Its rare in Division I men’s lacrosse that two teams meet in the regular season having both already clinched a playoff berth, but thats where No. 1-ranked Syracuse and No. 12/13 Colgate find themselves for today’s game. Syracuse ran the gauntlet last week, defeating North Carolina and Duke to capture the school’s first ACC lacrosse tournament crown.

Meanwhile Colgate dismantled Bucknell and then defeated Army for the second time in nine days to capture the Patriot league crown. While both teams are safely in the tournament today’s game does hold major implications as Syracuse looks to lock up the No. 1 overall seed and Colgate attempts to grab one of the final seeded spots. Here a few matchups to keep a close eye on today.

Will Ben Williams rebound?

Coming off his worst game of the year at the X, Ben Williams looks primed for a big game against Colgate. The Gate is well under 50% on the year at the X, with their top faceoff specialist Peter Marcheto actually under 40% on the year. Against Army, Colgate was an abysmal 5-of-23 at the X despite trying several different options with little success. Considering that Ben Williams was dominant earlier in the year against Army at the faceoff X, the Colgate coaching staff has to be dreading the matchup. The silver lining for Colgate was that last year’s top end faceoff specialist Alex Kinnealey played his first game of the year for the Raiders, going 2-of-8 at the X. Kinnealey suffered a severe injury in the offseason and his return to the field this late in the season was surprising, to say the least. Even with Kinnealey’s return to the field the Orange should still have a huge advantage at the X.

Colgate Zone Defense

Colgate has played a variety of defenses this year but utilized a befuddling zone defense to win the Patriot league tourney this past weekend. Colgate head coach Mike Murphy has already indicated the Raiders will mix in different looks but expect them to try and zone the Orange early and often on Saturday. Syracuse’s struggles against Bryant’s zone defense last year in the first round of the NCAA tourney was the main reason the Orange suffered a devastating upset loss. Based on that performance many lacrosse commentators expected the Orange to see a healthy dose of zone throughout the spring. However, surprisingly this has not been the case as the Orange have seen zone defenses only sporadically, and have had little trouble forcing teams to abandon it. Colgate has an above average defense but doesn’t have the skill level or depth to mark series man to man for 60 minutes, especially at short stick midfielder. Expect Colgate to try and replicate Bryant’s blueprint by mixing in man and zone packages, with an emphasis on clogging the area around the crease where the Orange is most dangerous.

Syracuse Defense vs Colgate Offense

Coming off the daunting task of facing the offensive juggernauts of UNC and Duke in three days, the Orange defense will again be faced with a potent offense. Colgate is lead by senior captain Ryan Walsh, who leads the team with 45 points. Walsh will surely draw Brandon Mullins, who despite some off ball issues against Duke, is coming off a great performance against Justin Guterding, the leading goal scorer for the Blue Devils. Chase Wittich and super frosh Anthony Abbadessa round out the starting attack for Colgate. Wittich is a crease player who will be a good match up for Sean Young, who struggled chasing around more versatile attackmen in the ACC tournament. Jay McDermott is coming off a solid performance last week and will be tasked with slowing down Abbadessa.

The Syracuse defensive midfield will have its hands full as Colgate has a very balanced offensive attack. Midfielder Matt Clarkson is second on the team with 43 points and is a dangerous feeder. Expect Peter Macartney and Scott Firman to draw this difficult matchup. Cameron Williams has come on strong lately, including a big game in the Patriot league final against Army. However, much like Hakeem Lecky for the Orange, he can disappear for long stretches offensively and is more of a feast or famine type player. Peter Donato rounds out the staring midfield for Colgate and has produced 22 points on the season. Colgate has a potent offense but has little in the way of depth after the starters at attack or midfield. If Mullins is successful in slowing Walsh and Macartney and Firman can win the matchup against Clarkson, Colgate will likely struggle to score.

Syracuse Offense vs Colgate Defense

After an extremely disappointing offensive performance against UNC on Friday night the Orange exploded for 15 goals against a much improved Duke defense. With Randy Staats and Henry Schoonmaker near 100% the Orange offense is an imposing task for the Colgate defense. Colgate goalie Brandon Burke and the Colgate defense have put in an impressive stretch over the last six games, allowing only one opponent to score double digit goals. Burke has a save rate just under 54% on the year and is allowing only a little over eight goals per game. The concern for Colgate will be the fact that they haven’t faced an offense with the amount of skill, talent, depth, and sheer amount of weapons as the Orange. Colgate close defenders Matt Yeager and Leo Stourous will likely draw Kevin Rice and Dylan Donahue, respectively, but the remaining matchups are cloudy for the Raiders. Randy Staats is a nightmare matchup for Colgate and with SSDM an area of weakness the starting Syracuse midfield – especially Nicky Galasso – could be in a for a big day. The biggest concern for Syracuse will be how they respond to a zone and how they handle the ball. Syracuse has been plagued the last few weeks by sloppy turnovers and unforced errors, and in many instances simply catching the ball has become an adventure. The second half of the Duke game showed a marked improvement that coach Desko will look to have carry over into this game.

For the Orange, keep an eye on the second midfield in this game. Syracuse is likely to try and wear down a Colgate defense that has minimal depth, which could mean big minutes for Nick Weston, Tim Barber and the struggling Jordan Evans. Nick Weston has been impressive his last few games and could be in for a multiple point performance. Also keep an eye on Syracuse wing players today. Syracuse struggled mightily at the X against Duke, with the wing play being a big culprit. Coach Desko turned to Sergio Salcido in the fourth, who had a nice groundball and looked to be the most active short stick wing player throughout the game. With Ben Williams expected to dominate today, look for Coach Desk to try a few new options on the wings.

Final Thoughts

Colgate is a much improved team from last year’s squad that was blown out in the Dome 19-6. For the Orange you have to worry a little bit about a letdown after two big wins last weekend and a slow start would not be unexpected. That said, Syracuse clearly is the overall better team and despite Colgate’s impressive record to date they aren’t nearly as battle tested as the Orange. Ben Williams should be in for a big day at the X, which should lead to a multitude of Orange possessions. Unless Brandon Burke stands on his head or Syracuse struggles mightily against the expected zone defense this is a game that the Orange should have a comfortable lead in by the fourth quarter.

Final Score: Syracuse 17, Colgate 10

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