M, Messiah), Noah Linder (M, Carthage), Cole Emmanuel (FO, Colorado Mesa), Max Christides (G, UMass Lowell)

The first two seasons of the Stimmel era in Milwaukee haven’t been the smoothest. The first year of the Stimmel era was cut short and saw the Golden Eagles go 3-4 with a fairly young roster compared to their Big East counterparts. They followed that up with a 4-8 campaign in 2021, which marks the lowest win total and percentage (.333) in program history. It also marks the second consecutive full season in which the Golden Eagles have missed the postseason. Coming into year three, the biggest question surrounding this program is how fast can they get back on track?

Defense certainly wasn’t the weakest part of this Marquette team last, but that doesn’t mean they were great either. But it is the end of the field where the Golden Eagles look like they could realistically make a pretty decent jump this spring. this defense returns their top two close defensemen in Mason Woodward (54GB/18CT) and Zach Granger (15GB/16CT), as well as SSDM Jacob Hallam (20GB/10CT), who will be returning for his redshirt senior season. Sean Richard returns in cage after serving as their top option last season,  playing in nine games with eight starts while making 99 saves with a .553% save percentage.

Offensively, I have many more questions on the opposite end where first-year offensive coordinator Bo Lori will be running things. The Golden Eagles only return two major contributors from a year ago, including Devon Cowan. The redshirt sophomore attackman put up 30 goals and eight assists for 38 points while earning first team All-Big East honors last season. Russell Melendez (7G/4A) and Garrett Moya (3G/8A) are the other top returners for this Marquette offense after seeing multiple starts this past spring. Additionally, the Golden Eagles bring in UMass transfer Luke Blanc who could be an impact player. On top of the questions of how good this offense can be, it is also safe to ask how often can they get the ball? Marquette ranked 56th nationally in faceoff with percentage (.383) last season.

Providence Friars

Last season: 4-9 (3-7 Big East)

Key Departures: Ryan Nawrocki (M), Ryan Zimmerman (M), and Dan Axelson (M), Emmett Jennings (D), Toby Burgdorf (G), RJ Romero (FO)

Key Returners: Matt Grillo (A), Grant Latimer (D), Matt Gould (D)

Transfer Additions: Drew Edwards (A, Sacred Heart)

It is rebuilding time in Rhode Island’s capital as the Friars will have a very new look in many respects on both ends this spring, which in turns leads to many questions about just what the ceiling, and floor, is for this team. Providence loses 10 players who saw at least two starts last season, which includes their top three point-getters, top defenseman Emmett Jennings, starting goalie Toby Burgdorf, and primary faceoff man RJ Romero.

Matt Grillo is the face of this team and offense coming into this spring. The senior attackman has been an impact player ever since he stepped foot on campus and is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he put up 25 points off 22 goals and three assists in 12 contests. Junior attackman John Hoffman (10G/3A) and midfielder Evan McGreen (8G/5A), who comes back for a fifth season, are two other top returners for this Friars offense. Sacred Heart grad transfer Drew Edwards comes in after a 32-point senior season with the Pioneers and not only brings experience where it is much needed, but can also help be a talent stop-gap for a season, filling one of the Friars’ many holes on that end.

Perhaps the Friars have even bigger problems on the defensive end as they look to readjust after taking a massive step back last season, ending the year ranked 47th nationally in scoring defense (12.77 goals per game). While the Friars do return a pair of starting poles from a year ago in junior Grant Latimer and senior Matt Gould, all eyes are fixated in between the pipes. Toby Burgdorf filled the shoes of Friar great Tate Boyce and found a good deal of success. Now, it’s time for the torch to be passed once again, but who will be the one to replace Burgdorf? Michael Harris is the only returning goalie who saw any action last season, getting on the field in four contests as the Friars’ backup. Matt Murakami, who transferred in from UMass Lowell prior to last season, could also be in the mix as he served as the River Hawks’ starter in 2020. Freshman Noah D’Andrea and sophomore Will Collins haven’t seen any game action yet.

St. John’s Red Storm

Last season: 1-10 (0-10 Big East)

Key Departures: Joe Madsen (A), Mike Madsen (A/M), Ryan Schaeffer (M), Pat Smyth (D), Tim Kiel (D)

Key Returners: Jonathan Huber (A), Dylan Willis (M), Benjamin Bishop (D), Brody Agres (G)

Transfer Additions: Ben Cirella (D, Michigan), Jack McCarthy (D, Hartford)

The Red Storm are 0-25 against Big East play since 2017 and only have two conference wins to their record since 2015. The question around this program is how soon they can break that streak, especially after almost doing so twice last season as they fell to Marquette by one in both their meetings.

