Whether the recruiting well has run dry, or just an aberration season, ’12 has been a gigantic disappointment for 7-7 Syracuse lacrosse. Yet there’s potential salvation just 120 minutes away.
For all the repeated failures to take advantage of opportunities, Syracuse has yet another chance to change its fate tonight. SU’s hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament are long gone, but the Orange can still get in by winning the inaugural Big East Lacrosse Championship.
The initial postseason task for SU is exacting revenge against Villanova. The Wildcats handed the Orange the program’s first ever loss in 2+ years of Big East play (one of the several disappointing distinctions this year’s squad holds in the record books) in March at the Carrier Dome. Now Syracuse has the unenviable job of playing a “neutral-site game” in the home stadium of its opponent – one that already has the psychological edge.
Keys for an SU Victory
Win Faceoffs: You’ve heard this about the Orange heading into almost every game. SU’s production at the faceoff X matters even more against the Wildcats. ‘Nova boasts the leading faceoff conversion percentage in the Big East (54.1%). SU embarrassed itself taking faceoffs against Maryland in last year’s NCAA quarterfinal loss, and it carried over into an awful season (46.9%).
To make matters worse, primary faceoff specialist Chris Daddio (who had already been struggling) missed Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame while serving a one-game suspension. So with Daddio’s role diminishing, how often will the coaches send top Orange defender Brian Megill to take draws? He’s been the team’s most effective faceoff guy, winning 20-37 attempts, but is too vital on D to overuse at the faceoff X.
Prevent Man-Up Chances for Villanova: Villanova’s biggest strengths coincide with Syracuse’s glaring weaknesses. The Wildcats boast an insane 51.8% man-up conversion rate this season, second best in the nation. The Orange allows a goal 46.2% when a man down. Syracuse’s extra-man defense is incredibly porous.
Even if SU is otherwise able to play the Wildcats evenly, man-up chances could be the game’s deciding factor. The Orange needs to stay out of penalty box, and not allow ‘Nova to replicate its recent 4-3 EMO performance against Providence. That’s not a typo – Villanova had 3 man-up opportunities and converted 4 goals, scoring twice during a rare non-releasable penalty in the 2nd quarter.
Take Advantage of a Poor Goalie: For everything the Wildcats do well, their goalkeepers aren’t very good. Dan Gutierrez fared decently against SU earlier this season but that had more to do with poor Syracuse shooting. The Orange can’t afford to give Gutierrez confidence. He’s only saved 48% of the shots this season, and was yanked early against Providence after allowing 5 quick goals. His backups didn’t fare much better against the lowly Friars.
Meanwhile, Syracuse has repeatedly let golden opportunities slip away by rushing shot attempts and often just flat out missing the mark for no good reason. Collectively, the Orange must challenge the Villanova netminder from the very start of the game.
Once upon a time, SU lax fans argued against joining the lowly Big East conference. Many thought the poor quality of opponents would be a drag on the elite Orange program. But that “lowly” league (which beat Syracuse three times this year) now represents a life-preserver – an automatic bid is the only way SU will get to the NCAAs. The mission is simple: Win twice, and you’re in.
Syracuse was unanimously predicted to finish tops in the Big East, and here it sits as just the 3-seed in the conference tourney. Desperate is not how the Orange usually feels heading into May, yet that about describes current mindset of SU’s seniors.
It’s been a frustrating campaign the entire way following the graduation of the winningest senior class in program history. But SU has not taken its final 2012 breath yet. And until it does, you can never count out the Orange come the postseason.
Posted: Andrew Kanell