Denver took some heat last season around NCAA Tournament time: Despite a gaudy record and a high human poll ranking, the Pioneers were running with an ugly RPI strength of schedule of ranking (26th nationally). Presumably to address this issue going into the 2015 season, the Pios dumped Canisius, Marist, Pennsylvania, and Rutgers from their schedule (Rutgers was assumedly jettisoned into the cold reaches of space due to the Scarlet Knights leaving the Big East for the Big Ten) and filled those gaps with Furman, Lehigh, and North Carolina. The Paladins aren't expected to increase Denver's overall look in the RPI, but dates against the Mountain Hawks and Tar Heels could significantly impact how the Pios' slate is rendered in an RPI universe (a universe that should be sucked into a black hole).
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
I Challenge You to a Game of Horseshoes
February 14: v. Duke; February 27: at North Carolina; March 7: Notre Dame
There's a possibility -- and not one that exists only the realm of cows-driving-tractor-trailers -- that Denver, Duke, North Carolina, and Notre Dame could serve as the population of Championship Weekend next May. The Pioneers will meet these three teams will before Memorial Day Weekend, though, with three early dates -- all happening within Denver's first five games -- on the calendar. Not only will these three teams provide important tests for Denver, but the Pioneers will also face these opponents in different circumstances: The meeting with Duke is at a neutral site location in Georgia, the team will need to survive the 'Heels at Fetzer Field, and the Pios will host Duke at what will surely be a sold out Peter Barton Stadium. Three games, three major opponents, three different circumstances surrounding each game.
Circle the Wagons
March 28: Georgetown; April 3: Villanova; April 11: at St. John's; April 18: Providence; April 25: at Marquette
It's not fair to characterize Denver's Big East schedule as the path of least resistance to the NCAA Tournament, but the Pios' conference slate does provide Denver with an opportunity to earn an invitation to The Big Barbecue should the team's nonconference slate go sideways. With the team's entire league schedule featured in the back portion of Denver's agenda, the Pioneers can focus for four weeks exclusively on earning the league's top tournament seed to ensure a manageable postseason excursion. Opening with Georgetown and Villanova at home to start this leg of the team's journey is a decided advantage for the Pios, potentially offering a 2-0 start in Big East play while forcing the rest of the league to chase over the final two weeks of conference action.
No Days Off
March 14: at Ohio State; March 17: at Lehigh; March 21: v. Penn State
The middle of March is going to be a grind for Denver: After getting through its Duke-North Carolina-Notre Dame gauntlet, the Pioneers will face the Buckeyes, Mountain Hawks, and Nittany Lions within a seven-day stretch, all of those games requiring the Pios to travel. Importantly, the final two stops in this push are on the East Coast against opponents that have a history of playing tough, physical lacrosse. Denver needs to be careful here: Tired legs and mental fatigue could impact the team's volition in this portion of the schedule.