The Red Storm had the nation’s 52nd-best scoring offense (9 goals per game) a year ago. So there is certainly a good amount of growth to be had on that end of the field, and with the loss of four of their top five scorers from a year ago, perhaps a bit of a new slate can yield better results. Jonathan Huber (23G/7A) is the top returning offensive weapon for this St. John’s team coming into the 2022 season after starting every game the past three seasons. Midfielders Connor Kalmus (6G/4A), Mackenzie Iacocca (6G/3A), and Dylan Willis, who had five goals and three assists through the first five games before suffering a season-ending injury, also return to help lead this unit.

On the back end, things were even worse for the Red Storm in 2021 as they had the worst scoring defense in the nation, allowing 18 goals per game. That includes three consecutive games (Denver, Villanova, Georgetown) in which they allowed 20 points. With two starting poles, Benjamin Bishop and Francis Cannizzo, and goalie Brody Agres returning, there is just as much, if not more, room to be made up on the back end. Same can be said of the team’s situation at the faceoff dot where they ranked second-to-last in DI behind only Bellarmine in team faceoff win percentage (.299%).

Villanova Wildcats

Last season: 7-5 (6-4 Big East), Big East Semifinalist

Key Departures: Keegan Khan (A), Eric Overbay (M), Patrick Kennedy (D), Owen Prybylski (D)

Key Returners: JP Basile (A, Duke) and Luke Keating (A, Franklin & Marshall), Brett Baskin (M, Johns Hopkins), Chris Hervada (D, Monmouth)

Villanova has consistently been the third-best team in the Big East, sitting right behind the likes of Denver and Georgetown when all is said and done for multiple years now. They continued that trend in 2021, going 7-5 overall (6-4 Big East) against a conference-heavy schedule where they fell by one goal against both the Pioneers and Hoyas in their second meeting against each. They also fell by two, 14-12, against Georgetown in the Big East semifinals. The Wildcats’ record against those two since 2018 is 1-10. Against Marquette, Providence, and St. John’s Villanova has gone 11-1 during that same period, only losing to Providence in overtime in 2019.

In 2022, the Wildcats will rely heavily on transfers and nowhere can that been seen more than on offense. Senior midfielder Matt Campbell (32G/8A), senior attackman Patrick Daly (21G/7A), and sophomore Tucker Goddelle (9G/4A), who saw five starts at attack last spring but has seen action at the midfield spot this fall, are the top returners on that end of the field. Attackmen JP Basile (Duke) and Luke Keating (F&M), and midfielder Brett Baskin (Johns Hopkins) come in as grad transfers and will likely be impact players on that end, which gives many more confidence n this offense despite all their losses from a year ago. Even more confidence will be put into this Villanova offense if they can get those coveted extra possessions of the faceoff, where Justin Coppola is their top returner after going 130-for-248 (.524%) last season.

On the defensive end of the field, things look even newer for this Wildcats squad with senior goalie Will Vitton and SSDM Chet Comizio as the unit’s only two major returnees. That unit will also be bolstered, somewhat, by what the Wildcats did in the transfer portal over the offseason as former Monmouth defenseman Chris Hervada will be playing his final season of college lacrosse for Villanova. Hervada could very likely be a big impact player on this back end, where it is expected that a number of very young players may see a lot of playing time this spring with their entire starting close unit from last year having moved on. It is the end of the field for Villanova where many will be paying the most attention to, especially after the strong defenses this program has been able to churn out in the past.

2022 Big East Predictions

Here is a look at how I can see the Big East shaking out this season, as well as who I would pick right now as the conference’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year. I also added in a Transfer Player of The Year to predict who will be the most impactful transfer.

Final Standings:

  1. Georgetown
  2. Denver
  3. Villanova
  4. Marquette
  5. Providence
  6. St. John’s

I don’t have any doubt in my mind that Georgetown and Denver are the top two teams coming into the season and a fourth Georgetown-Denver Big East title game should be expected. Villanova and Marquette are in that second tier, although there may be a slight gap in between the Wildcats and Golden Eagles at certain areas. But I would expect both of those teams to be fighting for postseason berths. Providence and St. John’s sit at the bottom and each have a lot of ground to make up for if they want to get into that top four.

Offensive Player of The Year: Jack Hannah, M, Denver

Defensive Player of The Year: Gibson Smith, D, Georgetown

Transfer of The Year: Will Bowen, D, Georgetown (from North Carolina)

2 thoughts on “2022 Big East Preview

  1. Providence finished above Marquette in the conference and made the Big East Tournament in 2021. Marquette did not. Additionally, Providence returns 5th-year Senior Midfielder and 4 year starter Evan McGreen, 2-year starter at attack John Hoffman, and a few other decent pieces to work with.

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