Villanova men's lacrosse coach Mike Corrado understands the enormity of the Big East men's lacrosse tournament, one that will determine the Wildcats' postseason fate.
Villanova will host the Big East semifinal doubleheader Thursday. Top-seeded Notre Dame (11-1, 6-0 Big East) will meet No. 4 seed St. John's (7-6, 3-3) at 4:30 p.m. Second-seeded Villanova (8-6, 4-2) faces No. 3 Syracuse (7-7, 3-3) at 7 p.m.
The championship will be noon on Saturday at Villanova.
The Big East tournament winner will earn an automatic NCAA bid.
While regular-season champion Notre Dame will probably receive a bid regardless of how it fares, Villanova and Syracuse would likely need to win at least a semifinal matchup.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 2 in the latest U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Top 20 poll, while Villanova is No. 17 and Syracuse wasn't ranked but received votes.
Only 16 teams will earn an NCAA bid. That field will consist of seven automatic qualifiers and nine at-large teams.
Since teams from the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference will earn at-large bids, it lessens the opportunities for others.
There are expected to be four ACC teams that earn at-large bids - Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, and defending NCAA champion Virginia. Perennial national power Johns Hopkins is also expected to earn an at-large bid.
It's possible that the Big East could have an additional team qualify besides Notre Dame, but nothing is assured. And that is why Corrado understands his team must face Syracuse with a high degree of urgency.
"After losing to Providence (in the final regular-season game) we have put ourselves in a position where we need to win the game," said Corrado.
Villanova's semifinal will be a rematch of its 11-10 win at the Syracuse Carrier Dome on March 25. That was the first Wildcats' victory in five career matchups against the Orange.
"The key to winning is controlling the tempo because they are outstanding in transition from offense to defense as well as anybody, and we have to limit those opportunities and make it a half-field sort of thing," Corrado said.
Villanova's offense is paced by Kevin Cunningham, who leads the team in scoring with 41 points on 20 goals and 21 assists.
Chris Creighton, a senior from Malvern Prep, has been among Villanova's defensive leaders and has started every game for the Wildcats.