It's hard to miss the him on the field. Standing at 6'4" and often times being double-teamed, Denver's Mark Matthews is the guy the opponents key in on week-in and week-out.
Hailing from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, Matthews grew up as a box lacrosse player. Like so many Canadians before him, the box game has taught Matthews how to protect the ball and catch the ball in tight pockets. It's also no surprise Matthews led the Denver Pioneers in shots taken with 124, 40 more than the next guy on the team:
Matthews led the Pioneers in goals and points in 2011, scoring 44 goals and finishing with 66 points. Last week against Villanova, Matthews took 12 shots, scoring on three of them and assisiting on another.
The junior attackman has great hands, good vision and creates offense on his own. Just watch the highlight below of his goal from Sunday's victory. He uses his size to his advantage and is such a strong guy he often will be seen backing his defenders down. Its almost like Matthews is a 6'4" Cody Jamieson.
Its no doubt Matthews' big body clears out space for other players on the Pioneers. Cameron Flint and Jeremy Noble were able to get great looks from the outside in Sunday's win over the Wildcats. Often times you would see guys slide down to double Matthews, leaving a midfielder open up top. Noble was the beneficiary of that as he scored four goals.
Matthews is a member of Team Canada (box) and played for the Whitby Warriors Junior A lacrosse club before joining the Pioneers. He was the 2007 "Rookie of the Year" and led the league in scoring.
In order for Denver to pull of the upset on Saturday, Matthews will have to play big. He must use his size. I've used the comparison before -- Matthews plays like a Dan Hardy or Grant Catalino. A double team at the right time can slow down a guy like Matthews, especially someone who shoots as much as he does. If he can be smart, and play the way he did on Sunday, I think the Pioneers have a good shot to pull of the upset.
The offense runs through the tall attackman, but if Matthews tries to steal the show and play selfish, it will be a very long day for the Pioneers.