One of the sweetest times of the year is upon us: May Madness. If this season’s rankings were any indicator, this year’s postseason dance is truly anything goes. The BIG10 made a splash with all six programs in the Top 20 at one point, and despite Denver University’s resume of a season schedule and wins, they were pushed around by the ripple effects of rankings this year.
Now, the Pioneers host Air Force for the first round of the Sweet 16 this weekend – the first all-Colorado postseason game I can remember in recent history. Yet, I can’t figure out how the Falcons are playing DU while teams like Rutgers and Army sit out the postseason. That being irrelevant let’s cut to the chase: Denver should be primed for an ever-dramatic round two showdown with Notre Dame.
Denver went 11-3 in their regular season and undefeated in BIG EAST play. Yet, they suffered key losses to Ohio State, Marquette (in the conference finals) and UNC. Air Force enters this postseason questionably solely based on their schedule – they didn’t play the calibre of programs Denver had to, and their record was 12-5 with losses to teams like Furman and Marist. Can we give an assist to AQ’s and ignore the RPI much?
Yet, an interesting article recently publicized made a very valid point about postseason play in lacrosse. It went on to note that season records and resumes don’t truly matter to the teams in the playoffs. Those 16 teams made it to the party and now it’s the fate of their 2017 seasons is up to them. The true qualifier and measurement of postseason success comes down to the senior leaders on the team, and how effective they are in stepping up to a “fence” role: get the message to and respect from the team, and same with the coaches.
I believe Towson upsetting Denver this time just a year ago is a prime example of this argument. Towson had more senior leaders than DU, who had been stepping up to the call for four years in Maryland. DU boasted a quantity of young talent on their roster.
Now, the tables have turned, because if we look at the senior leaders on Denver and Air Force this year alone, the quality of that leadership is truly present and efficient. The argument that the Pioneers’ leadership is stronger is truly valid.
Connor Cannizzaro, Christian Burgdorf and Tyler Pace – along with Trevor Baptiste in his junior year – have been truly remarkable. Michael Jordan once said, “a truly a good leader is one that makes those around him better,” and look at this showcase from the freshmen on the Pio squad this year. Cannizzaro saved the day against Notre Dame in the regular season, and Burgdorf has been a true presence on the defense and in the news stories.
Air Force has a few seniors leading the charge, but at the end of the day they have not had the spotlight Denver has, nor the schedule resume or the history. Yet, they have a real opportunity to capitalize on some good luck with their admission to the playoffs. They have nothing to lose and that’s what makes them dangerous.
At the end of Saturday, Denver has the majority vote of coming out on top. Unless Marquette pulls off another miraculous upset for the second time in under two weeks, the nation will be ready for another showing of the coveted Denver-Notre Dame rivalry: two teams with equal talent and leadership within.